Veteran cyclist Madeleine Berg sees few other women riding the roads of Long Island -- and she thinks she knows why.
"They're scared," says Berg, who lives in Woodbury. " 'I can't ride in the street,' 'I can't go up a hill,' 'You go too fast.' Nobody wants to do it."
That observation appears to contradict the results of a new national study on bike participation, conducted by the advocacy organization PeopleForBikes. "Our study showed a lot more women are riding than we thought," said Kate Powlison, a spokeswoman for the Boulder, Colorado-based group. "Fewer women than men ride, but the gap isn't quite as big as was previously estimated."
Based on the study, conducted last fall among a sample of 16,193 adults, 43 percent of those who said they had ridden a bike in the past year were female; significantly higher than previous studies.
In another result that went counter to other research, the new study found that mothers are more likely to ride than women who don't have children. Also, the new research suggests that most women who ride are doing so for recreation. Only a small percentage said they either raced competitively or used their bike to commute to work.
Berg, a 52-year-old mother of four, says that, while she might be classified as "recreational" in the survey, her rides -- at an average pace of 13 or 14 miles per hour -- are a workout. "It's not a leisurely pedal," says Berg, who rides a Specialized Ruby Pro women's road bike. "And I do hills."
As for women riding on Long Island, the truth is they're out there: For example, in last month's Carl Hart Mother's Day Duathlon, 131 women completed the 10.5-mile bike course (along with two 1.5-mile runs) that made up the event, held in Heckscher State Park in Islip. Women will no doubt be well represented in the 33rd annual Gold Coast Tour on July 12, a recreational ride of varying distances, along the North Shore. And even casual observation of the riders on such popular recreational paths as the ones along the Bethpage and Wantagh parkways would suggest that while men are clearly the majority, Berg is not the only female on a bike. (Indeed, the Wantagh bike path, which runs between Cedar Creek Park and Jones Beach, is named after a local female cyclist, Ellen Farrant).
Still, the heavily trafficked roads of Long Island could certainly give many women -- and men -- pause before pedaling. While other studies have found that ridership increases in places with designated bike lanes, Powlison concedes that getting more people to bike regularly, especially women, is a challenge. As for the issue of safety on Long Island, Berg concedes that while bicyclists need to be careful, "I still think the couch is more dangerous than being on your bike."