Photo by born1945 on Flickr.

More women will bike if it’s safe, communal, and inclusive. The bike indu­stry should also stop focusing on “mamils,” or “middle-aged men in lycra.” Those were some conclusions from the first-ever National Women Cycling Forum, held on Tuesday in conjunction with the National Bike Summit.

The forum assembled the best minds in women’s cycling, including panelists Cornelia Neal of the Royal Netherlands Embassy; Elysa Walk, General Manager of Giant Bicycles; Veronica Davis of Black Women Bike DC; and keynote speaker Sue Macy, an author and historian.

Macy shared fascinating facts and photos from her book, Wheels of Change, which details how cycling shaped the history of American women. Historically, bicycling offered women autonomy and self-reliance. As Susan B. Anthony put it, cycling “changed women.”

The Netherlands’ Neal said that encouraging women to cycle starts with safety: “If bicycling is safe, people will get on their bike.” She reminded the crowd that her country hasn’t always been the pinnacle of bike mobility. In fact, the Netherlands was once as car-oriented as the US is today. Only after the oil crisis hit in the 1970s did the country change policies to make bicycle travel a top priority.

Veronica Davis, a Greater Greater Washington contributor, said a “Complete Streets” policy encourages planning for all modes of travel and travelers of all abilities. Next month, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments expects to issue a Complete Streets template local jurisdictions can use to develop their own policies.

“Women-only groups are critical to generating momentum for women” said Davis, who co-founded Black Women Bike, a DC-based women’s cycling group that has grown phenomenally in less than a year. Women are often more “communal” than men, so groups such as Black Women Bike, or Birmingham, Alabama-based Magic City Cycle Chix can encourage and attract women to talk about and ride bikes.

In this video, Davis talks about why she started Black Women Bike, and what the group does:

Speakers said the bicycle industry needs to focus less on “mamils,” or “middle-aged men in lycra.” Advertisers should depict more women, more bikes need to be designed to female tastes, and bike shops should cater more to women’s needs. One panelist said shops could start by “keeping the bathrooms cleaner.”

“To get women to bike, you can’t operate in a vacuum,” added Davis, saying women need to be involved in advocacy, planning, and government offices from public health to land use planning. Says Davis: “You don’t have people biking to school because half the time schools are all the way across the city.” Panelists noted that more girls are also needed in engineering, pointing to Fionnuala Quinn, a local DC bike advocate and engineer who helped plan the forum.

The Forum’s sendoff message was simple: the state of bicycling as a transportation mode depends on getting more women on two wheels. In order to get people to take bike transportation seriously, it’s important for everyone, women included, to “bike as much as possible.”

Tagged: bicycling, gender

Jenifer Joy Madden is a multi-media journalist and founder of Vice chair of the Fairfax Co. Transportation Advisory Commission, she was instrumental in the Tysons Metrorail Station Access Management Project and planned a multi-purpose trail system that connects to Tysons.