Why Women Don't Bike More

By Amy Carver, Walkable and Livable Communities Institute Project and Marketing Coordinator

There are several studies and articles circulating regarding the gender gap between U.S. men and women riding bicycles. I've found by reading several of them that the actual statistical numbers and the differences between them are not consistent; although not too far off base either. The numbers vary, because study groups and sources vary. What one can take away from the articles is that the majority of bike riders are, in fact, still men. Now times are a'changing folks and that gap is becoming narrower as some places are making bikeable and walkable environments a priority.

I do have a dirty little secret to share with you  though. Although I work  for and support the walkable and bikeable movement, I am not a bicycle rider. Cue the shocking music, "Dun, Dun, DUUUUUUN." How can I possibly work for an organization that promotes and advocates for biking and walking, but not ride on a consistent basis? The answer to that question is not that dissimilar to the main reason provided by most of the articles I read regarding why women do not bike as much as men.

I will begin by telling you that the main reason I don't bike is not because I don't like to sweat which is what a great deal of articles like to point out as a formable reason women don't bike, and for some of the female population this is true. Notice I write the word "sweat."  I don't subscribe to the theory that women just perspire folks, we sweat! For me,  I'm also middle-aged and live in a southern state so I can attest I do a great deal of it most of the year just by walking out my front door.

I'm also not apprehensive about biking because it causes "bad" hair. With naturally wavy and frizzy hair (that I cruelly subject to a straightener on a daily basis),  I have bad hair days to begin with living in a humid environment and it ends up in a ponytail most of the time. So we can cross that reason off my own list.

Sadly, the reason I don't bike is because I just don't feel safe doing it. The community I live in does not provide an environment for biking safely, which is a shame. A true shame. I live off both a major thoroughfare, connected to a main highway and on my side of the street there are no bike lanes or sidewalks in which to ride. I'd have to ride at least four blocks taking my own life (or children's) into my hands while sharing a car lane or a narrow few inch strip before I reach a crosswalk that will allow me to safely get to the section of road where I could ride safely. A person could argue, well then you should not have chosen to live there then if walking and biking was important to you. For me, as a single mother raising two young children, I did not have an economic choice. The place where I live is not a tree lined, white picket fence place, but it is safe and an affordable place for my children and me to to reside. In fact, my current community is a mix of single moms, senior citizens downsizing and young couples just beginning their lives together, a perfect mix of demographics of people that would want to bike and/or walk to grocery stores, shopping and schools. 

View from front of auther's community

View from front of auther's community

I almost feel punished because I can't do my part for the environment or my body by leaving my car at home and using pedals or feet to run errands or take my kids to school. Thankfully, I work from my home office so I don't have to worry about using a car for work purposes. No, because of my safety concerns, I can't  bike or let either of my children bike or walk to school so a car it is. To ride for recreation, I must drive at least a mile. Where I live also does not foster an environment for walking or biking for all their residents, but it does for the families that live in those white picket fenced, street lined homes. Shouldn't the ability to bike and walk be shared by ALL people?

The bottom-line is that women, in general, consider safety to be the number one factor as a reason they don't bike.  The good news is that because more and more communities are realizing the benefit of a livable community, more are working on making safe bikeable streets a priority. More women than ever before are strapping on their helmets and getting on their bikes and before long, we may even tip that gender gap in our favor! 

Are you a women who would like to bike more? If you don't, why don't you?

If you are interested in reading more on this topic, please click on the links below:

FiveThirtyEight - Why women don't bicycle
People for Bikes - New study on women's participation reveals insight
NY Magazine - Why more women don't bike