Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why don't more women bicycle?

My recent recounting of the 4.2-mile, 80-minute walk to work ("A Morning Walk") brought a Twitter response from @JamesWillamor: You could make it in 15 to 20 minutes or so on a bicycle.

I tried to explain to him about the problems of riding on Providence Road, and the problems of having to wear office garb at the office and tried a delicate mention (especially difficult with the 140-character nature of Twitter) of the issue of profuse sweat from biking up that long long Morehead Street hill.

He persisted: Plenty of office garb on bicyclists in Europe and Asia. "Humidity," I replied. He said there's plenty of humidity in Japan and China.

But maybe there's more to my reluctance than the logistical problems of trying to bicycle in nice clothes, or in a disinclination to being killed by bicycling on Providence Road. (I have imagined elaborate and circuitous routes through the meandering heart of Myers Park but there's no way to avoid riding on some parts of Providence and either busy Morehead or busy Stonewall.)

Could my reluctance be, in part, because I'm female?

I got an e-mail today that originated with transportation planner John Cock (correction, no longer with The Lawrence Group, now with Alta Planning), notifying people of a free Webinar (register here) from the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals. The topic: "Writing Women Back Into Bicycling: Changing Transportation Culture to Encourage More Women to Cycle." The blurb: "Some say that transportation culture will change when more women are cycling. What's the key to making that change happen?"

Indeed, what would help me reconsider? My quick list:

First, safe bike lanes wide enough so I didn't feel I'd put my life in danger.

Second, a chain guard to keep the grease from getting onto my office clothes. Because who wants to have to carry good office garb in a backpack? That adds even more weight to a pack where you've already had to stash your office shoes. Plus in a pack, your good clothes would wrinkle.

Third, a good place to shower at the office. I can walk and still be presentable if it's not 80 degrees outside. No way I could bicycle without showering. (Technically, because of where I work, I could shower at the Dowd Y. But that's not a generic solution for all women.)


Jessica said...

My husband and I both cycled when we lived in Portland. I worked at a hospital where showers were available at the employee gym, so that took care of the sweaty thing (he also had showers available at his place of employment). I kept a few pairs of heels in my office (one less thing to carry).

We're not cycling now due to lack of bike lanes and general awareness.

Anonymous said...

If I overcome the compulsion to ride as fast as I can so as not to interfere with auto traffic -- which is probably not required by law in your state, either -- I can ride whatever speed I choose and arrive without having broken a sweat. But, true, that requires more chutzpah than I can consistently muster. Cars and trucks are scary.

On the other hand, what could be more inspiring to women considering biking to your workplace than a woman actualu biking to your workplace?

consultant said...

Cycling is dangerous in a lot of places. We need to get more businesses behind the notion that fit employees reduce health care costs. If they understand that, they'll put pressure on govt. to create safe bicycle lanes on major streets.

They might also chip in some financial support.

Unknown said...

In nearly a year and a half of riding on Park Road - and once every other week on Fairview - I have only had two close calls. Most of the time, I have felt very comfortable riding to/from work.

I cycle to work regardless of the weather, my health or traffic conditions. I even ride in the heat of the Summer - I use NoRinse since there's no shower at the office. And I have to look as professional as anyone since I deal with the public

Jon Harding said...

Children and women on bicycles are often considered signs of a cities (active) transportation health. There are great resources in Charlotte for those who wish to bicycle as a form of transportation, such as The Charlotte area bicycle Alliance Parts of South Charlotte do have a wonderful grid of secondary streets which are fantastic for bicyclists (Google Maps bikes!). Riding on the sidewalks of main arterials can be very dangerous (and illegal).

If you want to read my story of living a year in Charlotte without a car, checkout .

kcat said...

It's not only women who don't bicycle. I rarely see men or women using bicycles for transportation in Charlotte; rather they use their bicycle as a gym workout with the requisite racing outfit. Once in a while I ride 10 miles to work. The 8 mile drive is lengthened to use smaller neighborhood streets. I use the sidewalk on Colony between Fairview and Sharon since the drivers are quite nasty. With bike panniers, one can easily take along clean clothes to change into.

Display Name said...

Go to:

Search for Charlotte. It has all of the greenways and bike lanes. You can plan your route with that!

Arleigh Jenkins said...


I would personally invite you in letting me how you get from point a to b.

Having commuting in many cities, I've learned the hard way to find short cuts, side roads and neighborhood trails.

Let's take a morning to try to find you a route!

For the rest of you - I do this often through my bike shop in North Charlotte.

Also, check out

Jumper said...

"Bicycling has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.
I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.
It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance."
Susan B. Anthony (1896)

2whls3spds said...

Plenty of bikes available with chain guards, just not at WM or many bike shops.


Jumper said...

Off topic link: the Take Turns traffic sign:

Jumper said...

More or less on-topic link:

Never be afraid to think outside the box.

April Streeter, Gothenburg, Sweden said...

Honestly, many of these problems (except, I admit, the totally unfriendliness of some U.S. cities) can be overcome by e-bikes. After nearly a month of riding a Sanyo eneloop this is clearer than every to me. I can zip across intersections when necessary. I can face mightly hills without breaking a sweat. I can turn off the motor on the way home if I WANT to sweat. Every commmuter women's bike should have pedal assist.

Unknown said...

I'll second the ebike suggestion. They'll provide half the energy and up to 80% of the power. More speed and less power means little or no sweat. City streets are much less scary when you ride 20 mph in a 25 mph zone.

As for the chain guard, very few of them protect you from the whole chain, top and bottom. Just clean it in about 15 min., whenever it gets dirty. Chain washers are about $25, wax lubricant $15 and citrus degreaser $10/pt. Chain and sprockets will last longer too.