5 Barriers to Women Bicycling More

Guest post 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.

Biking tips and insights from Walk ScoreHere are 5 barriers that prevent women from comfortably biking to work—and solutions to each one. I encourage all of you to break through barriers and enjoy cycling.

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

Solutions

  • 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.

Solutions

  • 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

Solutions

Iva Jean bicycling functional fashion for womenBarrier #4: Vanity

Let’s be totally honest. No one (men included) wants to sit at work feeling sweaty and nasty. 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.

Solutions

  • 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.

Solutions

  • 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

12 Comments

  1. Rachel Z.

    These are great pieces of advice. I would add one more tip to Barrier #4: keep nice shoes at work and cycle in comfortable shoes (or rubber boots on rainy days). I wish I’d figured this out sooner myself! :)

  2. Robin

    I found I could not place my bike on the designated lift at the front of the bus, it was too high for a five foot tall gal. the bus driver was not amused and I didn’t try it again.

  3. Ann

    It can be tricky, but most bus drivers are sweet about it. If it’s a kneeling bus, often times my drivers will lower it for me. You might consider writing or emailing Metro (assuming you are in Seattle).

  4. Elaine

    Just did my first bike commute with toddler in tow. The trickiest part was trying to figure out what to do with my toddler while I got my bike on the bus rack. The bus was so far from the sidewalk I didn’t feel safe leaving her there, but also not safe to have her next to me in the street. Finally had to ask some high school girl to hold her while I put my bike on.

  5. dJohn H

    An extremely important Solution to Barrier #1 is to make biking safer by building protected bike lanes (cycletracks). That’s how Copenhagen and Amsterdam increased their biking share to 35% to 40% of trips and increased women cyclists to over 50%. Or do you want to avoid suggesting political actions?

  6. Michèle

    Great advise in preparation for Bike season. I will most likely start in a few weeks. My 20k round trip to work from a new neighborhood should prove interesting…but always I will be continuously improving my skills, and route!

  7. Robert Issem

    A HUGE and easy step toward taking down Barrier #1 is using inexpensive high-visibility *daytime* lighting. Feel confident that you’re being seen – even by inattentive drivers. A Planet Bike Blaze front light and either of these for the rear:
    http://youtu.be/78iYcMsrfPE

  8. Joe

    Another barrier could be the awful cat calling and street harassment from men directed towards women who cycle. Men need to be held responsible for this.

  9. Ann

    @dJohn H – I agree – civic involvement and political action is absolutely necessary with regards to bike and pedestrian infrastructure. Honestly, it’d be a great topic for another post. Seattle, especially, has so many great opportunities for advocacy. I just started Cascade Bicycle Club’s ALI program and am loving it.

  10. Dave

    I can’t believe this article didn’t emphasize HELMET HELMET HELMET! Women don’t wear helmets because of VANITY. They want to be viewed–to attract men. They don’t want to mess up their hair. They crash just as often as men cyclists–and get BRAIN DAMAGE.

    Please wear a helmet.

  11. Ann

    @Dave I didn’t emphasize helmet, because I don’t really feel that wearing a helmet is a barrier or a solution to more women biking. I do agree that helmets are an important way to protect ourselves when we ride. I would say that just as many men avoid wearing helmets for their own vanity and that both men and women that don’t wear helmets do it for more reasons than vanity or to attract other men or women.

  12. angela

    i must admit when i first starting riding my bike i found that wearing a helemt just got in the way really. Then you guessed it i fell of one day and banged my head really hard and i suppose i just got away with it, now i always wear my helment and i have invested in a top quality one as well.

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