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New study finds that new cyclists are still disproportionately young and male

New research based on 2001 and 2011 census data has found that where cycling to work has risen, it has remained a disproportionately male activity. The researchers also found that cycle commuting has also become even more skewed towards younger age groups.

The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and published in the academic journal Transport Reviews, used journey-to-work census data looking at gender and age balance among cycle commuters, comparing the situation in 2001 to that in 2011. The aim was to explore whether there was any statistically significant change in the representation of women and older people cycling to work.

Three main conclusions were drawn, which were that where cycling had increased, there was no statistically significant change in gender ratio; where cycling had declined, there had been a reduction in the proportion of women cycling; and where cycling had increased, the under-representation of older people had increased.

The paper’s lead author Dr Rachel Aldred, from the University of Westminster, said:

“We know from the Netherlands and Denmark that women and older people will cycle, if the conditions are right. But these results show that UK policy-makers cannot assume that if cycling grows it will inevitably become more diverse. This has not happened and so we should be targeting policy towards currently under-represented groups. In particular, evidence shows that women have particularly strong preferences for cycle infrastructure fully separated from motor traffic.”

It is certainly true that places where cycling levels are higher tend to have higher proportions of female and older cyclists. Cambridge sees almost equal proportions of men and women cycle to work, while in the Netherlands women cycle more than men. In contrast, the census data showed that in areas with very low cycling levels, the gender ratio was extremely unequal, with men up to 14 times more likely to cycle to work than women.

As such, the researchers expected to see a rise in the proportion of female cyclists where cycling levels had increased, but this didn’t prove to be the case. Although more women were cycling in those areas, the gender balance hadn’t become more equal.

Similarly, in 2001, authorities with higher cycling levels tended to have more equal representation of older people (defined as those aged 55-74) among cycle commuters, yet in 2011 the relationship was actually less clear. It seems cycling is still disproportionately attracting younger men, including the infamous MAMIL identified by Mintel’s 2010 market research.

In Birmingham, which has the lowest proportion of bike commuters of any major city in England – just 1.44 per cent of adults – making cycling more accessible to those who do not currently ride is a key part of the council’s strategy, yet one local councillor last year saw fit to object to spending on the grounds that “the vast majority of cyclists on our roads are young, white men.”

Birmingham’s Cycle City Ambition application was underpinned by a ‘built it and they will come’ attitude, but Conservative councillor, Deirdre Alden, clearly expressed her perception that cycling was not for everyone and even described it as ‘a discriminatory form of transport’.

"Most elderly people are not going to cycle, and it would be dangerous for them to start on our streets now. Women of any ethnic group who wish to wear modest clothing, and I count myself in that category, are not going to cycle. It is a discriminatory form of transport.”

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11 comments

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ron611087 [356 posts] 2 years ago
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The selection of cyclists on the road is still mainly determined by a testosterone based willingness to fight for a place against a ton or more of badly aimed metal.

The selection won't change until the dynamic changes.

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ianrobo [1211 posts] 2 years ago
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yep and until you get proper segregation more timid people of either sex will not be encouraged to cycle.

Hence why Birmingham is so low as no proper cycling infrastructure.

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Jacobi [172 posts] 2 years ago
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From the article above: “We know from the Netherlands and Denmark that women and older people will cycle, if the conditions are right."

Exactly - And where I live a lot of people (probably especially women and older people) are put of cycling because of the horrendous conditions on the roads. I know of two pensioners who've given up recently because they feel unsafe using the pot-hole ridden streets where we live. They now push heir bikes to the shops only to use them for carrying their shopping home.

There are some streets that my wife refuses point blank to ride on. She'd rather take the long way round than risk damaging herself or her bike or both.

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I love my bike [200 posts] 2 years ago
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Deirdre Alden, cycling is not a discriminatory form of transport because you MUST wear 'immodest' clothing. My mum in her 70s still cycles around town regularly. I haven't worn lycra so far this year.
Cycling IS a discriminatory form of transport because everybody else is speeding, driving about in polluting vehicles, taking minimal care while they're on their phones, killing far too many people cycling!
Any surprise that many people are hesitant to start cycling?

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arfa [847 posts] 2 years ago
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Infrastructure and priority has to change that radically so that the mindset moves from "you're mad to cycle" to "you're mad not to cycle".
Anything less than this and the representative cycling population will not change

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Kim [249 posts] 2 years ago
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Cycling in the English speaking world is often treated as a form of adventure sport, and not as a serious from of transport. Until it is regarded as normal short range transport option, it will continue to be an activity for the bold and the brave. Also the UK will continue with the highest death rate for cyclists (and pedestrians) in Western Europe.

Only if we start to adopt a more Continental approach to traffic engineering (starting with making sure that our "professionals" gain the appropriate professional competence through training and CPD) will we stop wasting public money on schemes that are designed for the bold and the brave, start creating a road environment which is safer for everyone.

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gazza_d [469 posts] 2 years ago
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Remove the need for a survivalist mentality if you want to improve cycling levels & diversity.

More end to end protected space for people on bikes. Nothing else works.

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anne_h [5 posts] 2 years ago
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Perhaps I get double points as I'm an over-60 woman who has been commuting daily to my workplace for the last 8 years - a distance of under 10 miles each way that includes town riding and unlit country roads plus trails if I feel like choosing that route. I haven't seen anyone mention women's work wear in this context. For the average job in an office or retail environment standards of female dress are required that are harder to achieve if cycling than for a male employee (especially bearing in mind that most employers don't have any changing facilities). It takes a fair bit of organisation and commitment, and that's leaving aside women's frequent other responsibilities such as collecting children/shopping and so on, all of which make it harder to take to the bike. I think that rather than pour money into pointless little snippets of cycle path or coloured strips on the road, a more fruitful approach would try to get local businesses to join with local councils in providing secure cycle parking/changing - perhaps added onto a local leisure centre etc.

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selowent [1 post] 2 years ago
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Some thoughts on this general topic, plus rather a long, off-piste ramble ...

I'm an over-60 woman too, but work in London. I am a bit of a fair-weather cyclist and only cycle commute some of the time (9 mile round trip), but also go through periods of funk where I chicken out due to lack of fitness, fear of accidents etc. I often need to persuade myself that despite the scary news stories, statistically it's much safer to cycle and improve my fitness than to be a couch potato.

Whilst I am confident enough to 'share the road' when I have to, I would really much rather not. I am sure that this is what puts most women and older people off. Segregated cycle paths, especially on main roads, are essential, as well as quiet back-street options and other road safety improvements like lower speed limits, safer HGVs, time-controlled delivery times, better street design and more tolerance / less selfishness all round.

Fear also deters parents from allowing their children to cycle or walk, resulting in making the problem worse by putting more cars on the road.

I don't have the acceleration to get out of tricky situations when cycling, but on the other hand, my slow speed means that - to date - I've always been able to stop when necessary. Thank goodness many of the dangerous guardrail traps have now gone (and bendy buses). In my experience, anyone on or near the road (including other cyclists) is likely to do something stupid / unpredictable at every opportunity, so full concentration is needed at all times.

It is my impression that cyclists who are also drivers are generally safer and more street-wise than those who have never learned to drive, as the former have some knowledge of the highway code and experience of being on the road. So yes, training would help.

Fortunately my office has some lockable cycle parking and I believe there's a shower in the basement. I've never used it, but rely on a change of clothes if and when needed, which it isn't always as I cycle slowly and don't often need to look particularly smart. It is a pain having to carry spare clothes and other stuff - my pannier sometimes looks as if I'm off on holiday for a week. Not that I ever wear lycra or special cycle clothing - I'd feel and look pretty stupid if I did. However, my (younger) male cycling colleagues change their clothes more than I do - they do cycle faster than me.

A recent visit to Bruges was a revelation: not a surprise, but great to see their marked and segregated cycle paths out-of-town and unsegregated narrow city centre streets in action. It is so normal and safe to cycle there that I'm sure I would have been thought very odd to say I was too old to cycle, let alone that my gender was a factor to be considered. It was great to see all sorts of parent-and-child bike combos in action, too.

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anne_h [5 posts] 2 years ago
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I agree with gazza_d about the "survivalist mentality". Sometimes I think you really have to be obsessed with cycling to put up with driver behaviour, potholes, foul weather, dark, grit & mud, nowhere to put your kit at work, etc. etc. Personally I'd be tempted to give up the job if I didn't have a ride at each end of the day, so it's a big incentive!
I am probably lucky as I used to cycle to school as a kid, and to work as a young adult in London, so after having a family it was natural to start cycling again. I think it would be easy to get put off at the start by all the downsides if you didn't yet know you enjoyed cycling.

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anne_h [5 posts] 2 years ago
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I agree with gazza_d about the "survivalist mentality". Sometimes I think you really have to be obsessed with cycling to put up with driver behaviour, potholes, foul weather, dark, grit & mud, nowhere to put your kit at work, etc. etc. Personally I'd be tempted to give up the job if I didn't have a ride at each end of the day, so it's a big incentive!
I am probably lucky as I used to cycle to school as a kid, and to work as a young adult in London, so after having a family it was natural to start cycling again. I think it would be easy to get put off at the start by all the downsides if you didn't yet know you enjoyed cycling.