My name is Amber Collett. I am a woman and an avid bicyclist. I work for Bike Walk Twin Cities, the organization that sponsors and manages this blog and site, dedicated to enhancing bicycling in the Twin Cities. I wanted to take a moment today to talk about an important topic: Bike safety for women.
Why is that important? Because, given recent reports, only 26 percent of all U.S. bicyclists are women. (Note: here in Minneapolis/St. Paul, that number is higher—between 31-45 percent; perhaps a result of the 70-plus miles of new bikeways and ample bike parking we have here in the Twin Cities!)
Still, these percentages of women bicyclists are low compared with other nations. For instance, in the Netherlands, 55 percent of all bicyclists are women; in Germany, it’s 49 percent.
So, only about one in four U.S. bicyclists are women. That number has many people, concerned—and in some cases, confused about why. But, it shouldn’t, because there is one key issue that keeps bubbling up time and again in reports about women bicycling: personal safety.
For women, safety is top of mind when it comes to bicycling. Is it safe to ride after dark? Should I be concerned about bicycling on busy city streets? What are the safest routes if I want to bike to work? These are all common questions. I know, because I’ve had them—and I continue to hear them from my family and friends.
But I’m here to tell you there are a handful of simple steps you can take to lessen or even eliminate these safety concerns:
Know how to take care of your bike
Take the “what if my bike breaks down” question out of play. Learn how to make the basic fixes to your bike—repairing a flat being the biggie. Locally, there are a number of options for learning basic bike mechanics. My favorite: The Sibley Bike Depot. They’ve set aside every Tuesday evening as Women Open Shop Night. That means you can drop in and learn from the (approachable) experts about how to take care of your bike.
Stay on the major thoroughfares
With bike boulevards like the Riverlake Greenway and bike lanes like the ones down Portland and Park Avenues in south Minneapolis, cars are used to seeing bikes in traffic. Plus, by staying on the main bikeways, you’ll lessen your chances of becoming isolated and putting yourself in positions where you’re the only one on the road.
Ride in groups—when possible
If you’re commuting, ride with a colleague. It not only makes for safer cycling, but it can also be a great way to connect with and get to know friends and co-workers. On the weekends, ride with a friend or a family member. I’ve even had friends visiting from out of town get short-term Nice Ride subscriptions. Again, what a great way to explore the city!
Pack the essentials
After you’ve learned a bit more about how to take care of your bike, consider investing in and carrying the bicycling essentials. That means a tire pump, a spare tube and, a patch kit. What if you forget these items? No worries. Those in south Minneapolis now have the first-ever bicycling vending machine. Named the Bike Fixtation, this “kiosk” (located in the Uptown Transit Station) carries a host of products cyclists may need in a pinch. What’s more, it also includes a bike stand—and more importantly for beginners and intermediate cyclists, an air pump. Free air! What could be better than free air for a bike commuter?
Visibility is a major concern when riding at night (or at dawn/dusk and in the rain). Before you head out, be sure to check your front and rear lights. The front light should be a constant white stream and the back light should be a blinking red light –you’ll also want a red rear reflector. Carry extra batteries or a spare headlamp in case yours breaks down. Also, seems obvious, but be sure to wear light or reflective clothing when riding. See and be seen!
Those are my thoughts. What tips do you have for women bicyclists staying safe on the road?