by Ann DeOtte Kaufman, founder of female bike fashion company Iva Jean
I started biking to work after giving up my car in 2007. I lived just 2 miles from my office, the bus commute was pretty painful, and I knew biking would be the fastest, easiest and healthiest way to commute. The switch was intimidating, but I quickly fell in love with biking and all of the hassles or inconveniences faded.
Barrier #1: Avoiding Risk
Safety often comes up as a top barrier to women biking to work. I believe that fear prevents a lot of people from biking, including men and older demographics, as well as women. These concerns include a lack of safe cycle infrastructure such as separated bike lanes and cycletracks; traffic and vehicular fears; personal safety fears; and topography (especially in cities like Seattle).
“Women are considered an ‘indicator species’ for bike-friendly cities for several reasons. First, studies across disciplines…have shown that women are more averse to risk than men. In the cycling arena, that risk aversion translates into increased demand for safe bike infrastructure as a prerequisite for riding.” Scientific American
- Learn your rights and responsibilities as a biker.
- Take the lane when you feel comfortable.
- Ride with a friend or experienced biker.
- Study your city’s bike maps to be familiar with the existing infrastructure and easiest routes.
Barrier #2: Time
Time is a precious thing for many commuters, including women. With several reports showing that employed women devote more time to household duties and caregiving than their employed male counterparts, time could be an even bigger barrier for women. In turn, when biking is the fastest and easiest way to work, you’ll find more women on wheels.
- Bus or drive halfway to work with your bike to save time.
- Work with your partner to relieve you of your regular duties once or twice a week.
Barrier #3: Convenience
It also seems that convenience comes up quite a bit regarding women biking to work. Many women attach errands to their commute. Whether it’s groceries, dry cleaning or picking up the kids from daycare – it’s just not clear how all of that can get done by bike.
“… ‘comfort’ and ‘needing a car’ were important factors influencing women’s cycling rates—but not men’s. Needing a car is likely tied to the household errands women often perform and could be addressed in part by outreach programs showing that women can ‘jump on a bike the way they jump in a car.'” Scientific American
- Plan out the easiest routes between your errands.
- Group tasks according to location.
- Consider a cargo bike or baskets for groceries.
Let’s be totally honest. No one (men included) wants to sit at work feeling sweaty and nasty like they just got off the set of Game of Thrones. Even if your office provides facilities such as locker rooms or showers for employees, the idea of getting ready at work is of little interest to many women. This concern often rises from a misconception that you need to wear head-to-toe spandex and ride hard on your way to the office.
- Ride slowly.
- Bike in your everyday clothes or clothing designed to work on and off your bike (such as Iva Jean, Outlier, Nau).
- Create a small bag of things you need to freshen up once you’re at the office (lip gloss, dry shampoo, pressed power, brush or comb).
Barrier #5: Community
Trying something new and unfamiliar, especially as we get older, can be difficult. Women are the minority of bike commuters in most cities, and from my observations, casual women riders are an even smaller demographic. In America, 24% of all bicycle trips are made by women vs. 76% by men (US DOT 2010). Perhaps, more of us would bike if we saw and aspired to a supportive community of riders that looked like us.
- Search online for organizations or rides for women that bike (there are so many across the country).
- Ask a friend or coworker to show you the ropes and ride your commute with you once or twice.
As you consider biking, please know that a little bit of fearlessness and flexibility can lead to an incredible sense of joy and freedom on two wheels.
Photo: Cycle Chic Australia