Why do teens abandon bicycling? A retrospective look at attitudes and behaviors

Sarah K. Underwood, Susan L. Handy, Debora A Paterniti, Amy E. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Bicycling as a form of "active travel" is an easy way to integrate physical activity into daily life, with many benefits for health. Yet this potential is largely untapped in the U.S., where less than 1% of workers commute by bicycle. The problem may start as early as childhood, given a steep decline in bicycling to school among children in the U.S., particularly among high school students. This paper examines childhood and teenage experiences with and attitudes towards bicycling as seen in retrospect from adulthood. The results are drawn from a larger study that set out to explore the effect of experiences throughout life on the formation of attitudes towards bicycling. Fifty-four adult participants responded to open-ended interview questions regarding their bicycling experiences throughout their life course, starting from childhood. Results show that the way in which participants thought about bicycling changed from elementary school to high school, leading to decreased bicycling in teenage years and influencing attitudes and behavior as adults. High school students, especially females, were particularly sensitive to negative images associated with bicycling. The strong influence of social norms has important implications for policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-24
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Transport and Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014


  • Adolescent
  • Attitudes
  • Bicycling
  • Cycling
  • Qualitative
  • Stigma
  • Teen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Safety Research
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Policy
  • Transportation


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