Are Women Really Afraid to Bike?
Pitting the Pinterest photographic evidence (pretty girls on bikes floating through the world’s major cities) with the actually statistics (3 men cycling to every one woman) is depressing. I’ve been thinking about it for two years, as I wrote the book, and blog posts, and articles. Why don’t more women ride?
It started to seem that a low-level persistent fear of riding in traffic was paralyzing people, especially women, who want to bike.
In organizing the recent Cyclofem.me ride, Portland chapter, Cindy Llewelyn, a triathlete and spokesperson for Rapha, mentioned the statistic that 9 out of 10 women over 30 are ‘afraid’ to exercise outside.
That seemed completely unbelievable.
Until I read the surveys. Granted, it’s a British study, of just under 1,500 women, from last month (April 2012). Still, women self reported in the Mind survey that they were intimidated to get outside to exercise. if those results can be extrapolated to Americans, we can likely say that a majority of adult women over 30 are not only worried about traffic, they have body issues and self-esteem fears that might be keeping them from the bike.
Here’s what Mind found:
- 2 out of 3 feel conscious about their body shape when they exercise in public
- Many doubt their own ability compared to others; 65% think it’s unlikely they’ll be able to keep up in an exercise group and almost a half feel they will look silly in front of others as a result of being uncoordinated
- 60% are nervous about how their body reacts to exercise – their wobbly bits, sweating, passing wind or going red
- 2/3 feel that if they joined an exercise group, other women would be unwelcoming and cliquey, with only 6% feeling they would be very likely to make new friends
In response to these feelings, many women have taken extreme steps to reduce the risk of embarrassment:
- Over 50% said they exercised very early in the morning or late at night solely to avoid being seen by others
- Almost 2/3 of women choose to exercise in a location where they’re unlikely to bump into anyone they know
- Over 50% don’t leave the home when exercising, so as not to be seen in public – even though exercising outside is more effective for lifting mood then inside
- 67% wear baggy clothing when exercising in order to hide their figure
While even now, thinking of all the women I know who do cycle makes me doubt the numbers could be this high, thinking of all the women I know who don’t makes them plausible. And there’s only one antidote, really. Find your tribe, that group that makes you feel good about biking, whatever type of biking it is.
Where to start looking? Well, here’s our Meetup Women on Wheels group. Likely there’s a Meetup in your area similar to ours, waiting to take you on a ride!
p.s. This lovely, moody photo is of Eva Lewington, of Cycle Chic Sundays. Eva is definitely not afraid to ride, and yet, she understands that the cycling movement in general needs much more acceptance of different styles or riders. Thanks, Eva!