The UK’s biggest cities seems to be undergoing something of a cycling revolution (forgive the pun!) of late, but are women being excluded?
Cycling is a success story – a niche transport mode which is now becoming part of everyday life for many urban Brits. The increasing cost of motoring, worsening congestion, lower rates of car ownership amongst young people, increasing cost of public transport and awareness of health issues are often factors cited in getting people on two wheels. Government and local transport authorities are encouraging this shift through initiatives including cycle hire schemes (such as the one at Piccadilly), improving infrastructure and ‘cycle to work’ scheme.
Manchester touts itself as the ‘home’ of cycling in the UK, as the national sporting body “British Cycling”, the National BMX Centre and Velodromes are located here and levels of growth here are as strong as anywhere. Between 2005 and 2015 the number of cycling trips into the City Centre of Manchester trebled – on Oxford Road alone over 1,600 people each day get on two wheels.
This is great for the city. Less potential pollution, more activity on the streets, financial freedom and higher local expenditure. But looking at the two-wheeled travellers on Greater Manchester’s streets in 2016, the typical cyclist is fluorescent, lycra-clad, white, middle class… and male.
Men cycling in Manchester outnumber women up to 3:1. Issues often cited are grooming issues, bringing spare clothes the dreaded phenomenon of “helmet hair”, road safety and arriving at destinations red-faced and sweaty. But are such issues patronising to those women who do cycle? And to “Metrosexual” men?
The following tweets from women in the US give a light hearted indication of why:
The issues of requiring spare clothes, fears around road safety and arriving sweaty don’t arise as often in the Netherlands where cycling is more of an everyday transport mode and there is less of a need to keep up with or cycle away from motorised traffic. Dutch cycle paths are filled with cyclists ‘taking it easy’, cycling along at at a less strenuous pace than in the UK. The infrastructure helps, but so does the culture amongst motorists.
If cycling was perceived as a safer transport mode, more women may feel comfortable taking to two wheels, as they would be able to do so at a pace which doesn’t require getting hot under the collar.
Recent improvements to cycle infrastructure under the Cycle City Ambition Grant is adding more segregated cycle lanes, but many of these aren’t anywhere near a standard which would be acceptable in Copenhagen or Groningen. The blog Mad Cycle Lanes of Manchester illustrates this with beautiful wit. More 20mph zones and legal protection for cyclists would help reduce the dominance of motor vehicles on Greater Manchester’s roads.
On Tuesday, campaigners from Sustrans cycled through Manchester dressed as Suffragettes to highlight the fact that many women do not feel safe enough to cycle. The sustainable travel campaigners wanted to illustrated cycling’s “gender imbalance”.
Keen Cyclist Anne Butler said “The day was a huge success. We were inundated with ladies wanting to attend, some even buying their first bike, or replacing their old one, especially for the event. One lady had a mechanical fault with her bike whilst riding home and was able to fix it herself with what she had learnt.”
Transport for Greater Manchester is attempting to increase participation amongst women, through their ‘Women on Wheels’ campaign. The initiative includes various cycle training, maintenance, social ride and taster sessions aimed at women.
As cycling becomes more popular generally, as safety improves, more women will cycle. In world of greater gender equality, cycling is on a journey, but attracting enough women to take up their bikes so that they equal men, there is a long way to go.
Are you a woman who is interested in cycling? See the links below:
TfGM: Women on Wheels
Manchester Wheelers: Women
Team Glow Women’s Cycling Network
Women Cyclists Manchester WordPress
Manchester and District Ladies Cycling Association