COMMENT: Forget blokes, it’s women we want to get on bikes

Carlton Reid finds that getting females on cycles is crucial for the trade
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I’m a sucker for sexy images of women on bikes. Not only do I drool over them on the internet – copenhagencyclechic.com is well worth book-marking – but I take them myself, risking a walloping as a bike-perv pic-stalker.

I take pictures such as the one on this page because it’s vitally important to show that cycling is normal, not just a fetish for lads in Lycra.

Sustrans thinks this is important, too. The BikeBelles.org.uk website is all about getting more women to think about bicycle riding as a normal, everyday transport mode.

Getting more women on bikes is hugely important to the bike trade. Yes, in numbers terms, but also in perception terms. In the Netherlands, where 27 per cent of all trips are made by bike, 55 per cent of all riders are women. According to an October 2009 article in Scientific American, the way to “boost urban bicycling” is to “figure out what women want”. Women, said the influential magazine, are an “indicator species for bike-friendly cities”.

When people see more cyclists on the roads, more people become cyclists. It’s a virtuous circle. Even when urban infrastructure positively bristles with anti-cycling features, bikes can dominate when numbers reach the famous critical mass. London in rush hour is now a good example of this. And more and more London cyclists are women. Some are sporty, but an increasing number are Bobbin-style cycle chicstas.

Now, not all cycling women want to be Audrey Hepburn with a basket-on-the-front, pearlised-pink Dutch bike. But there’s no escaping that this sector is the one that produces the best photographs for promoting cycling to a mainstream audience. Forget helmets, Lycra and speed; non-cyclists find all that a big turn-off.

However, non-cyclists can be captivated – and perhaps captured – with sunny, smiley images of beautiful women on bikes. Just think of all the products that are sold with just this sort of free-as-a-bird, cycling-in-a-flowery-dress imagery.

Disclosure: I sit on the Bike Hub committee that decides which New Ideas Fund projects to back. I’m very glad that some of the levy scheme funds now go to Darlovelo, the campaign organisation aiming to get more Darlington women – especially young women – on bikes. Dutch bikes, in fact. Sourced from UK suppliers via Darlington bike shops, of course.

I can heartily recommend this project’s 55-minute documentary, ‘Beauty and the Bike’. I went to the premiere of this on behalf of Bike Hub and can report that it’s an inspiring film.

Bike Hub’s New Ideas Fund is all about supporting projects that can be scaled up and duplicated in other regions. I’d really like to see the ‘Beauty and the Bike’ concept take hold in other cities: it would civilise them in so many ways.

You can watch a clip of ‘Beauty and the Bike’ at this url: http://tinyurl.com/BikeBeauty.

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