In 2013, the League of American Bicyclists completed an exhaustive study with the goal of understanding how to encourage women to bike more when commuting to work or school, or when shopping. In 2009, women accounted for only 24 percent of all U.S. bike trips, but demographics are changing. From 2003-2012, the number of women and girls bicycling rose 20 percent. In cities that have been awarded the League’s Bicycle Friendly designation, the percentage of women cyclists is much higher. In San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia, over 30 percent of bike trips are by women. Gender equity in bicycling is possible. In the Netherlands, women account for 55 percent of bike trips, in Germany 49 percent.
More and more women are bicycling and getting involved. They are lobbying at the local, state, and national level. They are leading cycling clubs and advocacy organizations. They own and run companies that manufacture bikes and gear designed for women. Women are setting up businesses to teach other women how to ride confidently or fix their bikes.
The League report focused on what they call the Five Cs that will encourage more women to bike: comfort, convenience, confidence, consumer products, and community.
Comfort: According to a 2009 study of bicyclists in six cities, “the most important determinant of bicycling for women was their comfort bicycling.” The number of women riders dramatically increases when there are accessible and protected bikeways that allow daily trips from home to be made safely. For example, since 1992 Portland has created an expansive network of bikeways, and not surprisingly the percentage of women cyclists increased from 21-31 percent in 2012.
It’s also happening in Santa Barbara. I work on Haley Street, a busy one-way west-to-east connector. I’ve noticed that since the city added a bike lane, I see more and more women who are comfortable biking on Haley Street.
Convenience: For many families, bike commuting is easier for men who ride to work and return home. Women often have additional child-care and shopping responsibilities that make daily cycling more complex. As a result, large numbers of U.S. women believe they simply can’t accomplish their daily tasks on a bicycle. The bicycle industry has responded by developing commuter bikes with racks and child carriers that make shopping and child-care stops easier. Bike sharing programs can also help by adding flexibility to your family’s mobility choices.
Confidence: No matter where or why they ride, women want to feel not just safe on the streets but confident in their skills. Whether to learn techniques to ride with children after becoming a parent or the best way to get back on a bike for the first time in years, classes and workshops can encourage more women to dust the spiders off their bicycles and hit the road. The Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition offers Street Skills classes that help cyclists learn to ride a bike safely and confidently with traffic on city and residential streets. Taught by League-certified instructors, the classes cover the basics of cycling: how to avoid common road hazards, basic traffic rules, where to ride on the road, how to safely change lanes, how to utilize bike infrastructure, cyclist’s rights and responsibilities, and more.
Consumer Products: Women are a powerful consumer force, but too often they do not feel welcome in bike shops or do not find bicycles that address their desires and needs. Traditionally, bike shops have been geared to the male consumer. For many women going to a bike shop is as intimidating as walking into a greasy dark auto repair shop. That’s changing. To experience the next generation of bike shop that welcomes, women, children, and cyclists of all abilities, try shopping at the new Bicycle Bob’s shop in Goleta.
Community: Women cyclists are not a homogeneous group. There are many different communities of women cyclists. Some join race teams while others commute or cycle on weekends with their families. Others lead by teaching, advocating for improved cycling infrastructure, encouraging young racers, or leading by example. Every woman from spandex racer to urban commuter to weekend rider is a role model. Women are still under-represented in the bike industry, in setting policy, and advocating for change.
In Santa Barbara, there are many ways for women to join the community of cyclists. The month of May is Cyclemania. There will be bike rides, tours, classes, events, and celebrations for every type of cyclist. Some events will be specifically for women. If you want to ride on the road, you can join the B4T9 cycling team. Or, if you find bike shops intimidating and want to learn how to fix your bike check out Bici Centro or Lynneal Williams’ Chicks and Chains.
Every May, three area women are recognized with a Velo Wings award for their contributions to making Santa Barbara a city where everyone from ages 8-80 can cycle safely. I can’t do a grand reveal now, but a future Pedal On column will feature interviews with each of this year’s Velo Wing awardees. Follow the example of Santa Barbara’s Velo Wings awardees — lead and make change happen.