We need creative solutions to encourage more women to cycle

Chi Onwurah on a bicycle

"I tend to cycle when I visit activities in my constituency, usually around 1-3 miles"

Chi Onwurah is a Labour Party MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne Central. In this article, she talks about her experience of cycling in Newcastle.

"I started cycling again three or four years ago and it was the help and support of more experienced women cyclists which was one of the things that helped me get back on my bike.

"Now I cycle regularly in and around Newcastle for work and leisure as well - although I don’t ride in London as the Tube is faster and I don’t want to have to take my bike down.

"I tend to cycle when I visit activities in my constituency, usually around one to three miles. If I’m going to speak at something I’ll be more likely to cycle or walk there, especially at this time of year. During the last election, I had a ‘Battle Bike’ with balloons, which helped make me very visible! At weekends I’ll cycle longer, for 12 miles or so in the countryside.

"There are so many physical and mental health benefits to cycling and it’s a great thing to do with families. I often ride across the Town Moor, which is full of cows, not cars! It’s a much more inspiring start to the day than waiting for a bus that may never come.

"I’ll cycle a bit on roads but cycle routes are definitely my preferred option. Some areas have a cycle route shared with a bus lane which I tend to avoid. A lot of drivers are cyclists too, so generally, people give way although sometimes they go far too close and speed or overtake which makes you feel uncomfortable. But that is a rarity.

"Cycle lanes make a huge difference to me personally. They’re planning cycle lanes through Elswick and Benwell, and quite a few local residents are complaining about the idea, saying that nobody cycles there so why do we need a cycle lane. But people are much more likely to try cycling if there are lanes.

"We’ve got a lot more cycle lanes now but it needs to be more consistent across the city. The east side hasn’t got as many cycle routes. People need to be able to try out routes close to their homes so they can get comfortable with cycling.

"What helped me get back into cycling is that someone lent me a bike. Since then I’ve bought my own, but having an easy way just to try it out and get confident really helps to break down barriers. Facilities like the Bike Garden and Bike Hub in Newcastle was great for me as it provides access to cycling maintenance classes and a £10 inspection of your bike.

"I know how to dress for cycling but I’ve noticed that bike shops aren’t very female-friendly. You need to be able to cycle without changing into lycra so you should be able to find hi-vis and other clothing or lights which are easily wearable over your normal clothes. I don’t cycle very much at night as I still feel a bit hard to see in my usual clothing.

"When I was a child everyone had a bike but now it’s become a very middle-class activity. We need to get creative about encouraging working-class women on to bikes too."

Find out more about our 'Bike Life - Women: reducing the gender gap' report