Women & Bikes: 5 Things I Knew

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Our new Women Bike “Women on a Roll” report is doing exactly what we’d hoped: It’s getting people talking.

Blogger Lady Fleur recently wrote a five-part series breaking down the report’s “Five Cs”, noting her own personal experiences as they related to the facts and figures.  We loved the series, “Five Things I Knew About Women Bikes… But was afraid to write about before I had data to back me up,” so we’re sharing some of our favorite sections from it. 

Part 1: Comfort

Although my friends and I will ride on the shoulder of highways with 45+ mph traffic like Highway 1 along the California coast, we avoid it if there’s any alternative. It’s true for commuting too, where time is more critical. When I ride the whole way to work I have three options: 11 miles on the shoulder of a 45 mph expressway, 12 miles on 35 mph 4-lane office park arterial roads with bike lanes or 14 miles where half is on arterials and half on off-road bike paths. Guess which one I choose.

…Having only male cyclists weigh in on bicycle infrastructure can skew it toward designs that fewer women will choose. In particular, the preferences of “vehicular cyclists” who believe bikes should be “driven” like cars in standard travel lanes instead of ridden in bike lanes are far less appealing to women. Given that 94% of women prefer separated bike lanes, I’d say that people who fight against them are being unintentionally sexist.

Is it that women are too nervous to learn to ride in car traffic? Nope. Over half of the participants in classes offered by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition are women. My take: women are willing to learn to ride confidently and safely, but they’d rather not have to ride in fast traffic that doesn’t think they belong there.” Read the full post here.

Part 2: Convenience

If I couldn’t carry things on my bike except what I could fit in a messenger bag I wouldn’t be a daily cyclist. Period… Bikes you find at most shops don’t come with racks or baskets and putting them on anything except a touring bike or cruiser is discouraged. When I bought my ’97 Lemond Tourmalet the guy at the shop flat out told me “you can’t put a rack on this bike” when I asked about it. Six years later I did it anyway and it works and looks great.

And that’s for me, a woman who’s not a mom with kids to take to day care, to school, to soccer or dance or to the doctor. How easy is it for mothers to find proper equipment locally? Are these places close enough to home or work to have time to zip between them, especially if they were originally chosen based on driving times?” Read the full post here.

Part 3: Consumer Products

I really should love bike shops. They’re filled with beautiful bikes (which I love) and handsome fellas (including the one I married). But with a few notable exceptions I don’t have much in common with shop staff, and I don’t expect them to understand what I want or need. Probably because 95% of them are men and the few women who work in shops often have more in common with the guys than with me.

…While it’s great that we now have more bikes and jerseys designed to fit women better, it means women are treated as a niche market. The big bike brands have women’s sections on their web sites, but women rarely make the home page except in images labeled “women’s products” that lead to the women’s section. That’s better than being ignored, but it says that women aren’t mainstream cyclists.

The result is that the cycling is defined by masculine values of riding harder, faster and longer. So we get stories and images of sweat, dirt, and suffering, and slogans like ‘too hard to die’instead of the more universally appealing “the adventure begins here.” That’s hardly a way to attract new female riders to the sport, nor to sell new bikes and equipment to the existing riders.” Read the full post here.

Part 4: Confidence

“Not everyone who loves riding bikes loves working on them. In particular, I’ve found that most women learn the minimum to get by and let the pro mechanics handle the rest. Why shouldn’t they? Most drivers don’t change flat tires, they call for roadside assistance. But bicycling isn’t mainstream like driving, and people who aren’t interested in working on bikes often don’t feel like real cyclists. And that’s a lot of women.” Read the full post here.

Part 5: Community

“Every major advancement in intensity or skill in bicycling I’ve made is a direct result from riding with friends, mostly women. Peer pressure is an amazing thing. It started when my girlfriends and I challenged ourselves to ride 33 rolling miles in the Tour de Peninsula on my first adult bicycle, a fully rigid hardtail mountain bike… 

I’m not saying that riding with men can’t inspire women to go farther or ride harder, but it’s a lot easier for women to say to themselves: ‘it’s easy for them, they’re stronger, more experienced, more daring” or whatever. But when you see someone you consider your peer conquer a challenge it says “if she can do it, then I can.’ ” Read the full post here.

Epilogue

Writing this series was more emotionally difficult than I expected….  I was biting my tongue because I knew that people would challenge my statements: “I’m a woman and I like repairing bikes” or “I’m a man and I prefer protected bike lanes too.” That’s why I needed the survey to prove that there are indeed demographic differences that may not fit your personal experience.

I also knew that criticizing the “faster, longer, harder” sport-driven emphasis of cycling would challenge people who are comfortable with cycling remaining an activity for an elite breed of rider. Real cyclists have the strength to climb 10% grades, the skill to clear rock gardens, the endurance to commute 15+ miles to work one way, and the courage to merge across high-speed traffic. Those who can’t are encouraged to learn some skills and try harder. Those who don’t want to are relegated to novice status, even if they’ve been riding for decades.

Because of this cultural bias, I felt compelled to show my credibility as a skilled rider and former racer when writing this series. It bothers me that I felt I had to do that to be taken seriously.

This series is complete, but I pledge to keep writing now and then about women and bicycling. I already have one partially written about everything a high-end mountain bike shop does to win women’s loyalty, and another about everything a race organizer did to alienate beginner racers. As I said, I’ve been biting my tongue.”

(All photos courtesy of Lady Fluer)