03 February 2016

Why Do--And Don't--Women Ride?

In late 2014, People for Bikes commissioned a study on women's participation in cycling.

Its findings confirmed some things I'd suspected but revealed other things that surprised me.

My own experiences and observations have shown me that more males than females cycle.  According to the study, 45 million women ride a bicycle at least once a year, compared to 59 million men.  In other words, about 43 percent of all adult cyclists are women.  Given what I've seen, I'm not surprised by those statistics. 

Nor am I surprised by another PfB finding, interesting as it is:  Boys and girls ride bikes at the same rate at ages three to nine.  At ten years of age, girls and women start to ride less than men and boys. The gap grows as they grow older, and is its widest at ages 55 and older.

That, in spite of something else the surveys revealed:  Almost the same numbers of women and men say they would like to bike more often.  One of the reasons women most commonly cite for not cycling is simply not having a working bicycle available at home.  This is a factor for somewhat higher of numbers of women than for men. 

Safety concerns are another deterrent to cycling for many women. While the numbers of women who worry about being struck by a car is roughly equal to the numbers of men who express such concerns, women are much more likely than men to cite fears about their own personal safety as a reason for not cycling.

One of the study's revelations that surprised me somewhat is that 94 percent of female cyclists rode for recreation while  68 percent rode for transportation to and from social and leisure activities.  Actually, I'm only somewhat surprised by the second figure, but more so by the first, based on my own observations and impressions here in New York City.

The most surprising part of the study (at least to me) is this:  A much higher percentage (31) of women with children than without (19) rode at least once a year.  Then again, the study found the same held true for men (46 vs. 31 percent).  These contradict a UCLA study that suggested women don't ride because they need their cars to handle childcare responsibilities. 

Knowing about the People for Bikes study leads me to wonder whether women's actual and perceived barriers to cycling can be overcome--and whether doing so would change the ways in which women ride.  If more women started to ride to work, and if more of us started to ride our bikes to social and other activities, would more women take up long-distance touring, racing and other genres of cycling in which the gap between women's and men's participation is even greater?

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