How can we get more women cycling (and into the cycle industry)?

While there are most definitely more women riding bicycles now than 15 years ago – British Cycling is ahead of the curve here with Breeze rides and other initiatives – there still aren’t enough women on bikes. Famously, in the Netherlands, the gender split is 51 percent women to 49 percent men.

And there aren’t enough women in the cycle industry, either. This is not for the want of trying. At an industry event yesterday Isla Rowntree of Islabikes told me she can’t attract women job-seekers for love nor money. Islabikes is a childrens’ bicycle brand not a testosterone-fuelled roadie company yet for every 50 job seekers answering Islabike adverts 50 will be men, said Isla.

On job adverts some other bicycle companies have been known not to state they are bicycle companies – but once their cover is blown the number of women applicants drops away.

The photographs on this gallery show that there are women cyclists – in civvies – battling against the crappy cycling conditions (the pix were all shot in London on the same day) but, clearly, there would a whole lot more if the hostile road conditions weren’t quite so hostile.

This is a point made by researchers led by cycle advocate and University of Westminster academic Dr Rachel Aldred. The research found that growing cycling levels have not been accompanied by greater age and gender diversity.

The researchers first looked at the relationship between cycling levels and gender balance in all English and Welsh local authorities, using the 2001 and 2011 Census data. In both years there was a clear relationship: areas where cycling levels were higher, such as Cambridge, had a greater proportion of female cyclists. By contrast in areas with very low cycling levels, the gender ratio was extremely unequal, with men up to 14 times more likely to cycle to work than women.

The research was carried out for the Economic and Social Research Council, and was part of a project led by the Centre for Diet and Activity Research and the National Institute for Health Research. According to a press release from ESRC Inner London is one of cycling’s success stories in that cycle commuting rose from 3.8 percent to 7.2 percent of workers from 2001 to 2011. However, gender disparities remain, with men continuing to be around 50 percent more likely to cycle to work than women.

Dr Aldred said:

“We know from the Netherlands and Denmark that women and older people will cycle, if the conditions are right. But these results show that UK policy-makers cannot assume that if cycling grows it will inevitably become more diverse. This has not happened and so we should be targeting policy towards currently under-represented groups.

In particular, evidence shows that women have particularly strong preferences for cycle infrastructure fully separated from motor traffic.”

The study has been published by the peer-reviewed academic journal Transport Reviews


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3 thoughts on “How can we get more women cycling (and into the cycle industry)?”

  1. The research unfortunately focuses too much on averages. The situation varies between a handful of local authorities where cycling is growing, and the large number of authorities where cycling is declining. London is different again, and with a lot of variation between the different inner London boroughs.

    The cities which have seen the biggest growth in cycling, like Bristol, Brighton & Hove and Exeter have seen increases in the proportion of women cycling. The gender split in Cambridge declined slightly, but is still 96%. The gender split in Oxford rose slightly to 78%. In London, the split rose in Hackney.

    So contrary to the research, it would appear that the successful local authorities are indeed improving gender equity.

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