Girls and bikes together again?

Last week I was a speaker at an event all about celebrating women cyclists. We were talking about how to get more women on the road on two wheels. Better cycling infrastructure obviously. Safer roads for everyday cyclists.

One of the questions I asked was where in the pipeline do we lose women as cyclists. While there are twice as many men as women riding bikes in Canada, the gap between men and women starts when we’re young.

Outside magazine asks Why Aren’t More Girls Riding Bikes?

Partly it’s that children in general are riding less.

“According to the federal program Safe Routes to School, the number of kids commuting on bike or foot to school has plummeted from 48 percent in 1969 to 13 percent in 2009. In the CDC-funded survey, parents cited distance to school, traffic-related risks, and weather as the biggest barriers to biking and walking. Factor in distracted drivers and kids’ increasingly busy after-school schedules, and it’s no wonder that biking is such a tough sell.”

But as we know around here it’s also gendered. Girls’ participation drops off more than boys’. There’s such a thing as the play gap.

One explanation for kids moving less is the ‘protection paradox.” Parents and teachers worry about kids getting hurt and so encourage less risky play. Activities like biking and walking to school are seen as dangerous. It’s a paradox because the kids are less well off overall as a result of moving less. But the “protection paradox” is also gendered. Parents and teachers worry more about girls than boys. And that maps the result.

More from Outside: “New research presented last year shows that girls’ participation in riding drops off noticeably in adolescence. The study’s author, Jennifer Dill, an urban studies and planning professor at Portland State University, surveyed 300 families in Portland to find out how their attitudes and behavior toward bicycling changed over the course of two years. Dill found that the girls between 11 and 16 who lost interest in biking shared common concerns: They felt less safe riding in traffic (even in areas with designated bike lanes), they were uncomfortable riding alone and reported having trouble finding friends to join them, they believed cars were safer than bikes, and they thought biking took too much time.”

At the panel, my daughter talked about learning to ride as a child. She talked about riding with a bike club in Australia that taught kids to ride and race on a track. Her favourite drill was learning to ride side by side with another cyclist holding on the other rider’s shoulder. She also liked learning look back and shoulder check while continuing ahead in a straight line. These are skills that help with cycling safety and give beginning riders confidence. It’s great to teach them to kids at an age when they aren’t so afraid of falling and they’re not so self-conscious about getting things wrong.

I think this kind of skill development is especially important for girls.

I love girls on bikes. Like Ruby Isaac.

2 thoughts on “Girls and bikes together again?

  1. This is such an important issue– I’m really glad you’re writing and talking about it. The “protection paradox” is endemic here in the US– some schools prohibit kids from riding bikes to school.
    When I was at the beach with sis and kids and their friends, my niece and her friend spent a ton of time on the beach bikes. We were in a big condo complex area with bike paths, which made my sister happy. And the girls loved the independence that bikes gave them. That’s a great gift to give our kids, too.

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