New study on cyclists’ behaviour in Finland

(C) Christoph Fink

Authors: Steve O’Hern (Tampere University), Elias Willberg (University of Helsinki), Christoph Fink (University of Helsinki), Sergio Useche (University of Valencia)


    • We have published a new study on cyclists’ behaviour in Finland in the journal Safety together with researchers from Tampere University and the University of Valencia
    • Using a survey, we aimed at understanding the behaviour and attitudes of bicycle riders in Finland.
    • Our results show that Finnish bicycle riders report low errors and violations, and high levels of knowledge regarding traffic rules, which is consistent with previous similar studies from other countries.
    • Most participants also report low levels of aggression, which is generally dealt with in constructive ways,
    • Anger was most commonly reported a result of interactions with motor vehicles and less with other road users such as pedestrians,
    • The results point to a need for further separation between bicycle riders and motorised vehicles. Furthermore, we recommend to encourage positive behaviour and train risk perception among those engaging in risky behaviors.

Why does this matter?

Riding a bicycle is encouraged in urban areas as a sustainable transport solution, but safety concerns can significantly lower the willingness to cycle, especially among those with less experience riding a bicycle. While the modal share of cycling in Finland is approximately 8% of all trips, among all road users seriously or fatally injured in crashes (MAIS 3+), the share of cyclists is 31%. Furthermore, concerns of safety – both actual and perceived – are significant deterrents of cycling.

To support cycling planning and policy in the double task of simultaneously increasing the levels of cycling and mitigating risks to cyclists’ road safety, there is a need to better understand the behaviour and attitudes of bicycle riders. This would allow to develop targeted interventions that can help reduce crash risks and improve cyclists’ safety.

Our study aimed to contribute to this task by providing knowledge on the Finnish context. We were interested in understanding various positive and negative actions and habits in which cyclists engage, the frequency of these engagements, the feelings cyclists experience while riding a bicycle and the relationship of all of these with crash risk.

The study was a collaboration between researchers from, the Tampere University, Digital Geography Lab and the University of Valencia and led by Assistant professor Steve O’Hern from the Transport Research Centre VERNE in Tampere.

What did we do?

We carried out a targeted survey in Finnish, which consisted of previously validated components: the Cycling Behavior Questionnaire (CBQ), the Cyclist Risk Perception and Regulation Scale (RPRS), the Cyclist Anger Scale (CAS) and the Cyclist Aggression Expression Inventory (CAX) originally developed by Sergio Useche, one of the study authors, and his team. All of the questionnaire’s parts consisted of multiple questions measured using the Likert scale (from 0 to 4). More details on the questions can be found from the published article.

We recruited participants through two local Facebook groups focused on urban planning and cycling (Lisää kaupunkia Helsinkiin and Helsingin seudun pyöräilijät ry). The participants responded anonymously and gave their informed consent before proceeding in the survey. The survey was completed by 213 participants of which 45 % were women and 52% men and 3 % were either nonbinary or did not wish to report their gender identity. Participants predominately lived in the Helsinki region (83.1%), with the remaining responses distributed throughout Finland.

Only complete responses were included in the analysis. After calculating the basic descriptive statistics and factor scores of the used instruments, we carried out an internal reliability analysis of the survey by comparing the consistency of responses in each scale to previously reported figures. We then used Person correlations to understand the associations between the age, gender, CBQ, RPRS, CAS, and CAX factors and the number of cycling crashes reported by the respondents.

(C) Christoph Fink

What were the outcomes?

In relation to cycling behaviour, Finnish cyclists reported low levels of errors and violations and high levels of knowledge regarding traffic rules. Positive cycling behaviours and the knowledge of traffic rules were both significantly correlated with lower crash risk. The most common positive behaviour was riding on a dedicated bike path or lane when one is available. Of negative behaviour, the highest mean score for violations was associated with running red lights, which is consistent with previous observational studies from China, Italy and Germany. While enforcement and education has often been suggested to reduce this behaviour, improvements to infrastructure and particularly traffic light phases are also likely needed to reduce this behaviour. We also found an increased crash risk among those engaging in risky behaviour, suggesting a need to promote positive behaviour particularly among this group. In this group, male and younger respondents were overrepresented to some extent.

Regarding errors, braking abruptly on slippery surfaces and failing to be aware of road conditions were more commonly reported. Respondents also reported rarely avoiding riding during adverse weather conditions, which may increase their crash risk. Especially winter in Finland poses an increased risk for cycling as most single-bicycle crashes (i.e., the ones, which do not include other road users) occur as a result of slipping during winter. Improved road and path maintenance together with increased awareness of the risks and the use of winter tires would help in reducing the risk of falls.

The results of the survey part measuring anger and aggression showed that Finnish cyclists tend to deal with anger in constructive ways. The most anger-invoking situations involved interactions with car drivers, which is in line with previous applications of the survey. Our findings indicate that cyclists prefer to interact with other cyclists and pedestrians compared to motorised vehicles. Accordingly, we see a need for further separation of cycling and motorised traffic in infrastructure development to lower the risk of road conflicts in urban space, as well as to increase the attractiveness of cycling among risk-averse and less experienced people.

What’s next?

Our study provides the first application of various self-reported bicycle rider behaviour questionnaires in Finland. It sheds light on the underlying cycling behaviour and attitudes that are related to traffic safety. To further understand the mechanisms of crashes and the relationship between crash risk and cycling behaviour and attitudes, further development of survey questions is needed. Questionnaires could also be coupled with observational or naturalistic research designs to reduce the potential bias of self-reporting.

At the same time, these suggestions should not distract from the fact that all identified negative factors might also coincide with insufficient infrastructure. Improvements to active transport infrastructure and a more equal distribution of urban street space continue to provide the greatest, most effective, and most efficient lever to reduce conflict between road users and improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians.

Original article:  O’Hern, S., Willberg, E., Fink, C., & Useche, S. (2022). Relationships among Bicycle Rider Behaviours, Anger, Aggression, and Crashes in Finland. Safety 2022, Vol. 8, Page 18, 8(1), 18.

The Digital Geography Lab at the University of Helsinki is an interdisciplinary research team focusing on spatial Big Data analytics for fair and sustainable societies.