Obsessing on safety: teenage girls attitudes to cycling

Elaine Mullan, Margriet Groot

Research output: Contribution to conferencePresentation


Girls tend to drop out of sport and organised physical activity with the onset of puberty. Cycling for transport (CFT) is a major source of unintentional daily PA and makes up the most of girls’ daily PA needs in countries like the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, where CFT participation is high (Pucher & Buehler, 2012). However, levels of cycling among teenage girls in Ireland and the UK are particularly low and international research has found a variety of reasons for this: lack of confidence (Heesch et al., 2012); parental concerns about ‘stranger danger’ (Garrard et al., 2009); image concerns such as ‘helmet hair’ and attractiveness (Osborne, 2007; Kirby & Inchley, 2009), and the social stigma of cycling (Underwood & Handy, 2012). There is no Irish research in this area, and none that has explored safety perceptions or the influence of parental perceptions. The overall aim of this research, therefore, was to explore adolescent girls’ attitudes to CFT, and specifically perceived barriers to cycling to school, attitudes towards the safety of cycling and the influence of their parents’ attitudes on transport decisions.Two semi structured focus group were held with 12 females aged 15-16, from an all-girls school in Waterford City, Ireland. Discussions mainly centered around eight images of cyclists (adults and children, with and without hi-vis/helmets, cycling for transport and/or recreation) and views expressed were mainly negative. The predominant theme that emerged was the extreme danger of CFT and the absolute need to wear a helmet, hi-vis jacket, tracksuit and sensible shoes; indeed to dress like a sports/fitness cyclist. Not to do so was seen as very reckless and unsafe. Using an umbrella, carrying a child passenger(s), wearing heels while cycling, or being a child cyclist was considered particularly hazardous.Fear of traffic was a consistent presence, and it generally came from parents. Image, distance, weather and topography were hardly mentioned. Given the lack of ‘normal’ role models on which to base their perceptions – the greatest growth in cycling outside of Dublin is in sport/fitness cycling on ‘racers’ – the results are somewhat unsurprising. But that safety concerns are far more central and significant than image concerns is more worrying. Clearly, the message that CFT is dangerous and risky must be reframed. Road safety education campaigns, in particular must place less focus on the risks and dangers of CFT and more on the benefits, which far outweigh the risks. Garrard, J., Crawford, S. & Godbold, T. (2009). Evaluation of the Ride2School Program: final report. Melbourne: Deakin University. Heesch, C.K., Sahlqvist, S. & Garrard, J. (2012). Gender differences in recreational and transport cycling: a cross-sectional mixed-methods comparison of cycling patterns, motivators, and constraints. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity 8, 1-12. Kirby, J. & Inchley, J. (2009). Active travel to school: views of 10-13 year old school children in Scotland. Health Education 109, 169-183. Osborne, E. (2007). Beauty and the bike-Information Sheet. UK: Sustrans. Pucher, J. & Buehler, R. (2012). City Cycling: Urban and Industrial Environments, London: The MIT Press. Underwood, S. & Handy, S. (2012). Adolescent Attitudes Towards Active Transport: Bicycling in Youth in Retrospect from Adulthood. California: Department of Environmental Science and Policy
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014
Eventcycling & Society Annual Symposium, Newcastle, UK, 15-16th September, 2014 -
Duration: 03 Jan 0001 → …


Conferencecycling & Society Annual Symposium, Newcastle, UK, 15-16th September, 2014
Period03/01/0001 → …


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