A significant gender imbalance persists in Australia’s bike community, where only one in three riders are women.
Research from Melbourne’s Monash University has delved into the underlying reasons for this, shining a light on some of the key barriers and pointing to ways to boost the rates of bike riding participation among Australian women.
As part of the research, Dr Lauren Pearson and Associate Professor Ben Beck surveyed more than 700 Melbourne residents on what factors prevent them from riding a bike and conducted another 20 in-depth interviews. The responses reveal the some of the unique challenges women face when it comes to two-wheeled travel.
“It’s not just about how many people are riding a bike, but who they are,” says Pearson.
“Understanding of groups with traditionally lower participation in bike riding, including women, is essential for creating equitable access to active transport.”
All bike riders would welcome more protected infrastructure, but the new research drives home how much potential it has to encourage women to ride bikes.
While 45% of men reported not wanting to ride on the road with motor vehicles, the figure sat at 61% among women. Concern at being injured in a collision with motor vehicles was reported by 43% of males but 59% of females, while concern about aggressive behaviors from drivers was reported by 45% of males and 55% of females.
Women also reported unique concerns about falling off their bike in a narrow lane or path and into motor traffic highlighting the need for a “safe space to fall."
Light, visibility and inclusive spaces
Only females referred to lighting and visibility as a barrier to bike riding, in order to help prevent injury and ensure their personal safety. Many said lighting on bike paths was non-existent or inadequate and bike paths often involved underpasses away from the public eye.
Of the transport engineers implementing bike infrastructure in Australia, only 15% are women. Addressing the imbalance in this workforce could see the creation of more bike infrastructure that makes women feel comfortable riding bikes, the researchers say.
This could see bike paths better integrated with community spaces to improve visibility, greater emphasis on reflective surfaces in vital locations, or more attention paid to the types of lighting that can make women feel safe.
Knowledge gaps and confidence
The team’s interviews showed that low confidence in buying and maintaining a bike was a unique barrier for women. For example, women reported concerns about a lack of support from store staff and a lack of confidence to repair a puncture on their way to work. No men reported these concerns.
The researchers found inclusive community groups such as Wheel Women and Chicks Who Ride Bikes could be pivotal in boosting confidence and empowering women to ride a bike.
Twice as many women (24%) as men (12%) reported not feeling physically fit enough to ride a bike. And among those that do, concerns about being able to keep up with traffic and other bikes was a factor, as was an ability to quickly pedal away from tricky situations.
The researchers see e-bikes as a powerful enabler in this regard, addressing concerns about physical fitness and also allowing women to transport children. While this raises the issue of cost for e-bikes, which are relatively expensive compared to conventional bikes, they say it also provides Australia with a big opportunity.
E-bike incentives and car trade-in incentives are gaining traction around the world as governments look to create cities with less congestion, cleaner air healthier residents. This research sheds light on one of the many ways they can offer a great a return on that investment.
“We have this huge opportunity to advance equitable participation in bike riding and enable people to use physically active and healthy modes of transport as part of their everyday activities,” Beck says.
“But at the moment, our environments and infrastructure aren’t supportive of underrepresented groups in bike riding, such as women. This research really highlights how Australia can catch up to many other cities around the world and ensure that we have as many women riding as men.”
This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.