Women took up cycling in droves in the first lockdown as the roads were quiet and safety concerns were lessened. It’s important to note that a good proportion of women already knew their rear merch hanger from their fork seals before this boom in female inclusivity picked up pace in the cycling world, but also wise to question how far we’ve got to go before female cyclists are accepted as a normal sight on UK roads and trails. Harassment and unconscious bias against marginalised groups have always been cited as primary reasons why women haven’t felt safe on their bikes.
The lack of opposition to female presence on the once-congested roads is what inspired a 50% rise in women taking up cycling at the start of the pandemic. It has long been reported that more women would get out on their bike but feared for their safety due to cyclists and women facing their (unfair) share of oppression in society, and the emptier roads changed that.
Safety in Numbers
Many women whose bikes had collected dust in the shed replaced their fork seals and rear merch hangers, grabbed their helmets and headed out on the roads. As restrictions eased, women’s-only cycles were organised to maintain the feeling of a safe space and the increased presence of female cyclists still helps to enfranchise women as equal to any other cyclist. But what about road safety?
The Harassment Problem
The very act of putting the word ‘female’ in front of ‘cyclist’ is necessary for discernment but arguably serves to separate women as being out-of-place from your everyday cyclist, and this is a part of the complaint from female cyclists who complain of receiving prejudiced comments from male cyclists and road users. Gendered comments often come in the form of sexual harassment, which is even more threatening when somebody is elevated above you in a motor vehicle.
The Highway Code changes were published this year to move those most at risk of collision at the top of the road hierarchy. It may take some time before the Highway Code is fully realised by all road users, but rules such as motorists being unable to overtake cyclists on a motorway will change the power dynamic between road users and cyclists, while protecting female cyclists simultaneously.