Why don’t more women bike in New York?

4314 4th Ave, Brooklyn. Angela Azzolino, program creator and executive director of Get Women Cycling, an initiative to encourage women to use bicycles for their daily commutes. (Lisette Arévalo / Columbia University)

Even as Citi Bike is expanding to new boroughs, it is struggling to reach more female cyclists in New York City. And that reflects a wider trend as men dominate the city’s cycling scene.

At the beginning of September, Citi Bike announced on its website that women who are new to the service will get a free day pass this month. Citi Bike’s campaign, Women Who Bike, seeks to reach more female riders because women account for 34% bike-share members in the United States. Only national statistics are available.

“To get new women to bike, it’s a challenge…. Most women are scared”, says Michelle Novie, who lives in New York and belongs to Get Women Cycling, a 750-member national group that encourages female cycling.

Safety is one of the main concerns, said Angela Azzolino, executive director of the group. Cars parking or driving on bike lanes, cyclists running red lights and motor vehicles tagging behind cyclists have caused 18 bicycle fatalities and 4,973 injuries in 2016, according to the New York City Department of Transportation.

Abby Ruh lives in West Harlem and doesn’t bike outdoors. A year ago, she started going to spinning classes in the Upper West Side. “Just the fact that it is in a class, in a group setting and doesn’t have any of the outside factors of biking in the city makes it easier,” says Ruh.

According to a 2014 study by Hunter College, only 21% of riders in New York City are women. Some bike shops in New York have witnessed this gender gap in their stores. Roberto Lara works for Bicycle Renaissance, a 35-year-old bike shop at 430 Columbus Ave. He estimates that about 30% of their customers are women. “We’ve been waiting for them to shift from spinning into being our customers, but that hasn’t happened,” he says.

Part of the problem is safety for children. Citi Bikes don’t accommodate kid sits. Estela Carreño, who has been working at Eddie’s Bicycle Shop for 28 years at 490 Amsterdam Ave., says that many of her female customers come looking for bicycles for their kids or for kids’ bike seats. Nancy King commutes every day from Gramercy to Chinatown in her own bike with her 5-year-old child. “If Citi Bike accommodated children safely in their bike, I’d consider taking” it, she says.

Ellen Bolotin, who commutes to work and school with her children in Brooklyn, says that customer service in bike shops kept her away from biking for a while. “I’ve been to stores where I’ve felt like every question was a waste of their time — like me and my kids were not a valued part of biking culture”, she says.

Citi Bike did not respond despite several requests for comment.