What Do Women Want?

In recent years, replacing your car with a Schwinn has become a popular idea for reducing your carbon footprint. However, not everyone has rushed to their local bike store: fewer than 2 percent of the population relies on bikes for transportation. Women have been particularly slow adapters. New research on the subject suggests that increasing the number of cyclists in a given city can be as simple as asking women what they want. One expert says: “If you want to know if an urban environment supports cycling, you can forget about all the detailed ‘bikeability indexes’ — just measure the proportion of cyclists who are female.” (HT: Nudge) [%comments]


PaulD

Presumably because women are less likely to ride bicycles if the conditions are not safe? Or could it possibly be that a low percentage of female riders just means that riding a bike is not cool in that locale?

CandyKay

I live in Copenhagen, which has plenty of bike lanes, and I bike just about everywhere with my daughter in a seat on the back.

Biking is great, except when picking up drycleaning or buying wine or other large, fragile grocery items. Or in the rain.

Copenhagen also has a serious problem with drunk bicyclists - particularly around the holidays - or people who talk on their cell phones or text while bicycling.

La Gep

I'm a woman who bike-commutes--but I have the luxury of not having to always look formal at work, and there's a gym nearby to clean up if I so wish. I think many women would bike if they didn't feel quite so judged on their appearance at work!

Ray

Well you try riding a bike in heels.

Susanna K.

Perhaps women are slow adapters because we're more concerned than men are about being sweaty and having helmet-hair. An interesting way to test this would be to find out whether there are more women cyclists in cooler locales.

Grant

I know more women cyclists than I do male, I think. Or at least it's an even ratio.

Then again, I think more of my New York friends are female than male, and since New Yorkers are the only cyclists I know (more or less), that probably skews the numbers. Still, it does seem like there are a great number of women cyclists, especially in Brooklyn.

Rebecca Ray

As a woman who loves to bike, the reason I don't is because it is really hard to balance my 5 year old son and his assorted bags, my laptop, lunch and groceries. I would love to have something like a bicycle powered rickshaw. Instead I live close to work and his school in a small home with little room and drive as little as possible. I pick my battles. It might be interesting to see if there is any relationship between number of female cyclists and average number families with young children. I don't know about you but if you are carrying a breast pump to work and dropping the baby off at daycare, it really makes hills challenging.

Arnav

If you want more women to ride bikes then you need to start a sorta of domino effect. If the majority of riders are men then women get discouraged but if a large enough number of women start riding bikes then it will start a chain reaction.

Cid

I also strongly believe that the lack of female cyclists could be due to dress choices. I know that if I wear nice clothes to work I don't want to get them dirty or sweaty and do not want to lug around extra clothes just to change into.

Cycling is great, I live in Boston and it is very popular here even with all the hills. But you still see more men than women cycling, especially once the winter hits.

Jenn S.

I'm a woman bike commuter in Chicago, and I actually count the number of women I see daily in my 22 mile round trip commute. In the early mornings, the number is 1-5 women, in the afternoon when the leisure riders are on the lakefront path, you see more of a balance. I see very few other women biking in the heart of the city, though...and maybe they're smarter than me, as I've been "doored" twice already this season.

cheri

I ride a bike in Chicago and have been doing it for eight years -- before it became common.

Two worries that women have more often than men are: 1) fear of being attacked, and 2) apprehension about being harassed. A single woman on a bike (or on the sidewalk) is an invitation for many men to yell obscene comments and suggest sexual exchanges. It is sick, disgusting and an almost everyday occurance. You get used to it.

As for the fear of actually being attacked -- I feel so much safer biking than I do walking on the sidewalk, because I am so silent, fast and nimble. Of course being hit by a car is a valid concern of all cyclists, regardless of their gender.

Anna

I routinely bike commute in heels, and a skirt, after dropping my toddler off at daycare ( I carry her in a back carrier and walk my bike, but a toddler bike seat, trailer, or trail-along for an older child would work too). There are some logistical challenges to overcome in bike commuting, but it's not inherently more challenging than the logistics of driving during rush hour and hunting for parking at all of your destinations.

Flatiron

I was a bicycle commuter, before I had two children. I miss it but it would take a lot longer to get my kids to school and then me to work...plus having two kids complicates significantly the transportation infrastructure necessary. I was told to get a Burly trailer but that was a bit too late, as my kids are much too old to travel in a trailer...Now it is important to get them riding too...but that really slows me down even more. Anyway what I really miss is how fit I was when I was a bicycle commuter...nothing beats it!

Vera

Hey, I'm from Copenhagen too, female and bike everywhere. Perhaps this has something to do with the enormous bike paths the city offers, as well as the multitude of different types of bicycles to suit different (and often female) needs. The large dutch-style bicycles allow you to look formal at work and go out at night because it is still possible to cycle with a skirt, and for those with children there are closed, buggy style wagons that clip on to the back.

Now if only we could tackle that rain!

Chloe

I used to ride a bike to work, but you get hot and sweaty. I tried to ride the subway with the bike most of the way, but it was very heavy going up & down the stairs. Now I ride an electric scooter and it's awesome! I ride it everywhere, park it anywhere, and it costs only 10 cents a charge. No getting sweaty, and I can bundle up in a long coat and be warm in a snowstorm. It's also easy to wear a skirt or fancy shoes. I can carry dozens of groceries on the handlebars. I have to live in an elevator building though since it's heavy. I don't think safety is the issue because even though I worry about cars, I'm very mousy and pull over when cars are behind me. It's very annoying though. I'm ok zipping through a bad neighborhood because as soon as people see me, I'm already gone. Guys get jealous and have a sense of wonderment, not thuggery. I don't take it long distances though because the subway is still faster, and going along major traffic lanes causes black soot particles to stick to your face! Gross! Can't wear makeup if you ride in lots of traffic. Rain is the biggest problem. Whereas snow will blow off, rain seeps in. I only ride to the subway slowly then with an umbrella in one hand, or cap. Then I take the train the rest of the way.

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older and tired

So what age group are we referring to anyway? I live in the burbs and walk alot-- but when it comes to shopping, getting daughter to school on time, family members going here and there, errands (my husband can no longer drive) it's all on my shoulders. the thought of riding a bike (which I enjoyed when I was younger) would exhaust me even more that I already am. my next move, will be back to the city where I need not drive at all and can continue walking.

Erika

As has been said above, women have to take care of their appearance in a different way that men do. I did buy a bike and tried to commute to work. However, the problem became how much earlier I had to arrive to work to account for the extra time it takes riding a bike, to fix my make up, to change clothes, and to fix my hair. My co-workers also did not appreciate the amount of time it took for me to change in the bathroom as there was no gym close to my work.

Also I am a little intimidated of riding at night time. I have fellow women commuters who know the routes better than I do, if I had a buddy I would be more likely to do it.

MariferCMS

First of all, this proves that women rule over men, even if they don't realize it. I think the main reason its so hard for women to commute in bikes is because we get a very small amount of total utility out of it. Other than the fact that we might be helping the world in some way, its really not convenient at all for women to go around like this. We need to look pretty all the time, we must invest A LOT of time to look nice. We invest time to put on make up, to pick out nice clothes, to decide which looks best and then change our minds at exactly the last minute. And as you might suspect, every item of clothing we put on, every ounce of make up gives us a lot of extra marginal utility. Why would we risk all of this happiness by riding a bike and messing up any of the things we work so hard to put on in the morning?

David Chowes, New York City

70 years after the death of Prof. Sigmund Freud, a useful answer to his well known question: "What do women want?"

The question is about "bikes." (Only some women,)

Now I wonder whar a bike is symbolic for? I'll bet it has to do with sexuality.

CG

Pretty simple why I didn't bike to work when I lived close enough to do it:
1. logistics of getting into professional appearance
2. harassment (pretty near guaranteed where I lived) and/or attacks (less likely but not unheard of, and if it did, having to hear the world chime in with "well, what did she expect biking through that part of town*?")

And now I'm primary caregiver to a child, so it's not happening.
To get more female bikers, you have to have a population of women who don't have children to drop off, ways to groom at work, and a critical mass of riders or a enough of a biking culture that they will be generally left alone and safe. Not happening anywhere I've lived as an adult.

* that is, the part of town that you have to go through to get to just about any downtown