What is stopping women from cycling?

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby charliepolecat » 19 Nov 2018, 3:45pm

Women and ultra-challenge endurance sports

I wrote this piece mostly because I’ve often wondered why far more men than women participate in extreme athletic activities, so the first premise for this article is to ask the question, why do more men than women participate in ultradistance activities? You might say that this states the obvious, and that women cyclists have interests and motivation that differ from those of male cyclists and that it is unlikely that addressing these issues will in some way encourage more women to participate in ultra-cycling or indeed ultra-challenges in any sporting endeavor.
The second premise is that this article is not intended to provide answers but mainly to pose the questions that need answers.
As far as I know, apart from the accepted and well known and documented anatomical variations between the two main genders (there seems to be more variations added every day) racing on a bicycle is pretty much the same whether the cyclist is male or female.
My analyses was confined to activities where there was no prize money, the participants engaged voluntarily and paid their own expenses, therefore, no organized sports such as golf or tennis or such were included, nor were activities such as school or college sports.
Looking at the recent results for one 24 Hour ultra-racing event - Bessies Creek - for example, it shows that more men raced than women – 80% to 20% - and that on the whole, men raced the longer distances or times than women.
In the 3,000 mile Race Across America’s roster for the 2016 race, out of a total 248 racers in teams and solo categories, only 21 racers were women. In the sister event the 880 mile Race Across the West, out of 68 racers, only 5 are women.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that if women do race they are less likely to finish. In the 2015 edition of the RAAM, out of five females that started in the solo
category, only three raced to the end – so 60%, and for the men, out of thirty six starters, half finished – so 50%. For the 2015 RAW, three women started and two finished, for the men, eighteen started but only five finished. However, we still see fewer women than men entering these extra distance races. For RAAM we had 36 male starts and 5 women starts; In the RAW, the figures were 18 male starts and three women starts. These races were of the same length for both male and female although women were allowed extra time to complete.
These statistics do not only apply to cycling, we see similar results in other endurance activities.
As chronicled by the American Elizabeth Hawley, residing in Katmandu for the past 65 years and the doyen of Everest chroniclers, of the total successful ascents of Mount Everest, out of 6,871 summits as of February 2014, only four hundred and ten were made by women. As she has said: “There are no pioneering women on Everest, they need to be pioneers in other places”. In other words, she feels that women are probably best suited to succeed in other endeavors than climbing mountains.
Of the 3,841 successful English Channel swims to date, 63.5% were by men and 36.5% by women. There are no records of the total number of attempts or the unsuccessful attempts by either sex.
In the 2014 edition of Marathon Des Sables, the 156 miles six marathon distance race run across the Sahara Desert in Morocco, 925 men completed with 814 finishing the grueling event, and 184 women ran with 159 completing. Of note is that in 2008, Touda Didi was the first Moroccan woman to win the event.
Similar figures contend in other sporting activities such as the Appellation Trail, rowing across the Atlantic and sailing around the world.
The latest figures I have received on the Appalachian Trail is that between the years 1937-2016 on a self-reporting basis, there were 12,795 thru hikers of whom 2,861 were women either solo or in groups. For section hikers again on a self reporting basis for the same span of years, there were 2,997 total of whom 720 were women. However, the number of women undertaking the trek is rising. In
1992 16% of the thru hikers were women but by 2012 that number had increased to 21%,. So there is a glimmer of hope that women are catching on to the pleasures of absolute pain – at least in the hiking category of ultra-sporting activities.
Something similar is evident in the Boston Marathon where out of 27,491 runners in a recent event, 14,877 were men but 12,610 were women. So is the fact that running a marathon – although strenuous - is a relatively short endurance activity that attracts so many women?
But on the whole, women just don’t engage in these types of endurance activities to the same extent as men, so the question is why?
If it is simply a case of unsurmountable physical obstacles then why should women try to compete? So, accepting that in general it is simply a case that women will never be able to race as far as men, what are women to do?
I think to answer this question it is necessary to look at the psyche involved. If it is a given that ultra-challenging events are predominately raced by men, does this imply that women are just not as motivated as men to accept the physical and or mental stresses required? Maybe women don’t want to get on a bike and ride 24 hours or longer (not many sane people of either sex actually do), maybe women accept that they have no psychological desire to do this to satisfy any kind of challenge, maybe women are just satisfied with being women and don’t need to make out they are as strong – or as risk taking – as men.
If a female racer wants to participate in an endurance race they generally do so competing in their own categories, much in the same way as age categories for both sexes. But if the races contain both men and women, women are in actuality racing against men as well as other women on the same course at the same time, so does this give a negative aspect to the race for women?
Being passed by another racer in any kind of race is intimidating and demoralizing enough, but in a mixed sex race and if the women racer is being passed by a male racer, what impact does that have on the women’s psyche?
For example, a 60 year old racer of either sex would not expect to be able to compete with a 20 year old of the same sex, assuming both are in good physical condition, but for a woman to be blown away by a male racer that has to be demoralizing. Therefore would it not be better for a woman not to have to compete with men in the same race?
A study by Dr. Salvatore J. Tirrito, cardiovascular disease specialist in Tucson states: “Studies show that women utilize less glycogen and more fat than men in long, lower-intensity exercise. This makes the female athlete particularly well suited for, and may potentially provide an advantage over men in endurance events”.
Therefore it suggests there is no general physical impediment to women undertaking endurance activities, could then the issue be one of the historical social environment where women were never expected nor encouraged to pursue the same activities – physical or intellectual - as men? Perhaps women in general don’t feel strenuous activities are expected of them. Although it would be correct to add, that neither do the vast majority of men in our sedentary, physically unexacting lives. Consider the number of people of either gender who actually participate in any kind of sporting endeavor – couch quarterbacking not included. At one time in our society people walked everywhere and were a lot healthier for it, now there are far fewer pedestrians going down my street than there are cars and trucks.
So, why do we see fewer women riding ultra- distances, or climbing mountains or hiking trails or doing the myriad other activities requiring endurance, courage, fortitude and downright grit? Perhaps it is because they have yet to appreciate the extraordinary pleasure of acute physical pain to be found in endurance events as a means of achieving the euphoria of absolute success.
Having said that, I doubt there is anything quite like the same physical exultation of giving birth – which if left to men to experience this same trauma would have led to the end of human kind at the outset – which proves beyond doubt that women are just as capable if not much more so than men to overcome brute suffering and going on to live and fight another day. So they could, so why not?
All in all, I proffer the truth that women can do whatever it is they want to do, they just have to decide that they want to do it.

Kenneth Jessett.

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby pjclinch » 20 Nov 2018, 9:43am

While much of your piece concentrates on raw physical characteristics, the fact is you could ask much the same questions on participation figures for fishing and golf, neither of which require particularly athletic physiques but which are dominated by men. Or building model railways, for that matter.

Whether that's down to cultural aspects (nurture) or innate sex-based psychology (nature), a mix of both or something else I won't pretend to be able to answer, but it does seem to be a fact that it's there. And for those women that want to break the mould it's good that there's increasing awareness there's no real reason they shouldn't and some encouragement to do so.

For cycling in general, as I've stated before, there is no block to women if you look at real cycling cultures. In NL slightly more women than men ride, but that's just getting about, it's not Enthusiasts out working on the chain gang (I don't have numbers, but personal anecdotal observation suggests that's male dominated in NL too). Of course in the UK just getting about is the province of the Enthusiast too, and I think that's a lot to do with its male domination (particularly that class of male that has All The Gear).

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby Barks » 28 Nov 2018, 11:12am

I have been following this thread on and off and finally thought I would add my thoughts. Being a lifelong sport participant (football, rugby, hockey, cricket, skiing, sailing, climbing .....) bloke (who only cycles for utility purposes by the way) who is married with a grown up daughter, both of whom regularly undertake various sporting activities I have long noticed that women on the whole have culturally not had the same encouragement to partake in sporting/physical activities as boys/men. In fact I encountered surprise and even opposition when I took my daughter along to early years soccer and cricket coaching. I do think however that the tide has turned and that, over time, participation of women in sport will continue to climb both in the western and wider world. This growing cultural acceptance has seen female participation in ‘male’ sports grow considerably and I can’t see it it not continuing. Direct competition in gender free sense will be the main challenge but any activity that does not have direct physical confrontation/simply revolves around muscle power but relies on highly technical skills is the area that I believe we will start to see the next real breakthrough. Some activities are already in evidence such as equestrian but I do see women closing in on men in various areas such as cricket (there is no reason a competent female cannot play against men at their relevant level) and climbing but it will take time and those breakthrough individuals will have a tough time no doubt and not just on the sporting stage. We now have female fast jet combat pilots and I have no doubts that the recent policy change to allow women into direct combat roles in the military will ultimate be found to be successful. I do see competive cycling as another example that has great potential but still expectations do have to be realistic both in event terms and the time it will take for an extradinary talented female athlete to be able to compete directly with men effectively - but if they can they mus5 be allowed to do so and the coaching systems have to be encouraging it. As regards utility cycling, female participation will also converge as day to use of the bicycle increases over time - that of course will in my view require routine car travel as we know it to be curtailed as has happened in countries like Netherlands and Denmark. Make using a bike the easiest option and the numbers will follow. And we will have massive environmental improvements in our cities and small towns which will make them so much more enjoyable to be living in.

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby charliepolecat » 28 Nov 2018, 2:43pm

All very true, in the US a programme called "Title 9" mandated that equal emphasis - and funds - in college sports must be given to women has helped tremendously and so it is up to women to now decide they want the same sports opportunities that so far have been the bailiwick of men.

As far as unitary cycling goes however, the apparent or real risks to solo women from predatory men out on our roads will continue to be a significant deterrent.

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby brynpoeth » 28 Nov 2018, 2:45pm

Mixed tandem riding is the solution :)
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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby RickH » 28 Nov 2018, 3:19pm

On the racing side I notice they are including a mixed team time trial on the 2019 World Championships in Yorkshire, to replace the trade teams TTT.

https://www.eurosport.co.uk/cycling/wor ... tory.shtml

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby Altissima » 28 Nov 2018, 5:27pm

Charliepolecat - there is a factor that you haven't considered, that women are traditionally the carers in society. We give birth to and rear children, we care for elderly relatives and generally, we have less disposable time and income than men.

I don't participate in long distance events now as I don't have the time. Previously though i have audaxed. 3 female friends with adult children are ultra marathon runners. They didn't take up the sport until their late 30's and 40's because previously they had childcare responsibilities

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby charliepolecat » 28 Nov 2018, 9:01pm

Hi, I do understand that and I didn't mean to diminish the resolve of women to want to emulate (or exceed :P :P ) men - and I almost wanted to mention menstruation and menopause but decided not to venture too far into that minefield - as further deterrents, but on top of all things, I hope it goes without saying - but I'll say it anyway - there is probably no greater admirer of the inner strength, fortitude and resilience of women in all things than me and all of us recognise that it is women who make the world a much better place. It is also a truism to say that if men had to bear babies, the human race would have come to an end one generation after it started.

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby Ben@Forest » 29 Nov 2018, 7:57am

charliepolecat wrote:... all of us recognise that it is women who make the world a much better place. It is also a truism to say that if men had to bear babies, the human race would have come to an end one generation after it started.

Not sure l agree with that. It is generally acknowledged that women in positions of power can be as mean and malign as men. And of course many men in positions of power are neither mean, nor malign. I have little experience in this, I've generally had good bosses of both sexes, but know my sister once had a tyrant of of a boss - and yes she was another woman.

But my main reason for posting was a question arising from your long post - women seem to have a better record in completing ultradistance events - but overall how do their times or places stack up against men? i.e. are their times close to parity irrespective of sex (taking age into account)? Or are they better or worse?

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby orangebiker » 25 Feb 2019, 3:16pm

The only logical answer to the original question is safety (or perceived safety).

Suggested reasons such as women's obsession with their appearance and childcare (and even sexist comments) clearly don't apply either to other sports (e.g. running) or other countries or other ways of getting to work such as walking.

Riding on busy roads with cars is a scary activity in the same way as other extreme sports. Men are just generally better at resisting being intimidated by drivers.

The existence of segregated cycling facilities makes it safe and also largely removes the issue of childcare, as children can easily cycle with their parents for reasonable distances. Similarly, cycling with a heavily laden bike with a week's worth of shopping is much more pleasant on a separate track rather than on a busy road.

I also find cycling clubs to be extremely sexist - not always in a way that I find offensive, but there is definitely a tendency to assume that women are different to men in a way that I just haven't come across in other sports clubs. Cycling clubs in the north of England tend to be working class so most men are very tough and their wives tend to be very feminine. In my current club there are about 50 male members who almost without exception are local WC males employed in traditional industries. The handful of females are all MC and from outside the area. I suspect it's different in other areas. For those who haven't experienced it, riding with a group of men who won't hesitate to drag an offending driver out of his car and threaten him with physical violence can be quite thrilling!

Most women I try to persuade to give cycling a try have an instinct that cyclists don't really have any right to be on the roads. Being of dutch descent (although never having lived there) makes me feel I have every right to be there which I think really helps overcome any worries about this, even though I'm not very brave in most other areas of life.

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby Yvonned » 25 Feb 2019, 3:52pm

Coming up 70 in October I have cycled since I was approx 9 years old with a few gaps in between and long may it continue. I cannot do the miles I used to but average 3000 a year. At no time have i felt afraid to get on my bike, but now I’m wary about getting in the car. In my 40s I had a motorbike but that lasted about a month as I felt out of control. I’ve driven for almost 50 years and now find the other motorists intimidating when I’m in the car. I can be a strident so and so when on the bike. As I wrote a few months ago I think its a state of mind which has to be continually challenged. This morning I yelled at a close pass motorist and gave him what for when i caught up with him. My daughter is an avid cyclist but my son, her twin will not venture on the roads so where do they fit in?
Men, women, neither of us can be classified as either brave or wary per se, we are individuals and can be both, just look at the sunshine today and get out there. This morning hubby and I saw from our bikes, 4 Red Kite, 1 Jay, 1 Woodpecker, 1 Large White Egret as well as the other common species, no way would we have seen those from a car.
By the way I live in a city and not in a quiet rural area.

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby The utility cyclist » 25 Feb 2019, 7:54pm

All the ladies I saw on Sunday on bikes were on a footpath/footway and wearing helmets, sorry but it's a fact that ladies are more risk averse than men on average and they are also more likely to force their children to wear helmets too.
The stats also show us that there is a huge disparity in terms of everyday cycling in favour of men, it's not just favoured by who may be going to work, women have said quite vocally that safety amongst many other factors is what is not making cycling attractive as an option for transport.

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby Sweep » 25 Feb 2019, 8:10pm

eileithyia wrote:Today i was on a ladies' ride with a lady who came out with us for the first time. A bit of encouragement helped her up one of the steeper hills. She was then telling me how her now ex partner undermined her confidence, never gave helpful advise etc.... no wonder he is now an ex. This is the seond time I have heard such a tale this year. Today Marie admitted she would not have opted to go up a particular hill but would have chosen a different route and instead, got a massive confidence boost.

Mm - on the ex, you are dealing with a relationship there.

The actual situation could have been somewhat more complex, even different.

Unless you know the specifics i'd reserve judgement to be honest.

And perhaps any "helpful advice" could have been thrown back as " mansplaining".

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby pjclinch » 26 Feb 2019, 7:46am

orangebiker wrote:The only logical answer to the original question is safety (or perceived safety).

Seems a bit sweeping. I'd say the thing that stops anyone taking up cycling as an everyday transport option is it's not "normal", where "normal" is the cultural norm of what "everybody does". In the UK, to get from A to B, that's mainly driving, and if you don't drive then probably the bus on a local trip. People will hang out all sorts of reasons not to change habits.

The utility cyclist wrote:The stats also show us that there is a huge disparity in terms of everyday cycling in favour of men

The point here being that a typical man using cycling as an everyday transport option is a Cycling Enthusiast who is quite likely to be a leisure /sporting cyclist in their free time. If cycling were normal to the point it is in NL the disparity between men and women would be submerged in the general use of bikes by "normal people", because for everyone worried about e.g. talking about cycling on interweb forums and reading cycling magazines and drooling at velo-confectionary there'd be scores of people who just get their bike out, go where they're going and not really think any more about it.

It strikes me that women are less likely to be Cycling Enthusiasts in the same way they are less likely to be Fly Fishing Enthusiasts, Golfing Enthusiasts, Model Railway Enthusiasts etc. etc. That's not safety. The main difference is those things don't have much of general life function counterpoint like everyday transport.

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Re: What is stopping women from cycling?

Postby Vorpal » 26 Feb 2019, 12:18pm

It's nice to think that Dutch cyclists use their bikes so much because they think of them as a faster way of walking, emininently suitable for distances of under 5 km, but I don't think that it is possible to say it doesn't have to do with safety. IMO, one of the reasons for the perpetual debate in English speaking countries about this is that safety and convenience for cyclists are both designed into the Dutch system. It is no more possible to separate them than to say that a plant needs sun, rather than water. A plant needs both to thrive, and cyclists need both safety and convenience. That doesn't have much to do with why *women* don't cycle, as it applies to anyone.

That said, I'm not sure about the risk aversion thing. I know that there are loads of studies demonstrating that women are more risk averse, but I think that the studies are biased. They are mainly designed by middle class men in universities, and based upon their perceptions of risk, thrill seeking, etc. Women may tend to take risks differently, but I don't think that they are necessarily more risk averse. If they were, few would be willing to endure pregnancy and child birth.
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