PROVO — For Kira Johnson, the love of cycling to work led her to her current job at Provo Bicycle Collective, a nonprofit used bike shop.
Though she says she doesn't consider herself an avid bicyclist per se, “we can experience our community more and experience human interaction more when we’re on a bike rather than when we’re in a car," Johnson said.
She is part of a minority of women who opt to ride their bikes to work and school. Though bike commuting is a growing trend nationwide, women make up only about 28 percent of bicycle trips in 2014, according to the League of American Bicyclists.
Johnson started working at Provo Bicycle Collective because she wanted to learn more about how bicycles function. She says she believes fewer women use bikes to commute in Utah because of a lack of infrastructure for riders in the state.
“I have been blessed with safety, but I also bike pretty defensively, and so I won’t enter an intersection unless I’ve made eye contact with both the person turning left and the person turning right,” she explained.
The program manager and bike mechanic at Provo Bicycle Collective also says she believes some women might feel intimidated about issues that could arise while riding, like getting a flat tire and not knowing how to fix it.
However, she says the benefits of riding outweigh the risks if a rider takes precautions.
“I think if we understand how to bike in urban places, I believe we can be very safe. That the concerns with safety are mostly just barriers to us, but once we learn how to overcome those, I think that it’s very safe to be biking,” she said.
In Provo, women make up only 23 percent of bicycle commuters, according to a study led by BYU health science professor Robert Chaney.
The researchers observed bike commuters during peak commute times over a two-week period in fall 2014. They found that gender differences do tend to affect how riders view safety and "their concerns for being seen while riding."
"There may not be, in reality, any different kind of risk (to women) compared to men on bikes, but women on average may think that their chance of getting hit is different, so their perception of safety is different," Chaney explained.
The professor, who himself has been biking to work for years, says he was prompted to do the research when he moved to Utah and noticed unusual things about the state's cyclists and roads.
He said the wide roads create "some unique opportunities, but also some unique challenges for bikers."
The University of Utah doesn't record data about bicyclists based on gender, according to Ginger Cannon, U. active transportation manager. However, "research tells us that women do not bike commute primarily because of barriers related to perception of safety, lack of bicycle facilities, and lack of end of trip facilities, such as showers and changing rooms," she said.
She also says the U. "supports annual events that encourage and educate bicyclists and includes women-specific programming. We also have curriculum that teaches bicyclists how to bike commute and explore the city by bike."
Bicycle advocacy group People for Bikes also did a study on gender differences in bicycling, surveying 16,000 people. They found that more women worry about their safety while riding a bicycle than men do.
Additionally, "it is also worth noting that women are significantly underrepresented in some areas of bicycling, such as racing. … Women are more often outside of the core of bicycle enthusiasts, and strategies to get them riding should keep that in mind," according to People for Bikes.
There are several events in Utah, some held by bike shops, geared toward including more women in the world of bicycling. Among them:
• On Saturday, the annual Cyclofemme Ride, a casual ride for all ages of women, took place in Provo.
• Provo Bicycle Collective puts on a weekly Women's Volunteer Night on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. During the event, women are invited to volunteer in the shop and learn about bicycle mechanics.
• Trek Bicycles in Salt Lake City holds a Ladies' Night Out for female cyclists to connect with each other. The store also offers a bike collection designed specifically for women.
• Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective holds a "Women, Trans, Femme Night" every Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
• Red Rock Bicycle Company in St. George sponsors mountain bike rides and workshops for women.
• In June, the Little Red Riding Hood all-women, noncompetitive bike ride will take place in Cache Valley.
• In September, Goldilocks Provo will also hold an all-women, noncompetitive bike ride.
Momentum Mag, a bicycle-focused publication, discusses the benefits of bike commuting to individuals and communities as a whole.
It's fun and healthy; it contributes to fitness and happiness; it can improve brain performance; and it saves money and gives riders a feeling of freedom, the magazine staff writes.
According to the U. active transportation manager, "if you look at the history of bicycles as a technology, they are strongly connected to the history of women’s rights and independence in America."
"Bikes empower women. Getting more butts on bikes, no matter the gender, benefits our entire community with almost 50 percent of Utah’s urban air pollution coming from tailpipe emissions," Cannon said.26 comments on this story
Utah ranks 16th nationally for its share of bike commuters, with several cities including Orem, Ogden and St. George ranking high among other cities of similar population sizes, according to the League of American Bicyclists. More than 800,000 Americans pedaled to work in 2016 as part of a growing trend towards bike commuting, the league estimates.
And with more people biking to work, roads become safer for bicyclists, Momentum Mag claims, citing a study from the University of New South Wales that found "driver behavior actually changes to include safer driving practices when the number of cyclists and pedestrians increases."
"The more you have a diverse and inclusive population of riders, the more likely it is to be a big group, and the bigger the group, the safer it is for everybody," he said.