02 August 2015

She Rides In Australia

A friend expressed consternation that today I cycled to Connecticut alone,  something I've done before.

I have also done that ride, and others, with friends.  But, she says, she wonders how I can ride alone.  

She is about a decade and a half older than I am and has not ridden a bike since she was a teenager.  That was typical for the place and time in which she grew up.  She says she'd thought about riding again but had difficulty finding other riders, particularly female ones.

"And the roads are so dangerous.  Don't you worry?"

I explained, as I've explained before, that I am careful but that cycling, while it has its risks, is really no more dangerous than any number of other things people do.  "To tell you the truth, I feel less safe crossing some streets--especially Queens and Northern Boulevards--as a pedestrian than I feel when I'm biking," I elaborated.

Her fear is a common one. In fact, a recent study shows that it's the main reason why women don't ride bikes.  To address that fear or reality, depending on one's point of view, Cycling Australia has initiated the "She Rides" program to get women to take to the same roads men ride every weekend.

Participation Coordinator Alex Bright said that while most women cycled as children, getting them back in the saddle as adults had been difficult.  In the hope of encouraging more women to ride, "We wanted to create a program that connected them with like minded women to help them get going and riding," she explained. "We wanted to provide a way to support women to get on their bikes because a lot of women feel unsafe on the road."

She rides group in Parramatta
Members of a She Rides group in Parramatta, New South Wales

That program includes an eight-week course that now operates in 46 locations throughout Australia.  Charlene Bordley has coached three She Rides programs and says that while physical fitness is a benefit of riding, "it's also about mental fitness."  Riding for the first time in their adult lives--or, in some cases, for the first time in their lives, "is freedom for some people," she said.

Bordley, Bright and others involved with the program are doing something right:  Ninety percent of the women who have participated say they are more likely to ride on bike lanes or quiet roads than when they started, while 78 percent are more likely to ride busy streets.  

Manju Prajesh is one of those participants.  Even today, she still can't believe she now has the confidence to ride on the road.  "We have totally lost our fear," she says.


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