For years it was seen as a second-rate mode of transport for fitness freaks or people too skint to buy a car.
But after a bumpy ride, the times have definitely changed.
There are now 13 million cyclists in Britain and 3.7 million bikes were sold last year.
The two-wheels-good, four-wheels-bad philosophy has become sexy thanks to a revolution spearheaded by Britain’s cycling stars.
Bradley Wiggins made history yesterday by having the Tour de France’s yellow jersey for the seventh consecutive day. And he is on course to become Britain’s first winner of the world’s biggest annual sporting event.
Fellow rider Mark Cavendish has enjoyed an immense couple of years at the top of the sport, including winning the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award last year.
The British team’s unprecedented medal haul in Beijing four years ago – 14 in all – gave cycling a massive boost, which looks like it will be repeated in London.
“Cycling in this country has never been in better health,” says Ian Drake, chief of governing body British Cycling.
Ian says the success of schemes such as Sky Ride – which encourages people to get involved in cycling in their communities – coupled with Lottery cash has bridged the gap between the professionals and the grassroots.
He says: “In the recession, cycling has proved to be a cheap alternative to cars and rising petrol prices. It’s healthy too.
“There’s no doubt the success of phenomenal ambassadors such as Olympians Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton, Paralympian Sarah Storey and the success we’re seeing at the moment with Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish has played a huge part.
“We’ve also got young riders coming through who will have their first Olympics here in London.
“Combine that presence with more opportunities on your doorstep and the result has been fantastic. There’s nothing worse than seeing something on television and thinking, ‘That looks absolutely fantastic, where do I go?’ and finding out a sport isn’t accessible. But cycling isn’t like that.
“It’s easy to get involved and it’s so flexible – you can go road cycling, off-roading and cycle to work – it can suit anyone. And it’s a rare sport you can do as a family.”
Since 2008, the membership of British Cycling has doubled to 50,000. A recent London School of Economics report estimates the sport brings almost £3billion to the economy thanks to industries such as bike manufacturing.
The research also found that regular cyclists take one sick day less per year than average, which saves the country £128million.
And it’s thought a 20% rise in the number of cyclists by 2015 could save the NHS £52million. LSE’s Dr Alexander Grous, who led the study, said: “Structural, economic, social and health factors seem finally to have created a true step-change in the UK’s cycling scene.”
The explosion in popularity is also changing the landscape. For example, cycles for hire are now a common sight in London.
And the National Cycle Network – 13,600 miles of signed routes on traffic-free paths or quieter roads – is growing in size and popularity.
Safer routes have helped reduce the number of cycling deaths.
While the overall death toll on roads increased by 3% last year, the number of cyclists killed fell by 4% from 111 to 107.
But the number of cyclists being injured on roads has risen, prompting calls for even better safety resources – such as improved cycle lanes and new junctions.
Robert Gifford, of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, said: “Part of the increase in cycling casualties will be down to more cycling, but as the increase in traffic is lower than the overall increase in cycling casualties, cycling has clearly become more dangerous.
“It has particularly become more dangerous for 18 to 59-year-olds.”
Martin Gibbs, British Cycling’s director of policy and legal affairs, said: “If we compare these recently released figures to the situation in 1994, there’s a 40% reduction in the number of people killed while cycling – and cycling participation figures have increased.
“But we can and must do better so that cycling is as safe as it possibly can be.
“That’s why we want the Government to embed cycling in all road policy decisions so we create a safe cycle-friendly environment.
“The Department for Transport needs to make cycling central to its transport strategy”
This is where sustainable transport charity Sustrans comes in.
Chief executive Malcolm Shepherd said: “Cycling and walking are the answers to rising petrol prices and expanding waistlines, but we need safe routes to feel comfortable travelling by bike and foot.
“People are crying out for routes where they can get off the roads and make safe, healthy, cheap and green journeys.
“It’s time the Government had the foresight to properly fund cycling and walking.”
With such a great year expected for our national team, Britain could truly become the best cycling nation in the world.
Perhaps Norman “get on yer bike” Tebbit had a point after all…
HOW TO STAY SAFE
Here are five simple tips from Sustrans on how cyclists can keep out of danger:
1) Keep your bike in good condition with regular checks
2) A bell, lights, lock and a pump are essential accessories. Carrying a spare inner tube is a good idea, too
3) Plan your route to avoid getting lost. Don’t cycle anywhere you wouldn’t feel safe walking, and steer away from dimly lit areas at night
4) Always lock your bike to reduce the risk of theft and of being stranded
5) Helmets aren’t compulsory but Sustrans strongly recommends that young cyclists wear one