Cycle schemes 'need evaluation', say researchers
Community programmes that are designed to encourage people to take up cycling appear to only have a modest effect.
Research published in the British Medical Journal looked at 25 campaigns in seven countries.
Most schemes showed an increase of 3.4% in household trips made by bike.
However even these gains could have a positive impact on health by increasing physical activity, say the report authors.
It is recommended that adults undertake 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week.
But most adults in the UK and other developed countries do not achieve this target.
Cycling is linked to increased cardio-respiratory fitness in both adults and children, helping reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and various other chronic conditions.
Unlike many other types of physical activity, cycling can be incorporated relatively easily into everyday life; for instance swapping a daily car commute to one by bike.
This lifestyle change would not only bring health benefits, but could also reduce congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions, say experts.
'No clear message'
The research looked at 25 different schemes in Australia, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK and the USA.
The programmes varied from campaigns that targeted individuals to much wider schemes that incorporated city wide cycling initiatives.
The analysis showed that a variety of interventions showed promise but that more research is needed to determine the effect the schemes were having on cycling.
Most schemes were associated with a 3.4% increase in household trips made by bike.
Dr David Ogilvie, from the Institute of Public Health in Cambridge, an author of the paper, told BBC News: "There is no clear message that one approach is better than another."
He said: "Further controlled evaluative studies incorporating more precise measures are required, particularly in areas without an established cycling culture."
When new policies are being proposed, then a way of determining how effective they are must also be incorporated into their design, the researchers said.
Only then will it be possible to establish which approaches actually increase levels of cycling.