Women and Cycling: I’m Just at the Surface

I’ve been pondering the concept mentioned in the title probably since I’ve been a cyclist. In fact, likely longer than that—but I don’t really prefer the “cyclist” title. To me it conjures images of roadies, to be quite frank, and I’ve always been horribly intimidated by female roadies, especially the hardcore ones. Spending grueling hours in the saddle, whether on a trainer or on the road, comes across as a lot of effort for fitness and competitive sport. I have a rather lazy, just-enough approach to both fitness and sport, but I digress…

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I’ve followed a handful of female-produced blogs about living by bicycle (see—isn’t that better than “cyclist”?) for going on three years now. All the ladies of Let’s Go Ride a Bike and Change Your Life! Ride a Bike likely have no idea the impact and inspiration they’ve provided me, from the San Fran and SoCal daily photos of cyclists EVERYWHERE from Adrienne Johnson (I even know her NAME!) to Trisha’s green Kermit and Dottie’s beautiful outfits, photographs and style.

Their blogs aren’t about anything overly complex or complicated. The writers merely share their experiences about living by bicycle. LIVING by bicycle embraces so many topics, from navigating by bike and transporting various objects/people to making it to work (or out on the town) in style and addressing divisive cycling-related hot topics. LGRAB’s posts most fueled my aspirations to be a full-time pedaler and look good doing it—I envied Dottie’s heart Nutcase helmet from day one, so when my old helmet was stolen last summer, I didn’t hesitate to order that very helmet. It resulted in miles of smiles, from both the wearer, myself, and those around me.

Blurry Friday panda

Fast forward to last Thursday, where I found myself at Outdoor Chattanooga listening to Elly Blue delve into the same very issues I’ve been pondering. What influences women to ride? What deters them from riding? What are the perceived barriers to “entry” and what are the literal barriers to entry?

Elly and her band of bike advocacy cohorts (who served delicious vegan food, by the way!) brought a lot of experience from Portland, one of our nation’s cycling meccas. One of her points of influence on women (not) riding (and walking, in my opinion) could be fashion and style, or the lack of ability to ride and be stylish.

This is a HUGE barrier, in my eyes, as a 20-something professional who’s expected to look (and smell) good in the office. But it’s one of the challenges I’ve had the most fun with. People never cease to amaze me with their comments: “You biked in THAT?” “You’re either crazy or brave to be biking in those shoes!” To be honest with you, I’m probably both, and yes, I did wear this on my bicycle, and if you keep staring, I will pedal past you in said dress.

But not every woman is like me. Not every woman wants to wear bike shorts, face boisterous car traffic with a laugh and occasionally have to carry a change of clothes and at least two pairs of shoes (really! It’s true!). To come back to the bloggers’ and Elly Blue’s concepts: What will it take to make LIVING by bike a more viable option for women? Drastically restructured urban planning? A shift in familial duties, responsibilities and expectations? Incredible strides in women’s bike-adaptable fashion and availability of bicycles we actually want to ride?

Most importantly, why should we care if women ride bikes? In my opinion, women should have the option—and access—to ride bikes because we’re highly influential decision makers. Not only are we sought after by marketers for our buying power, but we often dictate the health of our children and families. If we could reduce ONE barrier to SOME percentage of women being able to ride, how drastically could those women influence their children’s health by cycling? Their partners’ health? Their neighbors’ health? Their OWN happiness?

Who knows, really, and who will ever know. Are we on the edge of the next giagantic cycling revolution, driven by women (See Momentum Mag!) and empowered by independent, people-powered transportation? I hope so, and I certainly want to be part of it.

Big questions, little blog. But these little bloggers, these voices, have a far-reaching impact that said writers, speakers, motivators, WOMEN, are likely unaware of.

Ride on, sisters, ride on.

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