Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Helmet hair and perspiration prevent women getting in the saddle

New research commissioned by Cycling England has revealed that two thirds (64%) of women say they never cycle and just 2% cycle every day.

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".

5 comments:

Karl On Sea said...

There really does seem to be a thing about showers, doesn't there? Ian Walker made some interesting observations about this a couple of weeks ago.

On a separate but related topic, I've done two things over this summer:

1. Let my hair grow a bit.
2. Worn my helmet a whole lot less.

As a result, I've discovered the delights of a new phenomenon - the cyclist's blow-dry. It's a bit like helmet hair, but wilder. The jury is still out as to whether or not this is a good thing :-D

miketually said...

I get brilliant helmet hair when my hair is very short - my head looks like a tennis ball. I had particularly good helmet hair on Friday as my hair's a bit long at the moment and it was only 25 minutes between getting into the shower at home and arriving at work, so my hair was quite wet when I set off.

I'd agree with Ian Walker's comments on showers. We have showers at work, but I've never even considered using them after riding to work. It's only three miles, so why would I? I think I'd probably shower at work if my ride there was a lot longer, but a lack of showers wouldn't stop me from riding it. I ride to work in the clothes in which I spend the day teaching and there have been no complaints about any smells.

David Hembrow said...

I don't know about Bremen, but I do know about Assen. Teenagers here all cycle. It's the default means of transport.

Showering is unknown, worries about helmet hair or fluorescent uncool clothing are unknown (there are no school uniforms either, so anything goes) and umbrellas are planned for in cycling infrastructure design (in at least some standards, adequate headroom for umbrellas is required in design of cycle underpasses and tunnels).

Some of my daughter's friends cycle from 20 km away to school. They eat breakfast as they cycle, and in the winter they start off in sub zero temperatures in the dark and get back home in the dark too. Despite this, the cycling rate to the school is 100% of students in the summer, dropping only to 95% in the winter (for some, I guess the 40 km round trip is a bit much then).

Quite a lot of teenagers can be seen in the rush hour.

It is, as you say, the infrastructure that is the star here. It normalized cycling. People don't have to dress like Christmas trees and they don't feel like they're in danger. Passive subjective safety is extremely high.

Cycling is trendy here too. It's the way you meet your friends and go about together. Motorized scooters are considered to be a bit naff by most.

The result is that this is the only country where women cycle more than men. This comes about because women of child bearing age take their kids around by bike in the day while their husbands are working.

An Inconvenient Truth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
An Inconvenient Truth said...

Thanks for these useful comments, David. I'd recommend the link through to Passive Subjective Safety to anyone involved in trying to raise cycling levels in the UK.