• Cycling boom huge waste of time if barriers for women aren't addressed (Getty)Source: Getty
New City of Sydney research may explain why women don't ride at the same rate as men but if nothing is done to address these barriers in the long term, the recent cycling boom has been a huge waste of time.
Rachel de Bear

City of Sydney, Sydney Morning Herald
5 Jun 2020 - 2:40 PM  UPDATED 5 Jun 2020 - 3:10 PM

Local bike shops report huge numbers of bikes and accessories rushing out their doors with their mechanics under the pump from new builds and servicing of old ones.  

Australians are happy about the boom, with 89 per cent supportive of temporary, separated bike lanes, according to a May YouGov poll. Cycling Australia and the Amy Gillett Foundation suggest double the number are now riding bikes either to work or for fitness. 

The boom even led the Sydney Morning Herald to coin a term for a new trend among women as a rival for the MAMIL - the rise of the CLOB - or chic lady on a bicycle. 

But new research published by the City of Sydney and C40 Cities yesterday shows many of the 900 women surveyed around Liverpool, Redfern and the Hills Shire didn't ride (and/or also walk) at the same rate as men because of the lack of cycling paths and lanes (64 per cent said they felt safer with separated cycleways), fear for their own safety at night on paths, and the absence of end-of-trip facilities to change or shower. 

In recent months a lot of women have felt confident enough to cast aside their activewear along with their concerns about safety on roads and their fears about sweat and helmet hair. 

The circuit breaker was the coronavirus. With routines smashed and less cars on the roads many women felt confident enough to take to the streets and challenge the perception cycling is only for people in lycra.  

But what happens when things go slowly back to normal? Will the barriers to women cycling feel too hard to hurdle over once again? What will the consequences be to the overall cycling boom? 


In the Sydney Morning Herald's reporting on the research, former pro cyclist and director of advocacy group WeRide, Stephen Hodge said women are the "canary in the coalmine" for cycling.

"When the cycling environment is safe, convenient, attractive and direct, then women will choose to cycle for their short daily trips in large numbers," he said. 

It is estimated just one in every 10 cyclists is a woman with the number increasing with dedicated cycle lanes or paths.

And with 80 per cent of trips by private vehicle in the City of Sydney, it starts to make sense why the council wants to increase the number of cycling among women. 

“By breaking down the perception, safety and access barriers that are stopping women from riding to work, to schools and local businesses, we will create connected active transport infrastructure for all people of all ages, abilities and confidence levels,” City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

“Before Covid-19, around one million people travelled to the city centre to work, study or visit every day," Moore said. 

"People are now returning to the city, but we must maintain physical distancing – so we need more people to walk or ride, freeing up space on public transport and roads for those who can’t,” the Lord Mayor said.

“Our connected bike lane network has been invaluable during the coronavirus pandemic, given the renewed uptake in cycling. I’m pleased to be working with the State Government to install pop-up cycleways to improve the network coverage even more through this difficult time. We’ve also seen increased interest in our confidence classes, which help get new riders on the road."

The same must be done across governments and shires in Australia.

The report published yesterday highlighted two riders who researchers spent time with beyond a phone survey, their experiences encapsulating how governments might choose to tackle concerns going forward.  

Melissa Derwent of Oatley just started riding a few months ago and commutes with her two young children on the back of her electric cargo bike.  

“I think in the Inner West and inner-city area, people are more used to seeing it. But in good old suburbia, they’re not so used to it,” she said. 

“I started cycling because I was concerned about the environmental impacts of driving, but I also wanted to incorporate more exercise into my family’s life. Now the girls love our daily rides to school and daycare, and they love pointing out all the wildlife along the way.

“There’s no bike lanes around here and I was a little worried about riding on the road at first, but I’m much more confident now. I’d like other mums around here to know that cycling’s not just for inner city people and to join me.”

Tanya Grabowski, 30, moved to Redfern from Germany three years ago and uses her bike and public transport for her work commute to Parramatta.

“I think the big difference is here you have some roads which have really good cycle facilities, but you need to know where they are and then you have to really plan your commute or travel,” she said. 

“If you plan, you can have a really lovely cycle experience, but in Europe it’s a little easier because the majority of streets are less busy and more cycling friendly.” 

It appears from the experiences of Derwent and Growski, safe infrastucture and confidence worked hand in hand. With safe infrastructure on even just part of their commuting route, Derwent and Grabowski were able to still take to the road because of confidence. 

The study therefore made the following recommendations which governments and cycling advocates must pay attention to:

  • challenge perceptions with behaviour campaigns to increase participation and confidence of women
  • apply a gender lens that considers the needs of women when designing active transport infrastructure and public transport
  • plan for safety beyond street lighting and separated cycleways
  • work hand in hand with public transport
  • build end of trip facilities in offices, institutions and shopping centres

Otherwise, the big cycling boom is a huge waste of time. A nice idea just for a pandemic but not for a lifetime, even if those lifetimes, and our future as a planet very much depend on it.  

 The latest episode of the Zwift Cycling Central podcast discussed some of these issues with Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richards. Listen to the full episode here:

"An average car commute costs society $10, a bike commute saves $10" - Zwift Cycling Central Podcast

This week in the Zwift Cycling Central Podcast Christophe & Macca speak to Craig Richards, CEO of Bicycle Network on the world post Covid-19, and the opportunities cycling represent for the world.