When she got pregnant and had her first child, Megan Odett knew her life would never be the same: “I thought I lost everything I liked about the person I used to be.”
The top of the list from her old identity: Riding her bike just about everywhere. Like so many mothers, complications during her pregnancy and having a new tiny passenger kept her from cycling. “So one day, I decided, screw this,” she said. “I’m going to get back one thing about the old me.”
Already, Odett had noticed more parents and families riding on the streets of D.C. “But I hadn’t seen any movement or network bringing them together,” she said. So that’s exactly what she did, bringing the Kidical Mass concept to the nation’s capital, in a big way. In less than two years, Odett — pregnant now with her second child — has created a growing community of family riders and been a strong voice for mothers in the discussion on engaging more women in bicycling.
Odett described her work to get more moms on bikes at the National Women’s Bicycling Forum this month. Part of the “Community-Based Bicycle Advocacy” session, she outlined some of the unique barriers to family riding and solutions to overcome them.
One key example? Equipment and gear to accommodate kids. “The equipment is hard to get and often it’s not stocked in bike shops,” she said. “You have to special order it, so you can’t try it before you drop a lot of money. I wanted to find a way to make it easier for people to learn about different equipment and see it all in one place, before dropping hundreds of dollars on something their kids might hate.” So Odett organized a one-stop shop for moms and dads in D.C. — An ABCs of Family Biking event that gathered current cyclists to share their stories and solutions, and put many of those tools on display for folks to test drive.
Having hosted monthly rides, in addition to special events, Odett identified some key tips for getting more moms — and women overall — on bikes. As Tanya Snyder, over at Streetsblog, summed up:
- Identify the most likely prospects: The “low-hanging fruit” for family cycling are people who rode before they have kids, who live in a dense area, and who have moderate or high incomes (because there can be expensive equipment involved), said Odett. People with somewhat flexible schedules or work from home are also likely candidates for cycling. “I think that the core audience for family cycling and ‘mama-biking’ hasn’t really been saturated yet,” Odett said.
- Saturate the core audience: “You want to looking at saturating this core audience first, and then letting this movement expand out to some of the higher hanging fruit,” Odett said. “That’s going to make it much more ‘normal’ to bike with kids. It’s also going to create a used equipment market, which will help lower the barrier to entry to cycling with children.” And that will expand the demographic base outward from that initial high-income set.
- Model the benefits: Odett says women are barraged with advertising messages, as are parents – so moms learn to just tune it out. An organized PR campaign aimed at getting moms to bike might not work – but they’ll notice when their friend rides right up to the school’s front doors with a happy, smiling child on the back and everybody else has been stuck in traffic. “When I ride, I think of myself as PR for bicycling,” Odett said. “I’m on this bike because it’s an amazingly fun thing to do with my son.”
Eager to understand other families’ experience, Odett recently conducted a Family Biking Survey, that garnered responses from nearly 100 people in 21 states and four countries. The survey gathered insight on what equipment families are using, what resources helped them get started and barriers to riding more. Among the top obstacles for women: effort, safety and distance.
The survey also included a question on what parents would say about the national conversation to get more women riding.
“It’s just plain more complicated for me than it is for my male colleagues who 1) have no hair and 2) don’t have to transport young kids,” said one respondent. “The level of infrastructure and institutional support that’s sufficient for them isn’t sufficient for me. I want to bike with the kids but it’s taken a huge investment to do so. First a bike seat (not such a big deal), then a trailer, then an entirely new bike. Plus lots of time and energy to figure out the logistics. We have an awesome bike share program in Boston that is inaccessible to riders with children. So I don’t use it. What a shame!”
“Good infrastructure is really, really important, as is easy access to route-planning tools,” said another. “I’ve talked to other mothers that don’t bike in our area because there aren’t or they don’t know about good routes (the quiet streets, the dead-ends that go through for pedestrians/bikes, etc.).”
“I wish there were more family bikes found in more shops,” said Shane MacRhodes, the co-founder of the first Kidical Mass in Eugene, Ore. “I want them affordable but I also want people to recognize that they aren’t a toy and aren’t cheap for a reason. People are willing to spend hundreds (or thousands) on a single car repair but gasp at $1,500 for a family bike that can last them more than a decade and give them freedom, exercise, joy and save them thousands over that time. The industry needs to grow and change but so do people’s understanding of what cycling is and is worth.”
Carolyn SzczepanskiCarolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League's blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women's Bicycling Summit and launched the League's newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.