Millions of extra bike journeys were made last year on the UK's National Cycle Network, according to a new study.

Almost 500 million journeys were made by bike or on foot, with a third of cyclists saying they had swapped four wheels for two.

Around 40 million more cycling trips were made during 2011 than the year before, an 18% increase, taking the total to 256 million, said cycling charity Sustrans.

cycling

An estimated 3.3 million people used the national network during 2011, an increase of 300,000 over the previous year.

Rising petrol prices, higher fares and frustration with traffic jams were among the reasons persuading people to get on their bikes, although fitness was a major motivation for women, said Sustrans.

Chief executive Malcolm Shepherd said: "Cycling and walking are the answers to our rising petrol prices and expanding waistlines, but we need safe routes to feel comfortable travelling by bike and foot.

"People across the country are crying out for routes where they can get off roads and make safe, healthy, cheap and green journeys.

"It's time the Government had the foresight to properly fund cycling and walking."

See Jamie Oliver's wife Jools riding new Pendleton Somerby bike

The national network was launched 17 years ago and now extends to 13,600 miles of signed routes with a third on traffic-free paths and the rest following quieter lanes or traffic-calmed roads.

The most popular sections are those that are traffic-free.

Norman Baker, Local Transport Minister, said: "Cycling and walking is good for the environment, good for your health and, of course, good for the economy.

"Getting around on two wheels or two feet relieves congestion by cutting down on the number of car journeys but evidence also shows that those who cycle or walk to the shops spend more per head than those who take their car, bringing further benefits to the local economy.

"Right across Government it is accepted that there is a hard-nosed business case for investing in sustainable local transport, and that includes cycling and walking.

"That is why, despite the challenging economic climate, we are spending more on sustainable transport in this four year spending review period than the last one, including the £560m Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

According to a report in The Guardian last year, just one in four people who cycle once a week are women, and the number of women cycling has decreased in past years.

Check out our cycling must-haves for ladies looking to hop back in the saddle.

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  • Cassandra Cycle Coat

    Antonia Maybury, the founder of <a href="http://www.wateroffaducksback.co.uk/" target="_hplink">Water Off A Duck's Back</a>, decided that instead of putting on a bright yellow, unattractive jacket over her lovely clothes, she would come up with an alternative. Her Cassandra coat is not only fashionable but has all the elements that you would expect from a cycle coat. The cut suits cycling, allowing arm and shoulder movement, while retaining a tailored look. While reflective panels on the cuffs collar and belt can be hidden away and the hood is detachable. It's also waterproof (not just showerproof), breathable, machine Washable. doesn't catch in the wheel of a bike, has big pockets and a discrete clip on the hem to clip the two front panels together. All this for just £130 (available in stone and navy blue), and the website also features capes and jackets.

  • Defender Jacket

    Completely waterproof, with all-round reflectivity and made of lightweight fabris, the Defender does what it says on the tin. £170 from Odlo. Visit <a href="http://www.odlo.com/en/" target="_hplink">www.odlo.com</a> or call 0845 603 7289

  • Body Warmer

    This quilted, country-style gilet will keep you warm and cosy - and bring out the Made In Chelsea 'sloane ranger' in you. Dreamer Body Warmer is £35 from <a href="http://www.regatta.com/buy/dreamer-body-warmer-217208" target="_hplink">Regatta</a>.

  • Shopping Basket

    So much cuter than panniers, these wicker baskets mount to a rear rack (not included), and incorporate a handle for easy carrying 138.95 from <a href="http://www.ridelow.co.uk/baskets/electra-wicker-rear-saddle-bicycle-basket" target="_hplink">Ridelow</a>

  • Bell

    You'll want to ring this Electra Night Owl Ding Dong Bell from <a href="http://www.ridelow.co.uk/bells/electra-night-owl-ding-dong-bell" target="_hplink">Ridelow</a> - £15.95

  • Gropes

    Stocked at the <a href="http://tokyobike.co.uk/" target="_hplink">tokyobike</a> Store in Shoreditch, London, these 'Gropes' (leather-wrap grips) can also be bought <a href="http://nonusual.bigcartel.com/" target="_hplink">online</a>. £25.00 for short version and £39.00 for longer version.

  • Helmet

    This <a href="http://www.surfdome.com/Bern_Helmets~124" target="_hplink">Bern Helmet</a> from <a href="http://www.surfdome.com/" target="_hplink">Surfdome</a> is just £59.99 - and is super cool and light.

  • Camera

    The <a href="http://www.iontheaction.co.uk/index.html" target="_hplink">ION Air Pro Wifi</a> allows you to film while riding and instantly upload the content via wifi (£299).

  • Jersey

    This merino button jersey from <a href="http://www.vulpine.cc/Shop/All/All/MERINO-BUTTON-JERSEY/ITM1003" target="_hplink">Vulpine</a> is cut long and slim for cycling - while wicking sweat away to keep the wearer odour-free (£80).

  • Shirt

    This <a href="http://shop.hellyhansen.com/gb/item/w-pace-1-2-zip-bike-shirt-ss-48196/" target="_hplink">Helly Hansen</a> short-sleeved women's bike shirt has HH® CoolGrid and Lifa® Stay Dry Technology to keep you cool and dry during even high-intensity bike rides (£55).

  • Raincoat

    After getting caught in 'another' downpour, Sally from Cambridge had an idea for a chic and versatile raincoat that would look good off and on the bike. £250 each - the coats come in a range of colours from <a href=" http://cambridgeraincoats.co.uk" target="_hplink">Cambridge Raincoats</a>.

  • Pannier Bag

    This adorable <a href="http://mybeautifulbike.com/basil-blossom-farm-blue-double-pannier-bag" target="_hplink">Basil Blossom Farm</a> blue double pannier bag is just £39.99.

  • Mittons

    When it gets chilly, try these hand-knitted cycling mittons from <a href="http://www.twistedtwee.co.uk/" target="_hplink">Twisted Twee</a> (£25).

  • Sunglasses

    <a href="http://www.polaroidsunglasses.co.uk/sports/extreme-sports.html" target="_hplink">Polaroid's Pilot P7011B</a> are very cool but they are super dark, so perhaps don't wear these £65 shades on your first ride...

  • Rainwave bike poncho

    Let's face it. England is rainy. So you'll need this cool <a href="http://rain-wave.com/category/27936-bike-ponchos.aspx" target="_blank">bike poncho to stay dry (£65)</a>.