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Bike News Roundup: Why do so few American women ride bikes?

Elly Blue @ PBOT Brown Bag! from Cantankerous Titles on Vimeo.

It’s that time again. Time to stop working for a couple hours and read interesting stuff on the Internet instead. We’ve got some interesting stuff for you today. And given the lack of roundup at Bike Portland this Monday, I imagine you bike-loving readers are thirsty…

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This is an open thread. Why do fewer women than men ride bicycles in America? What can Seattle do to change that?

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12 responses to “Bike News Roundup: Why do so few American women ride bikes?”

  1. Melinda

    I feel like I’m seeing more and more women in Seattle out with me on bikes, actually, and it makes me really happy. But I also feel like there’s a lot of bike culture that I don’t fit into, and part of that is because I’m a woman.

    It’s hard for me to put my finger on or articulate what exactly it is that I, personally, think we need here, but it sounds a little like “less elitism” and “more of making cycling something that is a normal thing to do, instead of something that only weirdos or really brave people do”.

    1. Allison

      I don’t see “normal” as being a selling point in Seattle ;) but I think I take your meaning.

      More leads to more. More people out makes it safer for all. It being safer brings more people out. And it helps if it doesn’t seem like you have to be insane or a super athlete to manage it.

      I’ll say this for Seattle hills: I rode regularly in Portland for two years, huffing and puffing up various hills. Lived in Seattle for two years and I’m back in Portland for a month and I can’t find those hills. I’m going along Broadway that used to make my thighs burn and thinking to myself, “Ok, the hill is going to get steep soon…I’m sure..next block…wait, ok, next block….but…” Takes time, but commute to the top of Queen Anne for a year and there’s very little you can’t take.

      1. Melinda

        Sure, normal is a selling point. Doing something that most people aren’t doing is putting yourself out there a little, and when women put ourselves out there a little, we also know we’re putting ourselves out there for crap like Andres mentions below.

  2. Andres

    Fewer condescending attitudes, as well. I’ll quote two recent complaints by my partner (who clocked in 732mi in Cascade’s 2011 GHCC) –

    “I was on my way to work when someone noticed my [MIT] Engineers shorts. They rode next to me, and said ‘Engineers, eh? Clearly not mechanical engineers. Your fender is rubbing!’ Can you imagine him going up to a guy and saying that?”


    “I was riding, when come guy comes out of nowhere and gives me a long lecture about why my hips are rocking back and forth when I ride. I wasn’t asking for advice, and he didn’t even ask me if I wanted it; he just started lecturing me in an incredibly condescending way, as if it was my first time biking.”

    1. Allison

      Eh, I think it’s important to ignore crap like that or take it as a compliment – it’s the way certain socially awkward types hit on women :). They don’t realize a woman on a bike is the opposite of a damsel in distress.

      Let this be a nice general public service announcement: Women are not waiting to be saved. We’re adults and we take care of ourselves and more frequently take care of others.

      There, that ought to take care of it once and for all, eh?

    2. Melinda

      Oh man. I hate stuff like that. Most of the time when it happens to me, it’s someone telling me something about my bike, like I had no idea. “It looks like someone had this made into a 7-speed!” was my favorite one. Yeah, someone did that. You are talking to her.

      In a similar vein, I sometimes get well-meaning men asking me how they can get their wives/girlfriends/whomever to ride a bike. If I were that guy’s wife/girlfriend/whomever, maybe I would know, but I’m already on a bike, so I don’t. It sometimes has an undercurrent of “how did some man convince you to ride a bike? Certainly you wouldn’t have done this by yourself!”

    3. I good retort would have been something like, “Thanks for letting me know that you were staring at my ass, creep” or something like that… Just a thought.

      1. Ugh… “A good retort…”

  3. Allison

    I think the important thing is to encourage each other. What got me riding when I didn’t was having a buddy. In my case, it was my husband – he knew the safest routes, the easiest routes, and had good gear and could guide me to good gear. And it’s just more fun with company.

    I talk about being carfree at dinner parties, at the bus stop, anywhere – and when people express that “I wish I could, but…” I try to tell them how to go about it. Most people don’t mean they wish they could – they just know they’re supposed to want to. But there are those who really just need an extra little push. And I try to make the transition easier. For example, I sit down with her and show her a safe route between her home and work and then offer to ride it with her on a weekend where there’s no time pressure. Or, I lend my big panniers for a grocery trip, or just go get groceries together so there’s more storage capacity. I never wear bike clothes for any ride less than 20 miles which I think helps show you don’t need more than a bike, a helmet and maybe a rack and fenders.

    Also, I like to focus on the car-free perks. The day I got my prorated car insurance rebate, I went directly to the mall and blew the whole thing on make up. It was awesome.

    1. Andres

      When encouraging people to start riding as their main form of transportation, I tend to say things like, “Riding at night? It’s easy, just get a $10 reflective vest and a Niterider minewt 250. Yeah, your little LED light’s not going to be useful when you want to ride the ‘Burke at night.” Once they discover the $100+ price tag on a good light or some waterproof panniers, they balk.. until I point out that not paying their car insurance for a month would easily cover it.

      For some reason the car insurance thing seems to put things in a context that people can understand. My pet theory is because it’s an external cost that people feel they shouldn’t be paying (a car tax), but they pay for it as if they’d pay a utility bill.

  4. If you’re a rider, put up a sign at work or in your building or neighborhood that says “new to bike commuting and want an experienced riding buddy? call me!” So much of the time people are afraid to start riding because they’re just unfamiliar with rules, rights, and routes. You can fix that, and gain a friend in the process :)

  5. RE: London – This doesn’t surprise me at all, given what I saw there on my last trip. Bikes were *everywhere* and were mixed in with some pretty gnarly traffic. I lived there in 2000 – things have changed dramatically and they’re just getting started.

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