Wednesday, 24 March 2010

I was musing on clothing issues today...

When the bicycle first appeared, in the 1860's, there was a huge debate on the "appropriateness" of women riding bikes. I saw an interesting exhibit about it in Coventry Transport Museum. To the upper-class Victorians who could afford bikes, the idea of women wearing more practical clothing ("rational clothing", they called it at the time) was scandalous, and there was significant resistance to women being allowed to put on trousers and ride bikes around.

I can't help but feel it wasn't really about clothes, though. A bike is an amazingly liberating thing. What these women's fathers and husbands were really frightened of was women having a certain amount of autonomy, being able to leave the house as and when they pleased. Biking is something you do alone; a woman who owned a bicycle was therefore someone who had the means and capacity to decide where and when she wanted to go by herself.

Today, the issue of clothing still seems to represent a barrier to many women cyclists. I have heard many female friends say that its impractical to take a bike when you're wearing a skirt, that their clothes will get covered in oil, that they're not wearing the right shoes. Personally, I find myself able to adapt to most clothing and don't choose specific clothes to wear when I'm biking. But perhaps that's helped by the fact I don't wear heels. But I actually quite like cycling in long skirts, which leads me to wonder what the Victorians' problem was. Short skirts present more of a problem; but a good solution is shorts underneath, to avoid having to check that your skirt hasn't blown up every five seconds!

Like in Victorian times, clothing issues still seem to prevent women from cycling. Yet just like 150 years ago, it's not really about clothes. There are deeper, more insidious issues at play about the way society views female cyclists. Somewhere along the way, women (more than men, the statistics suggest) pick up that cycling isn't right for them. We should fight this misconception vigorously like the women who demanded their rights when the bicycle was born.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Travel, safety, comfort and - most of all - pleasure.

This is the sign our friend Ken made for the Birmingham Bike Foundry. In his own words it describes what the Bike Foundry wants to do - make biking in Birmingham better, so more people do it! This blog falls under the auspices of the Bike Foundry; we thought it would be fun to do something written for and by women cyclists for a few reasons...

Women are underrepresented as cyclists. In 2008 a National Transport Survey said that the split was 72% male to 28% female. British Cycling says that 2.3% of all British women cycle each week, compared to 6.8% of men. What's that all about?!

More worryingly, according to this BBC article many more women than men die as a result of accidents involving lorries. Confidence seems to be a part of this - women are less likely to weave through traffic to get ahead at stationary traffic lights, they bike close to the curb so cars don't give them enough room and are less aggressive in making sure drivers take notice. We know this is a generalisation but from personal experience as female cyclists who are on the road everyday, we definitely see the truth in it. We (Nancy & Jess) are far more likely than our male friends to avoid the Pershore Road during rush hour and take the Rea Valley cycle route instead. We also experience a lot more abusive language and behaviour than the boys - a lot of it sexual, which is pretty gross.

We think if more women are on the road, have better maintenance skills and safety awareness then we can make things safer for ourselves and for all cyclists - critical mass!

We don't think women cyclists need special clothes or girly coloured bikes to be encouraged to cycle (although that can be part of the fun) we just need to be part of a stronger and bigger community of cyclists which includes more women. We hope this blog will create a network of current Birmingham cyclists and maybe encourage a few more women to get in the saddle. I bet that guy who yelled 'Get a bus pass you cunt' at me the other day, wouldn't have done it if I was with my bike gang.

Love Jess and Nancy & all the girls at the Bike Foundry.