At We Love Cycling, we care about tackling the fears and obstacles potential cyclists, particularly potential female cyclists, can face. Although men are by no means excluded from blocks to participation, women often face an even more complicated set of barriers.
It is true that more and more women are discovering the joy of leisure cycling, the freedom of commuting or the thrill of competitive riding, and that is something we’re happy to celebrate. Unfortunately, the fact also remains that, in many cases, gender and cultural norms, a non-inclusive environment or a cycling culture that doesn’t address their practical and safety concerns, does keep many women off bikes.
Below we’ve outlined some of the main barriers, the reasoning behind them, and some potential solutions we can start to focus on going forward.
Fear of failure or injury
Fear of failure or injury is among the most prevalent reasons why women don’t ride. Although both women and men can be reluctant to admit their doubts, the reality is that more women face the challenge of never even having learned to ride a bike. As a result of the fact that it is largely assumed to be a skill acquired during childhood, people are ashamed to talk about the fact that they can’t.
We’ve heard from women who assume they are unable to ride or are nervous about trying for fear of getting hurt. We can probably all agree that as cities build better infrastructure and there is more widely available information about the rights and responsibilities cyclists have, more women will feel comfortable cycling. But another part of the solution is demystifying the process of learning to ride a bike itself. If you hear from a friend or family member that they never learned to ride, don’t assume this means they have no interest. We can learn new skills as adults too and sometimes all it takes is a patient friend willing to show us the ropes and share their passion.
Access to proper equipment
Even if someone is able to overcome the initial apprehension, finding the right bike can be another big obstacle primarily affecting women. We’ve heard from women who were expected to ride a bike that was initially bought for a child or something picked up from a garage sale that was simply way too heavy for them.
Although the debate about women’s bikes rages on, it is important to understand that, in general, women do have different anatomy and for some, it can make a huge difference. Especially when starting out, it is so important to have a bike that makes you feel comfortable and supported. For that reason – it may be necessary to try out many different models and adjustments to get the right fit, and that is OK.
In addition to the fact that women tend to be more aware of safety concerns posed by riding alongside traffic, it is worth noting that women are also more vulnerable than men to other dangers, not those from cars – but from predators. Being exposed and unprotected on a bike might be a deal-breaker for women who have been victims of sexual assault or stalking.
We’ve addressed some of the ways that women can stay safe riding alone but it is important that we also create safe spaces for women to share their experiences and find solutions. Mentorship and support can make all the difference and, as cyclists, we should all play our part in helping make the sport safer and more welcoming to everyone.
Lack of 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 casual women riders are an even smaller demographic. We all know that cycling is more fun with friends and it is important that inclusive and women’s only events continue to garner the traction and visibility they need to keep growing. Thankfully there are more of these events popping up all the time but it is also important that we make an effort to reach out to one another. Whether you’re the one curious about cycling or think you might have a friend who is, don’t be shy to ask. The worst-case scenario is they simply won’t be interested, while alternatively – you might just end up with another cycling pal.
It also remains the case that women simply tend to have more demands placed on them at home and in the family. We’ve also heard from women whose partners or family members became jealous or threatened when they took up cycling. Although this inevitably happens to men too, it is still largely the case that women tend to experience less leeway when it comes to being away from the home for extended periods, especially if it is for leisure activity. Although we may all agree that everyone deserves the freedom and time to pursue their hobbies and passions, not every family dynamic is the same. It is necessary that we continue to promote safe spaces for women to ride and find empowerment.
Ultimately, it is about shifting the focus from how we can change women to get them more interested in bikes and rather look at how we can make cycling part of the solution for the challenges women face in their everyday lives. Riding a bike is a beautiful thing, let’s get more people doing it.