Commuting By Bike and the Fairer Sex

One issue that I’ve always been interested in when it comes to bicycle commuting is where are all the women? It’s not that there are zero, but they are certainly outnumbered. In my unscientific observation (between my house and my work), the numbers are completely lopsided. I probably see 1 or 2 women each day while I see at least a couple dozen males commute by bike.

I thought it might be interesting to hear from one who does her daily commute by bike. So I bugged one of the few female bike commuters that I know with some questions. Here’s what she had to say.

What bike do you have and why did you select it? Accessories?

I have a DiamondBack Hybrid which I bought a few years ago for just riding with the kids. I had a super cheap Canadian Tire special before but it couldn’t handle pulling the bike trailer with one child in it so went to the bike shop and told them that I needed a bike for paved trail-riding with the kids. They recommended that one and it fell within my budget which was determined by some biking friends at work. 

As for accessories, at the beginning just had the standard kick stand and that was it. After having the bike for a year, I tentatively tried riding into work after doing a LOT of research on the route to take. After a couple of runs, I decided a bell would probably be a good thing. I rode in for that summer with all of my stuff on my back which was really too heavy for me. I’m not a real fussy girl and I leave what I can at work but I still had to bring my clothes, lunch and personal daily things…all of which weighed a ton! This spring, my husband brought my bike in to be serviced and while he was there he bought me a back rack and pannier bags (Kargo by Arkel)….LOVE ’em! 

Why did you decide to bike rather than taking your car or a bus?

I think the primary reason for getting on the bike was for fitness and health. I was training for a half-marathon and had an injury. The doctors suggested trying another form of cardio until I healed. I’m not a bike rider so I couldn’t see myself hopping on my bike and riding aimlessly. Having a dedicated route and start/stop point was right up my alley. 

Other factors that helped pushed me on the bike were financial…while I ride, my husband drives my car which is more fuel-efficient, gas is only required for one car and my company gives me a monthly bonus for not driving…I can be bribed :)

What were the biggest cycling related concerns you had getting started?

Route!! By far! I talked to all the riders from work that lived in my neighbourhood and grilled them about the route. I mulled it over for about a month, looking at maps and running it over in my head. I finally talked myself into trying it one day and kept at it for the summer. 

This is gonna sound girlie but I also didn’t know how I was going to make myself presentable for work. I’m not a fussy girl but still try to make a bit of an effort. I realized that there was no way I could carry everything I needed on my back so the day before, I brought all my shower stuff to work. Overtime I learned that I needed to leave more a work like a pair of shoes, makeup, hair dryer, etc. You should see my desk :)

What were the biggest logistical concerns you had?

The kids! I have a school aged child and a preschooler. During the previous school year, I had the sweetest setup. I was responsible for pickups so I’d ride my bike home and hook up the trailer for the preschooler and throw in the scooter for the school aged child. I’d ride down the road to the school to get one from the after-school program and then we would ride/scooter over to the sitters for the preschooler. Put the preschooler and all the bags in the trailer and we would have a great ride/scooter home. Sadly, summer has brought some changes that were threatening to pull me off my bike because of summer camps for the school aged child which are all over the city and a new day-care for the preschooler that was no longer in the neighbourhood. Thankfully, my very supportive husband has managed to do both drop-offs and pickups with the kids so I can keep riding. Of course, every week we need to look at each camp to see if this is still possible. I keep my fingers crossed every week and have already begun to wonder if I can still ride once the new school year starts. 

Women have been referred to as the ‘indicator species’ in some cycling studies partly due to their stronger risk aversion, partly because it seems that when more women bike, more children and elderly cycle. What do you think about being the ‘indicator species’?

For me, I would say that I fit that completely. I really needed to research out my route to make sure that I could handle the traffic challenges that I might encounter and to be honest, my route takes me away from as much traffic as possible. I have lived in two large cities prior to Waterloo and would not ride into work. Although a few times I looked into it, I just couldn’t see myself doing it. Saying that though….I am a risk-adverse person! I am cautious but I do ride on the road, except on King street at the expressway ramps…cars are way to fast there for my liking, I will take the lane, if required. I do turn left from the turning lane and I have no problem pulling out in front of a car, after it is clear that they have seen me. I do everything I can to get myself to and from work with some speed but safely. I would ride year-round if I could, but my route is not winter safe for me. In order for me to ride during the winter, I would want a trail that is guaranteed to be clear, is away from traffic but isn’t so secluded that I would worry about my safety…not likely to happen but one can dream :)

I have had conversations with other women about riding into work and risk isn’t always the first thing that they bring up when it comes to why they don’t ride. When women hear that I ride in, the first thing they ask me is not about my route, although most males do, but they ask me about the logistics…how do I get ready for work and how do I handle the kids. Maybe as women, we just worry too much about all the details :)

20 thoughts on “Commuting By Bike and the Fairer Sex

  1. Awesome article, great collaboration! – Thanks for being so open and honest in your observations.

    I’m lucky, my commute to work is almost entirely on a segregated multi-use trail shared between pedestrians and cyclists. My very ‘unscientific’ hunch is that ratio is far higher on the bike path with at least 40% being female. (Over the next few days I’ll be keeping a mental count for sure.)

    I’m curious what other Iron Horse / Laurel Trail cyclists think?

    1. On my way home (Wednesday) I did a count 27 guys 8 girls, my gut check 60/40 was way off … more like 3/1. Along the UW is where the guys racked up the count, we all know the guy to girl ratio in Engineering and Math is dismal.

  2. Glad I’m not the only person who finds pickup/drop off at summer camps mean it’s impossible to bike commute in the summer.

  3. I’ve been lucky. My wife stays home with the kids and runs all the errands. Otherwise, the summer might be even tougher to commute than the winter.

    Something else that struck me, the seclusion of my route was never really a concern I had. Is this a concern that other male cyclists have?

  4. Excellent article! I see 1 or 2 female commuters each day on my ride. I also have the trouble with the kids issue. I can’t leave work early enough to do any pickups. The mornings wouldn’t work because who wants to drop a kid off in the trailer and then ride back home to drop off the trailer again? I did it once and it took forever.

  5. I see a fair number of women riding all over town but I think cycling in general tends toward the mysoginistic, especially with “cycling chic” thing getting big now. I don’t know if it bothers any women but it kind of weirds me out a bit… can’t a woman just ride aroud in normal clothes and go about her business?

    Doesn’t anyone make their kids walk or ride anymore? ;) I had to walk to school (uphill both ways, barefoot in the snow, yaddy yaddy) One or both parents commuted by bike when I was a kid, so I rode or walked to school myself.

    For any women cyclists reading this, at recycle cycles there is a Women and Transfolk night every tuesday from 6-9 that is open for folks to repair their own bicycle or if they wanted to just wrench something I’m sure that there is other stuff available for folks.

  6. I definitely see several women on my way from Duke St. to Laurier every day! And I guess I’m an anomaly because sometimes I really enjoy taking the lane at rush hour on King St! I brought some simple panniers home with me when I moved back from six months in Amsterdam, and they are key for running errands on my way home from work.

  7. When I first started riding I’d see maybe one woman a week riding.

    Now for the past two or three years, I’d guess I see on an average day about 30 women. Of course that is still compared to about 60-80 men.
    Not bad numbers though as that is just people I see pass by my kitchen window.

    When I’m actually out and about I see quite a few more women, especially in the downtown area.
    Of the six bikes I see pass by my house between 4-5am, five are young women heading to work.

  8. A hair straightener is a must on days like today :)

    I was trying to count on my way home yesterday and counting myself, there were 3 women compared to about 10 guys. Interesting note though….all three girls were wearing helmets but only one guy…but that’s a whole other topic :)

  9. Great article. I never bothered to keep track of male/female ratio of other cyclists. I’ll take a look on my way home today, out of curiosity.

  10. I myself am a lady bike commuter :)

    I’m moving to Waterloo in a bit less than a month. A bunch of folks have been telling me its an awful city (I still haven’t visited, myself) so I was feeling pretty down about the move but if there’s an active cycling community in Waterloo, it can’t be all bad, right? Looking around here has made me feel a bit better.

    1. Welcome to the ‘loo. I’m sure every place is awful if you ask enough people.

      You might love it. Lots of people who live here do! It doesn’t mean that we stop complaining though ;)

    2. Usually if you live in a city long enough, many will only find the faults.

      I haven’t been to the Waterloo region in years, but having been born there the family use to visit quite often.
      Although it seems completely different now compared to when we lived there, I have many fond memories of the region (more or less Kitchener).

    3. If they are telling you it is an awful city, they haven’t been here much. :) Welcome!

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