Women Unite! Take Back the…Bike!

Cycling in Madrid. Photo credit: Nancy Hughes.
Cycling in Madrid. Photo credit: Nancy Hughes.

Last Thursday I had a blast at the annual Take Back the Night rally and march in London.  The event brings back the old days of women marching together in the streets: “Daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, take back the night, it’s half our lives!” and “No more silence, no more violence!” and “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Patriarchy has got to go!”

The feeling of walking through the major streets of our city with hundreds of other women and their children (and dogs!), laughing and chanting, just fills me with hope and joy.

The same day, The Globe and Mail published a story about the gender gap in commuter cyclists: “Is there a gender gap among commuting cyclists? the numbers are stark.”

Now, I am well aware of the gender gap in road cyclists, triathletes, mountain bikers, etc.  But I have never reflected much on gender and commuter cycling. And as the G and M reports, the numbers are indeed stark:

In Canada, just 29 per cent of daily bike commuters were women, according to 2006 census data, although that number did rise in Canadian cities: women made up 35 per cent of bicycle commuters in Toronto and Montreal and 37 per cent in Vancouver.

Similarly low numbers are reported in New York, where bike commuting men outnumber women 3 to 1. What keeps women away from the bike?

According to the article, street traffic tops the list.  But that makes it sound as if it’s about individual choice. What interests me most about the report is that a number of more alarming kinds of reasons come into play.

Street harassment, reaching a seasonal peak in the prime riding times of spring and summer, keep lots of women off the bike. And then there are some more structural reasons. Women’s commuting patterns are different because they are more likely than men to need to pick up kids on the way home from work or to have to make pit stops for groceries.

And as the article points out, women still have to work many more hours than men to make the same money. So their days are longer. The article doesn’t mention that as a consequence, especially when darkness begins to fall earlier, they’re more likely to be commuting in the dark.

As Take Back the Night reminds us, the dark of night poses troubling risks for women.  This compounds the fear of street traffic, which for good reason is more acute after dark for any cyclist. Most women I know, even those who walk with a fair bit of confidence at night, feel the need to be extra alert when they’re out alone after dark.

There are lots of good reasons to commute by bike. I started commuting regularly about two years ago, just after my 48th birthday. Trading in my parking pass for a sturdy hybrid has helped me save money, reduce my carbon footprint, feel refreshed and relaxed both when I get to work in the morning and when I arrive home at the end of the day, and slow down and feel the world around me.

It’s also reduced my commute time by at least ten minutes because for most of my route I’m on the bike path with no stop signs or traffic lights and, instead of having to park and walk to my building on campus I can ride right up to the bike rack outside of the philosophy department.

Elizabeth Plank, a senior editor at Mic, “has been asking women who do cycle to tweet their photos under the hashtag #IBikeBecause. Their reasons are as diverse as men’s: cost savings, exercise, environmentalism, reliability, speed, fresh air and, not least of all, sanity.”

Meanwhile, I can attest that my commuter biking has added all sorts of good things to my life. I confess that I have some fear when it comes to street traffic and I’m not keen to ride after dark, but I am far braver than I was when I began two years ago. And I have bright lights with strobe settings for those nights when I am caught late and want to ride home.

Claim our bodies, claim our right
Take a stand, take back the bike!

Best way to commute on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon: bicycle!
Best way to commute on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon: bicycle!





4 thoughts on “Women Unite! Take Back the…Bike!

  1. I’m not in good enough shape to commute to work yet (giant, massive hills and heavy traffic in non-bike friendly areas) but I do bike to my morning fitness classes. I like the 5:00AM ride when it is dark and I feel like I have the city to myself. Frankly, I also find it easier to deal with traffic then because I can see the headlights sometimes before I can hear cars. I like these articles you’ve both been posting about getting out there and riding more – I am finding them very inspiring!

  2. I actually feel a lot safer on bike at night compared to walking…and honest, cycling vs. jogging alone at night is safer on bike if you were to compare the streets or dedicated multi-use path.

    You can ride away on bike..not same on foot.

  3. When I lived in Colorado Springs it was 18 miles one way to work for me, but I did it all of the time because there was a trail for most of the route. However, here in NC, even though I only work one morning a week, I need to be able to get back home to my kids quickly, travel with a yoga mat and teaching materials, and have to take one of the busiest roads in town to get to work via car. There is no alternate route via bike and I would have to leave around 630am and fight regular morning traffic to make it in time. My wishes are only dreams now. Enjoy the ride for those of you who can!

Comments are closed.