Women don’t ride bikes. That’s the sad findings is a recently released reported titled “Women on a Roll” by The League of American Bicyclists. The Washington-based organization compiled data about women bicyclists from dozens of sources and found a gender gap on two wheels.
In 2009, only a quarter of American bike commuters were women. Male bike riders outnumber females three-to-one.
Some other nations have parity. In places like the Netherlands and Germany, women and men split about evenly among bike commuters.
This is not about the geographic realities that confront American commuters. America always will have lower overall ridership compared to smaller nations because in many places the distance between home and work or other destination is too great.
Too many Americans also seem to have an inbred love of the car and dislike for bikes. Bicycling is too “European,” whatever that means. What’s next, socialized medicine?
As a result, elected officials see little political gain in funding infrastructure like bike lanes and trails. They refuse to install traffic calming measures that might make things safer for cyclists and pedestrians at the cost of slowing cars. Transportation means one thing: Pavement to serve the internal combustion engine.
That sort of short-term thinking cannot last. As gas prices rise and Americans accept the terrible environmental cost, alternative transportation modes must become more attractive.
And bicycling is about as attractive as it gets. It is faster than walking, more convenient than taking the bus for trips of a few miles, and has tremendous health benefits.
So what gives, ladies? Ridership might be low, but why are you lagging?
My wife, herself a bike commuter as long as it isn’t raining, speculated that reluctance has to do with women not wanting to mess up their hair under a helmet, carry a change of clothes and get all sweaty.
Surely, I thought, modern American women have moved beyond such concerns.
They have not. The bike league’s report cited a survey of women in Seattle — another bike-friendly city — that found that more than a third do not ride for just such reasons.
Among other reasons are inconvenience, inability to find gear customized for women, worries about safety, and the sad fact that bicycling still feels like a men’s thing, especially when going into a bike shop.
The League’s next step is revealing changing those perceptions.
Carolyn Szczepanski, the report’s writer and the League’s director of communications explained that they will work with other advocacy and professional organizations to launch campaigns geared specifically toward encouraging women to ride. A key element will be sharing information that biking really is not as difficult as some women think.
“[Biking] doesn’t have to be something you do to get exercise, but to get from place to place,” Szczepanski said. “There’s a notion that when you’re on a bike, you have to go fast. That’s fundamentally not true. If you ride more slowly, you might get there a little later, but you won’t sweat.”
She suggested that commuter bikes that encourage upright riding and allow the rider to wear work clothes are a good option for women. She also pointed out that retailers and designers are beginning to recognize an untapped market among women riders. Gear designed specifically for their needs is hitting the market.
“We want to shift the paradigm from niche athletic pursuit to something that fits into the life of a professional, a mother, a grandmother and the full spectrum of women,” Szczepanski said.
The smart, multi-modal transportation system of the future should serve everyone, regardless of sex.
Christian Trejbal is a member of the board of directors of the Association of Opinion Journalists and chair of the Open Government Committee. Overcoming graduate degrees in philosophy, he worked as an editorial writer at The (Bend) Bulletin and The Roanoke Times for more than a decade. In 2013, he and his wife moved to Portland, Ore., where he writes freelance and provides public policy analysis. Or, as his wife prefers to say, he is a stay-at-home dude. Follow him on Twitter @ctrejbal.
Image Source: Extra Zebra via Flickr.