Why Are Three Out of Four Cyclists on the Street Men?

It's been more than 100 years since Susan B. Anthony said the bicycle "has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world." So why aren't there more of us riding them? Image: ##http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2011/03/28/wheels-of-change-bicycle/##Colorado Historical Society##

I’ve never thought of myself as a female cyclist. For the last 13 years, I’ve been a bike commuter in DC, and I figured my needs were the same needs as any cyclist. But for the last six months, I’m a biker that doesn’t bike, and that has everything to do with the fact that I’m a woman. So the Women’s Cycling Forum, which kicked off the National Bike Summit yesterday, hit home for me.

After all, I had taken the metro. To the Bike Summit.

Why wasn’t I riding? I just had a baby. So did my partner, but somehow he never had to stop cycling. But then, he didn’t find himself gaining 28 pounds in nine months. Or pushing a baby out his bike-seat anatomy. And since he’s not nursing every three hours, he leaves the house without Luna more often than I do, so he has more cause to bike. At two months, she’s too young for a bike trailer.

At least, I think she is. I have to admit I’m not sure when babies can start riding along. No one at the hospital made sure I had a child bike seat properly installed before I went home. None of the parenting websites and blogs I read list “old enough for a bike trailer” as a milestone. There are other cyclists in my mom’s group, but somehow no one talks about getting back in the saddle the way we talk about the challenges of going back to work or getting babies on a sleep schedule.

Now that I’m beginning to take short forays out of the house without Luna, I’m missing my bike. Bypassing the bus would make those short forays shorter, and more enjoyable.

But my bike needs a tune-up after six months of dormancy, and despite my best intentions, I’ve never learned to fix my own bike. I even bought a how-to book on bike repair – with a woman on the cover – but it’s my partner that used that book to teach himself bike maintenance, not me.

And I have to admit, these days when I see cyclists zip by inches from the side of the bus I’m on, it looks incredibly dangerous – far more dangerous than it ever felt when I was behind the handlebars. I know that when I get back on I’ll feel safe and confident again, but if I hadn’t started urban cycling in college, I think I’d look at those daredevil madcap risk-takers on fixies and think it wasn’t for me.

Women make up only 24 percent of bicycle trips in the U.S., and all the issues I just mentioned are reasons why. And most of them came up in yesterday’s Women’s Cycling Forum, organized by the Alliance for Biking and Walking and the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals.

When people talk about the two-wheeled gender disparity, they often mention the safety issue and assume that better infrastructure – specifically, separated bike paths – will encourage more women to bike. And that’s a huge part of the solution, undoubtedly. But there’s more to it than that.

Many of us don’t know how to fix our own bikes and are intimidated and patronized when we step into a bike shop. We take disproportionate parenting duty and no one ever taught us how to ride safely with children, or what kind of gear (or cargo bikes) we need to schlep diaper bags and everything else that encumbers a parent. We don’t see cyclemoms around town to model ourselves after or ask questions of. There’s no guide to bike trailers in “What to Expect the First Year” or on Ask Dr. Sears, and no one brought one to my baby shower (even though I registered for it). And the 22-year-old dude at the bike shop with the perma-black hands might not be the world’s foremost expert on such things either.

I have a car seat for Luna but not a bike seat — and I don’t have a car.

There are some resources for parents in cycling circles, but there are no resources for cyclists in parenting circles. If we want to broaden our message, we need to meet the women where they are — especially the moms, who might feel the most limited when it comes to cycling.

The sold-out Women's Cycling Forum. Photo by Tanya Snyder.

Apparently I’m not be the only one wrestling with these issues. The Women’s Cycling Forum sold out days ago, with 220 people registered and more just showing up, hoping to get a seat.

Panelist Veronica Davis said she founded Black Women Bike DC after a little girl in an African-American neighborhood saw her riding by and yelled, “Mommy! Look at the black woman on a bike!” The girl was “very excited to see someone that looked like her on a bike.” And with only 24 percent of the mode share, women in general don’t see enough of themselves on bikes – black women especially.

What we see too much of – in the pages of bicycling magazines as well as in the streets – are “MAMILs,” said Nelle Pierson of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. (That’s Middle-Aged Men In Lycra.) And that’s who bike shops are marketing to. Pierson said she’s had some terrible experiences in bike shops. “That’s where you will get your first introduction to a bike, that’s where you can find the appropriate gear, and that’s where you can get turned off to biking,” Pierson said.

Maybe bike shops could look more like Lululemon stores, mused mountain bike racer Marla Streb. Or maybe they could at least clean their bathrooms once in a while. Or maybe they can sell gear appropriate to the needs of women commuters: “Can you make a bike with pedals that work for shoes like this?” she asked, holding up a kitten heel.

Streb said she spent $5,000 on her custom cargo bike, which she uses to shuttle around her two- and five-year-olds. “Kids are an equipment sport,” she said. But you don’t have to spend that much money, she was quick to point out. There are lots of cheaper options.

Safe infrastructure is important, and Veronica Davis said the campaign for complete streets is paramount. But even safety might not always be as important as it seems.

“I don’t think that women are necessarily more afraid [than men],” said Andrea Garland of Alta Planning + Design, “but we are more prone to say we’re afraid of something. I think it’s just not convenient for us.” Indeed, if women had a better idea how to fit two kids and their schoolbags and the groceries on a bike – and saw other women doing the same thing, and knew where to get the gear for it – they might be happy to do it, separated lanes or no separated lanes.

Women-only bike skills workshops are essential, said Streb, who teaches them. One man present will change the vibe. Besides, women are more “communal” than men, some participants commented. Group activities will inspire them to do something they might not do individually.

Perhaps because black women are even more invisible in cycling circles than white women, Davis had a very DIY attitude. When one participant expressed her indignation that she couldn’t get bike commuter jeans made for women, Davis indicated that she really didn’t expect marketers to have her in mind. “We need to step up and start our own bike shops; start own clothing lines. We can put the pressure on other people. But we can do it ourselves.”

Davis also suggested using social media to tell the stories and provide the community that marketers and the media won’t. “In the absence of marketers marketing [to us], that doesn’t mean we can’t do it,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t say, ‘Hey, this is how you can be fashionable and bike to work. This is how you can maintain your hairstyle under a helmet. Here are some bags you can take if you’re a mother.’ It doesn’t mean we can’t tell our own story and market to ourselves.”

But a representative of the Dutch embassy – who couldn’t help mentioning a few times that women make up 55 percent of trips in the Netherlands – said that the most important thing to get women’s cycling rates up in the U.S. was to organize political support to get the infrastructure in place.

And that’s what the rest of the National Bike Summit will focus on. We’ll bring you team coverage of the Summit today.

  • Even with complete streets, it seems really dangerous to bike with a baby in tow. Cars in the US are having trouble adapting to having adult riders on the streets, adding a baby to the mix just seems like an unnecessarily risky venture. It’s great that you’re so committed to biking and parenting, but maybe the answer is more simple than baby-proofing the streets: let your partner watch the newborn while you go for a ride.

  • It sucks that nobody (in this country) even really has an idea on what’s “safe” for biking with young kids.  Most doctors just say “don’t do it” until they’re 9-12 months old – but for people like you, that’s a non-answer.

    The best resource I’ve found (in English!) is the Totcycle website – it’s not frequently updated but there are a couple posts on there about using car seats with trailers, etc.  You can also find hints perusing forums – the “Family and Kids” section of http://www.mtbr.com, for example.  But again – that’s a biking site, not a parenting site (though I think the advice I’ve seen there might be better than that on some parenting sites!!).

    This is a great write-up and an important topic.  As a dad and a proponent of family-oriented bike travel, I think getting women (and especially moms) into transportational cycling is crucial.

    @ Alice Post – There’s actually some evidence that drivers give a lot more room when they see someone biking with a trailer or a baby seat on their bike.  I agree it may not FEEL particularly safe, but if you use all the safe cycling methods the actual risk is a lot lower than the perceived risk.  And let’s not forget: riding in cars is dangerous too!

  • I’ve written quite a bit about babies on bikes. The industry recommendation is a year. The practical recommendation is that they need to be able to hold their own head up decently, because even baby bike helmets are heavy, and even well-cushioned bike trailers vibrate like crazy. (Strap in a 2 liter of Sprite securely, bike 5 miles, then try to open it. Tilt the bottle AWAY from yourself.)

    I can’t take either of my kids out without getting tons of questions about how I do it. It’s true that we have to be our own ambassadors.

  • Matt: While people do juryrig stuff with carseats + trailers, carseat experts are horrified when they do. Issue is that they’re engineered for a certain use, and reengineering them is considered risky by these folks.

  • I took my son for rides in my Bullitt cargo bike at the age of two months. The Bullitt is great for little kids because the child rides in the box, in front of the handlebars, so you can look at the little one at all times. We put his car seat in the box so he would have something to sit in and attached it with seat belts to the bike frame.

  • JulieK – 

    If the carseat experts were REALLY horrified, they’d build us some safe infant bikeseats!

  • Anonymous

    I waited until my son was 1 year old and used a child bike seat. I don’t think those would work for children much younger than that because they do rattle a lot. Maybe some of the hacks that have been suggested involving infant car seats work, but I’m not that hard-core a cyclist to get into that. For the diaper bag, you can use a backpack.

  • Matt K.

    I’m a gay guy, so I may not be the best person to hypothesize about the disparity.  But, it seems to me that women take so much more time on their appearance than men do and that some may be reluctant to use bicycles for everyday activities if doing so means perspiring or messing-up hair, make-up, nails, etc.

    Cities may need to make riding without helmets commonplace.  That outcome requires slowing or separating automobile traffic so that cycling can become as natural for people in varying modes of dress as walking down a sidewalk.

  • Joe R.

    You might look overseas to see how they’ve dealt with the issues of cycling with very young children you’ve mentioned. Those aren’t necessarily unique issues for women, either. Some of the male cyclists here need to go places with their children in tow also.

    Getting to infrastructure, yes it is somewhat important, but I don’t think it’s the be all and end all many people make it out to be. I’m probably more risk averse than most women (I refuse to set foot on an airplane), yet I’ve happily ridden Eastern Queens arterials, even during rush hour. I had a 4’9″ female friend happy to do the same thing after taking my lead-in the 1980s, long before bike lanes or bike helmets were even on the radar.

    Safety is more about confidence than anything else. All those cyclists zipping inches from a bus might look like daredevils to a noncyclist. The only way to change that perspective is to get on a bike, and see that this isn’t the case. I’ve told the same thing to anyone of either sex contemplating cycling when they bring up safety-cycling just isn’t a dangerous activity if you keep aware of everything around you, and always allow an out in case someone does something they’re not supposed, like suddenly make a right turn. I give myself as an example. I figured it out as a teenager, got most of my injuries (nothing worse than road rash) in the first 5 years, haven’t fallen off the bike for any reason since 1996.

    The key is always getting past those first few years while you’re still developing your road sense. Since you mentioned that women generally are more communal than men, this is where to take advantage of that attribute. Experienced cyclists (of both sexes) can help new women cyclists learn the ropes, while also relating stories of the freedom it brings. I may have had to figure it out on my own, but I could probably get a newbie up to my level of road sense in a few months, not the few years it took me to get really confident. At the same time these new cyclists would be building up their speed and stamina, both of which greatly help your confidence level when dealing with faster motor traffic. Ideally, it would be great to mostly remove fast motor traffic from the equation, but for now it’s a reality which must be dealt with if one is to cycle to useful destinations.

    The last thing is bike repair. If there’s any one thing which I feel eventually turns off many new cyclists, it’s when their machine breaks down. There is the choice of dealing with bike shops (and paying a small fortune for simple repairs) versus doing it yourself. By far flat tires are the biggest repair issue cyclists face. The good news is airless tires are getting better and better. Just this one simple thing can eliminate 95% of bike maintenance. I’ve been riding on airless tires for the last 5500 miles. There are many sources online about them, both pro and con. Most bike shops will badmouth airless tires for obvious reasons-much of their income is from fixing flats. I feel if airless tires were mainstream, then the other bike repair issues wouldn’t be enough to turn off new cyclists. A decent modern bike really doesn’t need an onerous amount of maintenance. Anyone can do tasks like cleaning the chain, lubricating the moving parts, adjusting the brakes/derailleurs, and truing the wheels. This covers 99%+ of bike maintenance. Tasks which are only very occasionally done, like changing bearings on the bottom bracket, are usually best left to bike shops which have the specialized tools.

  • Pscyclepath


    As Julie noted up above, Luna should be old enough for a bike trailer when she’s able to consistently hold her head up on her own, and look around.  I would look at a trailer first, for its stability with such a little one.  Check Amazon.com for a book by Trudy Bell, “Bicycling With Children,” for lots of practical and road/street-tested advice!

  • See examples here of moms (and dads) taking very small babies on bicycles in Copenhagen:


    If I had to do my child-rearing days over again, I would get a bakfiets with a rain canopy, and outfit it with an electric-assist and disc brakes. Yes, it would run close to $5000, but 1) this is still way, way cheaper than a car, 2) it would be fun, fun, fun and get you locally most anywhere you wanted to go, and 3) it would have fabulous resale value (the battery might need to be replaced but everything else would last over a decade.) 

    I would ride cautiously with a baby–no trying to make that yellow light or squeeze past that row of cars–but I think the baby being in front (facing backwards) so it could see you, and could also see various other interesting real things, would actually make baby much happier than being trapped in a carseat with only a headrest to look at it and Mom/Dad out of sight. I rode with my kids in bike seats from about the time they could sit up fairly well–maybe six months old?  But this was on recreational type routes, not in the city. I was not that hardy back then, but I did a lot of pushing them up and down the hills of San Francisco in strollers. A bakfiet that could have hauled two kids plus baby gear would have been a dream.

    As to why only 1/4th of bicycle riders in the US are women as opposed to countries with good bicycle infrastructure like Denmark and Holland where 1/2 of all riders are women: separated infrastructure really does change the bicycling experience for women.

    Consider that women (on average) hear better than men and have greater sensitivity to sound. Women (on average) also have wider peripheral
    vision than men, they perceive a wider arc of visual input. Men tend to
    see a narrower field–mild tunnel vision–with a greater emphasis on
    depth. So as a large, smelly truck roars six inches past her elbow, even if she knows the truck is unlikely to hit her, a woman is very likely more aware of its
    looming physical presence, more likely to experience the truck as viscerally threatening, more likely find its smell repulsive, and more likely to feel stress from its noise and vibrations than a man in the
    same situation would. (Not to say that some men don’t have similar reactions and that some women don’t have these reactions at all. Talking about averages here.) As long as biking requires being in close proximity to noisy, foul-smelling, vehicles of great mass moving at great speeds, the majority of women will not bike.

  • Andrew E Guthrie

    “But my bike needs a tune-up after six months of dormancy[…]”  Actually, it probably doesn’t, unless you were already having problems with it (or unless it had already been too long since its last tune-up) before you hung it up. I used to run the service department of a good-sized shop (I’d add a shameless plug, but they’re in Atlanta), and we would always tell customers who said that to wipe the bike off a bit, pump up the tires, and take it for a ride. Then, if something didn’t work right, bring it back in, tell us, and likely just have us fix one or two specific things, rather than charging $60+ to adjust a lot of things that only come out of adjustment when the bike’s being ridden. Best of luck biking with your kid; my four-year old loves it. 

  • Anonymous

    @twitter-315555118:disqus wrote: “Even with complete streets, it seems really dangerous to bike with a baby in tow.”

    I gather this is your opinion, but do you have any evidence to support this? In fact, motor vehicle accidents are one of the major causes of death of children:

    and people have *zero* problem throwing their baby in the car in spite of this statistic. Why do you think people should be told to be afraid of taking their child on a bicycle, especially if they ride extra cautiously? What you are doing is just contributing to the culture of fear that surrounds bicycling and just further prevents more people from doing it.

  • Anonymous

    Another product gap is cycling clothes for women shaped like women.     I buy my clothes in the regular section of stores, not stores focusing on larger women, and there are larger women than me who cycle for transportation.  And yet I can’t find cycling rain gear and other specialized products that fit.  Clothing manufacturers assume women who cycle are skinny, flat-chested and thin-hipped. 

  • What a great read!  A few points:

    1)  That cyclist passing your bus only inches away is in fact doing something that’s just as dangerous as it looks.  Don’t pass buses.  Unless you’re 100% they’re solidly mired in traffic.  I almost always wait behind them on Boston streets.  They’re so wide that it’s really hard to share a lane with one.

    2)  I’m a bit spoiled by the bike shop near my house.  The are more female mechanics than male, and they’re really friendly and sell sweet used bikes of all kinds.  There’s very little lycra to be found there.  Bikes Not Bombs retail shop, Jamaica Plain, MA.

    3)  It is pretty tough to learn how to do what should be perfectly ordinary things with a bicycle, like carry groceries, laundry, or children.  I see lots and lots of folks wearing backpacks or hanging bags off their handlebars with an empty rack on the back.  Way more than I see ingenious DIY cargobikes or people with proper gear.

    I do think the Dutch representative has it right, though.  Build the infrastructure to get people out on their bikes, and the market for practical, utility cycling will take off, and there will be tons more role models for what to wear, how to load, etc.  And lots more talk in the media and culture and the rest.

    Unfortunately, the lycra legions and us brave few have to blaze the path first.

    PS – In Massachusetts it’s actually illegal to carry a child under 1 year on a bicycle, but not in a trailer.  Furthermore, they don’t need a helmet if the trailer has restraints and rollover protection built in.

    PPS – Consumer Reports has a nice article, and they suggest no younger than 1 year: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/babies-kids/baby-toddler/bike-trailers/bike-trailer-buying-advice/index.htm

  • Congratulations on your new addition! And welcome to the world of family cycling. 

    I second Matt, Totcycle is an excellent resource for biking with small children (and babies). Especially
    this post
    this one dedicated to babies

    Yes, the number of female riders (and especially female riders with kids) is significantly lower than the male population. But if you look, you’ll find us. We may not be passing you on the street every day but we’re out riding in other cities and towns all over the country and we’re willing to give you all of the virtual support you need. Just search for “family cycling” and you’ll find us!

    Because we’re not part of the mini-van driving status quo, female family cyclists won’t find the resources we need from mainstream baby books or online parenting forums or local bike shops. In most parts of the country we have to turn to the web for support.

    I’ve been riding with my kids since 2007. I’m happy to report that I’ve watched our numbers grow in the past 5 years. 

    Hopefully you’ll experience the same growth in DC. Hopefully if you search, you’ll find other local parents who want to ride with their kids. We build momentum for family cycling one ride at a time.

  • My wife and I are both carless so we bike to get everywhere. We have a 3 month old and we have been bringing her to doctors appointments and everything else via a Croozer Kid trailer for the past 3 months. We have a special insert that she straps into and lies almost flat. We live in Germany and there are tons of bike lanes and separate bike paths. Our little girl loves being in the trailer. It’s doable year round. Honestly I feel much safer traveling with her at 12-18mph than in a car at 60mph. The thing is super bright and has a flag. 

  • Julie P

    Our doctor cleared my son to be on a bike at 9 mos, so we got a WeeRide for on our bike.  We live in downtown Chicago and can’t stomach a trailer and wanted him in front of us.  I wish we were wealthy enough to buy a cargo bike, but we’re not.  Getting him on our bike, though, has given us so much more freedom!  So much faster than el/bus and cheaper, too.

  • Good question. My spouse worked ~ 3 miles from one job (casual dress) for over a year. Never biked (we did do a trial run once.)
    Then she worked even closer (business casual) under 2 miles away, and did not even attempt to ride, although she did walk a couple of times. Neither required any take home or other loads. Both routes were “safe” and very doable, bike lanes or wide streets. She is not someone overly concerned with looks etc. And for support she had a ECI (Effective Cycling Instructor) at her willling disposal 24/7… me. 

  • Anonymous

    We need only thank John Forester, who has never been to the post-WW2 Netherlands, for the bizarre cult of Vehicular Cycling and the less than one percent mode share bicycling in the U.S. enjoys:

  • Anonymous

    Great article! I am a female cyclist & commuter (in DC and now in San Francisco) and while I’m a confident cyclist, I’m very worried about potentially commuting with kids if and when I have them. I can’t imagine giving up my quick commute, free exersize, and outdoor time for a car (talk about doubling the cost of parenting and time — circling for parking, etc.). You can’t exactly get baby strollers on the buses here either. I’m stumped. I want to support more women to ride AND dads – with kids, but what do you do when they’re no longer portable??? Love to hear more. And so with you on the lack of women’s specific cycling clothes and accessories (boob squashing stabilizer straps anyone?) Ruminating on starting up something here soon….will check back here to read more!

  • cycler

    We had the first Boston Women Who Bike Brunch last weekend, and in a very savvy and confident group of biking women, in a city with more women bikers than average, there was still a lot of discussion of how bike shops didn’t fully meet women’s needs,  how there was a real dearth of bike shops that cater to family cycling,  and how MassDOT, who have made lots of strides towards complete streets and better infrastructure still doesn’t understand in a visceral way the importance of separated facilities.

    I wish that they’d invited one of the social media advocates of what I’d call Sensible Cycle Chic like the ladies of LGRAB to the panel, as I think that the matter of fact inclusion of bicycles into a daily life that includes normal women’s clothing and style considerations is a great way to show women that it doesn’t have to be hard or incompatible with their ordinary lives.

    I’ll plug the blog of one of the women I met at the brunch “Car Free With Kids”  for good advice on biking with kids.

    I’ll add to the comment earlier that too many clothing companies that make clothing for outdoor activities seem to think that being a fit woman means having no curves.  I generally avoid “cycle specific clothing”  but finding rainwear that’s effective for being outside without an umbrella for 20-30 minutes at a time is tough outside the world of technical fabrics,  and most of the technical fabric clothes are made to a skinny-no hipped last.

  • Anonymous

    Hi, Tanya and fellow cyclists–

    I live in the DC area and have been cycling with my son Alex since he was 8 months old: first in a car seat strapped in a trailer, then in an iBert on my hybrid, and now on our Yuba Mundo longtail cargo bike.

    Wanting to help other parents now trying to sort through the same bewildering array of options that I did, I approached WABA and DDOT (DC’s transportation department, for you non-locals) about staging an event to help interested-but-overwhelmed parents learn about the tools and resources (including infrastructure!) available to help them bike with their kids. The result was the first-ever “ABC’s of Family BIking”, which will be held this April at a school on Capitol Hill. If you’re on the lookout for ways to bike with your daughter, or know anyone else who is in the same position, I encourage you to attend this event and explore some of the options available to you.

    The event’s main page (soon to be updated with current partner and exhibitor information) is http://kidicalmassdc.blogspot.com/p/abcs-of-family-biking.html

  • cmu

    Just a few points of rebuttal:
    – You don’t need special clothes to cycle. In most of the world, people just jump on a bike and ride (unless they’re competing somewhere). Don’t contribute to the spandex myth.
    – Bikes unused for 6 months do not degrade and become dangerously inadequate. Bikes do not need to be “tuned up” even yearly unless you’re cycling 50 miles/day. I’ve had mine for 9 years and it works fine.
    – Anyone who needs to consult their doctor as to when to take a child in a bike probably has a terminal case of helicopter-mommyism. What about using your common-sense and instinct?
    – If you spend $5000 on a bike, you’re hardly the average cyclist. You probably have a humungous $2000 stroller as well.
    – Bike pedals are bike pedals. You can pretty much use them with any shoes. Check out the link above (copenhagen chic I think) to see lots of women cycling in high heels.
    – In summary, this article describes a non-issue. Typical of much pseudo-journalism, though.

  • Anonymous

    @cmu true, you do not need special clothes to ride your bike to the store or for a few miles on a sunny day.   In a fortunate climate, that covers a lot of riding.  However, as @cycler said, to ride comfortably for 20-30 minutes in steady rain, you really do need clothing that is waterproof, breathable, and non-bulky.  Advice on how to achieve this with street clothes is also welcome. 

  • Chris LaRussell

    I came across your posting via my bike shop blog.  Made me laugh, or not, as I have been working with them to build up new wheels for my hand built road bike that has had flat tires for 3 years now.  No, I did not have a baby, but I did adopt a very needy recuse dog.  It all translates somehow.  My partner is in the corp world, I am an artist, so doggie goes with me to the studio everyday, by foot.  She is now used to her dog trailer (have set her and me up on my cross city bike), but if I ride (she is a Terrier) all of San Francisco will pay the price for a non exercised dog!  I am determined to get back on my road bike… what used to be a 300 mile plus week for me is now, oh, please let me complete a 30 mile flat ride… please.  I have also forwarded this to my women ride buddies who have had babies (same time frame as me getting the dog)… we will all have a good laugh.  We must all keep the faith! HA!

  • Dennis Engblom

    Tanya, one quick comment from a male cyclist regarding tuning your bike up.  If it ran fine when you hung it up it will probably run fine now.  Tires do grow old due to exposure to sunlight and temperature extremes so maybe if you hung it up in the garage they might be checked or brittle but maybe not.  Otherwise “you go girls!”

  • Oppa3

    I am an old lady now but 40 years ago I road my bike to work in the summer time in Seattle.  It was such a great ride but then one day coming home from work a guy riding shotgun in a pick up reached out the window and hit me on the butt. I fell off the bike not because he hit me so hard but because I was so startled and fortunately I wasn’t hurt.  After that I only rode on bike trails and never again commuted to work. I shouldn’t have let the Bast**d  discourage me. 

  • Drmiczak

    To be honest with everyone here, I think women over the years have just made more and more excuses to NOT exercise. It’s not just that women make up only 24% of the cycling population today. That number shows a decline in women cyclists despite improved infrastructure and the laying of miles of new bike lanes.

    I’ve seen it myself. There used to be more women on the road with me years ago when I was breastfeeding and pulling two children in a Blue Sky Cycle Cart. No bike lanes, nothing. Changing a tire is not that hard and you can purchase a bike with no gears if that intimidates you. Why should it be that MORE women were cycling back in the 1980’s when we had fewer bike lanes? Sorry but “improved infrastructure” rhetoric will yield more of the same unless us women get real and take some personal responsibility to get out there and ride.

  • Drmiczak

    Oppa3 that was a terrible assault & battery on your person. However it happens in other activities too. Joggers often have things thrown at them from vehicles (I was once hit with a plastic soda bottle…intentionally).

    While cycling, I’ve been beeped and hooted at by men in cars even when wearing modest street clothes. So no matter WHAT you do there are idiots who will try to take away your right to the road. I don’t think you gave up entirely because you continued to bike on paths rather than commute. That was a safe compromise for you and I respect that.

    Technology has come a long way and my commuter bike has a very loud horn and a mounted video camera. I ride in a way that let’s drivers know I mean business (using hand signals & obeying all traffic rules). If more women would get out there, we’d be less of an anamoly on the road.

  • Anonymous

    I would just like to add that we rode with our son in a trailer virtually from the day he was born. We had the Burley Solo trailer, and used a securely strapped carrycot or a reclining carseat when he was too small to sit. No long exercise trips though, this was mainly for transport over short distances, running errands, using quiet roads or bike paths at fairly low speeds. We didn’t have a car at the time, and taking the bus with a baby carriage was a huge hassle, so it simplifying things a lot and gave us mobility. For exercise I think a kind of jogging stroller would be better, as the suspension in a bike trailer isn’t all that hot.

  • cmu

    >chieve this with street clothes is also welcome
    Odd, I do it all the time when I bike. Obviously, if it’s cold and windy, I’d be wearing suitable clothing as “street clothes”.

    Agreed with oppa3 that it’s not solely lack of bicycle infrastructure that keeps numbers low. We promote a culture of fearfulness here which intimidates the already risk-averse (and without being chauvinstic, women are more risk-averse than men *on the average*). Being aware, paying attention and avoiding obvious bad roads would do a lot more for safety. Oh yes, riding slow. Nothing like going 15+mph on urban streets and then claiming you “didn’t see” that pedestrian jaywalk or car door open.

  • Marla Streb

    Great article, Tanya!  I might not be a perfect role model for new moms, but my instincts allowed me (& my husband) to ride with both our children at about one week old.  Reclined position buckled in the stroller/trailer with neck support, and even on our chest in the Baby Bjorn while riding (zipped up under the jacket on cold mornings!).  Upright mtb handlebars better for that set up.

    Obviously, both my husband and I rode quite cautiously with our newborn on the chest!

  • Tanya Snyder

    Thanks for this great conversation, everyone! I’m glad to hear all your experiences, advice, and perspective. There seems to be a wide range of opinions on when to start biking with baby… I’ll definitely check out your Kidical Mass family biking expo,@Meganomics:disqus — maybe that’ll provide some clarity! As for the bike tune-up, @bec25d658e0b2c9c1cea197f730565d0:disqus and @14bbc1b1bf666657b2a7121648da0acb:disqus, yes, my brakes were in need of adjustment and new pads when I stopped riding in the fall. I can pump the tires and clean and lube my chain and gears myself, but that hasn’t happened yet either.

    I didn’t mean to imply in this story that there weren’t lots of great resources out there on family biking for those who choose to search them out (and thanks for pointing the way to some good ones, @juliekosbab:disqus , @openid-26065:disqus and @5cc117fda3b01c063927bbed7145439c:disqus .) But if we’re talking about reaching out to a broader spectrum of women, those resources will need to be available to the mainstream when they’re not even looking for them, and they’ll need to look convincingly fun, safe, and easy.

  • Lsmith

    For those of us who aren’t Moms (although I’m glad to hear all of the enthusiasm from those who are) there are other gender issues at play.  I have bike commuted since 1999, and currently enjoy commuting 4 days a week.  In my limited study of bike commuting in the DC/NoVA area, the men can be aggressive and uninviting on the bike trails–riding too fast, rarely announcing their pass, having no patience for new riders, and perhaps a little overconfident in their own abilities.  I have seen several bike on bike head-on collisions between men for these very reasons–these always have a bloody result.  It’s understandable that this would discourage women from riding but it would be great to have that calm, compassionate, decency women bring to any environment impact my daily commute.  Come on out and pedal ladies, and look to your sisters who are commuting for support. 

  • Does separated bicycle infrastructure increase the numbers and proportion of women bicycling? The data shows that it does, both in the United States and abroad.

    New York City: “The number of female cyclists is increasing faster than the number of male cyclists and the male to female ratio has dropped every year since 2003 . . .Females are twice more likely to use the greenway than to use on-street bicycle lanes.”  Miles of bike lanes added in NYC the last four years: 210. Miles of greenway (completely separate from cars) added in the last four years: 30. Ratio of men to women on bike lanes: 6 to 1. Ratio of male bicyclists to female bicyclists on greenways: 1.71 to 1. (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/transportation/td_bike_facilities_profile.shtml)

    New Orleans:  Before and after study on a 3.1 mile bike lane installed on a major 35mph road with heavy traffic. Bike lane located between traffic and parked cars.  56.8% total increase in bicyclists on street after lane installed. 44% increase in male bicyclists. 133% increase in female bicyclists.  Curiously, also a 55% increase in sidewalk bicyclists. Further study needed to determine if sidewalk riders feel bike lane is still too unsafe. (http://mobilitylab.org/…/20110824142733!NewOrleans_Bike_Helath.pdf)

    Additional studies have shown presence of bike lanes correlates with increased bicycle ridership in Minneapolis, Portland OR, Sacramento, and San Francisco.

    Women’s Cycling Survey, UNC-Greensboro 2010. 13,000 respondents, 98.5% female. When asked “What would cause you to start or increase your cycling? Check off all that apply,” the number one factor indicated was “More bike lanes” (indicated by 62% of respondents.)  Factor number two was “Completely separated off-road cycling path.” (46.7%) “Friendlier bike shop employees” drew only 9.2%. “More fashionable” clicked in at 3.9%. (http://www.apbp.org/resource/…/womens_cycling_survey_091420.pdf)

    Curiously, no mentioned, “I need to toughen up,” “I need to be less risk averse,” or “I need to stop being such a lazy whiner.”

  • Joe R.

    @KarenLynnAllen:disqus Those are interesting statistics, particularly those regarding greenways. I have to say even though I’m an experienced, fast rider who is comfortable in heavy traffic, I’m a fan of separated bicycle infrastructure, but only GOOD separated bicycle infrastructure which enhances both safety and travel speed. This is why I like greenways (provided they’re totally grade separated from car traffic), but I’m not a huge fan of either striped door-zone, or even protected bike lanes. The latter both fail to separate bike traffic at junctions, which is where most collisions occur. They also subject cyclists to stopping repeatedly in places with lots of traffic signals (i.e. NYC), increasing travel times by 50% up to 300%. Or put another way, this decreases potential travel radius by up to a factor of 3.

    A well designed greenway on the other hand would be appealing to cyclists of both sexes. Well designed means wide enough for faster cyclists to safely pass slower ones, few or no junctions with roadways, no pedestrians, and most importantly no tight turns. A big problem with many existing greenways are turns which force not only a reduction in speed, but a significant reduction in speed. When a greenway is poorly designed, many cyclists will still opt to use nearby roads, causing motorists to wonder why the money on the greenway was spent in the first place.

    Anyway, I’m glad to know that apparently the same thing which would get more women cycling is exactly the type of infrastructure I would love to see more of, and would use if it were available. Here in the states we should be emulating the system of bike highways being built out in the Netherlands. These allow cyclists of all speeds and abilities to safety mix, while providing a realistic travel option even for those going some tens of miles. Here is a good read on that subject:


  • What a great article and discussion. I LOVED my bike commute to San Francisco from Marin (who wouldn’t be thrilled riding across the GG bridge?). Then I had twins. We live atop a long steep hill. I hated the trailer. My kids hated the trailer. Then we bought a Shuttlebug cargo bike from Joe Bike in PDX! Changed my life! Kids got heavier; we added electric assist so that I could go farther, more often, faster, and get home no matter how exhausted I was. Yes, we spent a lot of money, but: I use my car once a week if that; we are all SO much happier; as Marla Streb said, there are a lot of options out there now that are amazing deals for a vehicle that really can replace your car.   
     My own experience of the bike and the incredible cargo bike community evolving across the US has inspired me to make a crowd-sourced documentary. You can watch the trailer and get more info here: http://www.lizcanning.com/Liz_Canning_Creative/Cargo_Bike_Documentary.html Join our FB group here: thttp://www.facebook.com/groups/Revolutionsperminute/

  • Hilda

    I have bike commuted in NYC and Brooklyn for the past 12 years and love it. Started as a teenager in 1987.  My two kids are 6 and 10, and they are either both on my bike, on my husband’s bike, or in the case of the 10 year old, on her own bike about once or twice a week.  

    As a woman, I feel safer on my bike than walking or subway a lot of the time.  My job takes me all over the city, and I ride to most places, usually 15-20 miles a day, plus the mile to school.  My hours now are regular 9-5, but if I have to work late, or am out late alone, bike is the preferred way for me.   

    I am a full fledged bike geek though.  I have three bikes I ride regularly, and we got rid of the car (about 14 months ago) after the cargo bike proved worthy. We give over a lot of prime real estate to bikes in our house. I care about what I look like (that was a rather humbling comment!) but I can wear jeans/pants and blazers most of the time.  Biking keeps me in shape for other sports that I like to do, and it is easier to bike in heels for me than to walk in heels…

    A couple of tips/preferences about commuting:
    -I love Ann Taylor Loft for jeans and pants.  Just the right amount of stretch, not too expensive, and they work great on a bike.
    -I wear all different shoes on my bike, but prefer a large pedal for commuting, and my ‘power grips’ save me time and time again.  I was in actual 5 inch heels last night after an night out on my bike, and the straps keep me on the pedals, even standing up. I have used BMX animal pedals, but right now I am happiest with my ‘power grip’ pedals.
    -Lots of wicking undergarments/running tanks.  Easy to switch out a shirt, and I usually look fine, no client has ever complained. If I need to sweat less, I slow down. 
    -Panniers for my bike hold my messenger bag, and make everything easier.  These stay locked on my rack.  
    -I have a supercool reflective vest from Dargelos, a splurge, but I feel safer, and I wear it at night. It packs up tiny.
    -A bandanna keeps the hair pretty neat. Winter I use a slim wool hat, and my hair looks fine.
    -Summer time and I am usually wearing tank tops, which turn into very low cut tanks when you are on a road bike.  Took awhile, but finally figured out why I get so many smiles on my hot weather rides…

    A couple of tips/preferences about riding with kids:
    -Make sure they are happy.  We started them about 10 months and 1 year.  Both started on the front, with a small seat we got in Italy that attaches to our top tube.  The bike with the holder for that seat got stolen about 5 years ago, so since then we have made our own- old skateboard decks with pegs and straps. 
    -I used a trailer for about a year.  I was nervous every single minute.  If you bike in NYC or Brooklyn, drivers give you sometimes as little as 6 inches of space. I just had a friend tell me she was rear ended by a car with her son in the trailer behind.  (all okay!) 
    -I like to be able to talk to my kids.  I want to know they are doing okay on the bike, when they are little, you can wipe their nose with the seat in front, you can privately share and talk with your kid, while riding.  I stop on the side of the road now if they are fighting or arguing…They have had to run next to me when they really get me annoyed. 
    -I like them understanding the balance needed with a bike.  It makes them better bikers too.  They get this when they ride in the front. 
    -We got rid of our strollers when my son was two.  He walked where we walked, and then as soon as he was able, he strolled himself on a wooden pedal-free bike.  This was good for over two years.  He pushed/scootered about a mile to school, with me riding slowly where safe, or walking along side with my bike, he learned to go slow and fast. We took this everywhere instead of the stroller.

    All of the above was learned through trial and error.  I work in a construction field, so I am kind of used to being around men that think they know more than me, and have just lost the need to feel intimidated.  

  • Anonymous

    1. It is infrastructure. All the data indicate it. I’m writing my masters thesis on this very subject.

    2. Lube the chain, inflate the tires. Your bike is fine.

    3. I started riding with my daughter in a Chariot trailer at six months. Their instructions say to wait until the kid is a year old, but we put her carseat in there using special straps and buckles from a mountaineering shop. They were awesome about it.

    4. I don’t ride with her like I do when I ride by myself. I ride either in segregated lanes – no cars anywhere – or on select residential streets. And the occasional sidewalk. Do what you have to do to keep yourselves safe, and don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right.

  • cycler

    @aslevin:disqus I am very happy with my Nau Shroud of Turin trench coat –  waterproof, reasonably breathable and long enough to keep me dry head to knee.  The fabric is lovely and you’d never know it wasn’t just a normal trench coat.  My only concern is that it’s a bit warm, so it won’t work as a summer raincoat.

  • Guest

    I know why I don’t bike (besides the safety issue). Biking means I’ll sweat, then I gotta go take a shower when I get at the destination. Severly bad acne (covered up by gobs of makeup) & unruly frizzled hair make showers my worst enemy.

  • Jenoreynolds

    I see way more women riding the streets of Vancouver with me (I’m a woman too, been riding for 10 yrs downtown) now that he installed the separated lanes. It’s actually quite amazing the different variety of people I see. Women and men with children in trailers, actual children riding with parents in front, and many many more women. It is great!

  • Oh, and it really does make a difference when talking in terms of infrastructure.  Lack of a bike lane will not keep me from riding, but it certainly keeps lots of people from getting out there on the streets.

    As soon as you have an additional 130 lbs on your bike from kids or groceries, the benefit of a bike lane does not go unnoticed.

    I am campaigning for a bike lane on my local residential street that everyone uses.  What is a somewhat annoying ride on my bike alone becomes harrowing with my kids or groceries.  This is a campaign started by two moms, who have become fed-up with the lack of a bike lane on the street.


  • mobot

    i wish we had a more family-oriented cycling culture in north america.  here’s a great example of families on bikes… http://www.theurbancountry.com/2012/03/when-schools-out-in-amsterdam.html

  • Anonymous

    If America had the flat geograghy cool weather and infrastructure of Holland more women would ride there for certain. That said, Americans also have a need to be advertised to in order to find something acceptable,I think especially the women. If there is money to be made off of more women riding, it may well happen someday. Also, human males are all about mobility. They crawl and walk far earlier than females and the bicycle is in fact the precipice of individual mobility.

  • guest

    Moms and Dads that need information about bicycling with children should check our the the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Family Biking Guide http://www.sfbike.org/?familybiking  The guide includes information about bicycle pregnant, biking with baby, teaching your child to bike, etc.

  • Zvi Leve

    At a conference of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, the keynote presenter (who was a man), noted that transportation planning was generally done by men … and for men. Masculine concerns dominate our planning: speed, ease of movement, etc. Perhaps safety too, but usually from the perspective of the (presumably male) car driver.

    He suggested that it was time that we start thinking about the rest of society (not sure if he mentioned the 8-80 rule about planning for people between the ages of 8 and 80 – http://www.8-80cities.org/Mission.html). He did mention that a good place to start would be to understand how a mother with children navigates her daily routine.

  • Barb from Iowa

    If these comments help you at all….I can’t ride a regular bike seat anymore either…I ride a noseless Spongey Wonder seat and it’s great.  My daughter rides one too. 
     I agree….too bad there aren’t more shops that focus on commuters.  I have to travel 1 to 3 hours to get to one.  Maybe slowly by slowly that will improve also.  Bike shops have to cater to those that spend the most I guess.  I read, watch YouTube how to do’s and buy on-line instead. I read and re-read actually.  Finally got my 7 speed to shift right! Also, Ergon pedals are very grippy and I like them with my Asics.  They are supposed to work with heels too.   I am fortunate that my town is aggressively adding separate bike trails on some busy streets.  And I pass the junction of the Mississippi River Trail and the American Discovery Trail on my commute to work. Every improvement counts!

  • cm

    It is *the law* in New York and California that a child be *at minimum* one year old before placed in a bicycle seat; many pediatricians and aware bike shop owners I’ve known will say two years. If the child is at all premature then add the number of weeks to the 1-year date. This is a *serious* health issue related to spinal development. Whatever creative “hacks” and “extra straps” nonsense people think they have worked out, you could do serious damage to your infant putting her or him in a bicycle seat. Would you shake and rattle an infant around? I think not. But guess what, your bike will do this for you, no matter how slowly you go. Really, please look into it. Streetblog, please write about it. This is not a joke.


A Cyclist by Any Other Name

If you are a person who rides a bicycle, how do you refer to yourself? As a cyclist? A biker? A bicyclist? Or simply as…a person? Who rides a bicycle? As riding a bicycle for transportation has become more common around the country, the question comes up more and more often. The word "cyclist," in […]

America Could Have Been Building Protected Bike Lanes for the Last 40 Years

Salt Lake City is on track to implement the nation’s first “protected intersection” — a Dutch-inspired design to minimize conflicts between cyclists and drivers at crossings. For American cities, this treatment feels like the cutting edge, but a look back at the history of bike planning in the United States reveals that even here, this idea is far from new. In fact, […]

Streetsblog Interview: Ryan Russo

Ryan Russo is the New York City Department of Transportation’s Director for Street Management and Safety, a newly-created job that he started in July. Previously, Russo worked as DOT’s Downtown Brooklyn Transportation Coordinator where he was instrumental in designing and developing a number of improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and more livable streets (PDF file) over the last three years. Streetsblog caught up […]