In the Netherlands, 52 percent of all bicycle trips are made by women. In the UK women make up just 27 percent of all cycle commuting trips. Why the disparity? That was one of the key questions at the first Women and Cycling Conference, organised by Landor Events, and held today in York. 150 delegates heard from expert speakers, and discussed a number of issues in roundtable sessions.
The conference was opened and chaired by Kirsten England, Chief Executive of City of York Council. England said she was “hugely passionate about cycling” and that “cycling was one of the first things that showed me I could be a self-determined, confident young woman.”
She showed an archive photograph of a group of 1950s cycle commuters in York. “That was what it was like at the end of a shift at the Rowntree’s factory. Police had to be deployed to marshal the huge numbers of cyclists. It was a majority form of transport. Today, the council doesn’t have an anti-car agenda but we definitely want to return to those days.” Getting more women on bikes was essential to this plan, she stressed.
Why don’t more women in the UK cycle? That was answered with academic research by Rachel Aldred, Senior Lecturer at Westminster University. “Many studies suggest that women have less likely to take risks than men, with safety on the roads being a make or break issue for women,” she said.
“In the Netherlands more women than men cycle, but in the UK gender inequality has not shifted despite the rise in the number of cyclists. It’s still a two to one ratio, and we can’t assume a levelling up as the numbers of cyclists increase even further.”
Provision of separated infrastructure is key, “but it’s not the only factor”, she said. “There are also trip characteristic factors made by women that also have to be taken into account.”
Aldred added that “cultures need to change” and that “the prize is more equity, more mobility and many health benefits.”
Claudia Corrigan, Senior Planner, at Transport for London, described the work being undertaken to transform London which now has “a clear vision on cycling and has £930m to spend over 10 years." Great, second generation cycle infrastructure is being installed right now, and £100 million is being spent on replicating “mini-Hollands” in three London boroughs, a project that could transform perceptions of what can and cannot be done for cycling, and liveability, in a British city, she said. Pointing out that she had survived being hit by a HGV while cycling (the driver wasn’t prosecuted despite CCTV showing a dangerous overtake) she stressed that “cycling is getting safer.”
Chris Garrison of Trek and Isla Rowntree of Islabikes
Bike shops are key to creating a good base for a womens' cycling community, said Sheridan Piggott of Sustrans Yorkshire and one of the founders of womens’ bicycle group York Bike Belles. This theme was explored in depth by Chris Garrison, UK Media Relations for Trek Bikes.
“Women are the fastest growing segment of the bike market,” said Garrison. But, she claimed, many bike stores are still failing to be as welcoming to women as they could be. “The fear is that by becoming women-friendly bike stores will alienate “MAMIL” customers but this isn’t the case.” She said the supply side of the industry is changing – with the “pink it, and shrink it” strategy no longer quite so dominant – but that retailers often think their job is over by creating what, in effect, is a “womens’ corner”. She singled out Pearson Cycles of London, in business since the 1860s as a shop that has moved with the times and markets itself well to men and women.
Many of those at the conference are very active on social media, with anonymous twitter names becoming flesh-and-blood. In one of the breakout sessions Sandra Corcoran of Pennine Cycles said social media was helping to spread the cycling message:
“I know lots of women who are now passionate about cycling. Social media makes it much easier for like minds to interact. And it’s not just a passion for racing or riding, it’s very much a whole lifestyle thing.” She added, to widespread agreement, “cycling is brilliant.”
Vote now in the BikeBiz Women of the Year Awards. Three women will be chosen from a list of 100. The awards will be presented on June 25th Look Mum No Hands cycle bar and cafe on Old Street, London.