Bicycle Network: Women's Cycling
Research Papers - Revolutions for Women
Jan Garrard, PhD, Senior Lecturer, School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University, Melbourne
Healthy revolutions: promoting cycling for women
Jan Garrard, PhD, Senior Lecturer, School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia
Natalie Hakman, BAppSci(Hons), Research Assistant, School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia
Cycling rates in Australia are low, and substantial gender differences occur for all three forms of cycling: transport, recreation and sport. This paper reports on a research study conducted in Melbourne, Australia, aimed at investigating reasons for gender differences in cycling, and identifying successful interventions for promoting cycling for women.
Case studies of women's cycling programs were developed, based on participant surveys, program observation, individual interviews with program coordinators and focus group discussions with program participants. This paper reports findings from the individual interviews and focus group discussions.
Health and fitness; social support and encouragement; and opportunities and resources for participation in cycling were the principal motivations for commencing cycling. However, cycling undertaken principally as a means to a health end appeared to have little appeal to the women in this study. Factors associated with on-going participation in cycling included social interaction; setting and achieving cycling goals; participating in cycling events; acquiring new skills; and the fun and enjoyment associated with cycling in a pleasant outdoor environment.
Constraints included lack of confidence about the mechanical aspects of cycling; lack of cycling skills (especially cycling in traffic and in groups); lack of fitness and speed; adverse traffic conditions; driver aggression; and obtaining appropriate advice in a male-dominated environment. Programs that tapped into the motivating and sustaining factors for female cycling, and addressed the principal constraints, were well-received by women. A balance of theory and practice was important in introductory cycling programs, as was a supportive, friendly and patient learning environment that enabled women to learn at their own pace. Provision of on-going activities such as training sessions, social rides and cycling events matched to women's cycling abilities were important for sustaining cycling.
The findings of this study suggest that support for women's cycling programs represents a worthwhile investment in physical, mental and social health and community wellbeing. It is also important to bear in mind that behavioural change in the form of more women cycling more often is unlikely to be sustained in the long term in the absence of supportive physical, social, policy, and regulatory environments for cycling. Interventions at multiple levels are required, and are likely to be interactive - as more women are encouraged and supported to cycle they will advocate for improved conditions for all cyclists including women, men and children.
Research paper by Dr Jan Garrard (Deakin University): Healthy Revolutions: Promoting Cycling for Women (pdf 167 KB)
Key findings from Dr Jan Garrard's research into women and cycling have been released, along with a set of guidelines for women's cycling programs and initiatives. The Revolutions for women study is the most comprehensive investigation of gender differences in cycling in Australia and, possibly, in the world.
In terms of motivating women to commence and continue cycling, messages should focus on: health and fitness; building physical activity into a busy lifestyle; fun and enjoyment; getting outside in the fresh air; and relaxation/stress reduction. Of less importance overall, but relatively more important for women than men, are: being active with families, partners or children; environmental benefits; a new challenge; and encouragement from family and friends.
One unexpected finding of the study, given the large gender difference in the rate of participation in cycling, is that females and males appear to have similar overall patterns of motivations, supports and constraints on cycling. This suggests that promoting cycling for women will be maximised by strategies directed at the whole population, as well as interventions specifically targeting women.
To download the Summary report of Deakin University's Revolutions for Women research project: Revolutions for women: summary of key findings (1.4MB)
To download the Guidelines for cycling programs and initiatives that address womens' needs: Guidelines for encouraging women to cycle (914KB)