It took me way too long to get started after I had the interest. My main concerns were safety, sweat and physically being able to do it.
After reading a bunch here and elsewhere, I learned the basics of being reasonably safe on the road with cars. And the traffic has turned out to give me more room and be more courteous than I thought they would be. Close calls have been minimal and skills learned while riding motorcycles (side vision, watching all intersections, driveways, etc.) have come in handy.
I'm exceptionally lazy about my appearance, especially when going to work. Bike or no, I don't wear make-up and usually wear t-shirts & jeans. I was worried about the stink, but it hasn't been an issue. There is a shower here but I've never used it. I just bring a full change of clothes when it's hot enough to get sweaty. When I get here, I towel off, wait until the sweating stops and change clothes, reapply deodorant. Before I leave in the afternoon, I change back and slather on sun block. My hair is long so I just stick it in a bun or braids. No helmet head issues.
It took me about a month to work my fitness level up from sloth to 20mi/day bike commuter. And I've been doing that since August 1 last year, 2-3 times/week with longer rides on the weekend when I can manage. Furthest so far, 47 mi.
Oh yeah, another worry: breaking down. After I changed out my knobbies for commuter tires I realized that I could change a flat no problem. I carry everything I need to fix minor problems and ride worry free.
I am fortunate to have showers and lockers at work so that makes commuting convenient for me. I wear makeup at work, but it only takes me about 20 minutes to shower and get ready.
I think one of the things guys forget about is that women usually blow-dry their hair. When I had longer hair it could take 10 minutes to get it dry.
I am temporarily living in a city of 400,000 people on the outskirts of Tokyo. Some observations, for what they're worth:
-Bikes are everywhere
-The majority of riders are female, of all ages from teens to seniors
-It is not at all unusual to see them hauling a little kid, or even two little kids, on specially designed carriers on their bikes. No trailers to be seen.
-The bikes are usually heavy, clunky, step-through frames (including those being piloted by guys), one or three speeds, North Road-style bars, big basket and rack, or baskets front and rear, or child carriers; chain guard or full chain case, skirt guard, generator light, and often a massive, heavy kickstand. Easily bought new for under $200 (child carrier extra); also a lot of folders and minis.
-Electric assist bikes are not uncommon
-I see lots of women going food shopping by bike. They are not buying a week's worth of groceries. I live in a big apartment complex and there are a couple of supermarkets that are 5 to 15 minutes away by bike.
-I work at a university, majority of the students are female. Bike parking areas are full every day (hundreds and hundreds of bikes, mostly of the type described above).
-Most of the riders that I see, especially female, appear to be going about their regular business, i.e. going to work, school, shopping. In the case of commuting this is likely to be a ride between home and a train station.
-They are not wearing any cycle-specific stuff (and that includes helmets by the way FWIW, although if they're hauling kids the kids usually are wearing one). They are obviously not taking showers before or after their rides.
-They look fine :)
-They don't smell :thumb:
-Most of the roads are flat or only gently sloping -- but some hills are pretty steep.
-I'm guessing that most rides are short (let's say under 15 minutes / 2 miles)
-Massive bike parking lots outside of train stations, universities, and some shopping areas. Next to some train stations, multilevel bike parking structures, lots of 2-level racks with built-in locks.
-Most bikes are locked with ring locks on the rear wheel or with cables that are about as thick as a pencil through one of the wheels -- not to a post.
-Many ride on the sidewalks, which are often broad and uncrowded.
-Drivers around here, at least in my experience, cut cyclists plenty of slack as a matter of course, including cyclists who are riding on the road instead of the sidewalk -- perhaps because they're also cyclists themselves, or have been, or live with one?
-Um, did I mention that most of these cyclists are women?
And I don't buy that "weaker frame" BS for a second for typical non competitive use. The pound or two two extra weight is another red herring only of significance for those who want to emulate racer boys and girls.
I agree with others who've stated that the dropped top tube shouldn't be seen as a women's bike. It's just a different style of bike. The fact that we call them women's bikes here means that:
1. People who have no need for it buy them. For a while they even sold them on race style women's bikes (not very good ones).
2. Men who need them won't buy them.
I assume all your bikes are 7 lb featherweights? If not, then you're on that slope too, and have just decided where to stop, just like any designer of a "woman's" bike has.
And really, a 40 lb bike doesn't ride that differently than a 20 lb bike -- not because of the weight, anyways. That weight really only matters when you're carrying the bike (it matters a lot) or going up a hill (it matters a little) or if you're racing (it matters a little, but races are often won by a little.) (Cyclocross racing usually has all three factors, so it's not a good application for such bikes!)
During normal riding on a flat road? It matters a tiny bit.
I don't understand the focus on commuter cycling. Of course riding to work adds the extra considerations of clothing, make-up, commute time, etc. Isn't it more telling that fewer women bike even when those are not concerns (i.e. on the weekend)?
I'm with Bethany on all the family reasons. I have a countdown going in my head until my youngest is in school and I can bike for more than my "mommy break" (an hour early Saturday mornings when the schedule allows). Another issue that is more of a concern for women than men I think, is vulnerability- not just to an SUV as someone above was saying- but vulnerability to attack. Not everywhere I need to go is in the greatest area of town. I think it would be interesting to find out what percentage of the women who aren't taking up transport cycling REALLY want to but feel that it's just not realistic.
As far as your significant barriers go, you should have been in the one place and time in the U.S. that had a real bike culture. There were only a few bike lanes and one bike path, but somehow everyone, and I do mean everyone, managed to get on their bikes and ride. Eventually many miles of bike lanes and several bike paths were added. After these amenities were put in place, the bicycle all but disappeared for two decades. So much for the need to Copenhagenize. I'm not saying it would be an entirely bad thing, just that it is neither necessary nor sufficient.
I also talk to people most days about riding bikes. I probably hear the same fears that you are hearing, but I interpret it to mean that people want traffic law enforcement much more than they want infrastructure "enhancements". Part of this is because the culture of law-abiding motorists that follows vigorous traffic law enforcement goes everywhere in the jurisdiction, and somewhat beyond, while infrastructure changes don't.
Enjoy your lunch.
check NHANES 2006 using wolframalpha to find out that the average height is 5' 4", 165 pounds and a BMI of 28. But for someone with enough knowledge of demographics, you should be wise enough to know that women's distribution is biased and average is skewed towards the heavy side because of outliers. The median is still 5'4", but the weight is down 9 pounds ( 156 ) and the BMI a whole point to 27. Still a little "overweight" but not even close to the the BMI 31 obese woman that you claimed is the average.
EDIT: And it's also a moot point since women are still on average and by median indicators less overweight than their male counterparts.
The thing I find alarming is how few guys are involved in crafting; stamping, scrap-booking, beading, .... Something needs to be done.
Larger women just need more Rosa Park figures for their comfort. They need to not be so scared of going out and doing what they want or love to do. So what, their a bit larger than the average cyclist, who gives a shiite? Their doing better than most of America already. I agree with Frantik also. Gbh wrote a song about "big women" :) http://youtu.be/80mxJ8Suinc
Who sez people (men or women) who love bicycling are scared to do so?
As far as big women are concerned seek the John Lee Hooker original of Big Legs, Tight Skirt.
As far as big men are concerned seek Howlin' Wolf's version of 300 Pounds of Joy.
Yarn: the new street art
It's really a more complex issue than people realize. Many women grow up with low self-esteem. Look around at all society dumps on us daily in terms of looks and it should not surprise anyone. Fathers of little girls have a bigger impact here than they realize -- they rarely tell their daughters how beautiful they are often enough. Then we have the drowning flood of advertising plus the entertainment industry and what do you expect?
Lucky are the women who wake up realizing the opinion of anyone but themselves doesn't matter one wit.
Although the OP is writing about the States I think the same issues exist north of the border too. I don't think we should underestimate the fear thing. My sister is an avid cyclist too but she doesn't feel comfortable riding on her own. She is living in a city with a comparatively high crime rate and high unemployment. So she waits to connect with a friend or two and consequently does not get near as much riding in as she would like.
Measured average height, weight, and waist circumference for adults ages 20 years and over
Height (inches): 69.4
Weight (pounds): 194.7
Waist circumference (inches): 39.7
Height (inches): 63.8
Weight (pounds): 164.7
Waist circumference (inches): 37.0
Source: Anthropometric Reference Data for Children and Adults: United States, 2003-2006, tables 4, 6, 10, 12, 19, 20
Americans, in general, are fat, lazy, stupid and getting stupider.
Many *people* may grow up with low self-esteem (not just women), but that's doubtful, as the most recent studies show that children in the U.S. (boys and girls) possess self-esteem exceeding objective justification (e.g., American kids think they are better than they are). It has little, if anything, to do with dads telling their daughters that they are beautiful.
My guess is that you're extrapolating individual experience to a population. And your thinly-disguised misandry is appalling.
I'm only going on my own hunches, and only with regard to the area I live in, as to why more women don't ride bikes here in the U.S.
Weight could be a factor, but I'm in an area where women being overweight is not considered particularly shameful. The (few) women riders I see using the paved track around the lake, with both a ped and a bike lane, tend to be somewhat overweight and usually middle aged. There are plenty of overweight women of all ages using the ped lane (and exercise equipment off the track) with apparently no worries about being fat and out and about. Some days, I'm one of them, but I'd mostly rather ride and be somewhere else.
This leads me to wonder if one of the deterrents is the technical nature of bikes. If, for example, your primary physical activity goal is to achieve and maintain health and an acceptable weight, why bother with a bike? Parts can break, tires get flats ten miles from home. You can fall. The bike can fit you badly and the saddle can make the ride unbearable. You might feel too embarrassed when you f' up your bike and have to tell the bike mechanic. If you choose to walk, run, and/or go to a gym, you mostly avoid these issues. How much knowledge does one need for these activities compared to riding a bike? Unless these women feel that riding could be enjoyable and/or absolutely necessary, they probably won't be investing in a bike.
I find that women who ride for enjoyment and utility are often as hungry as men for bike and riding knowledge. I love reading the info here, but I'd find it a real chore if I didn't perceive riding as worthwhile.
I'm not a good one for addressing crime concerns. I'm in a high crime city, and while I try to avoid the worst areas (blocks of lots of boarded-up houses), I am highly attracted to desolate, especially industrial, landscapes and I will ride there if at all possible. I unfortunately don't enjoy riding with people and I often ride at very odd times on the streets (3-6 a.m.) to avoid car traffic. This is definitely not recommended as a way to enjoy bike riding, but I admit to the risks and take responsibility for my weird habits. I believe from experience that most women see themselves as much more visible than I see myself, and that probably accounts for some of my cavalier attitude toward where and when I ride.