Many women want to ride a bike but are deterred by issues such as safety, the lack of bicycle friendly communities, and the need for more women-friendly bike businesses.
Credit: http://mrg.bz/E7KeYUAccording the the U.S. Department of Transportation, just 24% of all bicycle trips are made by women and 76% percent are made by men. What can be done to encourage more women to ride bikes? Several organizations dedicated to bicycle advocacy are asking just that. In 2010 the Association of Pedestrian and Biking Professionals (APBP) launched the Women Cycling Project to find out why fewer women than men use their bikes to get around. They set out to open a dialog about why the rate of women using their bikes for transportation is less than half that of men and what could be done to get more women riding.
To accomplish this, the APBP created an on-line survey that more than 13,000 women took part in. One of the questions on the survey was "What would cause you to start or increase your cycling"? The three top answers were:
Women want to ride when it is convenient - they would ride more if they had more time, if the weather were better, and if the distance to their destinations were shorter. They would like to have better maps and tools for planning their rides. Many wished for less traffic and and more cycling-friendly traffic laws. The need for more affordable fashion-friendly cycling clothing was also mentioned. (Women also don't like helmets - they cause helment hair!)
The survey results showed that better bicycle infrastructure would encourage many women to ride more. This includes planning for improved bicycle accommodations and maintenance of the paths and bike lanes already in existence. The women also stressed the need for accessible, covered, and secured bike parking near workplace and local destinations.
Women want bicycle-friendly places in their community, including schools, stores and bike shops. Women-only bicycle workshops, group rides, community events and safe infrastructure are all positive approaches that encourage women to ride more. Many of the survey participants said they would also ride more if the could receive financial incentives from work. Many businesses don't take advantage of the tax breaks that the Federal Government offers for programs such as the National Ride Your Bike to Work Day.
Safety & Marketing
Apart from convenience, infrastructure and education, there are other issues that discourage women from riding. Safety is a big concern - many women are fearful of riding in traffic and prefer bike paths and bike lanes. The addition of protected bike lanes would encourage more women to commute or to run errands.
Just buying a bike can be stressful - walking into a bike shop is intimidating to many women. According to a speech given at the 2012 National Women's Bicycling Summit, there is a "lack of women-centric marketing and merchandising when it comes to selling the 'cycling lifestyle' to American women".
What can be done?
So how do we encourage more women to ride? Many communities are actively implementing many of the changes that are needed to get more women in the saddle, such as:
The planning and development of better bicycle infrastructure, including bike lanes, bike paths and trails, bike boxes, and accessible, covered and secured bike parking.
Marketing the cycling lifestyle to women. Currently the bike culture is male-centric. If women are to be encouraged to ride they must feel comfortable walking into a bike shop and be offered choices that appeal to them. They must be able to find merchandise that is designed for women who are not competitive cyclists. Marketing campaigns must be directed at a diverse group of women; it should not be a cookie cutter approach.
Biking must be presented as "safe, diverse, accessible and fun".
Riding a bike is at least as safe as riding a car. Yet because of the emphasis placed on wearing a helmet while riding has underlined the belief that riding a bicycle is not "safe", many women who may otherwise ride a bike a deterred due to the "unsafe" message they have received.
Biking is diverse: you don't need to be of a certain age or body type to ride a bike; biking is for everyone. Women of all ages and from diverse backgrounds ride bikes, and the message must reach these different groups.Credit: http://mrg.bz/7r7QhL
Biking needs to be accessible, with affordable choices in bike shops and more bike share programs in our cities. Disadvantaged women need more access to affordable bikes and the message that you don't need bike-specific gear and clothing to enjoy riding must be stressed.
And of course, biking needs to be FUN! With so much emphasis on safety issues, in particular the divisive arguments regarding helmets, we are forgetting that biking is, most of all, fun!