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‘The male, white, cycling enthusiast niche has reached its natural limit’: Cycling must address lack of diversity, says Bicycle Association

Launching its Diversity in Cycling project, the Association has urged the bike industry to change if it wants to grow and reach new customers

Cycling must address its lack of diversity and break out from its “predominantly male, white, and often ‘cycling enthusiast’ niche”, if it wants to fully capitalise on active travel polices and investment, the Bicycle Association has warned.

To mark International Women’s Day, the Association, which represents the UK cycling industry, has today launched Diversity in Cycling, a project aimed at tackling the “diversity problem” which currently exists in the bike industry and cycling in general.

By aiming to unite and align the cycling industry behind a shared commitment to create a more equitable, inclusive sector which recruits more diversely and reaches out to new audiences, the Bicycle Association (BA) hopes the project will enable the industry to both better reflect society and to “exploit the potential that now exists for growth”.

> UK’s cycling market and infrastructure “being left behind” by Europe, experts warn

According to the BA’s report, published today, men currently occupy the vast majority of roles within the UK cycling industry. Men also make twice as many cycling trips as women, with 73 percent of women who live in cities never riding a bike (an issue highlighted in the recent Women’s Freedom Ride through London, organised by the London Cycling Campaign).

The report found that women hold just eight percent of cycle workshop roles, 19 percent of customer-facing roles, and 40 percent of the industry’s administrative roles – though only a small handful of those have progressed to senior leadership positions.

Over 90 percent of women face barriers to both entering and progressing within the sports industry, citing issues as discrimination, harassment, a lack of role models, difficulty finding a work-life balance, and a lack of training and targeted recruitment among the key “blockers” to progress.

Though no official data for the cycling industry exists at the moment, the report also noted that, anecdotally, Black, Asian, or people from ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the sector, as are individuals from low socio-economic backgrounds or with disabilities. There is also a lack of LGBTQ+ people joining or leading the UK bike industry, the report says.

That anecdotal evidence is backed up by the low participation levels in cycling for these groups. Only 14 percent of members of ethnic minority groups, 12 percent of people with disabilities, and 19 percent of LGBTQ+ people cycle regularly.

> UK bike sales fall to lowest level in 20 years

By encouraging and enabling these groups to cycle, and making the sector more reflective of society as a while, the Bicycle Association believes that the cycling industry can “unlock additional growth” and withstand the challenges currently facing the sector.

The BA’s Annual Market Data Report for 2022, published last month, reported that bike sales in the UK dropped to their lowest level in two decades last year – falling by 22 percent down to 1.8 million units and 27 per cent below pre-Covid levels.

The report's author John Worthington said he expects the year ahead to be “turbulent” and “challenging” – a claim borne out by the struggles facing several cycling companies already in 2023, such as the women’s clothing brand VeloVixen.

However, it’s by growing these previously underrepresented audiences, the Bicycle Association argues, that the industry can move beyond its current post-boom stagnation.

Chiswick High Road 02 copyright Simon MacMichael

> Stolen Goat’s parent company acquires VeloVixen and Wildcat

“There’s no doubt that cycling is beginning to be recognised by government as a crucial mode of transport, strategically important to deliver UK climate and public health goals, and a valuable tool for creating better places to live, work, and play,” says the BA’s executive director Steve Garidis.

“This brings with it welcome policy priority and increasing levels of public investment, to make cycling easier and safer, in turn attracting a wider audience for the kind of everyday cycling that might be undertaken by everybody, for leisure, exercise, health, social, travel to shops, work, or school.

“We can assume that as these policies and investments are delivered, cycling will grow. The potential is very significant.

“But to achieve this growth, cycling must also break out from its predominantly male, white, and often ‘cycling enthusiast’ niche. This group has arguably reached its natural limit.

“Certainly, UK bike sales over the last few decades have stayed at roughly the same size. Cycling has a diversity problem and to exploit the significant potential that now exists for growth, it must become much more diverse than it is today.”

He continued: “Here, the cycling industry has a role to play. Just as cycling has a lack of diversity, so too does the cycling industry. There are many reasons but the biggest may well be that it’s an industry full of cycling enthusiasts. Often a strength, but which here also means that an industry workforce of over 60,000 has roughly the same diversity as its enthusiast consumer base.

“Our workforce is the ‘frontline’ of cycling, the consumer face. We sell cycling to would-be cyclists on a daily basis. As an industry, one of the most important things we can do therefore is to take action so we better reflect our target market.

“Success will not only mean more people enjoying the fun and benefits of cycling, but will also mean growth in cycling sales, expansion and creation of cycling businesses, and more people in cycling jobs.”

> “Unlock cycling for women”: Over a thousand women ride their bikes around London to demand safe cycling

To tackle this lack of diversity in the cycling sector and cycling overall, the BA has urged all bike businesses to sign a Diversity Pledge committing them to creating a “diverse, equitable, inclusive workplace culture”.

Brompton, Giant, Trek, Specialized, Raleigh, Schwalbe, and Halfords are among the companies that have already signed the pledge, while cycling bodies such as British Cycling, Sustrans, Cycling UK, and the Bikeability Trust have also backed the project’s aim.

The BA has also invited everyone working in the industry to take a perception survey (a collaboration between the Association, Cycling Industries Europe, and WORK180) into the experiences, wants, and needs of people around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

 “The business case for diversity, equity and inclusion in the UK is ‘stronger than ever’, according to new research by McKinsey,” says the Bicycle Association’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lead, Sally Middlemiss.

“Diverse businesses are more profitable, they recruit the best talent, make better decisions, have more motivated employees, and have a superior understanding of customers’ needs.

“Initially, the Diversity in Cycling project will focus on collecting data and insights from both employers and underrepresented groups in our industry, to benchmark, measure progress, and capture case studies and role models.

“The project then aims to provide targeted support to employers, sharing best practice from within and outside cycling to help them implement their strategic commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion, while building an inclusive professional network for women and other marginalised groups.”

> Decathlon says it still has “progress to make” after cyclist points out that new “micro pockets” on women’s bib shorts can just about hold a cereal bar

Cycling UK’s chief executive Sarah Mitchell added: “In the UK, all segments of society are under-represented in cycling, but there is still a perception that cycling is predominantly an activity done for exercise by white men.

“That’s not a criticism of those who are riding, nor their reasons for doing so, but when cycling is dominated by one segment of society there is a risk that others may not feel that riding a bike is something they can and should be able to do.

“We need to question why that is and what can be done to correct this imbalance. The benefits of more people cycling will be a healthier, happier population with additional environmental and economic benefits. This is good news for all of us.

“The UK’s lack of significant change in the diversity in cycling is one of the barriers which holds us back from becoming a cycling nation. It is encouraging to see the cycle industry now looking at its responsibility to help make this change happen, as charities and NGOs cannot do it alone.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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41 comments

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Dnnnnnn replied to ChuckSneed | 11 months ago
16 likes

Because cycling, particularly utility cycling, is a good way to tackle lots of important problems (e.g. congestion, pollution, obesity, mental health, climate change, access to services, efficient land use) and if many groups are being deterred from doing this Good Thing then we should consider why and how those barriers might be reduced or removed.

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JustTryingToGet... replied to Dnnnnnn | 11 months ago
9 likes
Dnnnnnn wrote:

Because cycling, particularly utility cycling, is a good way to tackle lots of important problems (e.g. congestion, pollution, obesity, climate change, access to services, efficient land use) and if many groups are being deterred from doing this Good Thing then we should consider why and how those barriers might be reduced or removed.

This. When we have more utility cycling by every facet of society we'll all be safer.

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hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
21 likes

I'd consider that the biggest barrier to getting people to cycle is the fear of traffic on the roads. What's needed are sane cycling infrastructure (i.e. not bits of magic paint separated by beg buttons) and effective road policing. Anything else is merely rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.

Also to be considered is the level of aggression from motorists. I'd guess that a persecuted minority is not going to feel safe cycling when motorists can throw bottles etc with no repercussions.

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Rendel Harris replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
11 likes

Interesting article from SeeSense here: https://seesense.cc/blogs/data-insights-blogs/women-cyclists-in-london-a... showing that women are much more likely to choose protected infrastructure than men, even at the expense of having to take longer journeys, which bears out your assertion. It's a bit of an old survey now but I don't think there's any reason to suppose things have changed: a Sustrans survey in 2013 found that when asked what was the biggest reason for not cycling 67% of women cited the lack of protected infra, more than twice the number that cited any other reason.

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JustTryingToGet... replied to Rendel Harris | 11 months ago
11 likes
Rendel Harris wrote:

Interesting article from SeeSense here: https://seesense.cc/blogs/data-insights-blogs/women-cyclists-in-london-a... showing that women are much more likely to choose protected infrastructure than men, even at the expense of having to take longer journeys, which bears out your assertion. It's a bit of an old survey now but I don't think there's any reason to suppose things have changed: a Sustrans survey in 2013 found that when asked what was the biggest reason for not cycling 67% of women cited the lack of protected infra, more than twice the number that cited any other reason.

I think there are multiple factors at play... a few from my experience...
1) There are a proportion of motorists that are really shit anyway, but get triggered when they see they have just been overtaken by a woman. I suspect they get triggered by other factors that they see as 'other' as well. Death threats, rape threats and assault (i actually had my arse smacked out of a passenger window once) can be pretty off-putting.
2) as a woman I get a lot more 'shocked' commentary from associates amazed that I cycle round town and in London. They are less amazed by blokes doing it. Repeated peer pressure that what you're doing is dangerous can get you down.
3) from my observations, women tend to cycle in the gutter more and then get close passed more. It's not surprising, girls are socialised more to be polite and not take up space... makes for a shitty ride though and makes it more likely that you will seek segregated space.

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ShutTheFrontDawes replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
8 likes

Indeed. Not just fear of traffic, too, but also an increased general fear of safety (link provided below). I was complaining to my now wife years back about cyclists jumping red lights; especially by Turbo Island in Bristol (I expect you know it) and she told me that she never stops there if she can avoid it. I was surprised but she explained how intimidating and scary it can be stopping there.

On International Women's Day, I can say with confidence that women deserve better.

Link: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/society/articles-reports/2022/03/08/how-ofte...

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hawkinspeter replied to ShutTheFrontDawes | 11 months ago
6 likes
ShutTheFrontDawes wrote:

Indeed. Not just fear of traffic, too, but also an increased general fear of safety (link provided below). I was complaining to my now wife years back about cyclists jumping red lights; especially by Turbo Island in Bristol (I expect you know it) and she told me that she never stops there if she can avoid it. I was surprised but she explained how intimidating and scary it can be stopping there. On International Women's Day, I can say with confidence that women deserve better. Link: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/society/articles-reports/2022/03/08/how-ofte...

I tend to be wary stopping anywhere along Cheltenham Road when it's night-time as there's a lot of drunken people and you never know what they might do, but yes, Turbo Island and also Crack Alley are not known to be trustworthy places. When I go down there (southwards), I usually turn left into St Paul's rather than head all the way to The Bearpit as it's a more direct route to St George.

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ShutTheFrontDawes replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
7 likes

I'd quite understood the issues at night time, but the issue does not go away during the day - something that as a man I benefited from having explained to me. Indeed women are considerably less safe than men during the day, and they know it. In my view is no surprise that women cycle less. I expect they do a great many things less than men do through fear of their safety.

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hawkinspeter replied to ShutTheFrontDawes | 11 months ago
6 likes
ShutTheFrontDawes wrote:

I'd quite understood the issues at night time, but the issue does not go away during the day - something that as a man I benefited from having explained to me. Indeed women are considerably less safe than men during the day, and they know it. In my view is no surprise that women cycle less. I expect they do a great many things less than men do through fear of their safety.

Yeah, I don't consider it to be a dangerous area during the day - shows how the white male viewpoint isn't always the best one to be using.

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
2 likes

It's a series of feedback loops I guess - the first simply being "people do what others do". Most people in the UK don't cycle anyway. Most women don't cycle.

In NL where lots do the routes feel safer, they attend to "social safety" also in route location and design details (avoid hiding places / dark tunnels and alleys). There's a network so you can often re-route if there's a problem. You can ride side-by-side with a friend and taking children on you bike or their own is fine. Cycle parking is provided in lots of locations - most destinations, not just at work and a station.

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matthewn5 replied to ShutTheFrontDawes | 11 months ago
6 likes
ShutTheFrontDawes wrote:

I'd quite understood the issues at night time, but the issue does not go away during the day - something that as a man I benefited from having explained to me. Indeed women are considerably less safe than men during the day, and they know it. In my view is no surprise that women cycle less. I expect they do a great many things less than men do through fear of their safety.

Exactly this. When I started cycling with the other half, it was shocking how much agression she received from motorists just by being there. Things that never happen when I'm out cycling. There seem to be some men with real anxieties about women doing anything or even being in public space at all.

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