Barely seeing women on road bicycles … why?

During the cycling rides in Romania, but also in places like Lisbon, Mallorca, or Girona, I constantly observe the same thing, over and over again – there are so few women riding on road bicycles! At the beginning I thought that it was just a coincidence, but then I realized that it is a fact.

When I started road cycling I was truly believing (and I still do) that road cycling (and cycling in general) is a gender-neutral sport. My husband introduced me to this sport, step by step, and I personally did not feel at any moment that I was joining a “men’s world”. But once I started to be more on the road … I found out the bitter truth.

In this post I put together some explanations – some are my own opinions, some are inspired by other people (see source for more details).

Road cycling culture dominated by men

“The male-dominated bike culture can make women feel unwelcome in cycling clubs/shops” said Dassia Moore in her article about why women don’t cycle to work. I think this also applies to road cycling as a hobby. It is a vicious circle that reinforces the fact that cycling is more appropriate for men than for women.

Some steps were taken in the direction of narrowing the gap between women’s and men’s road cycling. For example, the brand Rapha launched the Women’s 100 challenge as a celebration of women on bikes. Every year, on 6th of September, women group rides are organized all over the world with the goal of riding 100 kilometers or miles.

Proudly wearing the Women’s 100 jersey during my summer rides

Lack of examples promoted at mass level

Another aspect that I think hinders the increase of women’s interest for road cycling is the lack of examples promoted outside the racing world. There are enough examples of amazing road cyclists like Annemiek van Vleuten and Marianne Vos in the racing world, but not enough promoted to people who are not passionate about cycling (yet).

In Romania we recently experienced a shift of perception in regard to women’s tennis. Simona Halep became a national hero when she was ranked WTA #1 for 64 weeks, won French Open and Wimbledon. She was very appreciated in the whole country, by men and women, and was an example for Romanian women that tennis is not only for men. This led to an increased interest of women in tennis – they started playing and watching the competitions more than during the “before Simona” era (Treizecizero.ro).

Annemiek van Vleuten, 2019 UCI Road Race World Champion. Image from annemiekvanvleuten.nl

Women’s road cycling races less prestigious than men’s

We cannot miss this point – why there is not Tour de France for women? Yes, there is a one-day race organized by TdF – La Course – but it is a one-day event compared to a three-week event for men.

There were attempts at a feminine Tour in 1955 (a five-day event) and in 1984-1985 the full Tour for women actually happened – three weeks, same routes as the male cyclists. The issue was that cycling publications ignored the women’s race … no visibility, low financial incentives. After that, the women’s Tour was shortened to two weeks, and in 1989 it was dropped entirely (OutsideOnline.com).

The good news is that there is a planned women’s Tour de France starting with 2022, with 8 stages (CyclingWeekly.com). Looking so much forward to that event!

La Course 2020. Image from La Course by Le Tour

Road cycling perceived as a risky sport

I would like to add one more argument that was the top drawback I saw in regard to road cycling. As I explained in this post about my cycling journey, I was terrified by the idea of cycling next to cars. At the beginning, I was so scared that very time a car passed by I was grateful I was still alive (I know, it was that extreme).

The stereotype that women are more risk-averse than men seems to not be backed up by science (based on my brief research). However, I think there are certain cultural risk-related beliefs that are instilled in us (men and women) since childhood … and fighting those is not an easy thing to do.

This was one of the narrowest segments I’ve ever ridden. So narrow that when two cars met they had to slow down.

What’s your opinion on women’s road cycling? How is it perceived in your city or country – it is popular or more of an under the radar sport?

I’m curious to find out if there are countries where road cycling is very popular among women – please do share if you know any example!

‘Till next time … happy riding!

Georgiana

2 Comments Add yours

  1. emibeebooks says:

    I can’t speak for all of the US, but in my local area, many women ride for exercise/fun alone. There are many roads near me where cars are used to bike being on the road and often move over a whole lane, or there are signs letting cyclists use the full lane if they wish, so I feel very safe riding through there. The more I think about it, I did notice some bike shops have treated me differently. The one staffed entirely by men seemed more interested in my boyfriend’s bike I’d brought in for service than what I wanted done to it (they suggested a bunch of modifications when all I wanted was a kickstand installed) but the people at the bike shop that had a few women staffed there were very friendly and didn’t make jokes about the questions I asked. It could just be a coincidence that the people in the second bike shop are just nicer to beginner cyclists and more willing to listen to the customer, but I feel more comfortable giving them my business because of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Georgiana says:

      Thanks a lot for sharing, Em!

      It sounds great that there are places where cyclists can use the whole lane – in my home country the bike infrastructure it not (yet) developed, and drivers are not used to cyclists on the road … Hopefully it changes step by step, but it can be quite frustrating at times!

      Regarding the bike shops, I did notice that most of the employees were men in the bike shops / renting places I visited (in Romania, Spain, Portugal), but at that moment I did not notice any different treatment.

      Liked by 1 person

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