Manchester suffragettes highlight gender imbalance

By Rosslyn Colderley,
Women dressed as suffragettes on bikes, one person holding a banner

8/10 people surveyed said that if the roads were safer they would start cycling more

Women dressed as suffragettes on bikes

In the UK only one in four cyclists are women

A woman dressed as a suffragette

In Copenhagen more women cycle than men

A woman dressed as a suffragette walking with a child

Bikes played an important part in the women's suffrage movement

Women dressed as suffragettes on bikes

A bike can provide freedom of movement and open up new opportunities

On Saturday I put on tweeds and a very flamboyant Edwardian straw hat and joined 20 other women for our Suffragette Ride ahead of celebrations for International Women's Day.

It was a great excuse to get heads turning to see a large group of women (and a couple of men) on bikes on the streets of Manchester and along the Fallowfield Loop, our local traffic-free path.

We got lots of shouts of support, mainly from women and girls along the route. Generally, we’re a minority on the roads and research shows that fears about safety on busy roads puts off many women – and men.

Today’s research shows that only one in four cyclists are women.

This is a surprising fact given that the bicycle has long been associated with women’s freedom and the suffragette movement.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote in 1895, “Many a woman is riding to suffrage on a bicycle”.

While in 1905 Miss Morley said in The Penny Illustrated Paper, “The bicycle has done more than anything else of a humbler kind to revolutionise modern women’s life.”

Our own Bike Life survey last October confirms that many women still don’t feel safe on the roads. When we interviewed over 4,000 people in Greater Manchester for the Bike Life survey less than a third of those who said they cycled (31%) were women.

Most people (eight out of 10) said that if the roads were safer they would definitely get on their bikes.

We know that if more money was regularly spent on creating and maintaining better cycle lanes many women would choose cycling as their preferred mode of transport. In cities such as Copenhagen, where bike lanes and other facilities separate bikes from traffic, more women cycle than men. 

The Suffragette Ride finished with tea and scones in Alexandra Park, the scene of many suffragette rallies. We saw an inspiring exhibition about the history of cycling and women, put together by our ride leader Glynis Francis of Manchester Bike Tours.

She’ll be leading other rides during March as part of a series of events to encourage women to get on their bikes in Transport for Greater Manchester’s Women on Wheels programme

We hope the suffragettes will come out again on their bikes in Manchester, and perhaps other cities, to highlight the need for more investment in cycling.

If you would like to join in, please get in touch with Rosslyn.

Please write to your MP and ask for more investment in cycle infrastructure.