Edmonton's bike lanes help, but advocates say gender gap in cycling still exists
Bike culture and products mostly aimed at men, says female bikers
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Edmonton's new biking infrastructure has inspired more people than ever to take to two wheels—but the gender gap in bike commuting remains, advocates say.
Local mountain bike coach Molly MacDougall is excited about the number of women getting into cycling recently, thanks, in part, to new developments like bike lanes.
But the industry still needs to make progress to close the gap, she said.
“I mean, most of the marketing is aimed towards men,” she said. “And a lot of the female products are not actually designed for women, they are more like painted pink or purple.”
Christopher Chan, the executive director of the Edmonton Bike Commuters Society, says he sees the gender imbalance reflected in the people who turn out to use his organization’s bike shops and classes.
“Seventy five per cent of them are male in summer and 80 to 90 per cent are male in winter,” he said.
Chan points out that part of the argument for protected cycling infrastructure is that “the disparity between men and women cycling starts to drop.” While Edmonton doesn’t track the gender breakdown of riders, Calgary does, and they numbers do show an uptick in female ridership since the opening of a downtown cycle track.
According to Calgary’s numbers, the number of women on two wheels went from 20 to 28 per cent between 2014 and 2016, during which time new downtown bike lanes were built.
Sandra Rastin has been biking to work downtown in the summer for several years, and said things like lockers and new bike racks influenced her decision to ditch her car.
She said she’s also noticed a “gender bias” when she goes shopping at bike stores. During a trip to upgrade her bike a couple year back, the staff made assumptions about her experience and knowledge of bikes.
“All of the shops people seemed to automatically assume that I was going to want something that was an entrance into the market, something for beginners, that I won’t want to spend very much money,” she said.
“I had to tell them that I wanted something better than (what they offered).”
MacDougall echoes those concerns, adding that she's had a hard time finding gear in the right size, whether it’s knee-pads or elbow-pads or clothing like jerseys and shorts.
“The selection is a lot smaller,” she added.
Still, she applauds what she says is the industry's "big shift" in recent years, as both services and stores become more welcoming to women.
Chan said his organization has taken steps to try and get more women out, including hosting dedicated days at their bike shops for women and transgendered and non-binary people.
For examples he said he looks to cycling capitals like Copenhagen, where cycling is very popular among men, women and even kids.
“Everyone can just bike and feel safe doing it.”