The gender gap in biking goes like this. As children, both boys and girls are equally inclined to name biking as one of their top five physical activities, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. But once they hit teenage years, girls begin to drop out of biking. Boys don’t, making the industry and sport overwhelmingly male.
In 2009, the Federal Highway Administration noted that just one in four bikers in America is female. But it’s not for lack of interest and increasingly so, it’s not for a lack of advocacy.
“The gender gap exists if we let it exist. The key to empowering women is influencing the change you want to see,” Elizabeth Adamczyk, Women Bike Chicago Chair (WBC), said. “Back in the 1800s, biking was a game changer for women. You had to start wearing bloomers to be able to bike, and you had to have change. Women face the same hurdles now. They’ve just taken a different form. But it doesn’t have to stop them.”
WBC is a nonprofit founded in 2012 by four cyclists and is aimed at educating, encouraging and empowering more women on the road. According to their website, they “address women’s concerns like safety, comfort, finding good routes, riding with children/for errands, and getting them more comfortable going to bike shops & getting the right bikes for their bodies.”
“If the media plays up cycling fatalities, women may be less included to participate because they have so many responsibilities at home that make them more risk adverse. Not all women, but it tends to be a norm,” Adamczyk said. “But really, how much more dangerous is biking? Accidents can happen anywhere. You have to show women, you can do this with children, in big cities, on quiet street, in groups, around likeminded people. You can belong.”
DePaul’s Cycling Club President Victoria Parrilli was hesitant at joining the cycling community at first because she wasn’t sure she would belong.
“I used to be scared to ride with guys on a big group ride because I didn’t want to drag anyone behind,” Parrilli said. “When I started racing, I was the only girl on the club, and the guys were all very encouraging and supportive even when I lagged behind a little. That being said, it does make it interesting when training, because you have to fight to keep up sometimes. But I think this is a good thing because training with riders that are stronger than you can only make you stronger.”
Both Parrilli and Adamczyk reiterated that they feel confident in the strides Chicago is making toward being one of the most bike friendly cities in the U.S. New bike lines are being installed in South Loop in 2017 aimed at providing low-stress routes for cyclists, and the 18-mile Lakefront Trail is being remodeled over the next two years to separate pedestrian and bicycle lanes.
Plus, the installation of Divvy in 2013 under the Chicago Department of Transportation definitely increased overall bike participation, with more than 6,000 bikes dispersed across the city.
Their Q4 statement from 2016 echoed a gender gap (64 percent of riders were male). But last year, they dubbed October Women’s Bike Month to encourage more women to try the bike sharing program since seeing other women on the road may be the biggest inspiration of all.
“I feel encouraged when I’m in my community and I see seven women before I ever see a man on a bike. We’re out there,” Adamczyk said. “Or when I’m a stoplight, I’ll be surrounded by other women. That’s pretty cool.”