Why Women Bike, and Why They Don't


Sporty cyclists few in Amsterdam but individualized and stylish cycle gear abounds. Photo A. Streeter.

In Amsterdam, they say, cycling is like breathing - everyone does it and nobody really thinks too much about it. Kids learn to cycle before they are of school age - push cycles abound - and ride (without helmets) to school with or without parent supervision. But we're not in Amsterdam, and women especially have myriad reasons why they don't ride a bike. To get to the heart of the reasons women do and don't cycle, The Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals has created a web-based survey around attitudes toward cycling. By word of social networking, 7,300 women have already responded to the survey, which will run through May 15. Some insights have already emerged, and what is startling is that the top reason (90% of respondents) women do cycle is because of the health benefits.
Wide separated bike paths in Amsterdam make biking a pleasure for women of all ages. Photo A. Streeter.

Health benefits are definitely important - it's just amazing that it is the top respondent reason for cycling. And what's even more amazing is that (at least in these NYC numbers), it doesn't take all that much cycling or walking to have a positive effect.

"If more women and girls bicycled more places more often, they could achieve better health while having a very positive impact on their community and the environment." - Kit Keller, APBP executive director of the APBP.

The second most important reason women purported to cycle is to be in the outdoors (88% of respondents). This is also great reason, and while not knocking it, I found it a bit ironic, because among many non-riding women that I have spoken with, the outdoors (i.e. the weather) is a huge reason women say they don't ride. I'm not a competitive cyclist and instead consider myself a transport cyclist, and I don't like rotten weather or being miserable. But over time I've also realized I'd rather be out in weather on my bike (properly attired) than using any other means of transportation, including walking.


If the outfit, the bike, the gear, and the route are all good, then cycling is too. Photo of a woman cycling in Taiwan by Richard Masoner via flickr.
And that's probably due to the fact that I (along with 73% of respondents) feel that cycling is a real tension and stress reliever. I have far more mental freedom on a bike than driving a car, and it is exactly the right type of freedom, for while my body and the part of my brain controlling my reflexes are active, there's still a bit of the unconscious mindspace left over to generate new ideas and solve old problems.

The last two most popular reasons women cycle, according to the APBP survey were; "It saves me money" (72%), and, "It's very green and I'm doing my bit" (70%). Having taken the survey myself, I realize that these are choices that I likely put an "X" next to when thinking about the question of why I bike. Yet looking at them now, they seem quite abstract, and secondary to the joy of cycling (which in its own way may seem abstract to non-cyclists) and the fact that for me it's the most fun to be had while achieving transport. "Fun transport" was not one of the choices on the survey, however.


It's a job - this young Amsterdamer rides all day, every day, taking tourists on "yellow bike" tours. Photo A. Streeter.

I felt that it is a pity that the survey (a final report will issued in May) also didn't include a category choice for "I can show off my sense of style" as one reason for cycling. To men, this choice might seem absurd - perhaps to competitive and sports cycling women, too. To me, however, what was once a big hassle - choosing what to wear that is bike appropriate - has now become an interesting challenge and also a form of community with other urban women cyclists in other cities. When I see a great and practical outfit on a great and practical bike on a stylish woman, I really like it.

The future of urban biking is important to the quality of life of cities. APBP's survey is an important document to overcoming the hurdles of getting and keeping women cycling, so it will be very interesting next month to see the data and analysis of why women don't ride. Safety, we know, is a big hurdle. Here, for example, are urban issues' blogger Mary Newsom's top necessary conditions for her to cycle to work in Charlotte, N.C.:

"1. First, safe bike lanes wide enough so I didn't feel I'd put my life in danger. 2. Second, a chain guard to keep the grease from getting onto my office clothes. 3. Third, a good place to shower at the office."

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Read more about women and urban cycling at TreeHugger:
Does A Woman On A Bike Need A Weapon
Bike Belles: Sustran Raises Its Voice For Female Cycle Safety
'Beauty and the Bike' - Stylish Teenage Cycling in the UK (Video)

Tags: Ride Your Bike | Urban Life