Cycling’s gender gap in Metro Detroit

Cycling’s gender gap in Metro Detroit

The Detroit Free Press recently ran an article about an o2WomensRide for novice women cyclists in suburban Detroit.

E.J. Levy, 56, of Bloomfield Hills noticed that the local cycling community didn’t offer many group rides for novice women, [so] he started one.

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The cycling community tends to cater to a hard-core, competitive crowd. Often, that’s guys who enjoy going fast, Levy says.

That’s great. Oakland County needs more slower rides and not just for novice women.

But perhaps what’s most striking about Levy’s comments is they are not accurate within the city of Detroit.

The cycling community in Detroit offers many rides for novice women and does not cater to the competitive, lycra crowd.

In fact Detroit rides are far more inclusive of all types of riders when compared with the suburbs. The speeds of the Detroit Synergy, Tour de Troit, and Wheelhouse Detroit rides are slower than the o2WomensRide. Normal cotton clothing is almost de rigueur on Detroit rides, and on some, helmets are optional.

And you can ride a old Huffy on a Detroit ride without fear of a snarky comment.

The result is there’s a seemingly higher percentage of women on the Detroit rides.

[In fairness, we must add that Defying the Law, a Ferndale-based ride also caters to novices, as did Royal Oak's now-defunct Motor City Motorless ride.]
Similar Gender Gap across the U.S.

Metro Detroit’s gender gap is not alone. This New York Times article discusses the gender gap on rides in the Big Apple.

In the article, John Pucher, a professor of urban planning at Rutgers, notes the lack of a gender gap among European nations.

“Someone was telling me, maybe American woman don’t like to sweat as much as European women. Maybe that’s why American women don’t cycle to work, but Dutch women do,” Mr. Pucher said. “But I think that’s a bunch of baloney.”

“I think the No. 1 reason you have so few women cycling in New York City is because it’s seen as a dangerous activity,” Mr. Pucher said.

With the exception of areas like Central Park and designated bike trails (which female cyclists populate almost as zealously as their male counterparts) bike riding in most parts of the city is hardly leisurely. “It’s like going into battle,” Mr. Pucher said. “You need a helmet and gloves.”

Certainly safety is a determining factor in Metro Detroit’s gender gap as well. And studies show that women have greater concerns about perceived bicycling safety than men.

While rides catering to women are a start, to truly close the gender gap, we need to continue pushing Metro Detroit governments for bike lanes and other safe bicycling facilities.
Jackie Phelan in Detroit

Speaking of women bicycle advocates, Jackie Phelan was recently in Detroit. Among other things, she’s the founder of WOMBATS (Women’s Mountain Bike and Tea Society). There’s more information on her visit on the Wheelhouse Detroit blog — one of Metro Detroit’s few if not only women-owned and managed bike shops.

Todd Scott Is The Detroit Greenways Coordinator