Bloor Street bike lanes, Bad Girls Bike Club attracting female cyclists

Toronto cyclists are already calling the Bloor Street bike lanes a "game changer," but will the lanes get more female cyclists out on the street?

Cycling advocate says more women riding than in the past

The Bad Girls Bike Club takes female riders on guided tours around the city to boost their confidence on busy streets. (Claire McFarlane/Facebook)

Toronto cyclists are already calling the Bloor Street bike lanes a "game changer," and some are hoping the lanes will get more female cyclists out on the streets.

City of Toronto statistics from 2010 showed that women made up just 38 per cent of cyclists in the city, while the others were men.

Yvonne Bambrick, a cycling advocate and the author of The Urban Cycling Survival Guide, told CBC News she believes those numbers are balancing out these days and said building more bike lanes is helping.

Cycling advocate Yvonne Bambrick says she believes there are more women cycling on Toronto's streets these days.
"To see really well built infrastructure on a treacherous road is a really important step forward for the city," said Bambrick, who tested Bloor Street's lanes this week.

Studies have shown women cycle more safely than men. A joint study from the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia released last year found that of the 3,690 annual hospitalizations for bicycling injuries among youths and adults, 76 per cent were men.

The study's authors believe the striking difference is due to female cyclists taking fewer chances on the road and opting to take safer routes — for example, streets with designated bike lanes like Richmond and Adelaide.

Similar patterns have emerged in cities like London, England, where experts have drawn a link between fewer female cyclists and dangerous road conditions.

Enter, the The Bad Girls Bike Club.

Friends Claire McFarlane Lavinia Tanzim launched the club with the goal of creating a community of female cyclists. 

McFarlane said when she started riding in the city she rarely strayed from the designated lanes, but now she bikes everywhere.

"It can be intimidating ... but once you get out there and know the rules of the road and you're paying attention it's really not that bad," she told CBC Radio's Here and Now.

Group offers guided rides

Cycling around Toronto is a cheap, fast way to get around, the Bad Girls Bike Club founders say. (Claire McFarlane/Facebook)

There's fair reason to be scared. Cyclists have been involved in several crashes in this city this summer, including at least one that proved fatal. And not all those crashes involve cars, SUVs, trucks or other motorized vehicles, as an estimated one third are attributed to bike wheels getting caught in streetcar tracks. 

Bad Girls Bike Club is hoping to reduce some womens' fear of cycling in Toronto by guiding newer female riders — recruited via Facebook — around the city. They also run workshops on bike maintenance and other key skills after the rides. 

McFarlane said there are major bonuses to biking in Toronto.

"It's the most inexpensive and efficient way to travel around the city," she said.

"It's totally doable."

McFarlane said she's planning on incorporating the Bloor Street bike lane into an upcoming ride. 

Bambrick said riding with an experienced friend is a great way to get comfortable in the city. She also recommends sticking to quieter streets while getting started, or riding on weekends when there's less traffic.

What you need to ride with the Bad Girls Bike Club. (Claire McFarlane/Facebook)