International Women’s Day 2023: How can we get more women cycling?

8 March 2023    

The author of this blog is Mark McIntyre, Media and Communications Officer

From offering a route to greater transport independence, to helping us look after our own health and that of the planet, cycling is liberating, empowering, and can open up a huge range of opportunities and benefits for us all.

While more people are waking up to the many benefits of cycling, more still needs to be done to make it easier and safer for anyone, anywhere to make regular journeys by bike – particularly women.

Tackling the gender gap in cycling

Our annual research into attitudes and behaviours towards cycling in Scotland shows gaps between women and men’s opportunities to ride bikes:

  • Women¹ are significantly less likely to travel by bike than men, with fewer women reporting that they cycle occasionally or regularly for either transport or leisure (24% vs 40% of men).

  • Women are also less likely than men to say they are thinking about cycling more in the next two to three years (18% vs 29%).
  • The gap between women and men who say they “would never considering cycling” has slightly increased over the course of our research from 12% to 19% between 2017 and 2022.

Overcoming the biggest barrier: road safety

Road safety is consistently shown to be one of the biggest barriers to all people taking up cycling in Scotland. Our research shows that safety is a significantly larger barrier for women, with 80% of women citing not feeling safe on the roads as an important barrier to them cycling (vs 56% of men). Women are also more likely to say they would consider cycling more if there was less traffic on the roads (77% vs 63% of men).

With fewer women in Scotland meeting their recommended physical activity levels than men, and women more likely than men to be in low income, part time or insecure work, ensuring that this gap is closed must be an essential part of building a fairer, more equitable future for all.

In the Netherlands, women represent 56% of people who cycle. In Denmark and Germany this is 55% and 50%.  

What needs to be done?

To get more people – including women – cycling, we need networks of well-lit and maintained bike lanes, separate from vehicle traffic, which reflect the everyday journeys connecting home, work, schools, and services.

We know from research that roads being too busy is one of the biggest barriers to more people getting on their bikes, so – in line with the Scottish Government’s commitment to reducing car kilometres by 20% by 2030 – we also need to reduce traffic levels, especially on residential and shopping streets, and the speeds which vehicles are travelling at.

At key destinations – home, work, school – accessible and secure bike storage is also a priority to keep bikes safe.

The journey for girls: from being uneasy, to embracing the fun that’s to be had cycling

For East Lothian cycling tutor and winner of the Bikeability Scotland Annual Achievement Award of the Year 2022, Philippa Barber, it’s a range of factors needed to get more women cycling.

“Two priorities stand out to normalise cycling as an accessible form of transport.

“Firstly, having infrastructure which facilitates cycling as an everyday form of transport. From better, safer, connected networks of cycling routes to workplace and community cycle storage and changing facilities.”

Secondly, getting cycling started from as young an age as possible. Both as a fun social activity, and also a way of developing independence and confidence. “When delivering Bikeability Scotland training, I am so often surprised by how attitudes change during a short session. Girls who may be sceptical or uneasy at the start, with a more tentative approach to on road training, embrace the enjoyment from cycling after just a short time on bikes."

“When training adults too, one of the most rewarding aspects is seeing how their confidence grows over time. After a few trips out on a bike, many wonder why they didn’t try it sooner.”

More children are benefitting from Bikeability Scotland training than ever before, helping to normalise cycling in the minds of young people and give them confidence to choose to travel by bike.

With the Scottish Government’s welcome commitment to increase support for cycling by spending at least £320m or 10% of the total transport budget on active travel by 2024-25, the groundwork is being prepared for what we hope will be a real step change to get more people cycling in the coming years.

By creating an environment that’s safe and easy for women and children to cycle in, we’re likely to encourage even more people to take up cycling and access the huge range of benefits that it offers.

Note: ¹ Men includes trans men and women includes trans women