We Lost Another One – Why Women Abandon Cycling

Posted: January 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Cycling, Sustainability | 4 Comments »

From a great collection of women on bikes

Recently, I was chatting over coffee with a young woman about cycling in Boulder. We were talking about the various trails around town, our commutes, and our fear of getting our bikes stolen from downtown.  She went onto to describe a new fear she was experiencing; she was becoming more nervous about riding in town due to the increase in the number of aggressive riders. Cycling, for her, was simply not fun anymore. Sadly, I understood what she was saying.  Although Boulder is probably one of the most cycling-friendly places in the U.S. (and yes, I have lived elsewhere, namely San Antonio & Austin, which when I left were probably ranked 150 and 151 respectively out of a group of 151 friendliest places to ride a bike), it’s also packed. Whether you are riding, driving or walking in town, Boulder is a busy little town. I don’t think Boulder has an inordinate number of aggressive drivers. I just think the chance of a cyclist and a driver having a negative encounter is probably a little greater simply due to the number of people getting around using lots of different forms of transportation (i.e skate boarding, roller-blading, etc).

Later, what concerned me more than my friend’s fear was that she was considering giving up commuting by bike. And that’s when I realized this is how it begins. Young women, who may have been commuting for some time,  weary of the conditions of the road, the interactions with drivers and begin to abandon cycling. It’s not just that there is one less commuter on the road but what that change in perception means for her and our community over the long term. If people, especially women, begin to abandon cycling as an option for getting around then our hopes for more significant transportation changes will be an even greater struggle.

This point was further expanded on in a great article titled, Women in Cycling: Why We Matter,  written by Sarai Snyder over at GirlBikeLove. I recommend checking it out because if you are interested in seeing cycling expand in our communities then it’s critical to have women’s continued involvement and support. Can you imagine how much further along cycling adoption and commuting support there would be if more women were involved? I think we’ll move the needle that much more quickly if both men and women are part of the solution.

4 Comments on “We Lost Another One – Why Women Abandon Cycling”

  1. 1 G.E. said at 2:13 pm on January 8th, 2012:

    I find this problem is compounded in Boulder because it is quite a compact city. While this is wonderful to allow people to get around on two wheels, there are a lot of people (using various means of transport) and tempers are bound to flare, especially during peak travel times.

    I hope that this woman reconsiders and will give it another go. It makes me sad to see people giving up on transportation cycling – or any cycling- that they once loved and enjoyed.

  2. 2 JenniferSRoberts said at 4:38 pm on January 8th, 2012:

    Yep, you’re right about Boulder compactness, which is somewhat ironic because it’s one of the reasons Boulder is a fairly easy place to get around. But it also enables a lot more interaction between 4-wheels, two-wheels, etc. that don’t always end happily.

  3. 3 April said at 9:23 am on January 9th, 2012:


    Good post – I hate to hear stories like this but I imagine they must be common. Women can get spooked, I think, a bit more easily than men when it comes to biking in traffic – while we are good multi-taskers (better in general, than males) we are also slightly more risk averse.
    I think one thing that is really needed is for people to realize that drivers need many years (decades even) to transition to looking out for bikes. I think we can hasten that transition by biking courteously. But biking! We won’t get the biking cities we want if we give up. In some ways, drivers need us MORE than we need them. The more bikers bike, the less drivers need to deal with other drivers!
    I wish I could help your acquaintance keep cycling. In Portland, two groups help women cyclists – on is our meetup group Girly Bikes http://www.meetup.com/Girly-Bikes
    and for a network of women who advocate cycling in some form in their professional lives http://www.portlandsociety.org
    Maybe a Boulder chapter?

  4. 4 JenniferSRoberts said at 5:38 pm on January 9th, 2012:

    Thanks for feedback and suggestions for supporting other women commuters. Your idea for a meetup is a great one; I’ll check out and see if Boulder has one. Although, I would be surprised. Boulder is odd in that there are tons of cyclists but not a lot of commuters, if that makes any sense.

    And you’re absolutely right that if drivers don’t see cyclists, then they’ll never get used to sharing the road. It’s almost a case of the chicken and the egg scenario, do drivers need to be more aware of cyclists, so cyclists feel safer riding, or do more people need to ride to encourage drivers become more aware. Of course, the stakes are a little higher.
    Thanks for your comment and links!

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