Here at Culdesac, we view cycling as a primary way to get around - most of us are dedicated bike commuters ourselves. But there’s a gender disparity in America’s bike lanes. In the United States today, just under one in four bicycle commuters are women.
We know we’ll have to improve those numbers in order to transform America’s cities. We also know that there are a variety of cycling concerns, from safety to work attire, that particularly affect women.
While it can be frustrating to adjust our routines to stay safe, the women of Culdesac have your back, and plenty of experience behind the handlebars. We really mean it–in the past year, the women on our team have biked more than 6,000 miles combined!
If you’re considering incorporating cycling into your commute, we hope our tried and true wisdom can give you the nudge you need.
1. Make an impression
Though the road has its inherent bumps regardless of gender, surveys have shown that women perceive the safety risks of commuter cycling to be greater than men do. It makes sense, given that we are so often reminded to stay vigilant. But there are steps you can take to cut down on risk and enjoy your ride.
Many women on our team actually feel more secure biking at night than we would walking. The key to this confidence is a solid set of lights–an absolute must for any cyclist. Our colleague Erin recommends installing a blinking tail light to make your presence known to approaching drivers. We also recommend LED slap armbands, that make your hand signals much easier for drivers to spot.
While the horns and bells that most cyclists use are adequate for alerting pedestrians, they don’t catch the attention of most drivers. That’s why Lava recommends getting a horn like this one, loud enough to be heard through closed car windows.
2. Claim your space
A University of Minnesota study found that drivers are more likely to encroach on a female cyclist’s space. So when you’re riding down a road with no bike lane, don’t hesitate to take up some room closer to the center.
Jasmine notes that while it might sound counterintuitive, drivers are much more likely to notice you when you’re somewhere in their direct line of sight, rather than their peripheral vision.
3. Don’t sweat it–try an e-bike
Women experience heightened pressure when dressing for the workplace. As a result, some of us may be reluctant to bike to work if we believe we’re risking the perception of professionalism.
The women on our team love riding e-bikes! Since an e-bike allows the rider to choose how much energy to exert, they provide more flexibility when it comes to attire. If your work clothes involve skirts and dresses, our team recommends looking for a step-through model, a model with a throttle, or wearing bike shorts underneath for increased comfort.
4. Go ahead and add a stop
The stats show that women are more likely than men to “trip chain,” or make extra stops on their commute, especially those associated with childcare and other household responsibilities. Many women opt to drive on their commute so that they can tackle these to-dos along the way. But bikes can offer this flexibility too.
Just ask Vanessa, whose kids love riding to and from school in a bike cart. These carts, also called trailers, allow kids to experience the commute from a sturdy and safe vantage. And if you need to make a stop for groceries, we recommend trying an electric cargo bike- they allow you to haul a load with ease.
5. Choose your own adventure
Remember: while not everything is in your control, this is still your commute. If some aspect of cycling (like making a left turn from the bike lane, for example) makes you anxious, you can always walk your bike for a stretch. Jasmine loves to remind her friends that there’s no shame in joining pedestrians for a stroll in the crosswalk.
When it comes to personal safety, many of the same best practices apply whether your feet are on the pedals or the pavement. Erin recommends allowing a trusted friend to track your location, and making sure that you know your route. You can even use Streetview to sneak a peek at the intersections where you’ll need to turn. Eventually, the route will feel like second nature.