Men are still three times more likely to cycle than women. Today’s poll suggests that the perceived effect of cycling on appearance, together with a lack of confidence in cycling on the road, is behind this gender imbalance.
Women are three times more likely to cycle indoors on an exercise bike (14%) than to work (4%). When it comes to cycling to work, it seems that fear of being anything less than well groomed in front of colleagues is an off-putting factor. Among 18-34 year old women:
* 58% wouldn’t want to arrive at work sweaty * 50% would be worried about getting wet in the rain * 38% wouldn’t want to have to carry a change of clothes * 38% say there is nowhere to shower at work * 27% would be concerned about ‘helmet hair’ * 19% wouldn’t want colleagues to see them without make-up or stepping out of the office shower.
What the research fails to consider, however, is just how ethno-centric such perceptions are. When attitudes are compared to those amongst women in cycling-friendly cultures, concerns about helmets, showers and sweating miraculously disappear - because they are simply not needed.
The study contrasts with a film and photography project currently underway in Darlington and in Bremen, Germany, which explores the attitude of teenage girls to cycling in both communities. Cycling is highly popular - and seen as fashionable - in cycle-friendly Bremen. Most girls in Darlington lose interest in cycling by the time they are 15 years old.
Attitudes and infrastructure appear to be strongly connected - good, safe cycling infrastructure that offers car-free routes most of the time means that cyclists can travel at their own pace, and not have to battle with motorised traffic. Attitudes to cycling change as a result. When teenagers in Bremen were asked how they deal with rain, they replied "we use an umbrella, of course".