Want to See More Women on Bikes? Get Girls on Bikes!
In the US, men's cycling trips surpass women's by at least 2:1. So how do we change that? We start by simply inviting women to participate. On May 13, there were 163 women-focused rides in 14 countries, including the US. Called CycloFemme, this worldwide event was designed to "Honor the Past...Celebrate the Present...and Empower the Future...Teach women to ride and they will change the world." I say teach girls to ride, starting with the trip to school, and they will lead the world. Here in Portland, Oregon, the CycloFemme ride was well attended Sunday, and was part of our first of five Sunday Parkways events of the season, a version of the Cyclovia concept (28,000 people participated).
So how do we get more girls on bikes? We start by inviting them (and their Moms) to participate. Eight-year old Willa Larson did just that. She lives just a few blocks away from the park where the CycloFemme ride ended on Sunday: "I learned to ride a bike when I was five. Now, I like to ride my bike to school, to the library, and on Sunday Parkways... I think biking is better than driving because you go slow enough to see nature and say hello to people. Also, on summer days, the car is too hot and when you're biking there is always a breeze. Biking makes me feel free and happy because I am helping the earth." Another participant, 14 year-old Ivy Long said, "At my age, self-transportation is very important." She also said she only started bicycling after ditching an "ugly" kids bike with training wheels and getting a nice new Schwinn. (Quotes and photos courtesy of bikeportland.org)
These are the role models for Empowering the Future! These are future women riders.
Safe Routes to School encouragement events are a way to build this kind of energy, leadership and eventually to increase the percentage of women who ride bikes. But it can take work to inspire even willing Moms to get out there with their daughters: years ago I received a call from a Portland Mom who wanted to start riding to school with her daughter, but they live in a hilly area criss-crossed with high-speed multi-lane roads, few sidewalks and not many other riders. She wanted to start riding to school with her 9-year old, but didn't know of a safe, convenient route to get there. The school was directly across a very large natural park, and Mom was worried about her daughter riding up hill, riding in dirt, mud and drizzle and especially crossing a small creek. Mom thought she would be fighting with her daughter the whole way. I suggested that she give it a try - Mom called the next day to report that not only did her daughter not complain, she couldn't get her to STOP crossing the creek, giggling and getting soaked. They started riding every day, and Mom brings extra clothes along. Perception is everything. Safe Routes to School encouragement events can change perceptions about convenience, safety and even what is fun for kids.
Invite girls and their Moms to ride bikes (and walk), they may become the role models for Empowering the Future! They may become future women riders. They may lead the world.