Cycling: the gender gap

By Nicola Selby-Short
Published: 05:48PM BST 15 Aug 2012

British Cycling advises that although participation in cycling has increased at an unprecedented level over the past 12 months – 113,000 more weekly cyclists – female participation has fallen, with 17% lower participation across all sports.

Currently, only 2.3% of British women cycle each week, compared to 6.8% of men. There's no such gender gap in European countries such as Germany and Denmark.

Why is this, when biking burns the calories, helps keep you fit, allows you to enjoy the fresh air and is such a convenient and inexpensive way to travel?

When sustainable transport charity Sustrans conducted a survey of 1,000 women, the most common reason given for not cycling was not feeling safe enough, and the majority believed that more segregated cycle lanes are needed. In January a petition signed by 9,000 women was handed to the Government calling for safe cycling conditions on the UK's roads.

It seems that women's fears may be well founded. The national cyclists' organisation CTC said 10 of the 13 people who died in cycling accidents in London last year were women, and eight were killed by heavy goods vehicles.

The trend has continued this year with the further death, in March of a woman cyclist in Hackney, and this in the week that mayor Boris Johnson launched his Cycle Safety Action Plan, proposing 12 'cycle super highways' to attract new cyclists to commute into central London by bike.

This is not the first time that the apparently greater risk to women cyclists has attracted attention.  In 2007, an internal report for Transport for London suggested that women were over-represented in HGV- related fatalities because they tended to obey red lights and wait at junctions where they are in the driver's blind spot, though no conclusions were drawn.

Cycle safety campaigners have speculated that because women are less assertive riders they tend to be less visible. Women are reluctant to put themselves at the front at red traffic lights which is the safest place for cyclists to be. They creep up on the inside of lorries instead of overtaking them outside, the consequences of which can be fatal. 

As a keen cyclist myself I'm all too familiar with the instinct to kerb hug, which is much more dangerous than riding with the traffic and taking ownership of the road.

The London Cycle Campaign provides eight tips for safe cycling:

  • be aware of lorries
  • be alert
  • watch your position on the road
  • wait ahead at lights
  • take care in bus lanes
  • be seen and be safe
  • make eye contact
  • ride confidently

Check out our cycling safety help sheet, Safer Cycling for more information about staying safe on your bicycle.

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