Bike tips for the ladies, from masculine women.

If a man told risk-adverse ladies to toughen up and undertake training to handle their bikes on the road with the cars, he wouldn’t get much attention. Keen observers of the barrier protected cycle track revolution, sweeping the world’s mega cities (New York, London, Paris, Montreal, Sydney, Barcelona, etc.) would cough the words “vehicular cyclist” into their handkerchiefs, roll their eyes, and ignore them. No one has time to indulge those who have not done their homework.

7679379382_f28ec356bcIf you have not done your homework, injuries are up to 10 times more prevalent riding with traffic as compared to riding on cycle tracks. Ladies—who are biologically geared to stay safe because they have to carry babies and feed them—are attuned to that danger. That is why they are underrepresented in cycling statistics all over the world, except for in cities with safe cycle tracks. Denmark and the Netherlands have safe cycle tracks, and in those countries women cyclists outnumber men. In terms of overall numbers, cities with barrier protected bike infrastructure have high bike modal shares (Copenhagen and Groningen >50%) while cities that put cyclists near cars have low modal shares, irrespective of bicycle culture (Portland <10%).

copenhagen had huge demonstrations as well

copenhagen had huge demonstrations as well

High rates of bicycle commuting, and the economic, public health and environmental externalities that come from bike commuting, correspond to the availability of safe cycling infrastructure. There is no link between high rates of commuting and the popularity of group rides, the numbers of members of bicycle user groups (BUGs), or the popularity of rider training. If a man advised ladies to get involved with group rides and BUGs, and undertake rider training, his words would never be published in a metropolitan newspaper. The editors would only need to spend 10 minutes on the web cross-checking his facts, to realise he was speaking from his own limited experience, and didn’t understand bicycle transport, from either gender’s perspective.

butch woman cyclist

But what if those well-meaning dumb tips for the ladies, came from a lady? They might just get past the goalie, and into the paper. We saw that with the Sydney Morning Herald this week: Women and cycling: closing the gender divide. A MAMIL/writer, goes on some Mount Everest century rides with a lovely lady who I’m guessing has some unusual thing going on with her hormones, and relays her advice to the sisterhood:

1. Take a course in vehicular cycling and start riding above-average distances to work every day, 2. join a BUG, 3. join bunch rides for ladies, 4. learn to be your own pit crew, 5. swap your cute step-through for something expensive enough that your bike shop will fit you for comfort for crossing the Nullarbor Plain, and 6. join online forums populated by tedious trolls.

I don’t blame the lady for her perspective. She is a product of a car-centric culture that creates the attitudes and defences that have made her a survivor. I blame bad editorial checks by the newspaper. Just because she is a woman, from whom tips for ladies can be extracted, does not mean those tips will close the gender divide. The only thing proven to do that is separated cycle tracks. So here’s my advice to Australian women: take a leaf from Danish and Dutch women in the 1970s, and start protesting for bike infrastructure.

p.s. (10 April) My reference on twitter to the SMH article, led to a hookup between a radio announcer in my hometown of Newcastle, and Dr. Anne Lusk from the Harvard School of Public Health who researches women’s perceptions of bike infrastructure. Here is a link to that radio interview. 

About Steven

I'm on a mission to put cycling on the agendas of architects, urban designers and fellow academics, who see the potential for bicycles to change cities and buildings. My PhD is in architectural history and my interdisciplinary research spans art theory, philosophy and cultural studies. I teach architectural history and theory and design studio at The University of Tasmania, Australia, and formerly worked as an architect designing large public housing projects in Singapore.
This entry was posted in Behooving Moving, 1000+ blog posts since 2009. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Bike tips for the ladies, from masculine women.

  1. Pingback: Why more women don’t ride bikes | Bicycles in Newcastle

  2. Vicki says:

    Excellent points Steven, though I beg to differ to some of them, what makes those women want to ride in the first place? They aren’t going to advocate for better bike lanes before they start riding. I put my ideas on my blog too, partly inspired by you http://bicyclesinnewcastle.com/2013/03/29/why-more-women-dont-ride-bikes/
    Cheers
    Vicki

  3. Simon says:

    Your point seems to be that women should not ride until there is suitable infrastructure, or move somewhere where there is. The article you question reads to me like advice for the current infrastructure, or lack there of. IOW, you seem to have missed the entire point of the article.

    1. Take a course in vehicular cycling and start riding above-average distances to work every day,

    Learning how to ride in traffic, or vehicular cycling if you prefer, is a good idea when you live in a country with limited cycle specific infrastructure. 10km would be an average-ish (even short) commute in Sydney.

    2. join a BUG,

    Yeah, ok. Not necessary, but is potentially helpful for tips 1, 3, 4, even 5 to a degree and to avoid 6, especially for new cyclists.

    3. join bunch rides for ladies,

    A bit of a misinterpretation. My wife, when she commuted by bicycle, met several women who would commute the bulk of the way together at various times. She has never done a bunch ride in her life.

    4. learn to be your own pit crew,

    No such thing as a puncture proof tyre and there is no NRMA for cyclists. I’ve fixed flats for a few random lady cyclists, but I certainly do not like the idea of my wife relying on the charity of strangers.

    5. swap your cute step-through for something expensive enough that your bike shop will fit you for comfort for crossing the Nullarbor Plain,

    Not a bad idea in Sydney as we have hills, and potentially distance. My wife loves her roadie, which she paid to get fitted properly – without any input from me in fact, because it is light which makes hills easier (it has touring bike gearing though), particularly when her prime concern was getting to work, not becoming a better/fitter cyclist.

    Having investigated ladies bikes for child seats (http://www.sydneycyclist.com/profiles/blogs/adventures-with-babies-and-bikes-of-a-ladies-persuasion) the gearing generally sucks for hills.

    6. join online forums populated by tedious trolls.

    Statements like the below make me imagine that you write a blog rather than take part in online discussion perhaps because you were hounded off them by anti-trolls? You’d definitely be able to hold your trollish own in any case. (Alas, I bit).

    “Ladies—who are biologically geared to stay safe because they have to carry babies and feed them”

    “a lovely lady who I’m guessing has some unusual thing going on with her hormones”

    • Steven says:

      thanks Simon. And thanks to the bicycle network forum group for so carefully considering my every word. http://www.bicycles.net.au/forums/viewtopic.php?f=50&t=62762&sid=7574cf5107fc391d2aab62dd48631b28

    • Hamish says:

      Dear Simon.
      I notice how you glance over the substantive points made in this blog post, defend the original, SMH article and then end by attacking Dr Steven’s satire. Now I know that the PC brigade has made things a bit topsy-turvy, but generally I would make an argument by attacking the substantive points and glancing over the humour.
      Some may say that Steven’s humour is an acquired taste. This is also what is said about rich, sophisticated people’s food. This is a polite way of saying that maybe you’re not ready for the oysters and caviar.
      I also notice you proudly relayed your cleverness in the bicycles.net.au forum to the admiration of some hot babes. You know, when I was a bit younger, I too believed that by being sensitive and attuned to womyn’s needs, I would get laid. Alas, for me it was not the case. I hope it works out for you buddy.

    • Simon says:

      @Hamish
      You assume that I glanced over the points. I did not. I agree with them, but it is hardly riveting cutting edge stuff. Seriously, we all know that The Netherlands and Copenhagen have great cycle infrastructure and a high level of cycling as a result. It is not news. There are literally a million and one websites devoted to it, so not really worth commenting on.

      I still do not see how any of the points are relevant to the SMH article which was not an article about cycling infrastructure, but a woman giving tips to other women on how to cycle within the conditions we have now.

      Personally, I do not find making derogatory comments about people because of their gender humorous any more than I do for jokes about race, sexuality etc, and have no longing to acquire the taste for it. Call it PC if you want, but both my (hottie) wife and mum are female, so I actually take personal offence. I guess, in this brave new world, the audience is to blame when the humor is missed.

      I believe you might be looking for the term ad hominem. You may also wish to look up the term hypocrite as well.

  4. Steven says:

    For the record, I am sorry for causing offence. 2 years ago my blogging was purely satire, and accepted as such. Now I have more serious things to offer, it’s hard to change hats. Perhaps when writing with my old alter-ego “Dr. Behooving”, I should use italics. Thank you both, Simon and Hamish, for your spirited and intelligent words. And Hamish, you are pure evil :)
    Simon, the problem with accusations of sexism, is they stymie discussion of the “statistically average”. I have checked with my little lady—a very harsh critic—and she says I haven’t been sexist, that Hamish is funny, and that she wants to see a photo of you before making comment

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