Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

Women on Bikes: Seriously?

As part of this year’s National Bike Summit, there was an afternoon Women’s Cycling Forum. The promotional description was quasi-promising:

Women still cycle at much lower rates than men in the United States — making up just 24 percent of bike trips in 2009. But that trend is shifting. We’re eager to learn from our peers, share our experiences and explore ideas to engage more women.

Women cycling is a topic I have previously covered, and (shockingly) have some personal interest in. So I took a look at the Twitter stream from the event. Some of what I saw made me want to hork. Mightily.

#womencycling tweet

Yeah. Please note, TLC was quoting a speaker, not espousing this themselves. They later said that the speaker said this with a laugh.

But in the midst of serious conversations about women being more hesitant to ride in traffic, a need for better cargo bikes, issues of women as caregivers to children… this kind of condescending crap? Let me tell you, the women doing 85% of household chores and errands are probably NOT doing it in heels already. And the women who stood up and discussed the need for cargo bikes and ways of carrying children? Yeah. Utility and safety, not “cuteness,” are going to be more meaningful. The profusion of minivans in the average elementary school car line should speak to that — no one ever drove a minivan for its “cuteness.” They ain’t.

It’s true that marketing to women is different and needs to be done differently. Bike shops populated by young men in spandex are not the most appealing for much of the women-not-yet-on-bikes audience. Having appropriately sized bicycles and bike clothing for the ladies is also necessary, and any bicycle — utility or racing — should be built with an eye for design and style, because it CAN be, and why build ugly if you don’t have to?

While I’ve never been a fan of women-specific instructional stuff (see also, what home improvement stores do, right down to pink tools), I get that they do it because it works, ladies like it, and I am a bit of a freak because of my upbringing (single mom in IT in a very male industry, so a somewhat unique role model figure). I’ve even taught a few courses for women (and girls) myself. I also understand that women, especially with children in tow, are more risk-averse to routing. But to turn it into shoes and fashion is a complete slap in the face of what women do daily for their families, and what their true barriers to riding are. It reeks of another round of white men in spandex who just don’t get it.

Alliance for Biking & Walking and Association of Bicycling & Walking Professionals? You can do better than this kind of bullshit message. Buck up and do so, please. Even as a joke, this is the very attitude that turns women away from cycling. To have someone spouting off like this on a panel is an insult to the thoughtful women who were also on the panels, and to the audience who came looking for a real discussion of issues.

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.


  1. I was following the #womencycling hashtag on twitter for a while and it made me pretty uncomfortable. The one you’ve quoted above was one of the worst, but there were a few statements made that made me uncomfortable. Or at least they were the kind of statements that might be ok for a woman to say, but I’d get boiled alive if I tried to say the same thing as a male. I think this is a really difficult dynamic that extends well beyond cycling – how do you recognize inherent cultural or biological differences between men and women while recognizing past sexism and accommodate everyone without creating new programs or ideas that are inherently sexist themselves.

  2. I don’t really object to the idea that you have to market differently, and studies do suggest that women are more risk-averse as cyclists. And it makes sense that some stuff is different — Tanya at StreetsBlog suggests some of the stuff that influences. Arguably, passing a watermelon-sized object out of one’s biking parts and making a mess of one’s abs in the gestation process really mucks you up for a while.

    I think people who focus too much on parents with babies are missing a point. I talk about biking with babies quite a bit… but that’s because I have two kids under 4. It’s actually easier for the parents of slightly older kids in general, the equipment and adaptations required are cheaper, and there are more practical applications of bike use, like getting to school, sports and other community activities.

  3. Not having been a follower of the hashtag conversation. I can say I have had some very sexist issues in a bike shop and luckily found one I can be comfortable in. But as to bike choices, as one of a few (in my area), daily cyclists…a very common theme for women new to riding…. Is indeed… Cute bicycles. The average female in my area goes to the Wstore or similar and gets the cutest,most eye appealing to them. There is no concept of weight, gearing, ect. Curb appeal sells. Then half the time, they quit riding because its so hilly here and its tremendously hard for a new rider to ride the hills in our areadragging along on a heavy bike. I’d love to see the design of even budget bikes be something that is automatic even in low end priced ones. Because beginner riders think budget first, and cute within that concept. And the design for women needs to be addressed at all levels, not just the multi thousand dollar bicycle.

  4. But are women really thinking: “oh, I can’t bike, bikes just aren’t cute?”

    Everyone tries to buy a bike that fits into their idea of stylish within their price range — male, female, other. But I just don’t see “cuteness” as a barrier to getting women on bikes. That women do 85% of childcare and household chores just seems a lot more significant.

  5. Great points! 6 years ago I started a company making instructional repair bike tool kits to women. It was the start of the era of “Women’s Cycling” and was well received in the industry and even QBP picked them up. I used shades of pink and gray in the marketing. Women cyclists attacked me just because I used pink. Even though each kit had in-depth instructions on, say, how to fix a flat etc…they couldn’t get past the pink. Anyway, my point is that sometimes the hard core women cyclists don’t get it like the spandex boys.