Column by Alison Hill

July is Cycling UK’s Women’s Festival of Cycling with events taking place all over Britain. I joined a group of over 150 women cycling through London from Guildhall to Westminster Palace to launch the festival and celebrate the 100 nominees for women in cycling 2019. I am one of those 100 and am proud to be part of a group of inspiring women who are in positions to help get more women cycling.

Currently men make nearly three times as many cycling journeys as women, and travel more than four times as far. What is it about our roads that stop women cycling? When you look across the Channel to the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, women cycle as often as men, and keep on cycling into old age. In those countries roads are designed for cycle users, with the aim of avoiding conflict with general motor traffic. Here in the UK cycling infrastructure is minimal and most people riding bikes have to share space with general traffic. This means that only the most confident feel able to get about on bikes, and the majority of those are men.

There are compelling reasons why we need to get more women cycling. Women more often than men take their kids to school, but many wouldn’t contemplate cycling because of the perception of danger. Once their kids have had cycle training women aren’t able to support them to continue riding, resulting in the loss of those hard-earned and liberating skills. Women more than men often have multiple roles to fulfil in relation to work, family and home, which makes journeys more complex and more difficult to make by bike. Women are particularly concerned about the road environment and the sense of risk – they would regard themselves as not confident. They also feel a sense of alienation since they are not part of a critical mass (and some women report how they have been criticised or verbally abused just for being on their bikes).

What needs to be done to get more women cycling? Something that requires changes in behaviour needs to be tackled on many fronts. The most challenging is a change to our road infrastructure which takes space away from general traffic to give more space for cycling and walking. Oxford is blessed with some good cycling infrastructure but we know so much more needs to be done to create safe connected cycle networks. Cyclox, along with other groups, is campaigning hard to get better cycling infrastructure. Schools are in a strong position to get kids cycling, encouraging parents to accompany them on their school trip. Broken Spoke offers cycle training for women. The Isis women’s cycling group is a women’s only group hosting regular friendly cycle rides.

And as part of the Women’s Festival of Cycling I am pledging to get two women who haven’t ever cycled or who used to cycle back on their bikes. Are you someone who wants to get onto a bike? If so, get in touch with Cyclox and we can help you find the support you need.