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I haven't been able to find any usable statistics but from my observation of cycle commuters men appear to out-number women by around 10:1

This is in a relatively bike friendly city, at least by North American standards (Vancouver Canada). In my office, a downtown mixed office building, there are no women commuters.

There are many more women cycling in road clubs at the weekend and lots of women committed to cycling groups and promoting cycling.

Is there any reason why women don't commute by bike and is there anything that can be done to boost the numbers?

(rephrased to make this a more useful question - rather than a friday afternoon thing)

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This is a valid question (I'd love to know the answer), but how is it possible to respond to it without the answer being pure speculation? @mgb, is the survey data available online? – Neil Fein Apr 1 '11 at 19:34
The survey data comes from looking at the people I pass in the morning – mgb Apr 1 '11 at 20:02
@mgb - I like your survey data. The senior moderators have leaned on me in the past. So, rephrase and let's make this a better question. – user313 Apr 1 '11 at 23:28
The ultimate question: "...why are almost all cycle commuters male techies?" The data: "The survey data comes from looking at the people I pass in the morning" Is this a question answerable here? – user313 Apr 1 '11 at 23:34
All the ones in this building are techies. It may be that the few women I see on the road are all programmers - which would be even more interesting! – mgb Apr 2 '11 at 3:42

10 Answers 10

Oddly the well publicised bike counts down here don't seem to be quite so free with their results.

I did a bit of counting back in 2001 and got about 20% female cyclists. Fewer on major roads, more on bike paths. 1300 cyclists over 3 months in a perimeter count (because the official stats only counted 5 major entry points). Interestingly despite the compulsory helmet law only 74% wore helmets (I didn't count "helmet on handlebars" as wearing a helmet).

In Melbourne there are stats here, the "cycling to work" and "cycling in Melbourne" pdfs. First graph shows approx 25% female, and in the outer suburbs mostly under 20 years old, with a broader peak in the inner suburbs (interestingly, fewer school age kids than the suburbs) Cyclist's Age and Gender, Melbourne 1997-1999 and a second chart showing that as cycling percentage goes up so does the proportion of female cyclists - women are more likely to ride if a lot of men do. Cycling Levels among males and females

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Interestingly, Scientific American had an article about this a few years ago. According to the article, which cites a few studies, women are less comfortable with on-road biking than men, particularly in areas with auto traffic. As most roads are primarily for auto use, women tended to find routes which avoid these roads, making commuting a bit more difficult for them. The studies here in American show a 2:1 ratio of men to women cyclists.

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why are almost all cycle commuters male techies

Not just commuters but cyclists generally: more cyclists are male.


The above links blame bike fit, for one, saying that the typical bike is more fitted for a man.

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Now, is it that that more men ride because the typical bike is fitted for a man, or the typical bike is fitted for a man because more men ride? – Tarka Apr 8 '11 at 18:35
Also, there's quite a few women specific bikes out there. Not quite the selection that men have, but it's a much smaller market. – Kibbee Jan 19 '13 at 20:32

Well I cycle in the Netherlands, I work in IT, I'm a techy and all my colleges are techies yet I am the only one who cycles, which is infuriating when living in a country built to be cycled.

Looking at the 13km trip into work there are a lot of commuters in the morning, (there are cycle jams at the lights) I would say the female/male split is 50/50. Even in winter I see just as many men as women.

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That's what I thought - in europe a lot more women cycle. Here there are more women in clubs on road bikes at the weekend - but very few commuting. – mgb Apr 2 '11 at 19:19

I suspect there are a lot of factors. One factor I know from why my wife and her friends don't ride: It really hurts their crotches! Obviously, not every woman has this problem as I see lots of women riding bikes.

The other reasons I can only speculate: Gender roles demanding that women look more put together and this requires more infrastructure than is available at most work places. Obviously from looking at pictures from European cities, this can be overcome too, if it is even a real reason.

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The articles I linked to in my answer talk about that (sizing of bikes for women). – ChrisW Apr 2 '11 at 1:44
I assume the joke about the two nuns on bicycles and the cobbles would be out of place here? – mgb Apr 3 '11 at 16:22
I had to look that joke up... HA! um.. yes, completely inappropriate. – mcgyver5 Apr 4 '11 at 16:42

To add, based on mgb's comment. Portland has an active, politically involved cycling culture. The cycling culture drives many of the infrastructure improvements in this city. So it's bottom up rather than top down. Just because a city creates bike lanes, etc. doesn't mean that people will start riding bikes.

I think that a lot of it has to do with infrastructure in a given city. I live in Portland, Oregon, where our cycling infrastructure is good and getting better. There are many women on my commuting routes throughout the year. A lot has to do with bike lanes, bike boulevards, bike/walker paths transit accommodations, lane markings, and massive PR.

I can provide more info later, but a tidbit from Wikipedia.

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The city here is very pro-cycling (or wastes a huge amount of money on cycle lanes depending on your POV) – mgb Apr 1 '11 at 21:50

Speculation... Fear of breaking down. For most male cyclists, a flat or whatever is no tragedy; you just fix it. For women, who may not be as mechanically "ept", there is also the worry of being alone and isolated while doing the fix...

I commute from our cheap-parking garage to the station. It's only about a mile or so... I'm a police officer in full "bike" uniform, so I'm not worried about being harassed or even attacked during my 6 am ride. Not so with a lot of women, I would imagine. We see a lot of women riding alone during the day; fitness riders... No great fear on well-traveled roadways.

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I think the best thing the city has done for cycling here is to fit bike racks to ALL the buses and allow bikes on all transit. So you can cycle to work and if the weather turns bad, you have a problem, or you are just feeling lazy - you can get a lift home. The equivalent of the AA/AAA also has free bike recovery for it's driver members. – mgb Apr 3 '11 at 16:21
@mgb - Right: that (transit) is my plan, for if I ever get a flat or something. Alternatively, lock the bike where it is, and come back for it later. – ChrisW Apr 3 '11 at 20:33

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition did a survey of in their ara of why more women don't ride their bikes. Scroll towards the bottom to find a list of concerns tied to specific survey data. One of the reasons was that "37% of respondents did not agree that it was possible to transport children or groceries on a bike".

For some related data, a Gallup poll found that 53% of American wives do the grocery shopping, vs 16% of husbands, and 54% of wives care for children on a daily basis, vs 9% for husbands. So, women are more likely to be responsible for more cargo transportation, namely children and groceries.

What really made a difference for my wife was to buy an electric Yuba Mundo. We bought it online from Cycle 9 which is owned by two women and specializes in electric cargo bikes for transportation, and does a good job of online sales and support.

My wife is more likely to be the one who will be dropping off a child at daycare on the way to work, or going to the farmer's market to buy a load of groceries with at least one child.

With a regular bike, these things simply couldn't be accomplished with a reasonable amount of time, effort and sweat involved. I have a lot of annotated photos of our Electric Yuba Mundo on Flickr, and have also written about it a number of posts on my blog.

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Unfortunately, while this answer has interesting speculation and observations, it doesn't answer the question. It reads like more of a PSA for transporting cargo by bike than anything else. (Although if you wanted to do a blog post about cargo hauling, that would be awesome!) – Neil Fein Aug 21 '11 at 3:19
I'ved edited the entry now to add some survey data why women don't cycle, and how American couples divide up their responsibilities. – Mark Stosberg Aug 21 '11 at 6:39

As a thumb suck, I'd say that the ratio for commuters (to work) is maybe 8:1 here in the Rochester MN area. In terms of recreational distance (longer than 1 mile, say) cyclists that you'd see out on a Saturday the ratio is probably 4:1.

Why no more female commuters? First off, quite a few stay-at-home moms here, so the worker ratio is probably around 2:1 overall. Beyond that, I suspect that women (in our culture) are less likely to think of/want to combine an athletic activity with commuting. And then there's the whole hair thing (which I suppose is code for the fact that women tend to need to dress up more for work, especially in a white-collar community). The major businesses in town do provide shower/locker areas, but only just adequate, and they're a rarity in the smaller businesses.

Commuting to the grocery, etc, is relatively low across the board, since the area is set up as an auto community, with only maybe three neighborhood groceries left, and major quadrants of the city with no grocery at all.

(I'll add that the Rochester area is exceedingly safe by most standards, so security is likely not a major factor.)

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To answer the most recently edited version of this question:

This is purely anecdotal, but a number of women have told me that they'd like to commute by bicycle but are uncomfortable doing so without a helmet and were also not willing to mess up their hair with a helmet.

Helmet debate aside, it seems that a PR campaign emphasizing that cycling is safer than driving would be a good place to start.

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