Biking Can Be Cool…Unless You’re a Teenage Girl

Written by A.K. Streeter

As part of the Family Activity Study (FAS) undertaken by Dr. Jennifer Dill and colleagues at Portland State University, researcher Tara Goddard has supported with some data the idea that attitudes toward biking change when girls become teens.

Dill and colleagues wanted to learn through the multi-year, longitudinal study how parents and children get to where they need to go, and how families use active transportation like walking and biking.

The study involved inner-city Portland neighborhoods slated to get neighborhood greenways, those low-speed residential streets that have bike icons painted on them to encourage cars to share the road with bikes, and to drive slower for pedestrians.

The 166 teens surveyed with FAS filled out surveys prior to installation of neighborhood greenways. As Goddard points out in a presentation from last week at Portland State, the survey included a lot of attitude and perception questions. The researchers knew that previous studies have shown that teenage girls’ activity levels tend to plummet around eighth grade. The questions were to help determine what teen attitudes contribute to that.

Goddard found that the cool factor, if it can be called that, plays a role in perceptions of bike riding. Girls who reported that they don’t like riding a bike were more likely to say that their friends don’t think biking is cool, and vice versa: girls who said they like to bike also reported their friends say it is cool to do so.

From this small study Goddard also demonstrated that girls’ attitudes seem to shift right around age 14. Twelve-year-old boys and girls seemed to be on par, not very concerned about getting hurt from physical activity. By the time they are 14, girls were far more likely than boys studied to have worries about their competence with exercise, and about embarrassment, and about possible injury.

Goddard said she is hoping to do follow up with FAS girls surveyed to try to figure out a little better why girls develop some of these attitudes. The research group is now studying data from after the bike greenways were put in, including travel data (subjects wore GPS and accelerometer devices to tally what types of transport they took).

Overall, Goddard said skills clinics and social rides might aid teen girls in feeling less worried about injury or embarrassment from biking, but she’s also not convinced biking has to be cool. Instead, she’s hoping it will one day just be a normal way for teens, including the girls, to travel.

“I phrased my talk about “cool” because we specifically asked that question, and because it makes for a catchy title, but really, I think normalizing bicycling is more important that “cooling” bicycling, maybe even more so for teens than adults.” – Tara Goddard

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


Photo: Christopher Porter/flickr


Elisa F.
Elisa F3 years ago

My daughter likes to go biking with me in the evening. Some teens worry about "being seen". Before you know it, they are grown :)

Paul M.
Paul M4 years ago

GGma Sheila D. "And this study is important WHY??"

The study is important because if focuses us on the sort of society we want to live in. The specifics may not be as important as that it is an investigation of the social structure as is, so we can look to what sort we want in our future.

If the study is done again in 10 years and the situation shows that it has improved, that would be a good outcome, but first we need the comparison point.

Sheila D.
GGmaSheila D4 years ago

And this study is important WHY??

Olliver V.
Olliver V.4 years ago

where I grew up, a teen's bike was part of their life, boy or girl. it was a very important object to them. Like a best friend with wheels, you also ride with your human friends. Not riding a bike was a form of social suicide, as you would be left, "in the dust" while everyone else peddled around.

Or perhaps it is from living in a rural area. I know nothing of urban and inner city life.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W4 years ago

thanks for sharing

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G4 years ago

In the Netherlands this kind of peer group pressure does not exist... nor in Denmark I suspect!

faith v.
faith v4 years ago

I think Helen says it all.

Helen K.

There is harassment to take into account, both sexual harassment and mock threat-- cars swerving towards the bike before swerving away. Basically, there are a certain percentage of guys out there who think it is funny to scare, throw things, scream insults and threats, and hit on girls who are out on their bikes. It doesn't take many bad experiences, first *or* secondhand, for most gals to think twice about putting themselves out as targets.

Ernie Miller
william Miller4 years ago

I never was one for the cool factor I just do what I like and who cares what every one else thinks is cool. It is a shame young women get so caught up in peer pressures like that.

Berny p.
berny p4 years ago

The "cool" factor could be increased by the towns/cities.

Providing appropriate bike lanes, bike and walking trails, accommodations such as numerous bike lock stations.

All of this makes it easier to make the transition to biking.