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Why Don't More Women Cycle?

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To kick off our Women and Cycling campaign, we thought it fitting to ask a pertinent starter question:

Why don’t more women cycle?

We don’t pretend to be original in tackling this topic – many a cycling website, forum and organisation has already looked for answers. But despite the many people interested in this subject, we have yet to see it fully addressed. After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and statistics show that the number of men cycling in the UK far outweighs its female counterpart.

According to national cycling charity, CTC, in 2014 men made three times as many trips by bicycle as did women. And 2008 research conducted by the Department for Transport (though, clearly a little outdated), found that women made up 27% of cycle journeys in the UK.

This compares to the vastly more cycle-friendly countries of Denmark and the Netherlands, where commentators put the proportion of women to men cycling as either equal, or slightly in favour of women.

So, why are we so far behind?

The answer to this can vary a lot depending on who you talk to, but based on my experiences and the experiences of other women that I have spoken to, there are 3 common themes:

 

Safety concerns

Impracticality

Feeling intimidated

 

Safety concerns

Safety concerns come up time and again. Much as I would hate to ascribe reductive gender traits to women or men, research suggests that women tend to have more concerns for their safety when cycling. And this isn’t to say that they are more scared; it perhaps suggests that they are more sensible. After all, the cycling infrastructure in this country is – to put it mildly –below par. In a survey that we conducted last year, 32% of respondents said that they didn’t think any cities provided adequate infrastructure for cyclists when given the choice of ten. And with that in mind, is it any wonder that lots of women don’t feel confident about their safety on a bike?

At last year’s annual Women and Cycling conference, which tackled the question ‘why don’t more women cycle?’ the implementation of safer cycling infrastructure and technology was found to be hugely significant in encouraging more women to ride.

After all, in Denmark and Holland, where we don’t see women lagging behind in cycling, the infrastructure is there. Cyclists do not find themselves shunted into three lanes of busy traffic, contending with buses and angry drivers and poorly demarcated cycle lanes. They are not an after-thought when new roads are built and as a consequence of this, cyclists feel much safer. 

 

The problem of practicality

The problem of practicality can come across as particularly ‘girly’ but really it is just practical. If you cycle to work and you have to dress smartly, there are many things to think about. From helmet hair to sweating, make-up and having rumple-free clothes and matching accessories, a cycling commute can significantly add to your morning routine. Now this is not to say that men do not also need rumple-free clothes or worry about their hair, but generally speaking, they don’t wear make-up, straighten their hair or have to think as much about their appearance.

Part of practicality is privacy. Women don’t necessarily want to shower at work. Do you want to bump into your male colleagues coming out of the shower at 8.30am? Probably not! That, of course, is even assuming that your workplace has a shower. And if you are someone who straightens your hair every morning you may take issue with what the wind/your helmet/rain will do to it on your morning cycle.

Fortunately, recent years have seen a growth in cycle products designed for women and commuting (not that the two are mutually exclusive). This means that now, if the above are your concerns, you can tackle them with the likes of bags and panniers that can store neatly folded work wear (see this article for some advice on panniers and racks) Perhaps most important though, is an office that caters for cycling needs – having somewhere to store spare clothes and a room to shower in can make all the difference.

 

Feeling intimidated

The question of intimidation is another area that can easily come in for criticism. To be clear, I am not suggesting that women, as a gender, are easily intimidated. The fact of the matter is that cycling in the UK is an overtly male phenomenon. My own experience of cycling clubs is that they tend to be run by men and so, naturally, cater for men better than for women, for example, club kit only being available in male specific fit. That is not to say that there is a ‘no women allowed’ rule (it’s not golf), but these clubs can feel like boys’ clubs and, resultantly, are not very welcoming for women.

And it’s not just about the lack of inclusive clubs.

Many women can feel that they’re not fit enough to cycle, especially if they’ve recently had a baby. It is easy to feel intimidated by other cyclists and people, whatever their gender, if you are worried about being obviously slow, unfit or self-conscious in lycra. Feeling this way can make getting started that much more difficult and having a bit of support is often a great way to get motivated. Love them or hate them, women’s cycling groups such as Sky’s Breeze groups, offer a more inclusive and less intimidating initiation into community rides. And their growth is likely to see more women getting out on bikes.

So, what do you think are the main issues discouraging some women from cycling? We’d love to hear your views, either in the comments section below, on Twitter or on our Facebook page.

 

To read more about cycling safety, please click here.

 

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