Women In Cycling: Why We Matter

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Women In Cycling: Why We Matter

Bina Bilenky-Trahan and her cherished Bilenky Bike – photo courtesy of Justin Trahan

I learned a long time ago that when you want to create change or incite a movement, you must know why. You must also be able to communicate that why. Because when you do, things happen. Change comes about from inspiring ideas. From those inspiring ideas comes the how – hope, motivation and commitment to action. From that action comes change.

It’s kind of like pedaling a bike. To begin, you need the why. Because it’s fun, because I want to go somewhere, because it makes me feel good, because I can…

With the first pedal stroke comes hope. I can have more fun if I keep pedaling, I can go somewhere if I keep pedaling…

With several pedal strokes comes change. I’ve made it to my destination and damn, that was fun…

At Girl Bike Love, our goal is to positively impact the number of women riding bikes, identifying themselves as cyclists and adopting cycling as a lifestyle. But Why?

Why should we and other advocates be focusing on the female rider? Why its it important to get greater support for women’s racing and events? Why should the cycling industry spend more time marketing to women? Why does it matter if women ride bikes?

We all know what an incredible impact cycling can have on our health, our communities and our environment. Cycling has much more to offer this world than two rubber tires licking the ground below. Simply put, bikes can save us.

With increased cycling in a community comes change, positive change. One must only look to US cities such as Portland, Boulder and Minneapolis, to see the positive growth that has resulted with the development of a strong cycling culture and attention to bicycle infrastructure. Fortunately, many communities are following in their footsteps and the list of Bicycle Friendly Cities gets longer every year.

In order to make this shift in our society on a much larger scale, we need to engage the greatest influencers of all time. WOMEN.

Women are Change Makers
Women make things happen. Women talk, women write blogs and create communities focused around movement. According to the Enthusiast Demographics and Industry Trends Survey recently conducted by Bikes Belong, “…female respondents were more active online. Women were more likely to be on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, or have a personal blog or website.”

Women are the greatest influencers of all time. Women like to tell of their experiences, encourage and support one another. Women like to share.

For this reason, female cyclists are rarely created individually but more often in groups of two or more. Women share their passions and empower one another to reach their goals.

Midwest Women’s Mountain Bike Clinic – photo courtesy of Sub-9 Productions

Invite a woman out on a ride and the first thing she will do is ask her friend to come along. Invite two women out for a ride and you’ll have a whole pack. Invite a dozen women out for a ride and you better close down the streets because it is going to get a little crowded.

Women are Integral to Lifestyle Education
As mothers, educators and health care providers women have a great influence on children and young adults. In the US, women constitute about 70% of public school teachers. The more women that are comfortable with cycling, understanding the health and environmental benefits and how to ride safely, the more women will pass cycling on to others… especially children.

photo courtesy of Yuba Bicycles

Women who are cyclists are going to teach their children, their friends, their friend’s children, their students and their students’ parents that cycling is important. Women who are cyclists are going to encourage youth to ride a bike to school, creating the next generation of bicycle commuters. When women see that the roads aren’t safe for children to ride… they are going to do something about it. Women have an almost 2:1 presence over men in advocacy.

The influence of mothers reaches well in to young adulthood. The nytimes.com reported on The Immutable Influence of Mothers by Melissa Lafsky: “A study released by The University of Melbourne’s School of Behavioural Science shows that a significant number of college students consider their mothers to be the single most significant person in their lives. Out of a survey of university freshmen, 40% listed their moms as the most important and influential person they’d ever known, compared with 25% for fathers, 17% for romantic partners, 12% for friends, and 6% for siblings. According to U. Melbourne associate professor Jennifer Boldero: Dads are important too, but for many generation Y people their mother remains the most important person …”

WOMEN are change makers.

Women Make Financial Decisions
As much as the male population might hate to admit it, women often control the money. The tenth annual “Financial Experience & Behaviors Among Women” study, run by Prudential Insurance found that 95% of women control the financial decisions made in their households from buying cars and houses to everyday purchases. Marketing strategists know that Women control over 85% of all consumer purchasing across every brand category.

Women Are Ambassadors for the Sport
Female bike racers are ambassadors for the sport of cycling and their supporters. Cycling is an expensive, demanding, sometimes brutal sport. With low financial compensation, most women who race bikes professionally must find other means of income. Professional female cyclists are well educated, well spoken and do it for love of sport.

Women with the power to maintain a successful career, raise a family and race bikes must have passion and determination. Women who race bikes make great spokespeople and roll models.

Women are the Future of Cycling
By engaging women in cycling we have an amazing opportunity for impact. Women can help to build strong cycling communities with the potential to grow in to a cycling nation. From these communities, from this cycling nation, we can expect a dramatic improvement in health, connection to the places and people around us and a positive impact on our environment.

So, gentlemen, ah-hem, before you try to convince your wife that you really need that new custom wheelset, why not encourage her to come along for a ride? Maybe the next time another bike finds its way to your home, she won’t mind so much. Maybe, just maybe she will want one for herself. She might even suggest that the kids should be riding too.

Why does it matter if women ride bikes? Because women are the future of cycling.

How do you think we can encourage more women to ride a bike?

Written by Sarai Snyder – Founder, Girl Bike Love – Boulder, Colorado.

Tagged with → why women should ride bikes • women in bicycle advocacy • women in cycling
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44 Responses to Women In Cycling: Why We Matter
RaceSpy Event Calendar says:
12/16/2011 at 14:37
As a father of two daughters who love to ride I salute your effort and support you. We all have to do our part to bring people into the sport and share in the lifestyle we all hold dear to our hearts.

James F. Duncan says:
12/16/2011 at 20:18
This is really a great post that I hope gets wide circulation. Biking outreach that encourages and fosters opportunities for girls riding bikes, like for instance Girl Scout programs with strong parental involvement, or sponsorship by women bike clubs of bike clubs for junior or middle-school girls and similar activities should be considered.

The blog community of female bike riders like you and others is a wholesome, dynamic, even charismatic movement that is exciting and unique, enriching cycling for all of us.

Thank you for a thoughtful read! Jim

Sarai Snyder says:
12/16/2011 at 20:26
Thank you both. We are finding a lot of support from fathers for what we are doing! We agree that young girls are very important too. We are developing a program to help girls and women start their own clubs… check back with us soon and hopefully it will be rolling. Thank you for spreading the word!

Stephanie Morris says:
12/16/2011 at 20:52
What a wonderful article. As a mother of two girls who are involved in both road and mountain bike racing, it’s exciting to see others trying to build support for women’s cycling. There is so much more offered for the young men. I haven’t been able to explain WHY the difference to my daughters, they don’t understand. My oldest daughter, 14, is now riding for JETCycling on their JETCycling Women’s Junior Elite Team. This team is trying to bridge the gap between juniors and the PRO’s. Watch for them and support these girls wherever you can! Given the opportunity they will prove they have what it takes to excel in the cycling world.

Sarai Snyder says:
12/22/2011 at 12:01
We’ve been talking with Jet and will be glad to feature some articles on the girls! coming soon!

Leslie says:
12/17/2011 at 10:08
Awesome article! So many great points and love the data showing the positive impact of more women in the sport. Thanks for writing it. I will repost on our Trek Women Facebook, and hopefully it will inspire more women to ride, and also encourage current cyclists (men and women) to invite more women to ride!

Mike P. says:
12/17/2011 at 16:09
This is such a great article because it convincingly argues the global importance of women in cycling.

I would also like to share a couple of personal thoughts…

Ever since I got into cycling at the age of eleven, I’ve wanted a life partner that I could share it with. Seventeen years later, I found her, and cycling has helped hold our relationship together when the going has gotten rough.

Over those 17 years I’ve learned the hard way how, and how not to introduce women to cycling and grow their interest and participation in the sport. I would love to see a book or a series of articles aimed at male cyclists showing them how they can be more effective ambassadors for the sport to their girlfriends, wives, daughters, nieces, and even platonic female friends.

Sarai Snyder says:
12/22/2011 at 12:04
Great point Mike. We certainly know what doesn’t work. Maybe a series on this topic would be good. As cyclists sometimes I think we get so wrapped up in the details that we forget the best way to get someone to ride is to just put them on a bike and go!

Sarai Snyder says:
12/22/2011 at 12:04
Great point Mike. We certainly know what doesn’t work. Maybe a series on this topic would be good. As cyclists sometimes I think we get so wrapped up in the details that we forget the best way to get someone to ride is to just put them on a bike and go!

Darlene says:
03/19/2012 at 20:52
First, it has to start young because discrimination starts young. We live in a society that not only is auto-centric when it comes to transportation, but also teaches girls that they should aspire to be “princesses” or “divas” instead of competent, self-sufficient adults. The gender gap in bicycling is the intersection of multiple social problems.

By a young age, many girls have been sent a message that bikes are “boy’s toys.” In the tween years, boys may be given more freedom to explore on their bikes and use them for independent transportation. Boys may also be taught more about bike maintenance and they certainly receive more encouragement to ride BMX or do other things that get a kid comfortable with falling off a bicycle and getting back up. Sexism over time adds up. Parents need to be consciously on the lookout for behaviors – from themselves, their children’s schools, or other children and their parents that send anti-bike messages to girls or boys.

I think most of the difference in adult cycling boils down to childhood opportunities. Adult men who never learned to ride a bike in traffic as a child or teenager probably aren’t very likely to start doing it in adulthood either.

The one area where men can make a significant difference in adult women’s cycling is in making sure they don’t inadvertently deprive their partners of opportunities to ride. For mothers, unequal division of childcare and household responsibilities often leads to a lack of time to travel by a slower mode or take recreational rides. The best thing dad can do to keep mom from burning gas in the minivan is take the kid to daycare in a bike trailer or pick up the groceries on his cargo bike.

ladyfleur says:
04/05/2012 at 14:22
I’m a diva and a princess and I love riding my bike in heels and dresses. 🙂

I am disappointed that the bicycle industry has focused on the sport aspects (road racing, aggressive mountain biking) at the expense of just riding around for fun or transportation. I think that’s a turnoff for a lot of girls and women.

The good news is that I am seeing more upright “city bikes” that are more appealing to new riders, especially girls and women. And they’re properly equipped with baskets, racks, fenders and chain guards to they’re as practical for transportation as they are beautiful.

takemusu says:
12/17/2011 at 18:13
As a member of the Team Estrogen forum, a couple of women’s bike clubs I’ve always know that women cyclists rock!


Anne Hawley says:
12/21/2011 at 12:04
Great article! I appreciate the photos featuring women in street clothes riding city bikes. Women’s participation in the sport of cycling is certainly important, and athletic women should not encounter obstacles to participation, but it seems to me that the biggest gains are to be made in urban cycling for transportation.

I’m a non-athletic woman in my mid-50s. Skirt-friendly upright bikes with baskets, fenders and lights were a revelation to me when I decided to take up bike-riding a couple of years ago. Now, car-free and carefree, I ride everywhere, every day. It would be hard to overstate the positive impact it’s had on my life, my health, and my self-concept.

(And yes, I do live in Portland. I don’t think I could have made the change in any less accommodating an urban environment. It’s fantastic. And even here, I’m a bit of a tourist attraction with my gray hair and street clothes and grocery-laden baskets. And Christmas lights!)

ladyfleur says:
04/05/2012 at 14:10
Thanks, Anne, for speaking up. Bicycling is a sport for some, recreation for some, and transportation for some. And for some (like me) it’s all of the above.

I commute and do errands in street clothes on a properly equipped city bike so that I can carry groceries, my laptop, dry cleaning, etc and with lights so I don’t have to rush home before dark. Most people who see me off the bike would have no idea I had arrived by bike.

It bothers me that most people don’t realize that riding this way is possible. We don’t have to all be athletes in lycra or yoga pants (not that there’s anything wrong with that)

Anne says:
12/22/2011 at 06:39
Terrific article! Thanks. In Philadelphia, a non-profit organization called Gearing Up is making a difference in women’s lives. Their mission “is to provide women in transition from drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence, and/or homelessness with the skills, equipment, and guidance to safely ride a bicycle for exercise, transportation, and personal growth.”

It’s an incredible organization you can support from afar with a donation!

Check them out: http://gearing-up.org/

Erin Elberson Lyon-GF Fitness says:
12/23/2011 at 18:18
Riding a bike is our first taste of freedom as a child. As we grow older, sometimes spending time on a bike saddle is a reclaiming of that freedom, a time just for us, a time to be our own true selves, to put on our own oxygen mask prior to helping others. I would love to see more bike handling and skills clinics specifically for women, as I think the more comfortable women feel on the bike, the more we will see women in group rides and racing. I certainly plan on advocating those types of events in my area as much as possible.

Amy says:
12/27/2011 at 08:06
Thanks for this well written and thoughtful article. It is inspiring. Keep up the good work!

Jessica says:
01/04/2012 at 16:34
love this post!

Mari Lynch – Bicycling Monterey says:
01/04/2012 at 18:50
It’s a great sign of the times that an increasing number of women, including female racers, women bike commuters, and mothers with babies and young children http://marilynch.com/blog/mamas-and-babies-at-the-sea-otter-classic.html show up here at the Sea Otter Classic, where once you saw mostly males.

Sarai Snyder says:
01/04/2012 at 19:58
I was there Mari! It was great, hope to see even more this year.

Sam says:
01/14/2012 at 12:54
Women are also the big players in today’s advocacy issues:

Mia Birk transformed Portland and now is the President of the country’s (only?) bike/ped planning firm.

Janette Sadik-Khan has transformed a city that was responsible for the creation of the word, “gridlock”

And my personal favorite inspiring woman, Jane Jacobs who stopped the biggest, baddest interstate highway from cutting through what is now one of the most phenomenal neighborhoods in the entire country.

Stevil says:
02/06/2012 at 19:42
I don’t care what anyone says. I think you’re alright.

Cycling’s Week on the Web – Bike Rumor says:
02/11/2012 at 18:46
[…] further into these points at the original article on […]

Dalilah says:
02/15/2012 at 21:23
Thank you SO much for this inspiring article… this is just the thing I needed to start my cycling life… I’ve been looking for a change & to surprise my cycling aficionado boyfriend since he never offers to take me with him even on social rides… but I feel armed with knowledge, that no matter what – I can do this! I too can ride!

Female Cyclist says:
02/15/2012 at 21:36
Yes, Dalilah, you CAN ride! Please follow us on facebook and post any questions you have. We promise to help as much as we can! Have fun with your new passion.

Lisa Farrant says:
03/13/2012 at 10:05
I love this Article!! Thank you!!

I’m a strong woman, mother, wife, friend & daughter who loves to RIDE MY BIKE! I have gotten back into racing after 13 years. I got married, had 2 children, who are still young 5 and 9 years old, and now I’m taking myself back. I LOVE my children and husband and it’s time to add ME back into the mix! We all ride together and share our joy and passion for riding with our kids!
I help others with their health and fitness goals and get as many women out on the trial as we can, with the help from our local Bike shop at Exhale Bikes here in Arizona.
Enjoy this beautiful land and “Just Ride” !! 🙂

Stacey W. says:
03/13/2012 at 14:41
Fascinating article. As a 39-year old woman who has cycled her entire life, I find it interesting that there is a problem getting women into cycling. Huh.

On a positive note, today I went on a ride with my kids: son, age 4, rode his own bike and daughter, age 1, was pulled in the trailer. My son has been pulled in the trailer since he was old enough, and is excited he’s able to ride along on his own bike now. Now that he’s gotten good enough he will be allowed to ride his bike instead of sitting in the stroller when I take the dog (and kids) on our morning walk/jog. I assume (and sincerely hope!) that baby girl will follow in his footsteps as she gets older.

Suzanne says:
03/13/2012 at 15:38
I’m a female business owner who is a bike lover too! We get involved in the bike to work program and raise money for the local bike co-op every year. yay for female changemakers who ride bikes!

P.S. Today is/was a beautiful day for a bike ride! Hooray for spring!

shawnak says:
03/13/2012 at 16:09
I teach at a women’s college and recently started riding to work. When I shared the results of my first ride with my students, they were astounded that I rode “3 whole miles” there and since they were worried about traffic, said they’d “pray for me” on my way back. I laughed and scoffed at the miniscule mileage, since I regularly do longer pleasure rides, but the more I think about it now, the more important it seems for me to keep riding there. If they see me do 3 miles each way on a regular basis, perhaps they can envision themselves doing the same (and better) someday.

Harv. says:
03/14/2012 at 04:55
I think it’s great that women are waking up to this recreational sport.

I find it amusing that they want to take credit for the discovery.

Men have known this and been doing it for decades. Perth, Australia has tens of thousands of male cyclists and only a very small percentage of females.

Men typically don’t need to waste valuable column space taking credit for other people’s wisdom. It doesn’t need to be a gender sell. Just sell the benefits of cycling to everyone.

Its time to get real … what you want to do is squeeze more product sales out of the market and pushing a proud pro-female message helps expand your revenue base.

You have a lot of catching up to do before you can genuinely claim to be leaders.

Female Cyclist says:
03/21/2012 at 07:49
Did you even READ this article? Not exactly sure where we claimed discovery of cycling, and I’m also unsure exactly which revenue you speak of, Girl Bike Love is a labor of love.

Cycling for cycling sake is not a gender issue and I will agree that we need to get everyone riding bikes. However, until the we truly recognize the differences between the way men and women learn and connect we will never have equality in number of women and men riding bikes.

I will repeat, women are change makers, getting more women riding bikes will drastically and positively impact the number of cyclists in future generations.

stephan geras says:
03/14/2012 at 06:34
a FINE article, I agree with attempt to inspire confidence
; but the woman I share my life with can’t ride to work downtown Manhattan, to different law offices daily, dressed for service and carrying 40 pounds of equipment. She can and does ride when she can, and she sure can! Also remember, the fear factor on busy NYC streets is huge for any beginner (and dangerous). Riding isn’t pleasurable when you’re maneuvering to survive every second (and if you’re not you’re taking your life in your hands). One thing…most women are thankfully much less dangerously competitive while riding deadly city streets than men, though shouting at peds and at other riders, and cursing them out is just as real for some women too. And why is it that your picture of a woman rider in bare feet and little skirt just doesn’t inspire confidence or truly promote riding among women?

Female Cyclist says:
03/21/2012 at 07:40
Agreed that women are often portrayed in cycling ads in skirts and riding very casually while men are portrayed as hardcore athletes, dressed for the task even when riding in the city. As more women embrace the bike as a viable form of transportation I believe you will see more attention payed to the safety of our streets for cyclists. I also believe women will have a more holistic approach to the life decisions… where you work and live will make or break a good bicycle commute.

ladyfleur says:
04/05/2012 at 14:02
Stephan, choosing a bike over a car is not an all-or-nothing choice. Where there’s no good route or you have 40 pounds to carry you may not choose to ride. But there are many times most people drive when a bike would be just as easy and a lot more fun.

I ride in business attire with my laptop in a briefcase mounted on my bike every day and I love it. I’ve ridden to business meetings across town and stopped on my way home to get groceries. It’s a matter of having the right gear and not riding so hard you start sweating. For longer distances, I take my bike on the commuter rail and ride to my final destination.

I’ve ridden in downtown Manhattan during rush hour and it was intense, mostly because I didn’t know my way around. With the Hudson River bike path, the 8th and 9th avenue bike lanes/cycle paths and other facilities they’re putting in it will only get better for cyclists in NYC.

Jon Sparks says:
03/14/2012 at 10:57
Well, my (female) partner has a better road bike than me and our mountain bikes are nicely matched (bought at same time). We love riding together on and off road. But as I sometimes write about and photograph bikes and biking I get to ride more, and with wider range of people, than she does.
There are lots of reasons why many women/girls can be deterred from riding but there are also lots of positive role models out there. As part of ‘the media’ I do think we have a responsibility to give these as much coverage as possible.

Doug says:
03/14/2012 at 13:46
No better way to advertise, in this case the power of women and Fashion! Make it fashionable, and it will sale. Never thought Vanity could be so beneficial!

Beware Gentleman!

Jess Mathews says:
04/05/2012 at 10:42
Thank you for this article, it was a great read. I am very much passionate about getting more women and children on bicycles here in Columbus, Ohio. I did a Pecha Kucha presentation about the Importance of Women in the Bicycling Culture and it went over fantastic. There is also a ’2 Wheels n Heels’ bicycling group that began in Cleveland, OH. It’s monthly rides ending with a woman showing other women basic bicycling mechanics. I am currently expanding that effort down here to Columbus, Ohio 🙂
Once they both get going, I’d love to share it with you as a potential article piece for your blog as well.
Keep up the good work!

Jessica says:
04/05/2012 at 15:10
Thank you for this article. Being a woman who gets around Seattle mainly by bicycle, I care very much about this subject. I would like to see transportation agencies take into account the unique needs and tendencies of women when building bicycle infrastructure more than they currently do. Even though I commute mainly by bicycle, and have even gone on a few long-distance bicycle tours in the past, there are many common bicycle routes in Seattle that I refuse to ride that my husband has no problem riding. There are even more routes that I find stressful enough that I tend to choose taking the bus over cycling most days. If I end up having children, the number of routes I refuse to ride with a child will probably increase. Women, including myself, tend to be more risk averse than men when it comes to safety. Studies have shown this, including this one: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bdm.414/abstract

I think that building more complete bicycle routes in cities that are efficient to ride on but completely separated from traffic, especially fast moving traffic, will get more women to ride. I know I feel comfortable riding with cars that are going 25 mph or less, slightly stressed when riding among vehicles going 30mph, and very stressed if they are going above 35mph. If a city is built in such a way that the average woman with a small child or infant, or an average older or middle aged woman feels safe and not stressed cycling to all her destinations, then we would not have a problem getting women to ride. They have done this in many cities in Europe. But as it is, only the adrenaline junkies and hardcore cycling advocates will dare ride in most cities in the United States, or at least those women with an unusually low risk aversion. We have a long way to go to make cycling feel safe and pleasant for the average woman in the U.S. Many cities are improving, Portland being of particular note, and I hope the trend continues in this direction.

60 Second Cycling Summary: Upcoming Events and Week in Review | Easy As Riding A Bike says:
04/06/2012 at 10:02
[…] Clinic at Highland Park High School on April 20th. Today I would like to share a great post from Girl Bike Love. Take a moment to read it – you’ll be […]

Myke says:
04/12/2012 at 14:35
This article seems sexist. Women are no more important to biking than men.

Gendering the Ride? « Bicycle Geek says:
05/13/2012 at 10:44
[…] in the 19th C. Here it is in their own words: Cyclo Femme is presented by Girl Bike Love. Our mission is to create a unified voice for women in cycling, encouraging and empowering more riders. By […]

Audrey Wiedemeier says:
05/23/2012 at 11:21
Start a community bicycle project like the Bike Library and have a Ladies Shop Night. Not that guys can’t come, but make it gal-friendly. Not that everyone should know how to overhaul their entire bicycle, but it makes a difference to know how to do minor adjustments and fixes. It also is a good opportunity to use tools, ask questions, or just figure something out for yourself.

Abby says:
05/23/2012 at 19:39
when I put on my cycling gear my 2 year old daughter cries “Go mummy Go!!!” I am so proud that I and not barbie inspires such enthusiasm in my own child.
Cycling is good for the whole world, and the more women who do it, the more children will as well.

Womens road bikes says:
06/03/2012 at 09:16
Very true, life is also like cycling. beautiful woman leaning on a bicycle. like in the picture above.

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