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. 


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