Spokes & soles // As infrastructure improves, more Twin Cities women bike

In recent years, have you noticed not only more bicyclists, but also more female bicyclists rolling around the Twin Cities?

It’s not your imagination. According to multiple studies, the Twin Cities has one of the nation’s highest rates (if not the highest rate) of women bicyclists. Depending on the data, between 37 percent and 45 percent of Twin Cities bicyclists are women — far and above the national average of 25 percent female bike ridership. Kudos, ladies!

Why should the Twin Cities, of all places, have so many women bicyclists?

One likely reason is an exceptionally strong system of Twin Cities colleges and universities — natural magnets for bike ridership — that boast increasingly high ratios of female students. For example, 52 percent of students at the University of Minnesota are female; at Augsburg College, women comprise more than 55 percent of students; even at the University of St. Thomas, which was all-male until 1977, 47 percent of students are female.

Yet perhaps the greatest boon to women bicycling is a significant recent increase in local bicycling infrastructure. Simply put: more and better bikeways result in more bicyclists — male and female.

With the addition of 37 miles of new bikeways in 2011, Minneapolis now has 167 miles of bikeways, including 80 miles of on-street bikeways. This bikeway bonanza is especially appealing to female bicyclists.

Research shows that on a high-traffic street with good bike lanes, bicyclists will still be mostly male. But, on streets with low traffic volume and bicycle features — such as bicycle boulevards — the ratio of women cyclists increases dramatically. As Minneapolis and surrounding communities have provided more options for riding apart from heavy traffic, more people are trying bicycling.

Researchers have found that women are barometers for perceptions of bike safety in a community.

“If you want to know if an urban environment supports cycling … just measure the proportion of cyclists who are female,” said Jan Garrard, in a 2009 interview in Scientific American. Garrard is a senior lecturer at Deakin University in Australia and author of several studies on biking and gender differences.

As the article points out, women are more risk-averse than men, which in bicycling translates to increased demand for safer infrastructure. Additionally, because women predominantly do most of the child care and household shopping, bike routes need to be organized near practical urban destinations, such as schools, parks and shopping centers, to be practical and used.

Bicycle boulevards often are located on slower residential streets adjacent to more commercial, busy streets. For example, the Bryant Avenue bicycle boulevard in Minneapolis runs between Hennepin and Lyndale Aves. and the 5th Street bicycle boulevard in Northeast Minneapolis runs parallel to University Avenue. In St. Paul, the Jefferson Avenue bicycle boulevard is between St. Clair and Randolph avenues.

Portland, vying with Minneapolis and a few other cities for the nation’s top bicycling city, recently rechristened its “bike boulevards” as “neighborhood greenways,” in the belief the new term would be more appealing to female bicyclists. Terms matter.

For female bicyclists, opportunities also matter, such as the chance to participate in female-oriented bike rides or learn about bike repair from other women.

Just know that if you’re a woman and want to bike in the Twin Cities, you’ll have plenty of female company. Roll on!

Hilary Reeves is communications director for Bike Walk Twin Cities.

Resources for women cyclists

Co-ed bicycling groups and opportunities abound; the following are more specifically geared toward women:

Grease Rag Ride and Wrench (greaserag.org) offers female-oriented group rides, discussions, shop nights and educational seminars. One of the group’s most popular events is the Girls Gone Grumpy Ride, a casual bike ride for women in which any men attending are required to wear skirts or dresses.

Babes in Bikeland (babesinbikeland.com) is an annual race and ride for women.

TC Ladies Trail Blazers (meetup.com/TC-Ladies-Trail-Blazers/) is a meetup group for women interested in mountain biking through group and guided rides.

Wellstone Bike Club (http://wellstone.mpls.k12.mn.us/wellstone_bike_club)  empowers East African women and girls in Minneapolis through bicycling.

Many local bicycle shops, such as The Hub (named “most woman-friendly bike shop” by “Minnesota Women’s Press” magazine), Cycles for Change, and Recovery Bike Shop (to name a few) will also have information available on bicycling events and classes for women.