Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Women and Cycling

I ran across this article today. The article discusses how women in particular respond to cycling infrastructure. Or, more accurately, how they respond to the lack of infrastructure. The article claims that only 25-30% of people who commute on bikes are women. I could be way off, but even that number seems quite high to me. On a typical day only 10% of the cyclists I see are women. That could be a selection bias based on my commute. It could also be a problem of recognizing gender through a rain parka. Any way you slice it though, it appears that less women cycle as their main mode of transportation.

If you go back to the four types of cyclists I feel female cyclists are much less likely to fall into the "Strong and Fearless" camp and more likely to be in the "Enthused and Confident" group. I am not trying to be sexist here. I just think women tend to be more sensible. I asked a male cyclist who was riding the wrong way down the street at night without any lights on if he was concerned about the cars racing towards him at 35 miles per hour. His response was "fuck 'em". I have not seen many women who are that cavalier with their safety.

Strangely enough, this levelheaded style might not be a good thing. Here is a depressing article which claims that women in London are more likely to be hit by a truck because of their responsible behavior. Riding aggressively may not be required to ride on the roads, but it seems to help. I have talked with quite a few women who said they would like to ride more, but they don't feel safe. (This would be the "Interested but Concerned" category.) I wonder how many women feel that way because they aren't comfortable riding aggressively. Maybe that is where better cycling infrastructure could be useful. Fighting with cars just to be safe really shouldn't be something cyclists have to deal with. More cycle paths and protected bike lanes would encourage these more timid cyclists to ride more often.

That isn't the whole equation though. From commuting daily I have noticed that during a cold, pouring rain I don't see many ladies cycling. On sunny days the total number of cyclists increases, which isn't all that surprising. What is interesting is that the proportion of female cyclists increases.  In my estimation inclement weather is at least as important to women as safe paths to cycle on. Now it could be that women are just more squeamish about disagreeable atmospheric conditions, but I seriously doubt it. I know women who are quite capable of taking on even the most miserable weather.

My guess is that most women have different requirements about getting ready for work. There is an expectation that a woman be well groomed at all times. Clean hair, elegant make-up, pristine clothing. Men do tend to get away with a shabby appearance more often (for which I am grateful). I don't think this is fair, but it has as much to do with the pride a woman takes in how she looks as much as what other people think. Showing up all bedraggled to work may bother women more than men. Not to mention trying to put on make up and do your hair in a bathroom stall. Men tend to wear less make-up and have shorter hair, so grooming takes less time. Even so, I would rather shower at home then have to do it at work. So I can understand the current situation. I will not begrudge anyone who doesn't want to get all wet and dirty on the commute.

What I am not saying is that we accept that women can't ride in the rain. Women are no more water soluble than men. Instead what I am suggesting is a change in our culture. Not just that cars shouldn't be seen as the only mode of transportation, but also that women are capable of navigating and being safe no matter how they travel. I wouldn't claim that women can't drive at night. Why should we, men and women, accept that a woman shouldn't cycle at night? Or in the rain? Instead we should be looking for ways to be more inclusive of all cyclists. This blog post gives a bit of advice on that matter. I still think the most encouraging thing we can do is to tell people they are capable, then let them try it.

Then again I am not a woman, so most of this is just guess work. I would love to know more. If there are ladies out there who have insight about this, please feel free to comment. 


Monday, March 4, 2013

Bikes & Pollution

This weekend I have been enjoying this story about Ed Orcutt, a local Washington state lawmaker, who angered much of the nation's cyclists with his comments about how much carbon dioxide they add to the atmosphere. At some point he stated that they pollute more than cars. This was all in relation to the bike tax idea from a week ago.

Today he apologized and retracted some of the statements. I am still not sure he understands how the carbon cycle works. When I read about this though I went and did some basic calculations for my carbon footprint. If I bicycle 18 miles round trip to work each day and use 50 calories a mile the I use 900 "extra" calories. If a more sedentary person makes 2.3 pounds of CO2 with a 2000 calorie diet, then my commute puts an extra pound of CO2 in the air each day. Compare that to 19 pounds created by a gallon of gas, which I would otherwise be adding to the atmosphere in my car. Stating that cyclists pollute more than cars is grossly inaccurate.

There is also a big difference in the how I produce carbon dioxide by breathing and how cars do it. Most of the food that you eat is made up of carbon molecules, just like cars run on hydrocarbon molecules. The difference is the carbon I eat is pulled from the atmosphere by plants. The net carbon in the atmosphere is zero. Cars, factories, and power plants run mostly on fossil fuels. Carbon that was trapped underground is now released into the atmosphere. The net carbon in the atmosphere is increased.

Now, I will say the idea that commuting by bicycle is not "net zero" is absolutely true. The food I eat is trucked to the store. That releases carbon. Often chemical fertilizers are used to grow the food. More carbon. Even my bike took energy to make. Most of that energy comes from fossil fuels. It then had to be shipped to me on trucks, trains, or aircraft, releasing more carbon into the air.

That more than anything proves the point that cyclists do help pay for the roads, even if they don't drive cars on them. Cyclists not paying their fair share is still a claim made by Rep. Orcutt in his apology. Yet, when I buy and apple at the store the truck that brought that apple had to pay gas taxes. That means the very thing that makes me not carbon neutral when I ride also means that I do, in an indirect way, pay for the roads.

That is just the gas tax, too. I also pay Federal, state, and local taxes that go to roads. I also pay excise taxes on my car, no matter how many miles I drive it.

While I am happy for the apology, I still wonder how much Rep. Orcutt actually understands what he is talking about. He is making several very basic mistakes in science, economics and tax policy. Hopefully he will use this as an opportunity to understand things before speaking about them publicly.


In defense of DFL

Dead Fucking Last. In the cycling community this is a general term of derision. It implies that you are the slowest most unworthy cyclist at the event. You will hear about it at every race. You are sure to hear about it if you are that guy. Even at the Greenlake races there was a prize for DFL. I always thought of this as a booby prize. But maybe that is the wrong way to think about it.

Last we at the FHR we had one rider who arrived late. Way late. About two hours after the first riders finished. After the prizes were handed out. When there was just about no chili left. It wasn't a mechanical issue, or a flat tire. The guy was just slow.

At the same time I think he put in a harder race than anyone else that day. Trust me, if you had seen the guy you would know. Isn't that what we are looking for in sporting? What makes the Tour De France or the Iditarod so amazing is people pushing themselves to their limits. (Maybe that is what offends everyone about doping in sport. If you use performance enhancing drugs, you aren't truly pushing yourself to your limit.) This is why we are excited about people climbing the highest mountains, or diving deeper than anyone else. We talk about the people who ran the four minute mile, or a 2 hour marathon.

While we are always going to look for the person who is fastest or goes farthest, we shouldn't look down on anyone for not coming in first. Frankly, I have more respect for the guy who went gave everything they had to come in last than someone for whom winning was easy. For all of the guys and girls out there who came in exhausted, weary, and in last place, my hat is off to you.