More men than women are out on their bikes. Researchers have quantified the gender gap, discovering that only 24% of bike trips made in the U.S. are made by women. Moreover, that shows a 6% decline in less than a decade.

The assumption is sometimes that women concern themselves with appearance and comfort and therefore, keep away from bicycling. And that is a factor–on a superficial level. The actual reasons women cycle less than men are more deeply-rooted.

Nervousness about Distracted Drivers

Women generally are more averse to risk than men, tending to be more cautious. In a 2010 Women’s Cycling Survey, the vast majority–over 70% of respondents–said that their number one concern when considering cycling was distracted drivers who might not see them and hit them with a car.

Want of Better Infrastructure

This wariness of safety hazards could be solved by a better biking infrastructure. In the Netherlands, for example, the urban design encourages women to bike. The bike lanes are separated from car roadways, are wide enough to allow cyclists to pass each other, and are dotted with bike signs and traffic lights. Not surprisingly, more women than men bike in the Netherlands, although there is no proven direct cause-and-effect relationship. In the U.S., the twenty-four inches separating the bike lanes from car lanes and the high speeds likely make the idea of cycling on the roads much less appealing to women.

Gender Roles: Women Run More Errands

There are also social reasons keeping women from biking. Women in the U.S. are still doing household chores more than men–picking up groceries, running errands, driving children around, etc. A typical American woman’s lifestyle is less compatible with a bike, which doesn’t allow for carrying groceries for a whole family or the little kids. As one Guardian article put it,

Even when women earn more, are better educated, and work more hours than their male partners, they still make 1.5 times as many child-serving trips and 1.4 times as many grocery trips. These findings reflect the fact that in most US families, women still shoulder the responsibility for caring for the household, and that responsibility is hard to manage on a bike.

Other reasons for women’s biking habits, though less common, are that women make less money than men and are less financially able to invest in a bike, and that women fear sexual assault when out alone on a bike.

Little girl on tricycleBut Women Still Aspire to Bike

Despite their concerns, American women on the whole maintain an interest in biking. Over 80% of American women view bicyclists positively and two-thirds think a more bike-friendly infrastructure and culture would improve their community.

Photos courtesy of LucaOlgierd Rudak, and Maeka Alexis via Creative Commons