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Traffic and lack of changing facilities deter women from using London's hire bikes

Prospect of sweat and perception of danger hinder scheme uptake by women

A London Assembly Member has claimed that women are being deterred from using the city’s Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme because of fears over the city’s traffic and the lack of facilities at work to change clothes should they work up a sweat while riding them.

According to Transport for London (TfL) data released by Mayor of London Boris Johnson in response to a written question from Labour Assembly Member Murad Qureshi, only one in four of the first 92,000 members of the scheme are women.

Mr Qureshi, who chairs the London Assembly’s Environment Committee and also compiled a 2005 report on the issue of rickshaws in the West End, has conducted his own, albeit rather unscientific research, into the gender divide over use of the hire bikes.

“In my local pubs and among some friends I had heard remarks about the bikes being for women but it seems it is a real boy's toy. Men, and young professionals in particular, have embraced this scheme, while women seem less sure,” he said, according to a report in the Evening Standard.

“It seems men are less worried about using the bikes in central London and its very busy roads. TfL has to deal with these concerns to ensure more women use the scheme.”

However, the three-to-one male to female split revealed by the figures is in line with data from the Department for Transport that show that on average, men make three times as many trips by bicycle as women each year.

Similarly, national cyclists’ organisation CTC told that its membership “is 76% male 24% female,” although it added that “more female cyclists are joining CTC every year.”

In response to Mr Qureshi’s concerns, a spokesperson for TfL said: “We are doing everything possible to encourage women to cycle.

“We know that women's two main concerns when choosing to travel by two wheels are safety and changing facilities; that's why we are working extremely hard to make sure both of these continue to improve. Our Cycle Safety Strategy includes a whole raft of initiatives to keep cyclists safe.

“This includes signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Freight Transport Association to get lorry drivers and cyclists sharing the road safely and training courses including adult cycle training to improve confidence and skill on the road.

“Other measures include safety mirrors on the roads to improve visibility, awareness campaigns and safer infrastructure. We are also working directly with businesses across the Capital to help them provide better cycling facilities for their employees.”

Safety issues apart, concerns over feeling hot and sweaty at the end of a bike ride don’t seem to deter female cyclists in The Netherlands, where cycling in everyday clothes is the norm.

Marc van Woudenberg of the blog told us that the gender split in the Dutch city is 55% women and 45% men, adding that “the main reason is that women do most of household related trips to shops.”

Considering that according to TfL data released earlier this week, 95% of journeys made using the bikes last no longer than half an hour and that the bikes aren’t designed to be ridden at speed, perhaps the message should be that you don’t have to work up a sweat to pedal them from A to B?

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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mike bike | 13 years ago

I read a great many articles about people calling for women to be encouraged to use bicycles and for disincentives to be removed. The fact of the matter is that cycling will expose you to other traffic, the elements and the need to exert yourself. Could we not have cycling become another area subject to social engineering please.

townmouse | 13 years ago

When I used one found wearing my street clothes was absolutely fine - the chain case and really low bar made riding in a long coat a breeze. I had brought along a hi-vis jacket but I didn't bother to wear it because I felt pretty conspicuous as it was. They're not built for speed, to be honest, but against that they're pretty heavy so if you're not careful you can break into a bit of a sweat. It's the traffic that's the real problem, not the need to change.

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