What barriers do women face in bicycling and how can they be overcome?

In the U.S., men's bicycling trips outnumber women's bicycling trips by at least 2:1 (i). There are varying elements which influence a woman's likelihood to bicycle in the U.S.; however, there are simple and low cost interventions for each of these issues.

Individual Factors

Riding Ability

Image: Dan Burden


A 2006 study found that women commonly expressed concern about inadequate riding abilities. Some women lacked confidence about being able to safely navigate roads or paths on a bike, while others do not want to slow others down on group rides. Other women are uneasy about breaking down or not knowing enough about bicycle mechanics to change a flat tire, but are intimidated by bike shops and bike experts which providing overly technical information to novice riders.(ii)

These concerns can be alleviated by proper education and encouragement. Educational outreach through women's bicycle clinics and organized rides is becoming more common in the United States. Clinics help women gain knowledge about bicycle upkeep, flat tire repair, which streets are bike-friendly, and laws. Organized rides are a good way to learn riding techniques, routes, and obtain general riding tips from others. Beginning riders can start with short trips around their neighborhoods to build confidence and comfort.

For more information about bicycle education programs, visit: http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/education/.
Portland, OR, uses bicycle clinics and rides to encourage women to bicycle; read about the Women on Bikes program here: http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=44100.
Wenches with Wrenches is a Toronto-based group with a highly effective program of bike maintenance classes taught by women for women. Find more information here: http://www.communitybicyclenetwork.org/wenches.

Physical Comfort

If a woman isn't comfortable on a bike, she won't enjoy riding it. Sizing is the most important factor in comfort; having a professional check the size and fit of a bike and helmet can solve riding discomfort. Other women have expressed self-consciousness, in terms of performance and appearance, at not having suitable bicycling clothing that fits right and is flattering.(iii) Increasingly, bike manufacturers are releasing products designed specifically for the female rider, including frames, seats, and clothing for all sizes, to make bicycling more comfortable and attractive to female riders.(iv)

Other Assumptions

Additional factors that may affect the likelihood of a woman to bicycle are trip purpose and the perception of the safety of bicycling. The tendency for women to be responsible for household errands, some of which may involve transporting children or other items, may dissuade women from traveling by bicycle. A common perception is that a car is necessary for these multiple-purpose trips, but, in many cases, they are just as feasible by bike. Furthermore, bicycling is considered one of the most risky ways to travel, and, as studies show women to be more risk averse than men, they might also tend to bike less.(v)

Environmental Factors

Road Safety and Bicycle Amenities

Understanding attitudes about safety and the built environment is important for planning and improving facilities. The most commonly expressed deterrent keeping women from bicycling are the perceived hazards of riding on roads with high speed automobiles and aggressive drivers. ii A GPS-based study in Portland, OR, found women tended to favor quiet parallel streets over more direct routes that followed on-street bike lanes. i To avoid those roads, studies showed that women were willing to spend over 5 minutes more than men on a 20 minute commute, provided they could travel on a preferred bicycle-friendly route. Properly locating, constructing, and marketing bicycle infrastructure to provide users access to desirable destinations is a huge step towards increasing the mode share for all users, not just women.

For more information about how to better engineer roads for bicyclists, visit: http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/engineering/index.cfm
For more information about how to better plan for bicycling, visit: http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/develop/

Additionally, an absence of showers and safe bike parking at work also discourages women from bicycle commuting. Providing a shower for employees removes the social discomfort of being sweaty or smelly at work due to bicycle commuting. Overall, although there are real and psychological barriers to women bicycling more, a variety of interventions and programs exist to overcome them.


i. Baker, L. (2009, October). Shifting Gears. Scientific American, 301(4), 28-29. Retrieved September 14, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.
ii Crawford, S., Garrard, J., Hakman, N. (2006). Revolutions for women: Increasing women's participation in cycling for recreation and transport. Deakin University.
iii. Janov, J. (2005, May). Kathy Loebs: Making Cycling More Comfortable for Women. Bicycle Retailer & Industry News, 14(7), 36-37. Retrieved September 14, 2009, from Business Source Premier database.
iv. Sani, M. (2006, April 15). Industry Must 'Womanify' its Attitude to Attract More Riders. Bicycle Retailer & Industry News, 15(6), 33-33. Retrieved September 14, 2009, from Business Source Premier database.
v. Krizek, K., Johnson, P., Tilahun, N. (2004). Gender Preferences in Bicycling Behavior and Facility Preferences. Research on Women's Issues in Transportation. 2, 31-40.