Calgary’s female cycling community struggles with the large gender gap that exists on the city’s bike routes

When people think of cyclists, the stereotypical picture is of men, fully suited up, tearing through pathways or roadways like they are in the Tour de France. But where are the women on Calgary’s bike paths and roads?

The city’s bicycle count released last year found 79 per cent of cyclists are male.

Kristi Woo, an avid cyclist and the founder/designer of Riyoko Urban Bikewear, believes the bicycle count is important for the city because it identifies the main routes taken by many cyclists. However, Woo said she and some of her fellow female cyclists find they do not cycle at the times or places where the bicycle count was being conducted.

Woo also identifies some obstacles for female cyclists. Through the various organizations Woo is affiliated with, Bicycle Belles and Cyclepalooza, for example, she often hears many women are concerned about the lack of infrastructure to support cycling.

Woo acknowledges the city is working hard to address issues with cycling infrastructure.

The new cycle track network, scheduled to open in July 2015, will help to improve bicycle traffic in the downtown core.

Photo courtesy of the City of CalgaryFor example, the city is currently developing a project to open cycle tracks — a bike lane protected by a physical barrier. According to the city this cycle track hopes to improve the bike flow in and out of the downtown core and will see new routes along 5th street, 12th Avenue, 8th Avenue, 9th Avenue and Stephen Avenue.

“I’m really excited about that and I think you can just see it, in terms of how many more women are cycling, that things are improving,” Woo explains.

The other reluctance for women to cycle, Woo believes, may reflect a lack of education, and knowledge of what it’s like to get back on a bike as an adult.

“When you learn to cycle as a child it’s recreational and it’s not for commuting,” says Woo, adding that when deciding to cycle as an adult, a person has to learn all over again. “That might be finding a bike, or it might be learning the routes around town, or learning the rules of the road.”

Existing bike paths, like the Bow River bike pathway, are proven useful for commuters.

Photo by Allison Badger In addition to acquiring a proper cycling education, the act of walking into a store for the first time to buy a bike, or even for other cycling related goods, can be quite daunting to most women, according to Woo.

“They’re [bike shops] not really geared towards women,” says Woo, adding that many bike shops seem to treat women as coming in for their first bike, and not necessarily considering them as educated cyclists. “Many cycling shops you walk into, you don’t really feel welcomed, whether it’s by the presentation, or the sales representatives.”

Through her business Riyoko, Woo has encouraged women cycling through clothing, and getting thoroughly involved with the cycling community in Calgary.

In response to the lopsided numbers of the bicycle count, Woo and some of her fellow female cyclists created Bicycle Belles. Aimed at helping Calgary become an open environment for female cyclists, Bicycle Belles hopes to do so by sharing the joy of cycling amongst women through events and clinics they plan to host.

Kimberley Nelson is part of the steering committee for Bicycle Belles, as well as the president of Bike Calgary, which advocates for infrastructure and education. Bike Calgary also runs urban cycling skills courses, educating anyone interested in navigating the city on bike for daily commuting. Nelson believes there are many misconceptions that need to be broken down in order for more women to get on their bikes.

The Bow River bike pathway system sees cyclists throughout all four seasons and funnels many commuters into the downtown core.

Photo by Allison Badger“It’s too hard, it’s too far, it’s too cold, it’s too hilly,” says Nelson, listing a few concerns. “People always have these ideas, and really if you can get them out one time they realize that, ‘Oh, that’s not actually the case.’”

Similar to Woo expressing the well-known need for cycling infrastructure in Calgary, Nelson believes with the impending improvements, there will be a surge in the amount of female cyclists. Alternatively, Nelson believes driver education could also improve the numbers of women cyclists.

“I think not having people screaming at you to get on the sidewalk would help,” Nelson says.

Through different cycling organizations in the city, Nelson says everyone is being encouraged to cycle, but some events are targeted more towards women. For example, Cyclepalooza organized a ride that involved cycling then baking cinnamon buns, as well as “Bike Prom,” which gave women a reason to break out their prom dress.

Whether it is a lack of infrastructure or education, women are being encouraged to cycle in Calgary, and will continue to be through future improvements such as cycle tracks and dedicated bike lanes. But only time will tell whether the number of female cyclists will increase.

In the meantime, Bicycle Belles is hosting winter cycling information sessions on Nov. 25, which Bike Calgary will also be involved with.

abadger@cjournal.ca 

How do you think Calgary can become more female cycling friendly?