Another hot take: The Columbian, a Pennsylvania newspaper, reported in 1895 that women were “riding to greater freedom, to a nearer equality with man, to the habit of taking care of herself, and to new views on the subject of clothes philosophy.”
That’s right, actual garments. Women quickly realized that floor length skirts and pedals don’t mix and began donning the trousers of the menfolk. A moral panic ensued, but women won, and cycling pants ultimately “helped to legitimize women’s presence in traditionally male spheres.”
Dang. Where did all that momentum go? Well first the Ford Motor Company and then the Interstate Highway Act instituted car culture across the land. And all people, but especially women, stopped riding as much.
Most recent studies show women make just 25 percent of all bicycling trips. Plus on average women in the U.S. are less likely than men to ride, and among those who do, women ride less often and more exclusively for recreation (not transportation).
But any doom and gloom assessment is also an opportunity, or in this case, a bunch of opportunities. Below we’ve paired some depressing data points on the gender gap with hopeful approaches to bridging it.
- Gap: Only 6 percent of American women versus 13 percent of men say that they are confident riding on all roads with traffic.
- Opportunities: Offer women urban riding skills classes, group rides, and personalized route recommendations to help instill confidence, especially when riding on busy streets. It’s often a good idea to start with casual rides on low-traffic routes or social rides that end at comfy coffee shops where participants can ask questions in a social environment.
- Gap: 26 percent of American women say that learning more about bicycling skills would encourage them to ride more.
- Opportunities: Create a women-only bike skills curriculum, with modules to target different abilities. Start with a Learn to Ride class and end with an on-bike Urban Road Skills class. Have cohorts move through modules together to foster unity and create a safe space. Check out a great example of this by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont.
Bikes Make Life Better is dedicated to helping employees at large organizations use bikes for healthy sustainable transportation. They’ve helped design bike programs, facilities, and fleets for Airbnb, Facebook, Kaiser Permanente, LinkedIn, Netflix, Salesforce, Stanford, and many others.