You may have seen the stereotypes – middle-aged men in Lycra (MAMILs) on expensive, fast road bikes, racing in groups on roads and trails, terrorizing pedestrians and car drivers alike; women with long flowing hair and equally long flowing dresses wearing heels while they pedal slowly from shop to shop. While both of these exist, they are not quite the norm. The only difference is that you are much more likely to see the MAMILs than you are the women in heels. Why? Because women ride bikes in much smaller numbers than men. There are many reasons for this, including safety concerns, intimidation, aggressive male marketing and family responsibilities. Luckily for all of us, there are people out there working hard to change all that.
Last week I attended the National Forum on Women & Bicycling, hosted by the League of American Bicyclists. The one day meeting of the minds focuses on how to get more women on bikes. Participants understand that women want to bike for transportation as well as for fun and fitness, but have different needs/interests/concerns than men.
Martha Roskowski, the Vice President of Local Innovations at PeopleForBikes, shared some results from their US Bicycling Participation Benchmarking Study Report:
- Although 34% of Americans rode bicycles last year, over half would like to ride bikes more often because they consider it to be a convenient mode of transportation.
- Women overall tend to be more concerned about safety while biking, either personal safety or being hit by a motorized vehicle.
During the lunchtime panel, presenters talked about the need for women to have “safe spaces” or “brave spaces” to learn about biking – women-only groups, events, clinics, rides and more, where they are safe from judgment, ridicule and harassment. Representatives from Specialized Bicycles and Liv Giant Bicycles talked about how they have created not only women-specific bicycles and gear, but also social networks since women prefer community messaging. Both brands have ambassadors who run bike clinics, group rides, social events and more.
Arlington Transportation Partners is aware of the challenges women face when it comes to biking; several women in our team bike to work regularly. In addition, we spend a lot of time doing outreach, and talking to women about biking and hear their concerns. ATP wants to see more protected bikes lanes, better infrastructure and work as closely as we can with Arlington County to encourage positive change.
In the meantime, we continue to support our colleagues at BikeArlington and Capital Bikeshare with events like the 2013 “Zen Around the City” (bikes and yoga for women only!) and Bike to Work Day. Tackling both the physical and the mental aspects of biking is a win-win for all of Arlington!