The imperative for women to rally together to close the gender gap among cyclists in this country truly hit me, not at the innaugural National Womens Bicycling Summit in Long Beach, CA, but a few days later at the Interbike cycling industry trade show in Las Vegas.
There, as my eyes swept the ballroom of the Sands Convention Center during Trek Bicycles CEO John Burke’s powerful opening address, I encountered swaths of men — women were sprinkled among the tables. It was a reminder of imbalance of representation in the cycling world at a time of change.
By contrast, the scene at the sold-out National Women’s Bicycling Summit at the Long Beach Convention Center, hosted by the League of American Bicyclists in partnership with the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, was the inverse: The speakers and audience comprised a sea of women, with heartening diversity.
Toward Gender Parity
In the breathtaking energy and focus of almost 300 Summit attendees from the worlds of advocacy, industry, government and media, resides the genesis of power and possibility to achieve the goal set by the meeting’s organizers: Gender parity in cycling by 2025. By comparison, commuter bicycling trips by men outnumbered women three to one in 2009.
It’s an ambitious objective, and navigating the road won’t be easy: Barriers to engaging women in cycling for transportation and recreation, including issues of infrastructure, access and convenience, are well recognized (if not fully understood). And elevating women in cycling must extend beyond the streets and into engineering, advocacy, retail and industry.
Advancing the Momentum for Change
To carry the momentum of the Summit forward, the League of American Bicyclists has set up a new initiative: Women Bike. It will “create strategic, ongoing programs to increase the number of women who ride and continue these powerful face-to-face gatherings.” Cyclists from around the country, as well as an advisory board, will help steer the agenda.
“Equity matters — in bicycling as everywhere,” says Elizabeth Kiker, the League’s executive vice president. “The League’s Women Bike program will work to ensure that the conversation of how to transform America for cycling includes women.”
Sharing inspiration, programming ideas and best practices was at the heart of the Summit. The keynote was delivered by Leah Missbach Day, founder of World Bicycle Relief, a not-for-profit that’s changing the lives of young women in Africa by supplying them with bicycles to set them on paths to education, economic opportunity and improved quality of life. Break-out sessions featured panels of speakers in six categories: equity, racing/athletes, car-free families, media and marketing, political engagement and youth. A group ride through the bicycle-friendly streets of Long Beach capped the conference.
This Streetfilms video by Elizabeth Press presents an excellent overview of the Summit:
In the mean time, the League is already planning the next Women Bike meeting, to be held in conjunction with the annual National Bike Summit in Washington DC next spring.
How You Can Help Engage More Women in Cycling:
- Sign up for Women Bike updates www.womenbike.org.
- Support your local cycling advocacy organization to help improve infrastructure and safety in your community
- Ride your bicycle! Your example helps to inspire others.
Top photo: Maureen McGinnis