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The Green Life: Female? Here's How to Bike More.

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November 12, 2009

Female? Here's How to Bike More.

Women on bike If you look around at the cyclists in your city or town, most likely most of them are men. In fact, male cyclists outnumber females by 2 to 1 in the U.S. But that’s not the case in some European countries like the Netherlands, where female cyclists actually outnumber their male counterparts.

We Americans can increase the number of female cyclists by building more bike-only commuter routes and paths that provide a greater sense of safety. But while we work on that, there are some easy ways for female riders to get more comfortable with biking now. Here’s how.

Get comfortable. Picking out and then adjusting a bike can be more complicated for women than men because most bikes are designed for men. Handlebars can be too wide and brake levers too far away to easily grasp. But the good news is that there are increasingly more female-specific bikes on the market so finding the perfect one for you is now possible. When picking out a bike, keep in mind some of the most common fitting problems for women, and speak up if something doesn’t feel right.

Gain confidence. You don’t have to hit crowded downtown streets right away. Pedal on recreational paths at first to get used to biking and gain confidence. Once you’ve spent some time on your bike, you’ll be able to spend your commute thinking about merging buses instead of how to shift gears.

Female cyclists are far more likely to choose routes based on enjoyment and safety, rather than because the route is faster, flatter, or otherwise efficient. And that’s OK. It's your ride, so don’t feel pressured to cycle in conditions you aren’t comfortable with.

Find sisterhood. Being comfortable on the road is key to bike commuting, so consider joining a recreational cycling club. Once you feel confident in that setting, biking to work will be much easier.  Many communities now have women’s cycling clubs or female-specific offerings within mixed-gender cycling clubs. You can find anything from women-focused workshops to cycling vacations.

If you’re shy, busy, or don’t have a cycling community in your area, check out online tips and discussions. Velo Girls provides a lot of useful information, and the Sierra Club’s Climate Crossroads bicycle group has many female members. 

Be safe. One of the best ways to be safe is to get to know your route. Use maps to plan the safest route, take a test ride with a friend when you aren’t feeling pressure to be on time, and talk to a reliable source (like police officers or members of a cycling club) about safety incidents and trends.

Keep in mind that female cyclists are at far greater risk from accidents than from violent attacks. So work on your bike-handling skills and always wear  a helmet. And remember, driving a car is one of the most dangerous activities you can undertake. A little perspective can be a good thing.

-- Jennifer Waggoner

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