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.
If 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%).
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.
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.