Nice Ride Riders Like Nice Weather


Note: This post is part of the Ride crowdsource conversation, a series of crowdsourced looks at how to expand or improve Nice Ride planning. Check out the rest here.


Bike ride systems around the world experience seasonable variability [1].  For 2014, the Twin Cities Nice Ride system saw an average daily ridership of 611 rides per day in April.  Ridership peaked at 2,984 in July and then declined to 653 in October.  This seasonality is presumed to be driven by weather, but could also be driven by school schedule, changes in general levels of tourism, or the timing of festivals and other events that might motivate people to use Nice Ride.

But in general, both members and casual users prefer the middle of the summer, but that preference is more pronounced for casual users.

Here’s the first of many charts, showing that pattern:

Ridership by Month

Casual and Member usage patterns by month.

This seasonality had a profound effect on Nice Ride’s usage and financial viability.  Over the summer, the system saw 417,169 rides.  If every month had been like July, there would have been about 200 days multiplied by 3,000 rides per day, which totals 600,000 rides.  So the system is losing a third of its ridership to seasonal effects!

Daily Weather Data and Ridership

To understand the effect of weather, I downloaded daily weather data from Weather Underground and combined that with the available 2014 Nice Ride data.  I mashed the data together in Tableau, and published it to Tableau Public.  Feel free to browse the data and graphs, or download the Tableau workbook and do your own analysis.

First, a few general observations.  There are roughly the same number of rides by members as by casual non-members.  Members use the system more during the week, whereas casual usage is mostly on weekends.  This is fortuitous for the system because it evens out the demand.

Ridership by Day of Week


By hour, casual usage has a nicely unimodal distribution with a peak at 3pm; rides by members have three bumps at 7 am, 12 noon and 6 pm. 

Ridership by Hour


The data from Weather Underground included three variables that I investigated as predictors of ridership: the max temperature for the day, the amount of precipitation, and the presence of weather events, such as thunderstorms.  This blog post looks at the first two.

Precipitation Effects

Out of the 204 days that Nice Ride operated, 160 had less than 0.1 inches of rain, which I categorized as “Dry”. Casual riders were more discouraged by rain than were members.  Unfortunately, a disproportionate number of the weekend days in June of 2014 were rainy, and the ridership among casual users dropped from 2334 rides per day for dry days to 1048 rides per day for rainy days.  

(It would be interesting to get hourly weather data to understand whether the rainy days with good ridership can be attributed to the rain occurring during the night when Nice Ride usage is low.)

Rain Discourages Riders

Temperature Effects

The effect of temperature on ridership is striking.  One might expect to see a threshold effect with temperature, that a person will only ride once a certain temperature is reached.  While that may be somewhat true for each individual, the aggregate effect depends on the how that threshold varies in the population.  

This graph shows frequency of days falling into 5 degree bins and the average daily ridership for days in each bin.  With the exception of one day with a high over 90, the effect of temperature is nearly perfectly linear.

 Temperature and Total Ridership



Next, lets break that down by month, user type, and work day versus weekend. The trends remain remarkably linear regardless of user type or day type. Even the data for May, which span a broad range of temperatures, fall along the lines.   

Temp, month, weeked and rider type


The data files from Nice Ride list rides, not distinct users or passes, but it is tempting to estimate the economic impact of the temperature effect.  A reduction in rides by casual users probably means correspondingly fewer day passes being purchased. What if we estimate how much income is lost?  

Of the days that Nice Ride was operating in 2014, 160 had little or no precipitation.   Some of those are weekends and some weekdays, but on aggregate, each degree in temperature changes ridership by casual users by 36. 

If we could change behavior so that users would behave as if it were 5 degrees warmer, we would gain (5*160*36=) 28,800 rides over the course of the summer.  

It is hard to tell exactly how much additional income is represented by nearly 30,000 rides, but if we assume a three-to-one ratio of rides to users, those 30,000 rides represent 10,000 daily passes.  That means that $60,000 of fees would be added to Nice Ride’s income if we theoretically shifted behavior by 5 degrees.

Conclusions and Next Steps

No one should be surprised that rain and cold diminish ridership. The models quantify the effect, and show that even at moderate temperatures, such as highs in the 70s, Nice Ride is losing ridership to temperature in a predictable fashion. 

If we take this loss as a fact of life, days with reduced ridership can serve as opportunities to shift staff time from rebalancing to maintenance activities.  Alternatively, quantifying the loss in ridership provides a rationale for expenditures that could shift people’s behavior. Market research through surveys or focus groups should be used to understand the reasons that cooler weather discourage bicycling.  Nice Ride could consider outfitting some bicycles with fairings, windshields or hand protectors.  It might also be worth encouraging vendors serving warm food or beverages near popular nice ride destinations on cold days, as is common in Europe.  Perhaps some Nice Ride windbreakers would encourage more rides.  


[1] : A Review of Recent Literature, Transport Reviews, DOI: 10.1080/01441647.2015.1033036 Available at

14 thoughts on “Nice Ride Riders Like Nice Weather

  1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Could be an interesting focus for Nice Ride marketing, overcoming some biases about weather. I’m generally of the opinion that Minnesotans are way too precious about going outside, which is paradoxical given our climate. Given the right clothing, it’s easy to enjoy yourself in all kinds of weather. Indoor malls, skyways, climate controlled homes, and driving all the time have made us really spoiled.

    (I sound like an old man, don’t I?)

  2. Monte Castleman

    I don’t think you need a surveys or focus groups to figure out why people don’t bicycle as much when it’s cold. Isn’t that it’s cold the answer? I own a car with a heater, and buses and trains have heaters. My bicycle doesn’t have a heater. The people that own and take the time to bundle up with specialized bicycle clothing probably have their own bicycles available.

    I don’t use Nice Ride, but it’s interesting the big bump at about 70 degrees. That seems to be what a lot of people consider nice, it’s where you can wear shorts on a bicycle without freezing.

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      I bike in regular clothing all the time. Like, jeans & sweatshirts when it’s 55 out. Or jeans and tennis shoes and a jacket and a winter hat when it’s 30 out. The same things I’d wear if I was going out for a walk or even to drive (right? Most people do put on thick winter coats when getting in a car, and winter driving gloves are a thing people buy, right?). If I was going on a 12 mile winter bike ride, yeah I’d need to suit up. For most urban bike trips (0-3 miles, or 0-18 minutes if you ride at 10 mph average speed), a hat and gloves with a coat will be more than enough.

      There are days where it’s truly freezing out or the snow is particularly bad. I take the bus to work on those days. Works out pretty good I guess.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        I keep overestimating how much clothing will be needed as the temperature falls, but aside from needing to pay a little more attention to how cold my feet will get, biking in cooler temps seems about the same as walking.

      2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

        Sounds similar to me. I have a cut-off of about 0-10f (recently maybe closer to 10-15f) for shorter trips of maybe a mile or two each way. Longer trips need better weather. While I’ll ride on most roads during spring, summer, and fall, I will not ride on them once it’s snowed which limits me to protected paths.

        A topic I suggested for someone to present at the Winter Cycling Congress is about the interplay of transit and bicycle riders during inclement weather and how cities in Northern Europe handle it from an elasticity standpoint. e.g., to what extent do they put on extra capacity based on weather and know that some portion of people will take transit instead of ride bicycles.

        1. Michael Altmann Post author

          I was surprised me that even though each individuals may have a threshold, each person has a different threshold and in aggregate there is a very linear relationship between temperature and ridership. There are about as many rides gained by going from 50 to 60 as 70 to 80.

          I suspect that there are three types of rides.
          1. Rides where the trip is necessary, but the mode of transportation is in question. For example, someone commuting to work.

          2. Rides, mostly circular, where the goal is the ride itself. For example, riding around Lake Calhoun.

          3. Rides where the trip is optional because the goal is to go to some optional event. For example, going to the Uptown Art Fair. The person might decide that it is too cold or wet to go to the event at all.

          Nice Ride would need different strategies to address these different types. Rides of type 3 are hardest to recover because we have to convince people to attend the event AND use Nice Ride as the mode of transportation. I suspect that is why
          shows a much stronger temperature effect for weekend casual rides.

  3. Alex

    When I was a member, I actually most often used Nice Ride on rainy days. That way I could ride while the rain held off and not worry about leaving my bike somewhere or putting it on the bus if the rain started again before I needed to make the next leg of my trip. Also less rust risk for my bike.

  4. BB

    Its easier to cite an excuse.

    Having cycled in Europe , Africa , North America, its all the same excuses from humans.

  5. Thomas Mercier

    When doing the hourly analysis I’d strongly suggest distinguishing between weekday and weekend use. I’m guessing for the members you’ll find more pronounced peaks for weekday use and a line for weekends more akin to the casual users. Although that perspective won’t do much in regards to the weather.

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