Worlds Apart, Good News for Women’s Cycling

It’s no secret that women are underrepresented among the ranks of bicycle commuters and of elite racers. So, there was reason to rejoice in two announcements last week, worlds apart, but both indicative of momentum toward improving the gender balance.

First the home front: Here in New York City, a study finds bike share may be attracting more women to the bike lanes of Manhattan, a development seemly consistent with trends in other cities as this form of public transportation continues to gain popularity.

Farther afield, the organizers of the Tour de France announced a one-day women’s race that will coincide with the final day of the prestigious three-week men’s race in Paris on July 27. Cause for celebration among women racers, La Course by le Tour de France, as the criterium-style race will be called, is expected to help attract the attention and media coverage considered critical to growing the women’s sport. Read on to learn more.

1. Women Embrace Bike Share

Researchers at Hunter College found that an increase in female cyclists over the past four years may be partly attributable to bike share, which was launched here last May. Women account for 31.1 percent of Citi Bike riders, while representing  23.6 percent of (non-delivery) private bicycle users. The researchers observed 4,300 cyclists over 14 days in Manhattan below 86th Street.

Woman + Citi Bike

Although the percentage of female bike share riders here lags behind some other cities that have implemented these systems, New York’s numbers are part of a promising national picture. According to a major report on women’s bicycling by the League of American Bicyclists, a North American bike sharing study found 43 percent of members are female. The percentages of female bike share users in Minneapolis (44 percent), Boston (47 percent) and Washington D.C. (49 percent), all outpace private bicycle users, suggesting that women may be responding to the ease and flexibility of public bike share systems.

[The Hunter College study further reveals that bike share riders represent a higher percentage of users of protected bike lanes, and that compared with a 2009 study that examined a smaller area of Manhattan, behaviors such as riding in the wrong direction and not stopping for red lights have improved. Here’s the link to the study PDF.]

2. Women’s Tour de France Race “A Logical Step Forward”

The one-day women’s Tour de France race represents a victory for Le Tour Entier, the group led by women’s racers, including former world time-trial champion Emma Pooley, world champion cyclocross racer Marianne Vos, triathlete Chrissie Wellington and veteran pro cyclist and writer Kathryn Bertine, that gathered more than 95,000 signatures in a petition drive launched last year.

In a statement, Tour organizers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), owners said: “For the organizers of the Tour de France, who have been involved in the development of women’s cycling for a long time through the Ladies Tour of Qatar and the Flèche Wallonne for ladies, the desire to add this event is a logical step forward in a discipline that is increasing in maturity and recognition.”

Although the route and distance of the race are to be announced later this spring, its finish, hours before the men’s finale, on the iconic Champs Elysee, will heighten awareness of women’s racing through coverage on French television and Eurosport.

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