On your bike:
Cycling is a great way to get fit, save cash and care for the environment. So what’s stopping you Professor Kerryn Phelps asks.
cycling benefits your health and the planet, so why don’t more women do it?
When was the last time you rode a bicycle? I still remember learning to ride when I was a child, and particularly that euphoric moment when the training wheels came off and I felt the sense of achievement that I could stay upright. I never actually owned a bicycle as a child, but just recently I bought my first one and I have rediscovered how much fun it is to cycle.
One Sunday, I joined a cycling tour of my home town, Sydney. Most of the ride was on dedicated cycle paths or recommended back streets and parks. I saw the city from a completely new perspective.
There are the practical aspects of cycling as a form of transport, too. With cities becoming more and more congested with traffic, parking your car is an increasingly frustrating and expensive procedure, and public transport doesn’t always get you where you need to go.
The design of towns and cities has a major impact on the physical and mental health of the people who live in them, and infrastructure such as dedicated cycling paths can make a real difference. The Ministry of Transport Household Travel Survey (2013) showed 19 per cent of New Zealanders had biked in the past month. Of those, 67 per cent were aged five to 12 years old, and 53 per cent of those aged 13 to 17 years old had biked in the past year. Around 45,000 people ride to work (about 2.9 per cent of commuters), according to the 2013 Census. Commuting by bike is increasing in many cities, including Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Of course, cycling to work also depends on how far away from your workplace you live.
One of my clinics is by a cycle path and I have seen it grow in popularity from the beginning, when few bikes were seen, to becoming a busy commuter route to and from the CBD.
New Zealand, however, is way behind many western European cities in the trend to have cycling as a transport option.
Cycling is a very effective way to exercise, so there are obvious health and fitness benefits. On a larger scale, the spin-off effect is a reduction in noncommunicable chronic health problems, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes, in the community.
Women and cycling
Women cycle for fitness and as a form of active transport. Those who cycle for transport ride a bike to do their shopping, run errands and commute to work and study. So with all of these advantages of fitness, cost savings and convenience, why aren’t more women in New Zealand taking up cycling?
Safety, or at least perceived safety, is an issue. A national survey by the Cycling Promotion Fund and the National Heart Foundation of Australia in 2013 found that a lack of safe cycle paths is stopping a lot of women from riding.
The study found that more than 60 per cent of women would like to cycle more often, with 50 per cent identifying that having more separated cycle paths, bike lanes and wider lanes on the road would be among the incentives to encourage them to cycle more.
Infrastructure planners need to consider the safety concerns of women when they are designing transport systems. Safe, separated cycle paths support women using active travel for transport and recreation.
Cyclists are also concerned about aggression by motorists, such as cutting them off and sounding the horn, as well as verbally attacking them.
It also has to be said that mutual consideration between cyclists and other road users needs to improve. So, along with improved infrastructure, we need to see education programmes aimed at improving awareness and safety for cyclists.
If you are looking for a new way to exercise, or a way to avoid traffic jams and parking fees, think about cycling. Good for fitness. Good for your heart health. Good for your mental health. And good for the environment.
“Cycling is a very effective way to exercise, so there are obvious health and fitness benefits.”