Updated: Jan 22
by: Karina Adam - Computer Engineer & Writer in Albuquerque, New Mexico
There is a disparity between the participation of different genders in bicycling. Throughout history, it has commonly been a male-dominated activity, although there have been improvements over time in cycling rates of those outside of that demographic. But, the tenuous support women are given in the cycling community is more complicated than one might think.
There are so many factors in an environment—down to the tiniest details of infrastructure — that will have a tremendous impact on the daily lives of many. For instance, I’m sure most of us can come up with at least one location off the top of our heads where our beloved city of Albuquerque, by design, encourages (or, rather, guarantees) an automobile dependency. Is there any other place in New Mexico that comes to mind? Beyond this, there are more specific instances of infrastructure and culture discouraging women from getting involved in cycling.
Benefits of e-Biking
There are extensive studies that demonstrate the different ways bicycling as a means of commuting to and from work or school can enhance daily life of the average person while also benefiting the entire community as a whole. There are also many journal articles that explain the barriers that prevent women from gaining the same lifestyle enhancement of bicycles that men do. Every country and every place around the world is unique in its potential to gain the positive outcomes of an increased population cycling rate. But the advancements are not always evenly distributed.
Why Don’t So Many Women Cycle?
Until reading over information for this blog article to orient myself, I had never realized that other women may share the concerns I do when it comes to traveling by bicycle. An interdisciplinary journal from Active Travel Studies explains the common reasons why women are more likely to be deterred from cycling.
Although these troubles can exist for a multitude of different people, women tend to frequently report similar concerns they share. Women listed safety as a worry. While anyone on a bike is potentially in an unsafe position when they ride, it seems many women in particular feel afraid or unsafe on a bicycle due to high rates of violence against them around the world. Bicycles lack the protection that is gained in an automobile. There is also evidence that women are likely to be less confident in their ability to navigate traffic and are less likely to have been taught cycling skills.
Time and Cultural Restraints
In many places, women are still the primary caregiver to children. This responsibility means that the time and the care children require limit the opportunity for cycling, especially since she often must find a way to bring her children along. On top of this, there are still many places in the world where the expectations of women’s attire makes it difficult for them to feel comfortable while riding a bicycle.
Women Underrepresented in Bike Shops & Manufacturing
While Free-to-Roam eBiking is woman-owned and operated, this is quite unique! According to a study commissioned by the Small Business Administration (SBA), women in the bicycle industry ranks as “substantially underrepresented” where less than 33% of bike businesses are either woman-owned and/or operated.
Overall, there are a set of obstacles that are not present for men when one attempts to enter the sport of cycling. Women have a fear of violence and some even mentioned the way they felt “vulnerable” and “on display”. Interestingly, this study explained the ways cycling in automobile centered cities is not inclusive. Generally it is reserved for cyclists of advanced levels with high fitness, high risk-tolerance, and confidence. Cultural barriers such as women being discouraged from displaying the characteristics of a high level cyclist, and being expected to present themselves as “feminine” while riding play an important role as well.
How eBikes Increase Women’s Cycling Rates
Moving More Quickly in Traffic
While an electric pedal-assist bicycle is in many ways very similar to its traditional counterpart, there are advantages to it which are particularly beneficial to women cyclists. For instance, e-bikes are easier to navigate when caught in high traffic environments. The slow start-up that comes with getting a traditional bicycle from zero miles per hour to moving is eliminated when one is on an e-bike meaning that an individual is able to quickly move to the locations they need to be without requiring an extended clearing of traffic.
This same handicap doesn’t exist for pedestrians who are young and healthy, but crossing the road can be a challenge. Once I had broken my ankle, I realized how hard it was to find a break in traffic long enough for me to pass. While perhaps not a devastating issue, it is an annoyance that many do struggle with from day to day. Being able to nimbly cross roads, even when starting from a dead stop, can ease this issue. That is only one of many ways e-bikes are more inclusive.
Traveling with children
Many parents need to travel with their children. They may drop them off at school on their way to work or take them to a sports practice in the evening. In order to switch from using a car to using a bike, they would need to determine a way to bring their kids without tiring themselves out completely by trying to carry along extra weight. An e-bike, and particularly a cargo e-bike, makes this a worry of the past. Is there a steep hill on the way to take your two kindergarteners to school? A near impossible task, or in the least a very challenging one, is made immensely more accomplishable with the help of an electric motor. An e-bike can help get the whole family where they need to be on time while still giving the rider an effective, but gentle, workout. Not to mention, now everyone is able to enjoy the fresh air, even if they aren’t themselves capable of navigating to locations via a bicycle. While children may be able to ride their bikes around in the neighborhood, they are much safer when riding with a parent in areas of higher traffic.
Common Cultural Barriers
Although the notion of bicycles being related in any way to genders is slowly being removed from the core of the biking community, there are still many areas where it clearly favors and supports mens involvement while diminishing women’s desire to participate. For instance, in low-cycling cities, biking is catered more to men but these same worries were reported to be far less troublesome in cities which are high-cycling. High-cycling cities appear to ultimately result in equalizing the ratio of men to women cyclists. The e-biking world is challenging the community to become more inclusive in a few ways. For one, the designs are intended to be efficient for anyone who rides them. E-bike repair shops are more welcoming to all individuals and their work is aimed at reducing the gendering of bike technologies. In traditional bike shops, women are often overcharged and belittled. Now, e-bikes bring better quality technology that is accessible to everyone.
In the design of bikes marketed toward men, the questions likely asked by the team were: How can we make this more aerodynamic? What is the best position for obtaining the highest speeds and remaining comfortable? In the design of bicycles marketed toward women, it seems far more likely that the interest was in ensuring the rider would appear “lady-like” which meant that step-through bikes were more “appropriate” for women since they are not swinging their leg over to get on. Rather than focusing on the appearance, e-bike manufacturers want to create a biking experience that is equally enjoyable to riders of all skill levels and physical fitness. While there is nothing wrong with catering different builds and models to certain groups, it should not decrease the overall sturdiness of the bicycle.
The e-biking world’s gender inclusion is seemingly creating a sort of “self-fulfilling prophecy” where the more women see other women getting involved, the more likely they are to also get involved.