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Two approaches to women and bikes!

1 bikes Blog Posts cyclechic Harriet Walker Rachel Smith The Independent urban cycling women and bikes


A number of recent articles on urban cycling have focused on women. In this post I'm looking at two particular articles: one which discusses what your bike says about you; and the other considering why women won't cycle.

In the Independent, Harriet Walker suggests that the internet's capacity to nurture niche interests and its tendency to give any micro-trend cult appeal has contributed to the rise of "cycle chic" - a "half-sporty, half fashionable subcultural phenomenon…" She describes the development of the movement, books which offer lifestyle rather and racing knowledge and street cycle clothing ranges. She also mentions the inaugural Cycle Chic bloggers conference to be held in Barcelona in July.

While the usual comparisons between lycra-clad and style-conscious riders are discussed, she focuses on the resurgence of the phenomena of the "lady cyclist." "The Lady Cyclist" , founded in 1895 was a journal which aimed to "provide useful advice for the growing number of women who shared this enthusiasm". It offered suggestions for recommended rides, advice on bike maintenance and advertisements. While short-lived, the journal met the need of what Charles Sisley, the editor, suggested was "A new era seems to have sprung up: life which has hitherto seemed dull and uninteresting now looks bright and attractive.

Walker suggests that if the female cyclist is  an eternal trope in our culture, then her "prominence now – not to mention her agency over her image – is greater than ever". She offers that as well as being a "poster girl for cycle chic", she is also an avid consumer of it. This has resulted in a demand for bicycle accessories that are "more chic than geek" and has "re-invigorated the industry, not least in terms of which bikes are being bought and sold".

Walker's article is in start contrast to Rachel Smith who discusses why women won't ride. Smith is a Transport Planner who has undertaken an AITPM Scholarship to visit 21 cycling cities to discover first hand what infrastructure had "transformed a city into a 'cycling city'". While each city had its own unique network of bikeways, the common themes included "4.0 – 5.0 metres of ‘usable’ cycling space, complete separation from motorised traffic, a consistent level of service as well as high quality streetscaping and signage".

In start contrast, Smith found that in Australia cycle lanes tended to be "skinny, unprotected, on-road cycle lanes, on busy highways, often less than one metre wide". To counter this, Smith launched the Cycling Super Highways concept; a vision for seven metre wide cycleways that are completely "separated from cars, well-lit and-  importantly - designed for everyone." The seven metres would allow two cyclists to cycle side by side and would offer safe and enjoyable mode of transport.

Smith's findings seem to be less about women and more about cycling safety in general. Many of those who commented on the article offered their own experiences of urban cycling, suggesting that better infrastructure was key.

I was in two minds about Smith's article.
It seemed to generalise a bit too much, making the findings a little vague.
 I also get a little tired of the halcyon European examples. They also have narrower streets in many medieval cities, something which we don’t have in Australia.

Wherever you stand: racing cyclist, commuter, “lifestyle cyclist” or even parent taking the kids out on the weekend, there are pros and cons to being on the road. I’ve broken ribs in car accidents as well as cycle accidents. I’ve also had years free of any injuries either by car or bike.

Recently I started some bike training courses even though I’ve been cycling as a commuter and recreationally for many years. The courses have given me valuable insights into our legal obligations and our rights on the road. I can highly recommend them as a way of gaining confidence. You can find info for courses in Australia, here.

The other confidence builder has been participating in riding events where the roads are blocked off. While the speedsters race off in front, these events have offered me a way of cycling city and rural areas in my own time while enjoying the sites.

As far as urban cycling being a movement and/or a market, I've written about this here!

Image: Bike Rack. Swanston Street Melbourne. (Thanks to the unknown participant!)

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  • Angelina Russo on

    This interesting article from the Guardian on women-only biking events…I find riding in events a great confidence builder – mainly because the roads are often closed off. One thing I have noticed though, the promotional material for such events rarely have images of women in them!

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