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How to Engage More Women in Bicycling #NBS12

Perceptions of bicycling are shifting rapidly and radically. No longer is cycling a niche hobby for Lycra-clad athletes. Especially in cities like D.C., biking is tipping the scales as a healthy, hip and mainstream mode of transportation.

Unfortunately, the numbers tell us this bicycling boom has yet to fully engage a powerful — and interested — audience. In the U.S., men still ride at three times the rate of women.

Today at the start of the 2012 National Bike Summit, the National Women Cycling Forum hosted by the Alliance for Biking & Walking and the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals delved into this important topic. Modeled on a similar and successful event held by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association last year, the Forum brought together a diverse group of panelists who gave their insight and perspectives on how to close the gender gap in American cycling.

(From left) Elizabeth Kiker (League of American Bicyclists, moderator), Marla Streb, Elysa Walk, Cornelia Neal, Veronic Davis, Nelle Pierson, Andrea Garland

Streetfilms was there to record the event, which will be posted on the Women Cycling Project website by early next month. In the meantime, though, a few key points from the distinguished keynote and panelists.

Sue Macy, author of “Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flats Along the Way),” highlighted how the bicycle helped nudge into extinction confining dress standards for women, how women were among the first cycling athletes and how wheeling increased women’s mobility in their community — and greater society.

Elysa Walk, General Manager of Giant Bicycles Inc., talked about her efforts to nurture female leaders within the bicycle industry without compromising their unique leadership styles, and make products that appeal to women so strongly that the bike itself is inspiration to ride.

Marla Streb, a former World Mountain Bike Champion who now works with the pro Team Luna Chix, discussed overcoming the challenges of being a female pro in a strongly male-dominated sport and how she’s become a mom of three who only drives once a month (hint: cargo bike!).

Cornelia Neal, from the Infrastructure and Environment Program at the Royal Netherlands Embassy, provided insight on the Dutch political will to invest in infrastructure that makes bicycling safe for riders of all ages, creating an environment where kids pedaling to school and women doing errands by bike is the standard, not the exception.

Veronica Davis, Principal and engineer at Nspiregreen LLC and co-founder of Black Women Bike, emphasized the importance of marketing and messaging, both ensuring that diverse communities see themselves in the images and representations of cycling and explaining our issues in a way that illuminates how biking improves communities for all residents — not just those on two wheels.

Andrea Garland, planner with Alta Planning + Design, suggested the need for more women in bicycle advocacy and engineering to get more involved — and outspoken! — in their local advisory committees, because, when women put their ideas on the table (like, say, Safe Routes to School), success isn’t far behind.

Nelle Pierson, Events Coordinator for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, elevated the importance of women feeling welcome and comfortable in bike shops — and empowered to fix and maintain their bikes themselves.

Inspired? Yeah, me too. Learn a bit more about the panelists from their Q&As on the Alliance blog. And sign up for APBP’s free webinar on “Empowering Women to Bicycle for Transportation” with insight from Cycles for Change, Magic City Cycle Chix and other leaders, on March 28th.



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