What's stopping women from cycling?

To mark International Women's Day I joined the London Cycle Campaign's led ride around London in glorious sunshine over the weekend, and questioned why is it that on a national level 79% of all bicycle journeys are made by men.  What's stopping women from cycling?

This is my first attempt at making a blog entry by video - I apologise now for the shakey camera work!  Please do let me know what you think of the video, and also, what do you think can be done to bring about rider equality?


Emerald said...

Cute video - thanks for documenting the ride :)

WestfieldWanderer said...

Great pictures. Great words. Brilliant.
If this is "just" your first attempt then Marc and Mikael had better look to their laurels!
Thank you!

COMPANY said...

Hello! I am always a big fan of people having this discussion. And I like the video, though I think the problem with asking female cyclists why other women aren't cycling is that they see it from the viewpoint of 'these women who don't cycle have considered cycling, and they've decided it's not a viable option'. I don't think this is true. I think the majority of women who don't cycle have never even considered it - not because it's dangerous, or because they'd get helmet hair, but because it's a minority activity that they just haven't even considered. I was living in London for several years before moving in with someone who rode to work and realising it was a viable transport option, and now I pretty much never leave the house without my bike. Why they never consider cycling is a whole other conversation: there are loads of reasons, from the fact that lots of parents encourage boys but not girls to cycle, to the fact that nearly all cycling media is very much aimed at men.

Hope you won't take that as a criticism - I did enjoy the video!


ibikelondon said...

@Emarald @WestfieldWanderer - thanks for your comments and kind words - glad you enjoyed the video.

@Rosie Thanks for stopping by, discourse is always welcome here - this is how we resolve these sorts of issues! I agree that there are lots of reasons why women don't cycle more, and I'd agree that many women might not even consider it (marketing and 'soft' campaigns can help with this.) But I don't think these issues alone are the whole picture: in cultures where there is greater cycling equality (the Netherlands for example) the infrastructure backs up the 'soft' campaigns (and I think you do need both). At the moment I think we're getting too much of the soft, and too many 'crap cycle lanes'
It's certainly a fascinating debate and I for one would love to see greater equality in cycling - it might also help to shake off cyclist's PR problem!

David Hembrow said...

A very well done video. Of course, it's not only that men cycle more than women in the UK, but that most British men also never cycle. Not even once a year. That cycling is a minority activity is a large part of its PR problem.

On the other hand, over here the infrastructure makes it easy. Subjective safety is enormously important when it comes to encouraging cycling. As a result, NL uniquely has more women cyclists than men, and there is no PR problem.

ibikelondon said...

David, I wondered if you'd see this and spot the subjective safety reference! That's all your own work so thanks for getting the message out there.

Cycle lanes have had such a bad name over here, mainly because they are crap, but to me the solutions to our problems are clear to see in the Netherlands - as well as all of the 'soft approaches' we just need to get on out there and design ourselves a velorution on the roads.

I hear so much anti-segregation stuff, especially from sporting cyclists, that I do wonder if they are committed more to their own right to go fast on the road (which we wouldn't take away anyhow) or to true mass cycling rates.

It's an endlessly fascinating debate...

han said...

Great vid!

How did you mount the camera whilst you were cycling, I'm curious!

l' homme au velo said...

I just popped over from that Excellent Biking Blog Biking Brits.

For Starters it is a great Video nothing wrong with it ,very well made.In spite of the Nice Blue Paint nothing much has changed in London ,it is still the same Old Cycle Lanes that were already there. The Planners have not done really anything to lessen the effect of the Motor Traffic.

They could start by Banning Motorised Traffic on a Road through London from one End to the other ,on a Route where all the best Shops are. Ban Traffic through Oxford Street and Regent Street and make a lot more Streets Traffic free. This would give Cyclists and Pedestrians Breathing space and anyone could Cycle without the Hazards of Traffic. Then after awhile do the same with another Route through the City just ban the Traffic.

They have got to get away from the Plastic Hat and Hi Viz Mentality and Lycra . Make Cycling Fashionable and make sure it is Safe to Cycle without looking over your Shoulder when you Hear the Sound of a Truck or Bus.

This takes action from the Politico's,stop Pandering to the Motorists all the time and actually do something instead of just Tinkering with it.

ibikelondon said...

@han Thanks for stopping by - I didn't mound the camera, just held it in the palm of my hand whilst riding, it has a strap so I can still put both hands on the handlebars when necessary.

@l'homme au velo - I agree that there needs to be less tinkering and more 'intervention'. I think the rise in cycle rates in London have to an extent marked the success of soft campaigns in marketing cycling as more appealing - but those cyclists are finding that they ride in spite of the road conditions, not because of it. I don't think people in Copenhagen or Amsterdam dress 'cycle chic' on purpose: they are just ordinary people cycling in their ordinary clothes: make cycling truly safe and all that just comes naturally. You've got to give a little to get a lot...

David Hembrow said...

Mark, thanks. You're right about cycle lanes in the UK being useless. When I lived there I also used to take photos and kick up a fuss about what was being proposed in order to show up the uselessness of them in the UK.

As for sport cycling... There's really nothing to fear from decent infrastructure - except that the competition gets more numerous and faster ! Occasionally I point out the difference in results in the world's biggest cycling race between NL and England, Scotland and Ireland (or indeed America or Australia or anywhere without decent cycling infrastructure). Clearly what the Dutch are doing does not prevent them from racing.

l'homme: As mark suggests, the hats and hi-vis come from the conditions. They're a symptom of cyclists under stress. Once cycling becomes subjectively safer, these things disappear. I don't think you can force it.

Lady Vélo said...

Mark - fantastic video - I really enjoyed this! (I was also on that Cycle Path on Cable Street on Sunday for the 1st time!)

As you know, Sunday was my 1st time cycling properly in London, and although it was great fun, it was a slightly intimidating experience. I had The Boy with me, but even he pointed out something that was mentioned in your video - that I may need to be a bit of an agreesive cycler when I'm out. Not in the sense of being confrontational, but just to assert that I have as much right to be on the road as car users to. I had 2 incidents witth 2 cars on the way back home which rattled me - one of which was a driver who pulled out infront of me as I was riding down the correct side of the road (they were parked up, facing the opposite direction) & clearly saw me coming - yet decided to suddenly pull out and scare the bejesus out of me. The Boy was cycling behind and saw the whole thing - what was strange was they paid attention to him when we rode up to the car after to point out I was coming, and took no notice of me at all - almost as if they had no time for my presence as I was a "girl on a bike".

Before yesterday it was about 10 years since I was on a bike. The elements that kinda put me off riding was the slight worry on cycling on LDN roads and it feeling like more of a masculine world... but I'm loving it now & am determined to continue cycling, with some Chic in the mix :)

Lady Vélo

io said...

hey mark, great video...good points and good tone too!
I use Cable str cycle lane quite a bit as i live east if you come across a red fixed gear Puch or ss silver charge say hi :-) I ride daily but the thing that is off-putting is the crazy drivers - London can be great if it has REAL cycle lanes and better drivers x

Anne said...

Great vid! Nice mix of motion and stills, good music, excellent narration--and it's interesting to hear the voice of someone I've been reading for a while now. (Also? I got a kick out of seeing your camera technique in the shadow you cast during the last minute or so of the video.)

I say this from time to time in forums where it's generally treated as me pointing out the naked emperor, but I can tell you for sure that one reason a lot of women don't consider getting on a bike is that a lot of women are fat and unfit, and cannot envision themselves riding, because riding is for athletes.

It's part of the lycra-and-hornet-head problem, but it's a part that nobody will talk about. Me, I'm pretty large, but no longer unfit, and the best I can do is be out there riding my big red bike every day, showing by example that it's possible and worth considering.

The empowerment of bike-riding for a class of people who have been disempowered first by their sex, then by their size and shape, is a huge piece of what ought to be communicated.

ibikelondon said...

Turns out that Cable Street is quit a busy cycle lane... quelle surprise!

@LadyVelo - I'm so thrilled you love your new bike and I hope it gives you years and years of enjoyment. Sadly, the experience you reccount is all to often on our roads; I think this is the point I've been trying to make - those who cycle do it because they love it and despite the road conditions. For the majority of people in the UK 'you'd have to be mad' to do so...

@io I'll look out for you on your bike - do introduce yourself if you see me around!

ibikelondon said...

@Anne - so now you've seen and heard me in all my glory haha :o) It's funny you noticed my shadow at the end - it was one of those perfect bright early spring days where the sun is still quite low in the sky and you just get the most perfect outlines and shadows.
Glad you enjoyed it.

It's funny, but I'd never thought about how larger men and women probably don't consider the cycle because, as a consequence of their size, it's drummed into them that cycling is innapropriate. And of course nothing could be further from the truth - anyone can cycle (and indeed larger individuals should cycle more!)

I often think that the big bike manufacturers have got their advertising campaigns all wrong. Rather than buying advertising space in cycle-specific magazines to show pictures of their bikes, they should buy ad space in mainstream publications and just run pictures of everyday and ordinary people on their bikes, maybe with the tag line 'Remember how good this feels?' or something. That would do so much to promote cycling positively!

Philip Loy said...

Hey Mark!
Just had the chance to watch the video. Very nice, very well produced. You did that? I'm impressed! It's nice to hear your voice too after all our discussions. I'm going to post this on the Lambeth Cyclists Yahoo group.
Keep 'em coming!

Helen McConnell said...

Helen from Portland, Oregon here. Loved the video! There is a gender gap here as well. 30% of Portland commuters on bikes are women. (I'm one of them.) I think you hit on most of the reasons more women don't ride. For a mom, it's not just hauling the kids around on a bike, but many of us are responsible for the majority of household tasks and errands - groceries, getting the kids to school and soccer and the dentist, etc., in addition to working. This can be daunting on two wheels. I also know many women who never learned to ride. There are clinics here, run by both men and women, to teach women to ride and to do basic to advanced maintenance on our bikes. I never learned to change a flat until I was nearly 50 years old! Keep up the discussion. Let's encourage more women to experience the joy of riding!

anna said...

Lovely video, you put in a lot of effort. Well, what I think is one of the problem is the "heroic" image of cycling. Many male cyclists I know like to show off about themselves cycling in traffic. They do it in their daily life, but not without pride. This doesn't appeal to most women and also makes them even more scared of trying. So I think it's not just a gender problem, the problem is also how cyclists is represented these days (by all-geared-up and "fearless" men).

ibikelondon said...

Thanks, all for your kind comments about the video.

I agree Anna, that there is an image problem within cycling itself; too many cyclists boast about 'their macho ability to ride in the road'; this is never going to encourage us mere mortals to get on our bikes. I think the way to change this is with the way we present ourselves on the road - it comes down to the individual.

@Helen in Portland - the learn to cycle clinics sound like a great idea. It brakes my heart that there are adults in the Western World who didn't grow up cycling. Let's hope those efforts will go some way towards rectifying that.

@Philip - yep, that's me, doing my David Attenborough impersonation! Thanks for sharing the vid, and I'm sure there will be more in the future.


Unknown said...

Mark, great film and a fantatsic first effort! I was the ride leader on Sunday and it was great to see so many people turn up to take part in the ride celebrating International Women's Day. t the London Cycling Campaign we find that a lot of novice or more nervous riders turn up on these led rides, as they feel more protected and safer. We hope that by taking part more women are inspired to cycle independently and part of that is showing them quieter and off-road routes. As you said in the film, the part you enjoyed most was the off-road wide stretch of Burgess Park. Even the most confidenct cyclist takes pleasure in beeing able to switch off from traffic and truly relax. We would love to put a link to the film on oue website and talk to you more about the film so please get in touch on 020 7234 9310.
Many thanks


Unknown said...

Hi Mark,

Thank you so much for documenting the ride. I am the Marketing Mnager at LCC and have been organising and doing a lot of work around promoting cycling amoungst women.

This has sparked off some great conversations. We plan to do alot more this year to promote women's cycling so please do get in touch and maybe we could do some work together. lucyc@lcc.org.uk



Jonathan said...

Brilliant video, Mike - didn't even notice you with a camera on Sunday..!

See you on the mean streets,

Anonymous said...

Woman killed yesterday in Hackney by an HGV on a roundabout, very sad news. I can see why woman don't want to cycle. We need action against the dangerous traffic in London that not only stops people cycling, but kills people.

Also someone was killed on Monday or Tuesday near London Bridge , again by a Lorry, man this time.

Very sad

Sorry for the bleak comment, but this happens and the governent , police , mayor need to sort it out.


ibikelondon said...

Hi DHWall

I totally agree that most women (and indeed most non-cycling men) have been bullied and terrified off of our roads.

I'm aware of the two tragic needless deaths that have happened this week and have been working 'behind the scenes' with other cycle campaigners to put pressure on our politicians to try and get firm action on this issue; you'll have noticed that Boris Johnson acknowledged the death and encouraged his 70,000+ twitter followers to watch the new cycle safety video (the first time, we believe, that he has ever replied to anyone on Twitter!) Also, senior Assembly member Jenny Jones has issued a statement calling for an all out ban of lorries in central London during peak times.

There is, of course, lots and lots more work to come to help stop another tragedy occurring, so watch this space.

Thanks for stopping by,


Anonymous said...


Thanks for the response - I really feel the cyclists in London do to do something to highlight these deaths - how about a go slow cycle around the mayors office and Westminster in memory of the two people that died - try and get as many people involved for a cycle to highlight these deaths - lets try and make them the last two of this year


Leigh Andrews said...

Hello Mark

Lucy from LCC has signposted me to your site and I'm very ppleased she did! I really enjoyed the film and reading all the posts. I am making a film myself called "A Sense of safety" which is about female cyclists in London. It was prompted by my attendance at the Bike Film Festival last year where I didn't really see my experience on the road reflected - I agree with a number of the contributors in your film and on this blog about the reasons for low particpation in cycling in the UK. Maybe we could organise our own festival to redress the balance?!

ibikelondon said...

Hello Leigh, great to hear from you. You're film project about women cycling sounds really interesting (I take it you've seen the Darlington Media Campaign's 'Beauty and the Bike' film?)

You don't need to start your own film festival: get yours shown at the Bike Film Festival and redress the balance from within! :o)

Let me know if you need a hand with anything.

Helen said...

Hey Mark: I've been thinking a lot about the cycling deaths in London, mentioned in these comments. If you post the email address of the appropriate lawmakers in London, I'll send an email from the U.S. I am on an email list that could easily garner support here for solutions there - it would be good for all cyclists. Let's form a grassroots international coalition - show solidarity. A little press goes a long way. Last week's US Bike Summit in Washington DC certainly revealed a growing trend in the U.S. for support of bike infrastructure and legislation to make cycling safer.
Just a thought.

Szciklon said...

Hello, I'm writing from Budapest, Hungary.
I just wonder what's this enthusiasm about these reflective vests, they are all around in the video.
In Hungary we call them "dustmen's vest", and it is only compulsory outside cities, at night.
Maybe this gear is one reason women do not really want to identify with crazily dressed cyclists. You people should rather promote the "chic" line of cycling. It has been proven that it is not the vest, which saves lives, but the high number of fellow cyclists, including women, on the road.

ibikelondon said...

Hello Szciklon, and welcome from Hungary!

I agree that these 'builder's vests' are not attractive, and help to make cycling seem 'alien' to those who might otherwise consider it.
It's a personal choice here in the UK whether or not you should wear a helmet or any high vis material, but sadly where cyclists have been hit by cars but not wearing both they have been made to take less compensation as the driver's solicitors have argued that they have purposefully made themselves inconspicuous. I know, it's sad, and blames the victim.

Of course no amount of helmets and high vis vests will make cycling more safer; for that we need more cyclists (and more motorists cycling), but how to achieve this was the whole point of the video...

Thanks for stopping by!


Szciklon said...

"where cyclists have been hit by cars but not wearing both they have been made to take less compensation as the driver's solicitors have argued that they have purposefully made themselves inconspicuous" -OMG, this is outrageous! If the gear is not compulsory, solicitors should not argue with purposefulness. This is the same argumentation used for the defence of rapists, blaming the victim for "triggering" the attack.
I read the LCC website regularly, and review it for the Hungarian cycling community, I consider their advocacy work outstanding and examplary. I also linked this post to the mailing list of our cyclist advocacy organisation, we might consider organising a similar event next year.
Pedal on, good luck and many readers to your blog, and more cyclists on the roads of London.

Bikegrrrl said...

It was nice to see what I missed as I registered for the ride but was in bed all day with a rare migraine, grr! My only criticism is the sound quality of the interviewees. As you did not have them miked up, and they were outside with a lot of background noise, I could barely make out a word. You need to get them far, far closer to the camera next time, and out of the wind!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this video, it's fun. I've read all the posts and there's one single reason that comes up all the time - safer routes. Can we get LCC to spend less time faffing with soft measures and more time on the difficult hard stuff, fighting for motor-free cycling? I don't care how many mirrors lorries have, I'm not going anywhere near them if I can help it.


ibikelondon said...

Hi Ann, shhhhh, you're not supposed to say that out loud! You have to go at it from a slightly more subtle angle. But, erm *ahem* yes, the comments speak for themselves really don't they?


Anonymous said...

They're scared.

Anonymous said...

Just found this via the mention on the Guardian site today. I lived in London for two years (moved back to the US in May). I bought a Brompton the first month I was there, meaning to make it my regular transit, rode it for a couple of weeks, and then gave up.

The inadequate cycling lanes and the traffic and the frequent deaths of mostly female cyclists were factors in my decision. But the main reason was the other cyclists, who were incredibly aggressive and rude. I just wanted to ride along, like the women in the pictures from the Netherlands, but there would be men in lycra constantly whizzing by within about an inch of me.

The other thing that put me off cycling was the terrible behavior by the small percentage of (again, almost entirely male) self-righteous, smug cyclists who feel they have more right to the road than vehicles or pedestrians. I got so sick of cyclists riding on the pavement or nearly knocking me down as I was crossing the street on a green light (and they were merrily riding through red lights). I do have to say, though, that they act the same in San Francisco.

So I think making cycling more popular requires (a) better infrastructure and perceived safety, as you say, and (b) much more stringent enforcement by the police against badly behaved cyclists as well as drivers.


Elizabeth said...

great film.l'm a women and cycling everyday because its my transport and its dirt cheap .and its help me fit into my jeans,but l know women who have bikes but never use them .I think its the lack of cycling infrastructure that stop a lot of women cycling,getting wet and having a car to a problem. but l've always had a bike l love not having to wait for the bus or paying lots of money to drive my own car about.lol

Satheesh said...

Nice Analysis; Keep it up!

Paul M said...

Hi Mark

Have you ever thought of trying to get the video onto one of the TV channel’s open access slots?

The first thing which occurs to me (aside from the obvious) relates to equipment. Here in London we are lucky enough to have specialist and boutique bike shops which offer alternatives to the mainstream, but if you live in most of non-metropolitan Britain and so have to rely on Halfords or typical local independents, you simply won’t see “roadster” style bikes on display – they may well be available from a catalogue but you don’t get to feel them and try them out before you buy. Instead, what is shoved in front of you is a panoply of race-style, or MTB style machines – ranging from serious, well specced and therefore pricey models through to cheap but completely counterfeit crap. I had a go at Evans once about the fact that they show all their models without mudguards – their response was that you choose your own mudguards (and they add to the ticket price) but I thought they were missing the point – if people think they don’t have mudguards they are likely to think they’ll get coated in crap every time they ride on a rainy day, not that you can just add mudguards.

We want to see Halfords actually display some roadsters, ranging from Pashley down through Raleigh and Dawes to their own-label versions which cost much the same as a mediocre MTB, but have step-through frames, mud- and chain-guards, and baskets. Maybe they will have more appeal to women?

Certainly, my other half couldn’t be persuaded to cycle at all until I bought her a German “Kettler” lady’s utility bike, for her birthday.

Then of course you get into the next big obstacle – nerves. My other half, and indeed most of the adult women I know, don’t like cycling in traffic, hate being squeezed in the gutter by passing cars, but simply will not believe me when I say that they would have a more comfortable experience if they ride out a bit – they hold to the belief that they have to stay close to the kerb. I do have one middle-aged lady friend who now rides a Boris Bike from Waterloo to Hackney to her NHS job without fear, but it took some coaching and a couple of Sunday dry runs to get her started, and I haven’t seen similar success elsewhere.

I don’t think that means women won’t ride a bike at all though, but like most men in fact, they only ride away from roads. Go to Alice Holt forest near Farnham any weekend, and you will see a car-park stuffed with cars with bike carriers, and whole families riding the forest trails. Much the same can be said of the Devil’s Punchbowl National Trust cafe car-park, where slightly more agile men and women go to experience a slightly more ambitious off-road experience. The key thing is obviously the absence of 2 tonne metal boxes racing past you.

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