How do we get more women to ride bikes? It is a question that is often asked among bike advocates and city planners and there is no simple answer. Why would women want to step into that man’s domain, get sweaty when not in workout clothes, or worse yet, wear clingy lycra in public, get wet in the rain, or have to change flat tyres by the roadside? None of this really appeals to many women…
This week, in his very popular Sydney Morning Herald bike blog, Michael O’Reilly wrote and suggested various ways for women to overcome the material barriers. But his article presupposes that women will want to ride in the first place. He has missed the first step – how to make women want to ride.
His tips were formulated with a woman who is a very keen cyclist and they would suit women who have already taken the first step of getting onto a bike and riding to see if they like it. To actually get those women to take that first step is the biggest hurdle.
In my previous post I showed the above woman who is taking that step by getting a nice new, though probably cheap, women’s bike and practising riding it slowly in her neighbourhood streets till she gets used to it and builds up her strength. This is what to do. It looks lady-like and is not too hard and does not require meeting up with groups of women who ride and who are probably much faster and keener than her at this stage.
Another tip Michael O’Reilly offers is for women to learn how to fix a flat. Very few women want to fix flats and the very thought of it will probably put them off riding forever. I am one of them, even though I can. I would say, get puncture proof tyres, they are excellent and mean you will probably never need to fix a flat. Ever. You will need to learn how to pump up tyres though, and that is not nearly as hard and your hands won’t get covered in grease.
Steven Fleming has also added his ideas in his latest post. He suggests women advocate for separated bike lanes along the European model. This of course presupposes that women already want to ride – but they will not become advocates before they even start riding. Especially in the male dominated arena of bike advocacy.
Women will take to bike riding when they can maintain their dignity, look attractive while still getting some exercise, when it is much cheaper than taking a car and it is safe. When they see lots of other people riding slowly in a non-lycra-clad manner along separated bike lanes and probably without helmets which may mess up their hair and adds that perception of danger. And when hoons don’t yell at them as they go past too fast and too close in their revvy cars.
The first time you ride to work is the worst, you have to make sure that the bike is ready and the tyres are pumped up, work out what to wear, that your clothes are suited to riding or can be carried with you and packed accordingly. You must also have worked out the route you will ride as this is most likely quite different from the way you would drive. This preparation is well worth it. Once you get on your bike and start riding you will love it! Then you will want to ride with your kids to school and will want safer bike lanes, then you will see what a better city you would live in if most people rode, and then you will ask for better bike lanes.