Cycling and migration

Cyclists are as diverse as the society we live in. Germany has long been a country of immigration, with people from very different regions of origin. In 2022, according to the Federal Statistical Office, the proportion of those with a family migration background was just under 29%. However, information on migration background is rarely collected in mobility surveys. Accordingly, the question of how and whether this development also affects mobility, transport and social participation has been little researched in mobility research. In the large, nationwide studies on mobility, there has been little or no information on, for example, origin or nationality. In the 2017 Mobility in Germany (MiD) study, migration background was integrated as a single question for the first time. Overall, however, there is a lack of more extensive information that is taken into account as additional factors in international studies on the mobility behavior of migrants or ethnic minorities, such as ethnicity, length of residence, household composition by origin. This lack of data makes it difficult to take a differentiated view of Germany.

Bicycle availability of people with a migration background

People without a migrant background are more likely to have a functioning, normal bicycle. 79% of all men have a bicycle at their disposal, 74% of all women (76% in total). For men with an immigrant background, availability is 71%, for women with an immigrant background 65% (68% overall).  The availability of women in both groups is thus about 5 % lower than that of men. Overall, women with an immigrant background have the lowest
Availability, here more than a third may not have a bicycle.

Bicycle availability by gender and migration background among persons aged 14 and older (source: MiD/MiT 2017)

One reason for the low availability could be that some of the respondents have not learned to ride a bicycle or are not confident in their skills
and therefore do not have a bike. A survey conducted by the ILS Institute for Regional and Urban Development Research in Offenbach am Main found that about 12 % of women and about 5 % of men with a migration background had indicated that they could not ride a bicycle (compared to 1 % of men and about 5 % of women without a migration background).

In particular, many migrant women from the middle and older age groups cannot ride a bicycle, and the proportion here rises to about 18%. Another
reason for the lower availability is related to the level of household income. If the household income is set in relation to the number of household members, a so-called socioeconomic status can be formed. Tendentially, respondents to the 2017 MID in both groups have similar incomes, but households with persons without an immigrant background are smaller, so their socioeconomic status is higher. For example, the proportion with a (very) low socioeconomic status is significantly higher among those with an immigrant background (33 % vs. 21 %). However, both groups show the same trend: people living in households with lower socioeconomic status have lower bicycle availability.

Assessments for cycling

If we look at the popularity of cycling and the assessment of the traffic situation on site, a positive picture emerges. In the statement “I drive in everyday life
like to bike”, the majority of MiD respondents (fully) agree. The proportion of those with an immigrant background is slightly lower at 55 % to 60 %. Interestingly, in parallel, a slightly higher proportion rates the traffic situation with bicycles on site as (very) good with the school grades 1 or 2 (61 % to 54 %). For these two assessments, too, the women’s values are lower than those of the men in the respective group. Women without an immigrant background show the lowest values for good school grades (53 %).

Bicycle use in everyday life

One question in the MiD relates to the frequency with which someone typically uses the various modes of transportation. In terms of bicycle use, the two groups differ in that people without an immigrant background use bicycles more frequently and a significantly larger proportion of those with an immigrant background (almost) never use bicycles (41% to 32%).

When gender is taken into account, it becomes apparent that men without a migration background use bicycles most frequently, and in most groups about half of the respondents get on their bikes at least monthly. Women with a migration background, however, cycle least often, although 40% of them still cycle every month. At the same time, however, the proportion of those who (almost) never use their bike is particularly high here (46%).

In the younger age group of 14 to 17-year-olds, in which the bicycle is an important means of transport for self-determined, autonomous mobility, the difference is generally particularly clear. Here, 57 % of youth without an immigrant background use bicycles at least weekly compared to 44 % of youth with an immigrant background. The percentage of those who use bicycles frequently decreases in the 18-29 age group, due to the possibility of obtaining a driver’s license and being able to drive a car (weekly bicycle use without an immigrant background 36 %, with an immigrant background 30 %). In the older groups, frequent use increases slightly, only to drop again at an older age of 75 and above.

For Offenbach am Main, the ILS study showed some differences between the first and second generation with a migration background. In particular, people of the first generation (born abroad and immigrated to Germany) have lower household ownership of bicycles and are less likely to have acquired the ability to ride a bicycle. Here, the proportion of those who neither know how to ride a bicycle nor have a bicycle is particularly high (1. Generation: 29 %; 2nd generation: 19 %; without migration background: 14 %). However, the generations do not differ significantly in bicycle use, but the proportion of frequent riders is significantly lower in each case compared to those without an immigrant background. While the self-reported reasons for infrequent or non-use of bicycles varied somewhat among groups, they tended to relate first to poor infrastructure and poor or slow access to destinations or lack of practicality. They were followed by the lack of a bicycle and the risk of theft, as well as the “laziness” or lack of enjoyment of cycling and limited physical abilities, and the lack of road safety.

Family socialization

Many behaviors are shaped by habits, and this also applies to the choice and use of transportation, including bicycles. Therefore, not only the equipment of the households, the personal attitudes towards cycling as well as the infrastructure, the relief or the weather influence the use of bicycles, but also the own experiences, values and norms as well as the behavior of the people in the surrounding area play a role. So, regardless of the migration background, the family habits and mobility culture that one experiences are also possible influences that can shape our behavior and affect a possible change. These are reflected in research on mobility biography and socialization. There, on the one hand, it is shown that although behaviors are stable and, for example, many people use the familiar means of transport on their everyday journeys, on the other hand, such habits can also be changed (sources: here and here).

Regarding cycling, there are some European studies that cite cultural differences, role models, or socialization as reasons why people with a (non-Western) migrant background or migrants are less likely to ride a bicycle than those in the country without a migrant background (sources: here, here , and here).


Since one’s own family has a particularly formative influence in childhood and adolescence and most people learn to ride a bicycle in childhood, the Offenbach ILS study also asked about parental bicycle use and accompaniment by parents when riding a bicycle in childhood and combined them into a factor of bicycle socialization. Depending on the region of origin, both the percentages of frequent (daily-weekly) bicyclists and the data on parents’ bicycle use differ. It was agreed, especially for the mothers from Poland and Germany, that they would have often ridden a bicycle. The
Mean values for fathers are even lower for these countries; otherwise, approval ratings for fathers are higher on average than those for mothers. Approval ratings were lowest among mothers from Southern European, Asian, and African countries, followed by Turkey. 
Overall, a multivariate analysis of the study showed that a higher value for bicycle socialization has a positive influence on the probability of riding a bicycle frequently as an adult. The presence of an immigrant background tends to have a negative influence, but this is significant only for the second generation (controlling for other factors ).


For many people, a bicycle offers flexibility and independent mobility in everyday life. However, this requires both the personal skills and equipment with a functional bicycle, as well as a certain routine and safety in bicycle use. Especially for people who have ridden a bicycle little or not at all, these are high hurdles. However, as mentioned above, the threshold can be lowered if “novice” cyclists can also feel safe on the road.

Many places have bike classes for people who want to learn to ride a bike as an adult. Here, physical skills are trained and traffic rules are learned. Associations and municipalities also offer special courses for people with an immigrant background, some of them specifically for women. These courses are often well attended. From such courses, there is evidence that learning to ride a bicycle is an important first step. However, transitioning to riding a bike in everyday life additionally requires both the financial resources to purchase a bike and further social support through sponsorships, shared activities, or organized outings to reinforce skills and build confidence (sources: here, here , and here).

Ultimately, nationally and locally, an inclusive infrastructure and transportation policy focused on the safety of the most vulnerable road users is a
equally important prerequisite that more people enjoy cycling.

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