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Did you know that 75% of cyclists are male? 

Cycling provides an opportunity to substitute the car for a healthier option. It doesn't require fuel, it contributes to an active healthy lifestyle, and saves reduces the huge air pollution problem in the UK.

I am trying to investigate why the gender imbalance exists in cycling in the UK, as in countries such as Germany and The Netherlands women cycle as much as men; furthermore, cycling is a popular mode of transport in these countries.

So what do you think are the main reasons behind this? Some contributing factors that have emerged in my research are;
 

Harrasment (verbal abuse, funny looks, sexual harrasment)
Lack of confidence
Fear of traffic
Not wanting to break a sweat / potentially mess your hair etc
Distance
Weather
Lack of cycle lanes
hills
Not knowing enough about bicycle maintence
Bikes are too expensive, not sure where to get a 2nd hand one

Would love to hear your views, please feel free to reply, the more detail the better!

Hopefully my research can contribute to achieving a gender parity in UK cycling!

Best wishes,

George
University of Manchester

66 comments

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srchar [1002 posts] 3 months ago
10 likes

The main difference between cycling in Germany/Netherlands and the UK is the quality of cycling infrastructure. That's really all it boils down to.

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hawkinspeter [2372 posts] 3 months ago
2 likes
srchar wrote:

The main difference between cycling in Germany/Netherlands and the UK is the quality of cycling infrastructure. That's really all it boils down to.

Seconded.

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HowardR [233 posts] 3 months ago
1 like

Hi ManchesterRider,

Firtsly - thirded on the infrastructure.

The following stream of conciousness guff is largely based on what I see whlist walking through inner London. I make no claims to it being generally applicable...

First an observation - when cycling is used as a mode of transport  it is, as I understand it, often much more 'Sport' orientated than it is in countries such as the Netherlands. Lycra, Helmet & Chain Gang of fellow commuters seems to be the norm for many people.

I'd be intrested to know the mean/meadian/modal commuting distances of commuters in the U.K compared to more sensible places .... possibly a function of housing costs?

A number of items on your list could be equally well be applied to running, yet running seems to have a much higher rate of female participation. On a few occasions I've tried to keep a  tally of male & female runners (who seem to be commuting, ruck sack e.t.c) as I trudge my way from station to work <yes! I do need to get out more> and on occasion there have been more female runners than male runners.

and.... a number of the items on your list could be applied to horse ridding - but when I'm out on my bike & encounter a horse & ride 85% + of the time the rider is female.

and.... I'm betting that the clear majority of the replies that you'll get here will be posted by males

 

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Shades [414 posts] 3 months ago
5 likes

Chris Boardman did a good piece on Utrecht in the ITV coverage of the 2015 TdF.  His line was, "I didn't see cyclists, I saw people in normal clothes on bicycles".  If (current) cycling in the UK had it's roots in a 'mode of transport' with all the enabling pieces (eg infrastructure, behavour, laws etc) in place, as opposed to being grown out of 'cycling as a sport/fitness activity', I reckon there would be more women cyclists.

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Simon E [3380 posts] 3 months ago
2 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:
srchar wrote:

The main difference between cycling in Germany/Netherlands and the UK is the quality of cycling infrastructure. That's really all it boils down to.

Seconded.

And thirded.

 

Long version:

You only have to look back through the news on road.cc about commuting, the close passes videos. Better still, read what the cycling advocate orgs and individuals have been saying for years - Cycling UK, Carlton Reid of Bikebiz, Chris Boardman, West Midlands RPU and many more.

The one thing you'll repeatedly see is the need for safe cycling infrastructure because many people want to cycle more but are scared of riding in traffic. It's not about "sharing the road", "mutual respect" and all that bollocks. They just want to feel safe and for cycling to be convenient - not having to negotiate a long, convoluted route around some winding back streets (where aggressive drivers can still drive at them or force them too close to parked cars), through a narrow gateway, dismounting over a footbridge etc etc....

I'm not a woman so can't say much about gender-specific issues but, based on what I've heard, I can imagine there's an additional level of vulnerability being female on a bike.

Bikes aren't expensive; yes the ones promoted by cycling magazines are expensive (along with the impression of needing 'all the gear') but compared to a smartphone, tablet or whatever, normal bikes aren't. And certainly not when compared to the cost of running a car, motorbike or scooter. But most brands don't sell them as practical transport.

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LastBoyScout [467 posts] 3 months ago
3 likes

To answer your points:

  • Harrasment (verbal abuse, funny looks, sexual harrasment)
    My wife is used to being beeped/whistled at when she's out running, so probably wouldn't bat an eyelid at the same when on a bike.
  • Lack of confidence
    To some extent - she's not that great with the gears and worries about being in the wrong gear at the wrong time, but that would come with experience.
  • Fear of traffic
    Yes - we got rather close passed when we were out together by some impatient idiot, which didn't help. We are reasonably lucky that there are plenty of shared use paths and bike lanes around us, but they don't always go where you want to.

    Both these points enhanced now by cycling with a kiddy seat.
     

  • Not wanting to break a sweat / potentially mess your hair etc
    Not really.
  • Distance.
    To some extent.
  • Weather
    Definitely - she really suffers from Raynauds when it's cold.
  • Lack of cycle lanes
    Not too bad around here.
  • hills
    To some extent, but not too bad around here for short trips.
  • Not knowing enough about bicycle maintence
    A bit - punctures are a worry, but everything else would get handed to me anyway. That includes both my sisters.
  • Bikes are too expensive, not sure where to get a 2nd hand one.
    Not really, but then 2 of hers are new and I bought her the 3rd.

The main things putting my wife off cycling as an option for many car journeys are time, distance, luggage, kids and weather.

Can't really understand why my sister does't cycle to work, as it's only about 4 miles. I'll ask her when I get a minute.

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srchar [1002 posts] 3 months ago
4 likes
HowardR wrote:

I'd be intrested to know the mean/meadian/modal commuting distances of commuters in the U.K compared to more sensible places .... possibly a function of housing costs?

This bears further investigation.

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PRSboy [312 posts] 3 months ago
1 like

I've many non cycling bloke friends who have mentioned many of the same objections (though not sexual harrassment to be fair!)

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Drinfinity [95 posts] 3 months ago
1 like

Round here, traffic and hills. But mostly traffic.

 

my ramblings:

I was watching ‘Made in Dagenham ‘ the other night, set in the late sixties . The factory workforce arrived from nearby estates on bikes in their working gear. It was the normal way to get around - a motorcycle was a luxury item. Now it’s seen as a lifestyle choice, rather than the best, easiest option. 

I think the NL difference is infrastructure, and no hills, so bikes are easier than cars for short city journeys and commutes. In Haarlem I saw plumbers with cargo bikes just doing a normal job. In the UK that’s the sort of thing I might spot in Hebden Bridge,  but certainly not mainstream.

 

all of which means the barriers to cycling as normal transport in the UK are high, so the question could be asked - are women more risk averse than men? The comparison earlier with running is interesting- arguably a lower perception of risk running on the pavement than Cycling on the road, but more female participation even though running is horrible.

 

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Drinfinity [95 posts] 3 months ago
4 likes
srchar wrote:
HowardR wrote:

I'd be intrested to know the mean/meadian/modal commuting distances of commuters in the U.K compared to more sensible places .... possibly a function of housing costs?

This bears further investigation.

 

And graphs. We want graphs. 

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hirsute [406 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

From my minority conversations: helmet hair, lack of showers, general affect on appearance, too dark, adverse weather

Lack of good routes would be in another set of reasons.

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Drinfinity [95 posts] 3 months ago
1 like

Ooh look, graphs. And maps. And maps with graphs!http://epomm.eu/tems/

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SpikeBike [102 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

Was the figure of 75% of cyclists are male adjusted for the work population split? I have no idea on this but career breaks for children may skew result as would areas where males dominate the workforce. Just a thought.

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Yorkshire wallet [2203 posts] 3 months ago
2 likes

Been trying to get my other half onto a bike for years now, even offered to front up for an electrically assisted one but no chance. Think of about 20 of her friends only one actually cycles regulary for exercise, maybe on a couple more ride on family wobble abouts and the rest are bone idle and it shows. 

This is what happens when being overweight becomes the norm. 

 

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Awavey [426 posts] 3 months ago
3 likes
HowardR wrote:

Hi ManchesterRider,

Firtsly - thirded on the infrastructure.

The following stream of conciousness guff is largely based on what I see whlist walking through inner London. I make no claims to it being generally applicable...

First an observation - when cycling is used as a mode of transport  it is, as I understand it, often much more 'Sport' orientated than it is in countries such as the Netherlands. Lycra, Helmet & Chain Gang of fellow commuters seems to be the norm for many people.

 

but thats down to the environment weve created on the roads for cycling, you cant just pootle about on a bike on most urban roads, as it would become intolerably stressful coming into conflict with other traffic all the time, so you feel you have to ride in "sporty" mode to make it reasonably comfortable, to feel you have some control of the space around you, so our roads ultimately attract sportier cyclists. Build the infra and cliche yes but the modal change will really come naturally.

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Beecho [431 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

Personal experience comes from the sister-in-law (Anna, serious rider and my main partner in 2 wheeled crime) and the more cake & coffee loving missus (Kate).

Anna rides everywhere in all weathers. Kate, never when it’s raining and rarely when it’s cold. Anna has short hair, Kate long, and long hair that ‘needs’ much straightening...

And that really is all I have to offer. Sorry.

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Ronald [57 posts] 3 months ago
16 likes

I'm Dutch, and only lived in England for about 5 years. To me it is really simple: England is extremely intimidating for any cyclist. The level and frequency of aggressive/inconsiderate/careless behaviour by motor car drivers is really off the chart.

I cycle less, and enjoy cycling less because of this than when I lived in the Netherlands. I like to be in control, but do do "risky" sports (fell running, downhill as fast as I dare, skiing). On the road I'm not in control, but at the mercy of an idiot who has a bad day, can't care less, who knows.

From here it is simple psychology... Men are more prone to take risks. I don't expect any chance in the male/female split in cycling until the game of chance that is cycling in the UK is gone.

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BehindTheBikesheds [2299 posts] 3 months ago
5 likes

FEAR OF HARM, that is the main reason why women/most people do not cycle, then it comes down to lazyness/thinking that it takes too long, is too much hassle to cycle as opposed to using the car.

It's not cycling specific infra or lack thereof, that in itself is not required, it's the existing environment that we have, the infra that is already there that is allowed to be commandeered by the wrong group and using it by force majeure at the expense of the safety and ease of transit of everyone else.

You remove the freedom to go about with ease by motorvehicle, you restrict completely, you force by adapting vehicles to be only x size and allowed to go at x speed in certain environments and have a maximum acceleration speed too. This will turn the tide, thinking about cycle specific infra is small potatoes, first it won't happen and b it doesn't go anywhere near far enough, not even in the Netherlands.

Sometimes we have to force things by hook or by crook, governments of both leading parties are weasly tossers when it comes to forcing those that cause harm to change.

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Canyon48 [1062 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

Whilst I was on the committee for my uni cycle club, we REALLY struggled to get female members (we struggled to get members full stop - but that's a different matter).

Of the 25-30 members, 3 were female. Of the 5-10 regulars, 1 was female.

Interestingly, I would estimate 50-60% of the cycle commuters I saw most days who used the cycle parking at uni were female.

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CAF2012 [7 posts] 3 months ago
3 likes

Some of it may be self-sustaining - as there aren’t many women riding, women don’t ride. This is just anecdotal, but the number of women riding in my cycling club has increased substantially over the past few years - in part as a result of people initially trying other (usually the women-focused Breeze/Let’s Ride) rides and perhaps because we offer non-speedrat groups as well. Last Sunday, the group I was in had 11 riders, 9 of them women - and a fair number of those had started their riding with Breeze rides in the past.  That number was a bit exceptional but it’s usually at least even in this group (which is a non-speedrat group); the faster groups tend to skew more male but we still have plenty of faster women. As far as I can tell, the reason that we have a reasonable number of women riding is because many saw women already in the club when they started riding. 

(I’m female, btw, and there were fewer women when I started. But the club was welcoming and I work in a fairly male-oriented industry so am used to not seeing many other women). 

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hawkinspeter [2372 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

The BBC have picked up on this too: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-44446958

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Drinfinity [95 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

And Ros will be on the telly now to talk about it

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bikerchickie [4 posts] 3 months ago
8 likes

I guess I'm your atypical woman then. I love riding my race bike. So here's my answer to your list of factors.

 

Harrasment (verbal abuse, funny looks, sexual harrasment)
I'm from Belgium, lots of cyclists here, but I do find that I still get looks from male cyclists. Some are looks of amazement, usually from older cyclists, others give me a "hey look, a woman on a race bike"-smile.  I don't give a crap. 

Lack of confidence
Nope. I often go riding with men and I can hold my own. 

Fear of traffic
Sometimes, on busy roads, but I tend to avoid them like the plague. Luckily, there are enough bike paths here where  you don't see cars for miles and miles. 

Not wanting to break a sweat / potentially mess your hair etc
Bwuahahahaha. I'm not even going to dignify that with an answer. Isn't that why showers were invented?

Distance
I commute to work by bike twice a week. My office is 40 miles away. You do the math. 

Weather
Nope. When it rains,  I get wet. I'm not made of sugar, I won't melt. I only cycle indoors (track) when temps go down lower than -5° or when it snows, which hardly ever happens here.

Lack of cycle lanes
Nope. Plenty of those around here.

hills
I'll give you that one. I hate climbing. Doesn't stop me from going to the Mont Ventoux each year. But if given a choice between a hilly ride and a flat one, I'll always pick the latter.

Not knowing enough about bicycle maintence
After riding for two years, I got sick of paying through the nose for bicycle maintenance, so I went to evening school and am now a licensed bicycle technician.

Bikes are too expensive, not sure where to get a 2nd hand one
I just ordered a BMC Teammachine SLR01.  I don't have kids, have to spend my hard earned cash on something, right? 

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Yorkshire wallet [2203 posts] 3 months ago
1 like

Kudos for cycling 40 miles to work. My work is less than 10 miles away and I still can't be arsed some days.  

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ConcordeCX [860 posts] 3 months ago
10 likes

It seems to me that this is the wrong place to ask this question. First, it's predominantly men, second the women here do cycle. You should be asking the women who don't cycle, and they're probably not reading this site.

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HoarseMann [66 posts] 3 months ago
3 likes

Safety is the biggest concern for my wife.

On the UK roads most drivers are considerate, but there are enough bad drivers to almost guarantee a scary incident on every ride.

Cycle infrastructure should help, but in the UK it is often a muggers paradise of quiet alleyways lined with bushes.

Then you’ve got the occasional aggression just for being out on a bike minding your own business...

https://youtu.be/WYV6o_Nyszc

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ManchesterRider [4 posts] 3 months ago
1 like
Drinfinity wrote:

Ooh look, graphs. And maps. And maps with graphs!http://epomm.eu/tems/

 

Thanks for finding that really useful!

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ManchesterRider [4 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes
SpikeBike wrote:

Was the figure of 75% of cyclists are male adjusted for the work population split? I have no idea on this but career breaks for children may skew result as would areas where males dominate the workforce. Just a thought.

Hi,

Reasearch shows since the 1970s gender representation in the workplace has balanced out, but women are still expected to carry out most household duties.

Today, over 70% of women aged 16–64 are employed, this percentage has increased from slightly over half (53%) in 1971.

 

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ManchesterRider [4 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes
ConcordeCX wrote:

It seems to me that this is the wrong place to ask this question. First, it's predominantly men, second the women here do cycle. You should be asking the women who don't cycle, and they're probably not reading this site.

 

I have already done a focus group with female non-riders.

 

This has still generated interest and people are answering on behalf of their partners etc.

 

 

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ManchesterRider [4 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes
bikerchickie wrote:

Not wanting to break a sweat / potentially mess your hair etc
Bwuahahahaha. I'm not even going to dignify that with an answer. Isn't that why showers were invented?

 

 

Hi,

this came up frequently with fellow students, 'concerns over appearence' were cited frequently. Which is why I included it.

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