Bike Lanes Could Bridge Cycling Gender Gap

Monday, March 19, 2012

U.S. women take only one-quarter of the country's bike trips and one reason for that, surveyed women say, is aversion to riding alongside motorists. Road danger is considered a big brake on women's enthusiasm for cycling.

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A Girls Club

The Girls' Bike Club is one of many programs supported by West Town Bikes, a nonprofit youth advocacy.

Before becoming a staff member at West Town Bikes, Castillo was an intern with the organization. Through that connection, she helped organize the Girls Bike Club.

Shacora Hawkins, 15, went through an apprenticeship at the bike shop, volunteers there now and calls herself "a founding mother" of the girls' bike club. "What I love to do for bike club is recruit," she says. "I have my own dance group, so everybody who's a part of my dance group is a part of girls' bike club. I try to make them come every Wednesday, right after school."

She says if her friends aren't interested in cycling, she lures them in with the promise of earning community-involvement credit hours toward high school graduation, something many schools require.

Castillo says they're recruiting for a girls-only workshop in bike mechanics and repair, so they can feel safe and not intimidated by a bunch of guys. "Let's face it; when there's one girl in a workshop full of guys, how would you feel? Intimidated."

Hawkins says the workshop will help boost girls' confidence by knowing more about their bikes so they can make repairs on their own and feel knowledgeable going into a male-dominated bike shop. And both young women say cycling itself is a big self-esteem booster, even allaying fears of crime and concern for their physical safety.

Before she was a volunteer at West Town, "I would ride my bike but just in my neighborhood, like to the store and back," Hawkins says. "But when I started working at West Town and riding in groups, I got more confidence to ride anywhere I wanted."

Castillo says her mom didn't want her to bike at night, but now she rides day or night, feeling safer biking than walking. "I can make a quick getaway," she joked.

The girls' bike club has adopted a call-and-response for their group. "How do you ride your bike?" they shout. "Like a girl!" they answer.


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Melinda Tuhus is an independent journalist based in New Haven, Conn.

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As a woman who is active almost every day I find this article intriguing. I think that it is often overlooked how much confidence young girls and women can gain from participating in sports and activities such as bicycling. Susan B. Anthony’s quote says it perfectly; “it gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance”. However, as the article mentions it is intimidating when men dominate the scene and are perceived as having more experience. It is no secret that men’s sports are “more competitive”, “more physical”, and “more interesting” than women’s, but the biggest problem comes when women start to believe those statements are true.

Especially with the effort to create healthy and active lives for America’s youth, women can capitalize on their natural role to fix the problem. Michelle Obama is an example of a woman who generated a role for herself and facilitated a movement where she could make a profound impact. Her goal is to make progress reversing the trend of childhood obesity. Tania Castillo mentioned in the article, also is an example of a woman who wants to make change and goes after it head on. She is the minority in the cycling world, but she continues to promote girls and women having an effective and fun way of participating alongside men. The Girls Bike club gives girls the chance to gain knowledge about their bikes, this way they do not have to ask anybody especially men to do it for them. Knowledge produces confidence and as more knowledge is gained girls will be less conscious of the things they cannot do and instead they can focus on the effort they put in enhancing their own strengths.

Changing the smaller discussion from a “male dominated” bike shop to an equal and safe space to express yourself physically will also assist in changing the perception of “male dominated” anything. Women have made tremendous strides in the past fifty years alone, but the work is not over. Working from the bottom up (such as a bike shop or bike club) can encourage women to participate in activities that they enjoy. Hopefully then, women can translate that confidence into participating in larger roles of change for women.