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Photo by Andrew Schwartz
Skirts on Bikes RideMore than 100 participants took part in the Skirts on Bikes ride in NYC in late June, 2011. The ride was organized as a response to an incident where a cyclist was harassed for riding in a skirt on New York’s streets earlier this year.
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Photo by Nicholas Thomas
Jenny Kessler"I often ride in heels and work wear, and have been told I am an inspiration to others for my fashion and fearlessness!" Jenny Kessler, Cincinnati, OH
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Photo by Julie Hardee
Julie Hardee3. My favorite thing is how good I am at leading a "Cute Commuter" life. My coworkers are in awe of the totally cute, NYC fashion industry-worker outfits that I easily bike in year-round. Julie Hardee from New York, NY
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Illustration by Laura Thorpe
Self-portrait of Laura Thorpe2. Equating bike riding with sexiness, health, etc... appealing to natural human vanity. If women felt sexy/ cool while getting sweaty on a bike in public, they would often be more inclined to risk the awkward learning stage. 3. Feeling free, fast, healthy. The wind in my hair. Being out there passing cars, going offroad on a whim. Getting things done by the power of my own body. Self-portrait of Laura Thorpe from Dartmouth, NS
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Courtesy of Laura Wells
Laura Wells1. Promote cyclists and cycling, so that drivers are also part-time cyclers and can personally relate to a cycler's safety concerns. 3. Empowerment! I feel so capable and at the same time free, as if I were riding a wild horse through the wild with a quiver on my back! I feel like a kid again. And I feel so clever because it's just so ridiculously simple and efficient. Laura Wells from Pacific Grove, CA
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Photo by Madeleine Carlson
Madeleine Carlson2. Seeing more women riding bikes. 3. Better interaction with my kids than in the car. I love biking to places that are too expensive and crowded for many people to park their cars. Madeleine Carlson from Seattle, WA
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Courtesy of Mandy Farmer
Mandy Farmer1. More bike lanes. Newspaper articles on how drivers should react to cyclists. 3. Upright Amsterdam-style biking allows me to see my neighborhood and enjoy the stress-free ride. I love to daydream, plan my day, write blogs in my head and plot my plan to takeover the world! Mandy Farmer from Victoria, BC
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Photo by Martha Williams
Shar Finley2. More bike lanes. More bike lanes on busy streets. 3. Seeing areas of the city that otherwise you wouldn't see as much of on foot or by auto. Shar Finley at W Cortland St & N Clybourn Ave, Chicago, IL on her 2009 Masi Speciale with bull horn handle bars.
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Photo by Matt Grosspietsch
Veronika R Speedwell2. Bike lanes, education for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists about sharing the streets, bike lanes, lighting, bike racks close to where I am going, bike lanes. 3. I can come and go when I please, and door-to-door. My bike was built-up by me. I like that. I ride every day, year-round. I like that. There are a lot more cyclists on the streets this year compared to last. I like that. Veronika R Speedwell from Chicago, IL
Skirts on Bikes Ride
Self-portrait of Laura Thorpe
Veronika R Speedwell
By Anna Bowen
Female urban cyclists are as diverse as the bikes they ride. When a friend of mine recently rolled up to my back porch in Toronto, ON, on a black Norco Emma city bike, all decked out in business attire and a tweed helmet, it wasn't just her style that impressed me. Rachel Percy, policy analyst for the Government of Ontario, used to think cycling in Toronto was only for diehards. Her limited experiences of cycling left her in the dust: "I fell off my bike and I wasn't even riding it!" she said of her experience at a stoplight near an intimidating overpass in Toronto back in 2004. She now bikes to work -- four miles (seven kilometers) each way -- on every "good weather" day.
From blogger moms taking their kids to school on a bike bus, to Latina teenagers riding fixies in LA, women want to cycle. But the barriers to bicycling are real: lack of safe cycling infrastructure, economic barriers to buying and maintaining a bike and cultural norms that dictate what's feminine and what's not are all challenges that women can face when they consider cruising on two wheels. Added to that are the social pressures that can make women feel uncomfortable in a mainstream bike shop and the fact that they often cannot find the functional and fashionable everyday cycling clothes and accessories they're looking for.
The Gender Gap
In the last decade, more men have been hitting the pedals than women. The percentage of bike trips made by women in the US fell five percent between 2001 and 2009, according to a report by John Pucher, a professor of planning and transportation at Rutgers University. Men accounted for about three-quarters of all bike trips made in the US in 2009. That's discouraging news, considering that women have been called the "indicator species" of the overall bike-friendliness of a region, as the more of them there are, the more widespread cycling seems to be. In the Netherlands, where the cycling mode share is around 27 percent, women account for 55 percent of the cyclists on the street, and 49 percent of the total population.
Allison Mannos, urban strategy director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, works with Latino immigrant day-labor cyclists in LA, where she said pretty much everyone she works with is male. ìItís framed as a very male thingî to use a bike for transportation in low-income immigrant communities, she explained. In her community, women generally reserve bikes for recreational use. "There aren't enough affordable bike shops within their neighborhoods," she said, adding that, in LA, it is very clear that immigrant women take the bus.
Empowerment through DIY Repairs
Portland's success over the past 15 years or so is credited in part to women-only bike repair times and women's group rides. Many of the women I spoke to confirmed this, citing DIY, women-only repair times and group rides among the motivators for getting them up and rolling.
"Bikes need to be demystified," said Ainsley Naylor of Toronto's Bike Pirates, a nonprofit DIY bicycle collective. Naylor coordinates women- and trans-only repair times once a week at Bike Pirates. "We definitely see a lot of women who are just overwhelmed by trying to buy a bike, or leaving their bike to rust because it got a flat tire and they didn't know what to do." Percy said of her first bike shop experience: "I wasn't intimidated because I was a woman, but I was intimidated because I didn't know anything about bikes."
This could explain the allure of bike share for many women. Bike rental programs in Mexico and Minneapolis have a higher percentage of female patrons than the average number of female cyclists in those regions, and the prospect of using a ride-ready, maintenance-free, hassle-free mode of transportation could be why.
Playing it Safe
Research has shown that women in general tend to be more risk-averse than men, said Janine Hegeman, ride committee chair for the Colorado Springs Cycling Club. "Safety is a very big issue. There are many gaps in the trail system (that) are discouraging to newer riders." Said Samantha Arnold of Chicago: "We need more bike lanes that are suitable for taking our children in - I'll ride a cargo bike if I can get separated bike lanes." A lack of secure places to lock a cargo bike doesn't help, either, said Arnold.
The Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) published a Women's Cycling Survey in 2010, which members Fionnuala Quinn and Andrea Garland played a large part in bringing together. The survey gathered input from over 13,000 women across North America. "Supporting better quality bicycling facilities in our communities will increase the number of women who will be willing to try cycling, leading to the potential for equalizing usage," said Quinn. When she moved to Philadelphia, she explained, "as a civil engineer it became increasingly clear to me how big a role infrastructure design played in limiting my cycling options as well as in safety problems created for cyclists by the built environment."