The Safer Sex: Are women safer cyclists? + Letter to the editor

Illustration by Dushan Milic

The Safer Sex: Data shows bicycling for transportation is safer for females

 Story by Grant McLean

~ This story originally appeared in our current issue #10 as a sidebar with the feature "Safety Dance" by Sarah B. Hood and received a letter to the editor which we are delighted to publish herein.~

Fear is a barrier that deters many women from bicycling in the city for transportation, a factor that contributes to fact that there are fewer female riders out on their bikes than males.

But research has established that a sedentary lifestyle also carries a greater risk of heart attacks, diabetes, and cancers associated with inactivity. And the health benefits of exercise more than offset the risk of injury.

It might be surprising to learn that cycling injuries are on the decline. In Ontario, major cycling injuries declined 64%, and fatalities dropped 70% between 1998 and 2009.   As an activity, bicycling has far fewer serious injuries than horseback riding, hockey, football, even canoeing and fishing!

The different modes of travel are an interesting case that highlights the fact that gender is a significant factor in the level of risk.

Travel mode data from United States (Canada doesn’t publish travel data by gender) indicates that for females there is no significant risk difference between walking, bicycling and driving. Whereas for males there is a higher risk for walking and bicycling than driving. Women are clearly the safer sex, and the numbers indicate that female cyclists are safer on the road than males.


A lifelong cyclist, Grant McLean is studying Urban Planning at the University of Toronto, and research assistant at The Cycling Think & Do Tank, a research project focused on increasing cycling as a primary transportation choice.


Mode Share Data: Beck, Laurie, Ann Dellinger, and Mary O’Neil.  “Motor Vehicle Crash Rates by Mode of Travel, United States: Using Exposure-Based methods to Quantify Differences.” American Journal of Epidemiology vol. 166 no. 2 (2007) 212-218

Ontario Injury Rates: Ontario Ministry of Transportation: Draft Cycling Strategy for Consultation on the Environmental Registry.  (2012)

Ontario Sports Injury Rates: Tator, Charles H. Editor.  The MacLaren Report: Catastrophic Injuries in Sports and Recreation: Causes and Prevention.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press (2008).

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: From Chloé Rosemarin about this story

Hi dandyhorse,

The sidebar “The Safer Sex” (accompanying your safety feature) about women and cycling really struck a nerve with me. As a woman and lifelong cyclist (well, I started at about age six) I've many a thought on why there are significantly fewer two-wheeled women on the road.

As a cyclist, I am really only tolerated on quieter side streets. If I am on a major road, such as Bloor Street, then the general consensus seems to be that I accept any fate that may befall me, right up to vehicular homicide. If I go along a trail, or through say, Coronation Park at night, I can expect there to be no lighting at all; this despite the fact that these park paths are often the official best routes for cyclists, according to the City of Toronto.
Conversely, as a woman, I am constantly reminded about the need to stay in well-lit areas. So no Coronation Park, and no trail riding at night, even if I have my bicycle and need to get home and the city tells me to. If I take these quieter routes or darker side streets, then the common understanding is that I am tempting whatever fate might befall me, right down to sexual assault causing death.

In my experience, women riding bicycles at night are at risk of very conflicting difficulties. Let's play a guessing game to illustrate what I mean. You're waiting at a red light, and it's dark. Let's say it's 10 p.m. and you're coming home from dinner and a movie. You're waiting at the red light and some drunken young man tries to convince you that it's his birthday and so he is deserving of you giving him a good time.

Do you:

a) ditch your bike and run?

b) run the red light, knowing that you will then be giving all cyclists a bad name?

c) wait at the corner for the light to change, while being verbally attacked, knowing that he could easily touch you, or even push you off your bike, and that it would all be your fault for daring to be out at night?

The reason that there are fewer women cycling than men is clear: in a city that is so respectful of women (Ed says: sarcasm noted), where our police tell women that they won’t be assaulted if they just stop dressing like sluts, and the City's works department tells us to stay on the side streets and paths out of the way of cars (that are literally choking our city), and our own mayor says if cyclists are killed or harmed it's our own fault, it's not hard to see why the stats may be skewed for Toronto’s women.

In a city that is so respectful of women that we've spawned an international movement named Slutwalk, what is there that encourages women to tempt fate and ride our bikes? When every thing that harms us, from sexual assault to vehicular homicide, is deemed our own fault for leaving the house, why should we bother?

Chloé Rosemarin


Related on the dandyBLOG:

Safety Dance: Is it safe to ride in Toronto? by Sarah B. Hood (from issue #10)

Issue #10 is here!

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One response to “The Safer Sex: Are women safer cyclists? + Letter to the editor”

  1. hamish wilson says:

    There is another level of risk to urban biking that I and other guys don’t have – though it takes some time to begin to appreciate this. The inequities are more pronounced though, in the last few years with the Ford regime, and their priorities. Even though the off-road components of the Bike Plan are beyond the goals, there is/was to be a further $50M into them; on-road was to get $5M, under circumstances like community approval, and the Fords and Council decide that more than the local councillors eg. Bloor near High Park. Worse, the push for separated bike lanes has been playing into the hands of those who like to do nothing substantive: the costs of larger separated lane rebuilds soak up most of that budget it seems since to repaint a road for bike lanes – like Bloor – it’s only $25,000 a km. So a big $100,000 could repaint all of Bloor between Dundas St. W. and Spadina; this would be good!
    Sadly a major “advocacy” group, the Cycle Toronto folks, don’t seem to get these equity points and the issues with the separated lanes playing into the delay and don’t change things camp, even though the off-road excess is inherently inequitable eg. Ardeth Woods – the paths aren’t always safe enough because they are off-road. And now the push to rebuild Harbord with bi-directional further delays Richmond/Adelaide and diverts attention from Bloor, being renewed, but with scant to no change to bike safety despite the decades of knowing the harms.
    The inequity of Bloor is compounded with avoiding the help to the subway that a Bloor bike lane would bring: people would shift off of the subway, making it more efficient, and the transit system is also inequitable in its fare strructure as short-length trips cost a lot – and women still don’t earn as much.
    Hopefully, those women that see/read this can help fuss to improve the core mobility issues, and don’t just think that pressuring local councillors is enough please – the province should and must do a batch more to help urban cyclists.

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