What Research Says About Women's Cycling Habits

“If you want to know if an urban environment supports cycling, you can forget about all the detailed ‘bikeability indexes’ – just measure the proportion of cyclists who are female,”- Jan Garrard

Women’s bicycling habits vary widely from country to country. In most English speaking countries, where fewer people cycle in general, women are less likely to cycle than men [1]. However, in western European countries where utilitarian cycling rates are higher, women cycle more frequently than men. In the United States men cycle at least twice as frequently as women, while in Europe a little more than half of bike riders are women [2]. The reported average distance traveled by men and women differs by study and location. Some studies have found that women tend to bike shorter distances than men [1, 3], but a study in Minnesota found that urban women cycled greater distances than urban men and that suburban women cycled much shorter distances than suburban men [3]. The same Minnesota study found that men are more likely than women to bicycle to work and to bicycle for rest and relaxation, but women are more likely than men to bicycle to school as a student, bicycle for shopping or errands, and travel via bicycle to visit friends and relatives.

Women are also more likely than men to report that safety is an important consideration in their rout choice [1, 4]. In several studies, women have expressed a preference for off-road paths (most preferred), bike lanes, and streets with low traffic volume [1, 4]. While most studies agree that women tend to express a preference for safer road structures, studies disagree on whether or not there is a significant difference in men and women’s usages of different types of road structure. A study in Australia found that the actual usage of different roads did not differ significantly by gender [4], other studies have found that road usage does vary by gender [2].

There are two major factors that researchers suggest may account for these differences in cycling frequency and path preference. The first is that women tend to be more concerned about safety than men [1-3]. The Minnesota study found that more men than women cyclists rated Minnesota as safe for cycling [3]. Women were more likely to report concerns about lack of paths and poor road conditions, and men were more likely to report unsafe behaviors of drivers and cyclists. This conflicts with Jan Garrard’s findings in another study that women are more likely than men to express ‘concerns about cycling in traffic’ and ‘aggression from motorists’ [1]. Women also tend to have more household responsibilities than men, and these responsibilities may require them to carry passengers and goods (such as groceries), which can be difficult to do on a bicycle [3]. Cities also tend to install off-street bike paths in parks and along rivers instead of near the stores, schools, and daycare centers that many women need to travel to, which could discourage women from cycling to run these errands [2].

1. Garrard, J., G. Rose, and S.K. Lo, Promoting transportation cycling for women: the role of bicycle infrastructure. Prev Med, 2008. 46(1): p. 55-9.
2. Baker, L., Shifting Gears. Scientific American, 2009. 301(4): p. 28-29.
3. Krizek, K.J., P.J. Johnson, and N. Tilahun, Gender Differences in Bicycling Behavior and Facility Preferences in Research on Women's Issues in Transportation: Report of a Conference. 2005, Transportation Research Board of the National Academies.
4. Berkow, M., Using Bicycle Count Data to Measure the Use of Existing Bicycle Facilities in Portland, Oregon, in 88th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board. 2008.