Women Mean Business
This is a guest post from Rebecca Susman, Membership and Outreach Manager at BikePGH covering The National Women’s Bicycling Forum.
Last month my colleague Jane Kaminski and I attended the League of American Bicyclists’ 2nd Annual National Women’s Bicycling Forum with the theme “Women Mean Business.” The double entendre of the title was perfectly descriptive as 375 leaders and advocates came together to discuss how women are changing the face of bicycling both within the business of bikes and within communities.
To this day when asked to picture the typical bicyclist, people usually think of a man, possibly wearing either racing spandex or bike messenger attire. Women and men throughout the bicycling world have been working for years to make this just a stereotype, and not the statistical reality of who uses the streets on a bike. We have come a long way, and in 2011 women accounted for 46% of the adults who ride bicycles.
As a bicycle advocate I have attended other national conferences on bicycling including one other women’s forum, but this was the largest woman-focused event by far. It was incredible to be in a room with so many women of diverse backgrounds openly discussing their experiences and hearing the similarities of so many of the stories. I know, and currently work with, some amazing men within both the bicycle advocacy and industry worlds, but this was my first time experiencing an environment in which women of different professional backgrounds (not just the higher-ups) felt comfortable asking questions and speaking their minds. Once given a forum in which they did not feel pressure or fear judgment the floodgates opened, and every workshop I attended ran overtime until they kicked us out of the rooms. The discussions were so engaging and sense of camaraderie affirming that at the end people spoke of a need for more similar forums, and necessary adjustments in advocacy and industry based on the outcomes.
Below are some statistics, ideas, and highlights from the forum.
– Each generation has produced more women who are riding and spending money on bicycles. Currently, 44% of Generation X bike owners and 60% of the Millennials who own bikes are women. Over half of the bicycles bought by women were not purchased in local bike shops in large part because going to a shop felt intimidating. This indicates many future opportunities for local bike shops if they listen to what the women are saying and take the appropriate steps to make their environments feel welcoming.
– Women identified their top barriers to riding (in descending order) as: distance, safety, and time.
– In recognizing the different lifestyles of woman/ people with children, it is important to address the different equipment needs, types of trips taken, and ways to get people biking. One successful way is through organized community and family bike rides that are short and centrally located.
– Georgina Terry of Terry Bicycles and Natalie Ramsland of Sweet Pea Bicycles opened the day with a discussion moderated by Karen Brooks of Bicycle Times. They began by geeking out on steel vs. carbon and then taking the discussion a step further towards removing barriers to bicycling regardless of what people ride. Their fundamental goal was about getting people together on bikes.
– Jenna Burton, founder of Red, Bike and Green, spoke about creating a culture of bicycling where people of all backgrounds can use it as a way to enjoy and feel ownership of their neighborhoods.
– Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth put us all to shame as she spoke of the competing in bike races on the hand-crank bike that she started using after losing both of her legs in Iraq. She advocated for the merits of bicycling as a method of rehabilitation and way for war veterans to reclaim some of the physical fitness and autonomy they enjoyed prior to their injuries.
– Janette Sadik-Khan, NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner closed the day with an inspiring Keynote address about the importance of creating “livable cities” and making cycling a mainstream form of transportation. This focus addressed community design and safety through an interconnected system of bicycle infrastructure coupled with legislation for support. It also provided protected bike lanes with an aim of creating safer streets and an eye for business. The statistics showed that the areas with the lanes and bike parking saw both a rise in retail sales (50% in some corridors) and a decrease in storefront vacancies.
In short, the National Women’s Bicycling Forum was a great day with interesting, knowledgeable people from across the country and a tremendous amount of information provided at once. It will take me some time to digest it all, but was definitely worth spending a beautiful, sunny Washington DC day inside.