Cycle Ladies Brave the Streets

Fancy headgear at Adeline Adeline – a woman-owned bike shop in NYC

RL Policar sent an article over from the New York Times recently titled “Women, Uneasy, Still Lag as Cyclists in New York City” detailing that fashion (loosely interpreted as disdain for sweaty back) and fear (of cars, buses, and rampant pigeons) are the top reasons why women don’t choose to commute by bicycle in NYC.  A while back I posted a guest article on BikeCommuters.com dispelling similar Cycle Lady myths.  Come to think of it, it seems that the top excuses for punking out of bike commuting apply to both men and women alike:

  1. Don’t Wanna Be the Sweaty Smelly Kid in Class (Who does!!?)
  2. Fear of Cars and Inadequate Bike Skills
  3. No Bike!

The New York Times article stated:

Despite the city’s efforts to become more bike friendly, male cyclists in New York continue to outnumber female cyclists three to one, just as they have steadily over the past two decades. Data tracked by the city and private groups shows the gap between male and female cyclists is even wider in areas where vehicular traffic is more concentrated. These figures lag not only far behind those in most major global capitals like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, where women make up the majority of cyclists, but also behind American cities like Portland, Ore., that have narrowed the gender gap.

So much gray, and with little red dots. We'll show you how to narrow your gap, Portland… see next chart.

Personally, I feel that bike commuting is no more dangerous as a female than a male (or read: “as a womanchild than a manchild”) .  On the other hand, if I were walk commuting around Kuhio Ave. dressed as “woman of the night“, that would be a different story…  But as a cycling lady, I can definitely say that despite being a weak and feeble human, one who is not prone to “high-risk” activities or thrill-seeking – I feel safe while commuting by bike.  To demonstrate my self-proclaimed feebleness: I don’t have tattoos (needles are scary, damn you tetanus shot!  That crap hurts for days) since I have a low threshold for pain (known to consume over the counter pain meds from stubbed toe to minor ear ache like a bowl of cereal).   Lastly, I have no desire to accomplish any of the following before my twenties are up: sky-diving, bungee jumping, paragliding, driving a motorcycle, or swimming with sharks or other prehistoric teethy creatures.

My co-worker Jen and I posing with our bikes – we swapped rides over the weekend!

So what’s up with stats in NYC stating that women don’t like to cycle in traffic congested areas of town?  I took the lane the other night on my short 4 mile trek home from Waikiki paddling practice to my house in Chinatown… yes it was dark…. yes it was raining… and yes some guy driving his family in a champagne colored Hyundai pulled up next to me to tell me what I was doing was dangerous and I should just stay home and take the bus.  Maybe he thought that I was going to get attacked by meth addicts, run over by him or other cars, or overcome with a panic attack for being outside in the dark and not in a car.   But, I – like many other Cycle Ladies – brave the streets day or night, rain or shine by bike; estrogen and shark week won’t hold me back!  Why?  You ask…  Why Not!  I say.  Oh, and it’s fun.

Bike and bus commuting is up in Honolulu since the rising gas prices hit $4.45 in April 2011 according to this KHON story. Only stats I can compare are those in my office, which I have prepared a graph:

As an office of 14, Malia, Jen, and I make better stats than most Cycling Ladies! EAT IT COPENHAGEN!

What’s the men to women bike commuter ratio like in your town?  If you are a women, are you afraid to bike in high-traffic areas or to arrive at work as a big hot mess?  How can we up the stats of fearless women bike commuters?  In the meantime, to the guy in the Hyundai, I’ll change the batteries in my blinky lights just for you.


15 Comments

  1. Shannon (not THAT Shannon...let's just go with Shines) July 15, 2011 9:27 pm 

    I love my bike. I love to ride my bike. I don’t bike commute to work because it’s a .4 mile commute. It takes longer to find a secure place to lock up my bike than walk.

    I do also harbor some fear – lack of knowledge most likely – about urban commuting without bike lanes.

    But I do love to ride my bike – there are ways to work around the sweaty.

  2. Devorah July 16, 2011 3:50 am 

    NYC, female bike commuter here. l commute 10 months a year and ride for fun the remaining two. (I’m an assisting principal so most of July and August are for recreational riding .)

    Never had a negative comment regarding my gender but I’m often honked at and yelled at for all sorts of stupid things but never for being a woman.

    Yes, riding in traffic can be scary but experience makes it less so.

  3. Brian July 16, 2011 1:01 pm 

    Well, a big part of the problem might be the use of phrases like “brave the streets” and “excuses for punking out of bike commuting.” Both phrases reinforce the idea that biking is a dangerous activity that takes courage; the second phrase brings in gender politics, too (think, for a moment, about what “punk out” actually means here. Then, get thee to the O.E.D. and look up the historical evolution of the word “punk.”). The phrase “fearless women bike commuters” does the same thing, in that it reinforces the idea that there’s something to be feared — “fearless” is closer in meaning to “brave,” than to “secure” or “confident.” My point here is that, even though you clearly don’t intend to feed the climate of fear, you’re doing it. It’s hard to get away from a way of thinking that’s so deeply woven into our everyday language and experience, but it’s worth the effort.

  4. WillyC July 16, 2011 2:15 pm 

    I also live on Oahu [hi Mir.I.Am!], and I work in an office of 50+. Of that number, roughly 40% are female, and I am the only one who even attempts to bike commute. I come from Ewa Beach, and it’s 18 miles each way. Since there are no shower facilities at work, I take the bus in, and ride home. 18 miles of stinky won’t fly at my office. I recently purchased a GoPro camera, and had it take pictures every 2 seconds on my commute home. I shared it with my office, and every single one [womanchild and manchild] told me how scary it was, and that I was nuts. You can see it here and judge for yourself http://youtu.be/5Bkgvyg1A3o It’s a little choppy, but what do you expect from pics every 2 seconds? Oh, and Mir, swimming with sharks isn’t so bad…I’m up to 15 now, and they all [fortunately for me] are more scared of me than I am of them…well, except the first one.

  5. Mir.I.Am July 16, 2011 10:31 pm 

    All good comments fellow commuters!! Maybe Brian has a point, the idea that it’s scary to be a cyclist on the road is engrained in our car-culture. Car = safety for drivers. Car = four-wheeled death boxes for cyclists and pedestrians (see Bike Commuters profile for John B: http://www.bikecommuters.com/2010/11/03/commuter-profile-john-burnham/) It is true that our parent always teach us to ride on the sidewalks or stay away from cars… My 70 year-old father STILL lectures me about the dangers of riding my bike through the PARK NEAR OUR HOUSE when I come home for the holidays. I guess the best thing we can do is just get out there and ride, seems the more people who know friends who commute by bike realize that we are people and not just objects in the distance.

  6. Ramesh Dharan July 17, 2011 4:18 am 

    I read this article and while it might be accurate II’d be curious to know what the claimed gender ratio is in San Francisco – is SF one of the little boxes in that NYTimes graph?

    I feel like biking here has gotten safer and easier over the past five years that I’ve been bike commuting as more and more bike lanes have opened up. In general drivers here are very friendly and bike-aware.

    From my totally statistically significant sample of two women – Irene and my old roommate Mylan, it’s a 50/50 split between the “I can’t be sweaty / I have to look respectable / I have to wear pants” reason and the safety reason. Maybe I should graph that.

  7. Ghost Rider July 17, 2011 6:32 pm 

    @Brian — please rememeber that some of Mir’s word choices are for humorous or dramatic effect — we try to write like we talk. If you want dry, fussy, wonky stuff, well…we’re not very good at that.

    But you do have a valid point, and something we should consider more strongly in our articles here.

  8. Lauren July 18, 2011 9:20 am 

    I live in Atlanta and I’m happy to report that there are a number of female bike commuters at my workplace, I’d say about 1/2. I work at a university, so there are plenty of bikes around and people are mostly aware and cautious. If I get yelled at it’s mostly because I’m on a bike, not because of who I am. I have been hit on a number of times while riding, so ladies, just know that a little sweat and an ugly helmet won’t keep the suitors from calling. One thing I always notice that drives me a little crazy is how insistent people are in trying to give me rides places. If it’s pouring/snowing/freezing, thanks! I appreciate it. But my neighbor regularly offers to drive me to work, seemingly because he thinks it’s unsafe for a fragile lady to be riding all that way.

  9. Victoria July 18, 2011 10:22 am 

    Dallas reporting … less that 5%? Seriously? I figure I’m 5% of total Dallas bike commuters. At my office I’m 100% of bike commuters. The cycling community is eensy down here – everything is bigger (and more spread out) in Texas, after all – but on our rides women seem to be about 30%.

  10. Mir.I.Am July 18, 2011 12:43 pm 

    @Brian and Jack (Ghost Rider the Whip): I still say touché on this comment: “It’s hard to get away from a way of thinking that’s so deeply woven into our everyday language and experience, but it’s worth the effort.” – Brian. This is true! BBC (before bike commuting), I’m sure all of us had heard that biking is dangerous or scary at one point in time!

  11. BluesCat July 19, 2011 1:17 pm 

    I’d say the estimate 9-10% for Phoenix is just about right, Mir.I.Am.

    I can only speak for one female rider, or NON-rider as the case may be, and that is Mrs. Cat. She is deathly afraid of going out into the street aboard a bicycle; she feels she would certainly become a traffic victim. I am loath to try to encourage her more actively, simply because I’m a genuine addict and would be the worst person to do that.

    Any suggestions for a frustrated hubby?

  12. Mir.I.Am July 20, 2011 5:15 pm 

    @BluesCat: Holla PHOENIX!! Take Mrs. Kitty to a Smart Cycling Course taught by a League of American Bicyclists approved cycling instructor: https://members.bikeleague.org/members_online/members/findit.asp. Immabout to take my own advice and will be taking it in a couple weeks (time to pony up)! Hmm, or you could borrow a tandem for date night?

  13. Voyceok July 21, 2011 7:56 pm 

    Oklahoma City checking in. While there are bike clubs and road rides in the metro, commuting by bike is a pretty lonely activity. Hardly see men, much less any other woman riding. I know of NO other woman commuter. You have to choose your routes for road and traffic, but it’s not the traffic. Right now it’s nearly 30 days of 100 plus degree in the heat. Fortunate to be able to be conveniently located to bus with bike rack. Ride in the “cool” of the morning, then take the bus with bike on rack back home.

    I think for many women commuters it’s the issue of cleaning up. Keep an extra set of makeup and hair dryer at the office, and can either sponge bath and wash hair in the sink, and if I want to spend a couple bucks I can take a shower in a small gym nearby.

  14. Antareseia July 22, 2011 11:00 pm 

    Is it also possible women are also afraid of it being “too hard”? Lets face it, not to many girls were encouraged in athletics growing up. Sports were for boys first, and maybe for girls, if they wanted too, but it was still better to be pretty than athletic (and the two were usually at odds with each other).

    It never even occurred to me commuting was within my ability, even after I bought a bike. I got a chepo 80’s bike on an impulse, only after going a little farther every time I rode did a light bulb FINALLY go off in my head, “hey, I can totally bike to work!”. I wish I had figured that out sooner.

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