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Gender Gap?

Gender Gap?

There’s a fascinating discussion going on in bike-blog-land as a result of Elly Blue’s Bicycling’s Gender Gap post at Grist. She makes an interesting argument that the gender disparity in ridership figures could be a result of economic disparity and additional caregiving and household duties, in addition to the ‘fear and fashion’ theories – and points out that both cycling infrastructure and appropriate, affordable bikes for carrying kids and cargo are missing in most North American cities. The lively comment section is well worth a read, with additional points about racism, class-ism, street harassment, and public perceptions of cyclists being made. It’s also well worth going back and reading the rest of the series of articles, which includes some especially salient points about political pressure to keep the status quo and the actual costs of freeways. The author also followed up on her own blog. Meanwhile the discussion has spun off onto one of our favourite bicycle blogs, Velo Vogue. Go read the links and meet me back here, mmkay?

You’ve read it now? Good stuff, right? If a bit counter-intuitive based on the explosion in lady-bike availability and number of women writing fantastic bicycle blogs.

So, instead of debating which is the most important, let’s say that all those factors are at play in preventing women from riding at the same rate as men do in North America – which they probably are, to some extent. How can we fix that? How do we encourage more ladies to get on their bikes? Can bike blogs like ours, and the social rides and bikey events organized by blogs like ours, actually make a difference?

Angel (my Loop-Frame Love coblogger) and I probably aren’t typical cycling activists (if such a person exists). We’re moms with 2 young kids each and minivans and small budgets who live in the suburbs – and we’d love for this blog to (eventually) demonstrate that it’s possible to live car-light under those circumstances, if not completely car-free – like our blogging heroes at Carfree With Kids, Car Free DaysChicargobike, full hands, mamafiets, and Totcycle are already doing on their blogs for their circumstances. So let’s be honest about the barriers we face to doing that, and how they relate to the factors mentioned above.

(Our coblogger Jen’s situation differs from ours in that she’s living in a more central neighborhood in a different city, has one child, and is still commuting to full-time work instead of staying home or working part-time… so we hope she’ll chime in in the comment section.)

My favourite current setup for easy kid-hauling is the Bobike Junior seat on a Raleigh-built 3-speed (Ms. Trudy Phillips),
but my 8-year-old is a bit too big for the seat and the pretty wicker basket will only hold a small bag of groceries.

We’re pretty lucky in a lot of ways. We’re middle-class white Canadians, so our experiences are fairly sheltered. Our husbands are not themselves cyclists, but are happy to support our interest in cycling. We’re part of a bigger local community of cyclists, advocates, and bike bloggers who are demonstrating through their daily lives and organized rides just how much fun life on two wheels can be. We’re social creatures, so it’s probably important in helping us stay motivated that we have that support system.

We live in a city with progressive urban planners who are in the process of improving the infrastructure for public transit and active transport, and we live in neighborhoods that have multi-user paths and/or sharrowed bike lanes that we can safely ride to useful destinations. However, we also live in the closest big city to the Oilsands, in a politically conservative part of Canada, in a place where a large proportion of the automotive vehicles using the roads are pick-up trucks and sports utility vehicles. So, when we venture outside the MUPs and sharrows, we don’t always encounter drivers who are predisposed to be kind to bicycle users. We have been buzzed and yelled at. We totally understand when our friends who haven’t ridden since their teens ask hesitantly about traffic on the route for the next Critical Lass. That said, the infrastructure in our neighborhoods has made that a pretty minor concern for our day-to-day rides.

We’re also really lucky to be part of a community with an amazing not-for-profit (EBC) that makes it possible to buy a low-cost vintage bike and turn it into a safe, reliable ride we can wear our regular clothes on; but turning it into a grocery-getter and a good way to get young children from A to B can be a bit of a challenge. We still wish we could get our hands on a longtail or cargo bike without having to blow our budgets. Going car-free so we can increase our bicycle budgets is not in the cards for our families, and we’re both still figuring out how we can run bike errands with two kids in tow, since neither of our eldest children are strong solo cyclists yet, despite being too big to be passengers. We’ll be actively working on that during the summer holiday from school.

We can testify that how busy our day is and how pressed for time we feel does directly affect how much (or how little) we ride. A quick run to the grocery store without children for a few items is easily managed by bike, but multiple errands with the kids becomes an all-day adventure when you’re not properly set up to do it by bike. A longtail or cargo bike would make that much easier, but ferrying the kids to extracurricular activities in other parts of the city immediately after school still would require a car because of the distances involved. If we were commuting for work, public transit would probably be more time-efficient than cycling, because we both live walking distance from major suburban transit hubs (As it happens, my husband has found that taking the LRT downtown is usually quicker than driving, and more pleasant.). So, ability to use our bikes while caring for our children and living our busy lives has been our single biggest barrier to riding more.

Your turn, my friends. What’s your single biggest barrier to riding more? Which barriers do you feel apply to your friends (of either gender) who don’t use their bikes? How can bike bloggers and cycling advocates help remove those barriers?

Update: I’ve just been reading Velouria’s post on Lovely Bicycle about the different kinds of bicycle commuting, and I wonder how the study that’s being discussed accounted for office-job commuters versus freelancers and errand-runners, and how gender might skew which category you fall into?


Update 2: You need to also check out LGRAB’s new series of guest posts on commuting by novice cyclists, the first of which was just posted – they’ll be talking about their barriers and how they surmounted them, too! I love the ideas from the current post of learning to bike commute in steps, and seeking out social ties to the activity so you have friends and role models. 


3rd July, Update 3: We’ve been invited to crosspost this piece on the perfectly wonderful blog Lindsay’s List, which has necessitated a slight rewrite and the addition of a shout-out to a few of our car-free-and-car-light family blog heroes. I’ll also be adding a photo that wasn’t originally included, of my current setup, once it’s been taken.


10 July, Update 4: http://lindsayslist.org/2011/07/gender-gap/ It’s up!