90 per cent of women fear cycling in UK cities

woman cyclist

Has silly season come early? Every summer, the mass media seems to focus on trivial news stories. For example, newspapers this week turned their attention to speed limits for cyclists.

Of all the logical fallacies the anti-cycling lobby might use against vulnerable road users, speeding seems a peculiar choice. Especially given 87 per cent of motorists flout 20mph speed limits.

Perhaps the media could focus a little attention on the real cause of road harm.

Only last month, bike hire company Swapfiets found that 90 per cent of women fear cycling in UK towns and cities. And it’s not fast moving people on bikes they’re scared of.

In a survey of over 2,000 women, 79 per cent said they fear being hit by a driver, 62 per cent are scared of road rage or harassment, and 56 per cent fear cycling at night.

woman riding e-bike

Only 5 per cent of women cycle to work compared with 20 per cent of men.

“This goes beyond the typical cycling fears and highlights women’s overarching safety concerns regarding being vulnerable on the roads and in public spaces,” Swapfiets’s Katarina Hlavata told Zag Daily.

“Clearly, these ingrained anxieties act as a major barrier preventing more women from taking up cycling.”

Our documentary about road danger reduction examines how other countries have fostered safer roads. Plot spoiler: It doesn’t involve speed limits for cyclists.

Cycling suffrage

What would American social reformer Susan B Anthony have said about the gender imbalance in cycling today, over a century after she famously remarked that the bicycle did “more to emancipate women than anything else in the world”?

It’s highly likely the famous women’s rights campaigner, who played a pivotal role in the suffrage movement, would be appalled. Bans continue to prevent women and girls from cycling in some countries. And research suggests barriers to cycling for women in the 21st century are near universal.

Dr Lauren Pearson from Monash University noted that twice as many men cycle as women. The reasons are depressingly familiar.

Cycling infrastructure suitable for all

The university’s research notes physical separation from motor traffic may support more women to cycle.

“It’s about planning for the trips that aren’t taken as well as those that are,” Dr Pearson told Government News. “Women want to make local trips and we need to make sure we’re building the infrastructure to support this, not just thinking about the people that are already riding, and having that gender lens on all design decisions.”

According to Dr Pearson, much existing cycling infrastructure has been built with men – especially male commuters – in mind; councils tend to build cycling infrastructure that doesn’t necessarily reflect women’s needs.

family on bikes at the beach

The Netherlands famously builds cycling infrastructure suitable for riders aged 8 to 80

Over 100 years ago, women learning to ride bicycles discovered freedom from the cumbersome fashions and sensibilities of the Victorian age.

To this day, women face abuse on the road for the clothes they choose to wear. Women face abuse whether its Lycra, a skirt or a simple pair of jeans.

It’s the latent potential of cycling that’s the real news story. As Bella Bathurst puts it in The Bicycle Book, the bicycle has as much to offer today as it did in the nineteenth century.

“A bicycle still offers freedom, but this time from cars and queues, from oil, from rising prices and a life inside. It gives us back the landscape and makes us part of nature again. It belongs to everyone – every age, every class, every race and religion. And, most importantly of all, it’s fun. A century on, and bicycles are still liberating us all.”

The ethical choice

The ETA was established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. Over 30 years on, we continue to offer cycle insurance , breakdown cover and mobility scooter insurance while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.

The Good Shopping Guide judges us to be the UK’s most ethical provider.

ETA cycle insurance no-claims discount



  1. Ema


    Thank you for highlighting this.

  2. Margaret Turner


    I am 84 and cycle everywhere within about a 10 mile radius; also travelled some brilliant long distance routes such as the Devon Coast-to-Coast. I have cycled since I was 7 which is probably why I’m quite intrepid though well aware of the dangers; but the risks from climate and ecological breakdown are far more pressing so we all need to keep our carbon foot/wheel print to a minimum.
    Cycling out from my home in Exeter on a 5 mile journey I noticed 22 varieties of wildflower, heard blackbirds and great tits, and felt the spring sunshine on my face – half an hour of gentle joy! Recommended.

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