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What Stops Women Cycling? New Report Looks at Key Barriers Across England

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Women’s cycling participation has decreased to pre-pandemic levels, but why is this? Experts at Paul’s Cycles used government figures and consumer reports to investigate what’s stopping people across England from taking to the road and are keen to shine a light on a persisting gender divide.

While the lockdown sparked a 50% increase in the number of women cycling on Britain’s roads, things are now back to usual with the latest government data showing a 50% decrease in female cycling participation since 2020.

Men’s cycling participation is more than twice as high as women’s; only 8.5% of women cycle at least once a month compared to 18% of men.

Many people say they’d be more motivated to cycle if cycling paths were fully segregated from other traffic, with safety concerns a top reason for the lack of cycling uptake

In some English cities, fewer than 10% of residents cycle even once a month. Paul’s Cycles had speculated that the cost of living crisis could be a factor but found that the costs of buying bikes and accessories were not cited as a top barrier to cycling. Reporting on barriers affecting all genders, Paul’s Cycles references a government survey of more than 2,500 people which found that safety and accessibility are much bigger issues.

When those who cycle very occasionally were asked what would get them cycling more, the top five choices were:

  • Off-road and segregated cycling paths (55%)
  • Safer roads (53%)
  • Well-maintained road surfaces for cycling (49%)
  • More direct cycle routes (43%)
  • More information/awareness about local cycle routes (36%)

Among those who stated that no changes or improvements would encourage them to cycle more, 25% of respondents said that it was due to safety concerns. The only response given more frequently was ‘cycling is not for people like me’ at 27%. While we can’t say for certain what the details behind this statement are, we suspect that stereotypes around cycling are causing some people to choose other methods of transport. The idea that most cyclists are ‘Middle-Aged Men in Lycra’ is certainly entertaining, but for people in other demographics, that stereotype has the potential to deter budding cyclists from participating. 

Despite the government’s ambitious vision for walking and cycling, outlined in ‘Gear Change’ (2020), as well as the investments for local infrastructure improvements, it is clear that more is needed to increase cycling rates among all genders.

“Getting more people cycling means first making people feel safer on the roads. And one way to do that is with cycle lanes.” Says Tom Thornley, managing director at Paul’s Cycles. “Evidence has shown that introducing cycle lanes can increase the number of people who cycle each week by 35%, but with so many people calling for fully segregated cycle lanes it’s clear there’s more to be done to ensure would-be cyclists aren’t being put off by dangerous driving, or by lanes that aren’t fully fit for purpose.”

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