Yesterday was Mothers’ Day. Whether you saw your mum yesterday or not, think about her for a minute. Does she ride a bike? Not can she, but does she? To work? Or to the store? On a regular basis? If you live in North America, the answer is probably no.
In the U.S., only 24% of bike trips are made by women, 76% by men. While cyclists’ numbers have been increasing in recent years, most of the increase has been in men between the ages of 25 and 64. Despite the financial and health benefits bike commuters experience, the average American bike commuter is a white professional male with an income of $44,000. What’s going on here?
Clearly, the difference is not due to anything biological, and you don’t have to look any further than Europe to see that. In the Netherlands, 55% of bike trips are made by women; in Germany 45%. So it’s not that women are physically incapable of riding in greater numbers here in the U.S. and Canada. They’re choosing not to. Why?
There are a number of reasons people offer in response to this question, which range from the superficial to the profound.
Vanity: People who offer this explanation claim that women do not ride more because it’s hard to ride in skirts and heels, women don’t want to get sweaty, and they don’t want helmet hair – women want to look pretty, and that’s why they don’t ride.
While maintaining their appearance might be a factor for some women, it seems unlikely that this is a major reason more women don’t ride. There is pressure for women to meet a certain standard of appearance, but the multitude of blogs by women with photographs of themselves and others riding in all types clothing (including skirts and heels) and advice and instruction to other women on how to ride in whatever clothing they want probably means that vanity is not the primary inhibiting factor.
Safety: People who suggest that more women don’t ride bikes because it’s perceived as dangerous (whether or not is actually is dangerous – statistically, it’s safer than driving). Because most American cities do not have a comprehensive infrastructure of bike lanes and paths, the shortest routes often involve busy roads with narrow shoulders and high speed limits, and drivers can be aggressive towards cyclists on the road, safety is a legitimate concern, but it also seems more like an explanation for why more PEOPLE don’t ride, and is not specific to why more WOMEN don’t ride.
Time: Bicycling takes time. And this is something that, by the numbers, women have less of than men. In 2004, employed women reported an average of one more hour of housework per day than their employed male counterparts. These same employed women reported twice the time spent caring for young children. Employment status being equal, we have more household duties and are far more likely than men to be caregivers for aging relatives.
The above quote is from the article “Bicycling’s Gender Gap: It’s the economy, stupid”, by Elly Blue, that first appeared in Grist. In her article, she focuses on the socio-economic factors that make it more difficult for women to ride than men. She concludes that the reason more women don’t ride “isn’t because we’re fearful and vain; it’s because we’re busy and broke and our transportation system isn’t set up for us to do anything but drive.”
You can read her article in its entirety here.
What do you think of cycling’s gender disparity? Which reason do you find most compelling? Do the women you know ride for transportation? To our women readers: what gets you on/keeps you off your bike on a regular basis? Why do you think other women don’t ride more?