Collaborative Mobility UK (CoMoUK) said promotions in Glasgow and Edinburgh which allowed users free time on a bicycle sparked a massive upturn in interest.
The scheme attracted more than 18,000 new users, resulting in a 38 per cent increase in cycling trips recorded across the cities between June and September 2020.
CoMoUK’s report - A free ride to a green recovery - also hails the impact of bike-sharing initiatives on those who took part.
Almost three-quarters experienced an improvement in their physical wellbeing, while 47 per cent said their mental health improved.
One in 10 users said they enjoyed the scheme so much they went onto buy their own bicycle.
The Glasgow and Edinburgh schemes offered the first 30 minutes of use for free, and a range of subsequent discounts to get people cycling.
The initiative was funded through our behaviour change programme Smarter Choices, Smarter Places (SCSP) which is grant funded by Transport Scotland.
It was operated in partnership with Glasgow City Council, City of Edinburgh Council, Transport for Edinburgh and bike-share operators Nextbike and Serco.
ComoUK has now recommended bike-sharing is recognised as “an essential part of our public transport system” and urged future investment in promotions to sign more people up.
It also suggested expanding bike-sharing initiatives into areas of multiple deprivation to increase connectivity and reduce inequalities.
Lorna Finlayson, Scotland director for CoMoUK, said: “This report shows that when bike-sharing is made available and attractive, people want to take part.
"Thousands signed up as a result of these schemes, and the difference it made to their lives and the environment was clear.
"Not only will users save money and reduce their own carbon footprint, they are also likely to experience improvements to their own physical and mental health.
"The benefits that await governments and councils from promoting shared transport options like this are huge – and go well beyond simply hitting environmental targets.
"Now that we have these results, it’s important to build on this evidence and ensure more people have the opportunity to use these fantastic initiatives.”
Stuart Douglas, our SCSP Manager said:
This initiative is an excellent example of our funding being used to provide local solutions for local priorities and it’s fantastic to see that thousands of people in Glasgow and Edinburgh took advantage of it.
This new report highlights that providing more opportunities that give people an alternative to the car for short journeys is not only important for the environment but also for our physical, social and mental wellbeing.
We believe that active travel has an important part to play in a green recovery from Covid-19, and we’ll continue to work with our partners and Transport Scotland to make Scotland an active nation.
Transport and Environment Convener Councillor Lesley Macinnes said: “We’re delighted that so many people participated in the cycle hire scheme last year - it’s clear that these initiatives to promote the scheme opened it up to a whole new audience.
"During lockdown we saw a real surge in people taking up cycling for the first time, and it’s fantastic that those who don’t own their own bike could also feel the health, social and environmental benefits of cycling during this time.
“As we look toward the end of the pandemic, we want to continue encouraging people to try out and enjoy cycling, whether that’s through hiring or buying a bike, so we remain committed to improving and investing in cycling infrastructure to make this as easy and attractive as possible.”