Women and Cycling in Australia – 2013 Participation Survey

Women and Cycling Survey 2013

In 2013 the Cycling Promotion Fund in-conjunction with the National Heart Foundation of Australia conducted their third study into cycling, the Cycling and Women Survey. This study builds on the two earlier studies, Active travel to school from 2012 and Riding a bike for transport from 2011.

The focus of this blog post is the Cycling and Women Survey and my intention here is to summarise and comment on the key findings from the report.

Background to the cycling and women survey

This section is about getting a background, a context to the survey and participants.


The survey was undertaken online in February 2013 by the National Heart Foundation of Australia in partnership with the Cycling Promotion Fund. The researchers surveyed a random sample 1,007 Australian women aged 18 and over, seeking their responses to questions about women and cycling. It is not clear as to how the random sample was obtained, however the authors suggest that the survey results have an error margin of 3.1%, meaning that, with 95% confidence, a result, plus or minus the error margin (i.e. 50% ±3.1%), contains the true result at the population level. In other words the authors are confident that the findings can be attributed to the Australian population.

More expansive demographics are given in the Cycling and Women Survey report on page three but in summary, the survey respondents in the main came from the three more populous states on the eastern seaboard – 31.8% of respondents where from New South Wales; 25% from Victoria and 20.4% from Queensland. Except for Western Australia at 10.3% none of the other states and territories broke the 10% mark.

Age wise the greatest number of respondents fell in the 18 to 24 age group at 13.8%, followed by the 65-69 age group at 11.9% and then the 25-29 age group at 10%. The remaining age groups generally fell in the 8 to 9% response range. Looking at the age group data there does seem pretty good spread of respondents across 18 to 69 age range.

In terms of household income the dominant group of respondents fell in the $40,001 to $80,000 income bracket at 32.1% followed by the $80,001 to $12,0000 income bracket at 22.4% and then the $25,001 to $40,000 income bracket at 18.2%.

Interestingly 18.3% of respondents are not classified in the household income data and 10.6% of respondents are not classified in the location data. No explanation for this discrepancy is given in the paper.

Personal health

The participants in the survey were asked to self-assess their health status. Overall the woman indicated that they health was good (37.3%) to very good (34.0%) to excellent (5%) and most of the participants (53.2%) where happy with their overall health, however 46.8% where not happy and hence it does suggest there is room for an improvement in satisfaction.

Participation in physical activities

Interestingly walking by far was the most dominant activity undertaken by the women at 77.1%. Cycling the focus of the survey only came in at 14.2% just ahead of dancing and ranking fifth in the 12 options presented to the participants. Cycling was the lowest “individual” sporting activity behind walking, swimming, going to the gym, and jogging/running.

Despite ranking for cycling which maybe considered disappointing it is good to see most of the participants participating regularly in some physical activity.

Riding as a child

Finally they participants were asked about their riding as a child. I think this is an interesting question as so often comments are made about riding as a child yet we don’t seem to see this experience continuing into adult life. It is interesting to see what the women in this survey are recalling of their childhood experiences and how it relates to their lifestyles today.

The results are as I would expect: 85% of the women surveyed said they owned a bike as a child; 89.6% rode a bike as child and over half of the respondents (54.5%) indicated they rode their bikes daily and the authors report that more than 90% of the respondents who had ridden as a child rode at least once a week.

So it seems that the women where active bicycle riders as children, yet as adults only 14.2% of them are actively cycling. Where have they all gone? Why have they stopped riding?

Women and riding a bicycle today

As children, 85.1% the women surveyed owned a bike, but as adults only 34.7% indicated they owned a bike, a drop in ownership of 50.3%.

Okay so owning a bike is one thing, but are these bikes being ridden? Well despite the women surveyed indicating their experience as a bike rider was intermediate or experienced (68.8%) only 30.2%, less than 1/3 of the respondents indicated they had ridden in the past six months. Keep in mind the survey was done in February 2013 so the previous six months whilst including summer did include some nicer periods for getting outside.

What was more scary was that 40% of the respondents indicated that they hadn’t ridden a bike in the past 10 years!

Okay so we have some women riding bikes, but what do they ride for? Well of the women who had ridden a bike in the past six months, 74% rode for fun, 71.7% rode for exercise and only 26% rode for transport. Without a doubt in Australia cycling is seen by women as an activity for exercise or fun, but not a practical transport solution.

The report provides a little more insight into the riding for transport and riding for fun or exercise so if you are interested in this aspect please do download the report.

How do women view cycling?

Well the respondents, as one would expect given the type of riding undertaken, rank health and fitness, getting outside and fun and enjoyment as the most important factors in they would ride a bike.

Getting fit, teaching children to ride (yet as adults they don’t ride in great numbers) and road traffic are all factors in why women ride or don’t. In respect to road traffic the responses where 84.4% agree to the reason “Road traffic makes people afraid of cycling.” Of course being that road traffic I suspect was lost on at least some of these respondents.

One in three respondents had an issue with helmet hair (38.9% of respondents agreed with statement that wearing a helmet ruins a woman’s hairstyle). There where other questions on perceptions and acceptance of cycling and why men cycle more than women. I am struggling to see the value in these questions but if you are interested the survey results are reported in the full report.

The carrot and the stick – why women are not riding

The respondents were given 16 reasons as to what prevents women from cycling and no one reason really stood out as a barrier. I am not sure this is a good thing as I makes it harder to respond to a broader group of preventions. That said the top five reasons for not cycling where:

  1. Lack of confidence in cycling ability (10%). This is interesting given that 68.8% if the women surveyed rated themselves as having an intermediate or experienced level of riding experience. I wonder if this was more an excuse finding exercise than providing a genuine reason.
  2. Lack of time (10%). Yet again this does not fit with the time spent walking or at the gym etc. I wonder how many of these women drive/walk, drive/swim, drive/run, drive/go to the gym.
  3. Lack of fitness. This was given as the main reason by 9.1% of the respondents and fits with the early reported data.
  4. Speed/volume of traffic (8.2%)
  5. Getting hot and sweaty/having to wear special clothes (7.6%)

Interesting aggression/abuse from other road users came in at number 6 (7.1%). I wonder what these women have experienced on the road as cyclist, walkers and drivers to resound in this way.

So what is needed to get more women riding? The survey respondents were given 13 suggested ways to encourage women to cycle more. The top five motivators are:

  1. Completely separated off-road cycling paths (32.3%)
  2. More bike lanes/wider lanes on the roads (16.2%)
  3. None of the above (11.0%). It would be interesting to know what these respondents where considering to be motivators then.
  4. Female friendly bicycles (7.4%)
  5. Organised social cycling events (6.4%)

In closing the women resounding to the survey felt quite strongly that the governments should improve cycling facilities, provide cycling education programs and conduct “share the road” campaigns. Maybe time for governments to sit up and take note.

Overall an interesting insight into how women perceive cycling and at the same time a frightening disconnect between the participants childhood riding experiences and their adult riding experiences. It seems we have a long way to go to engage with woman and bring them more and more into the cycling fold.

My thanks also to the Cycling Resource Centre at the Australian Bicycle Council for the heads-up on the Women and Cycling Survey 2013 which can be download from my Dropbox.

Please do download the full report and have a read. It is not a big report at 16 pages and is easy to read. Your comments on the report and my take on it are most welcome. Please do share your thoughts below.

5 Responses to Women and Cycling in Australia – 2013 Participation Survey

  1. Bob April 26, 2013 at 11:36 AM #

    A very interseting post. I think that in Perth there will be a brief increase in female cyclists now that Reid have opened and are selling cheap/good value ladies bikes (I’ve certainly noticed a lot of their brightly coloured machines around), but I wonder whether the numbers will decrease once they realise how hostile the road environment is.

  2. selina June 16, 2013 at 9:51 AM #

    “One in three respondents had an issue with helmet hair (38.9% of respondents agreed with statement that wearing a helmet ruins a woman’s hairstyle). There where other questions on perceptions and acceptance of cycling and why men cycle more than women. I am struggling to see the value in these questions”

    I agree – to me it appears that physical activities (bushwalking, yoga, jogging, swimming, pilates, netballs, hockey, walking, etc.. ) are simply not subjecto to the same intense negative scrutiny as cycling when it comes to self-image, clothing and presentation while undertaking exercise and leisure activities. It just reinforces the idea that cycling will make a woman unattractive.

  3. coshgirl June 16, 2013 at 5:26 PM #

    What a shame especially in a country with such high obesity levels – cycling is an obvious solution. However the way cycling is portrayed in Australia as a macho, dangerous activity that requires lots of special equipment and the extremely hostile roads combine to deter many women from cycling. Who can blame them? In countries that have a genuine cycling culture riding a bike is a normal everyday activity requiring no special clothes or dubious ‘safety’ equipment. As a result people use their bikes for transport rather than sport. Two things Oz could do immediately to boost female cycling is 1) repeal your ridiculous and wrongheaded helmet law and 2) invest in some decent infrastructure to protect cyclists from motor vehicles. Without the above changes Australia has no hope of developing a real cycling culture.


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