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Cycling minister and wife invited to Cambridge after "helmet hair" comments

Robert Goodwill MP, minister for cycling, has been invited to see a UK city with a more equal cycling gender balance after admitting he doesn't know why so few women use bikes for transport...

Cycling Minister Robert Goodwill, and his wife, have been invited to Cambridge after what have been branded uninformed comments by the minister last week suggesting women don’t cycle because of “helmet hair”.

At a Parliamentary meeting on Monday, Goodwill said we need to know why women don’t cycle to work, and his wife doesn’t cycle because a helmet spoils her hair.

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain say evidence as to why women don’t cycle is clear and have invited the Goodwills to see how Cambridge has managed to achieve among the highest proportions of women cycling in the country.

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The letter says: “The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain notes with regret the uninformed comments made by Robert Goodwill MP at the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s meeting on Monday on why women don’t currently cycle in large numbers in the UK.”

“The Embassy believe that the evidence on the barriers to cycling for women is clear, and should take centre stage in such a debate, rather than concerns about “helmet hair” and other anecdotal evidence.”

The Embassy identifies from the evidence the main barriers to women cycling, include safety concerns when cycling in traffic, and in unlit areas at night, as well as a reluctance to ride on main roads, while quieter routes mean longer journeys. A lack of safe cycling networks, and a tendency to experience more near misses than men, also puts women off cycling.

Goodwill's "worrying unfamiliarity with the weight of evidence on this issue" has been branded disappointing and the comments last week led to widespread criticism from cycling campaigners.

Sally Hinchcliffe, of the Embassy, said: “We at the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain were, like many others, shocked that such uninformed views could still be articulated by a minister who has now been responsible for cycling since late 2013.

“The evidence is clear that if we want to see greater diversity in cycling then we have to focus on the environment we are asking people to cycle in. At our AGM in Cambridge we'll be exploring one part of the UK that has achieved a better gender balance, and we're looking forward to seeing how the cycling environment begins to address this."

The Embassy says only by tackling the “hostile” environment cyclists face can the government begin its cycling revolution, and that places like Copenhagen, that Goodwill saw for himself last year with Chris Boardman, demonstrate how people of all ages, men and women, can cycle in normal clothes where the infrastructure is present.

The letter says: “with the very best designed infrastructure, as in the Netherlands where cycling is no more risky than walking, Mrs Goodwill may feel able to leave her helmet at home.”

However, in the Minister's defence a 2008 YouGov survey for Cycling England found that 27 per cent of the women surveyed were put of cycling by the prospect of helmet hair and 19 per cent by the idea of their work colleagues seeing them without makeup. However those figures paled compared to the 53 per cent who were concerned about safety.

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