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Cycling and the city: A case study of how gendered, ethnic and class identities can shape healthy transport choices


  • Steinbach, Rebecca
  • Green, Judith
  • Datta, Jessica
  • Edwards, Phil


As a form of 'active transport', cycling has been encouraged as a route to improving population health. However, in many high-income countries, despite being widely seen as a 'healthy' choice, few people do cycle for transport. Further, where cycling is rare, it is not a choice made equally across the population. In London, for instance, cycling is disproportionately an activity of affluent, White, men. This paper takes London as a case study to explore why the meanings of cycling might resonate differently across urban, gendered, ethnic and class identities. Drawing on qualitative interview data with 78 individuals, we suggest first that the relative visibility of cycling when few do it means that it is publicly gendered in a way that more normalised modes of transport are not; conversely, the very invisibility of Black and Asian cyclists reduces their opportunities to see cycling as a candidate mode of transport. Second, following Bourdieu, we argue that the affinities different population groups have for cycling may reflect the locally constituted 'accomplishments' contained in cycling. In London, cycling represents the archetypal efficient mode for autonomous individuals to travel in ways that maximise their future-health gain, and minimise wasted time and dependence on others. However, it relies on the cultivation of a particular 'assertive' style to defend against the risks of road danger and aggression. While the identities of some professional (largely White) men and women could be bolstered by cycling, the aesthetic and symbolic goals of cycling were less appealing to those with other class, gendered and ethnic identities.

Suggested Citation

  • Steinbach, Rebecca & Green, Judith & Datta, Jessica & Edwards, Phil, 2011. "Cycling and the city: A case study of how gendered, ethnic and class identities can shape healthy transport choices," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 72(7), pages 1123-1130, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:72:y:2011:i:7:p:1123-1130

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    Cited by:

    1. Bhat, Chandra R. & Astroza, Sebastian & Hamdi, Amin S., 2017. "A spatial generalized ordered-response model with skew normal kernel error terms with an application to bicycling frequency," Transportation Research Part B: Methodological, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 126-148.
    2. Elias, Wafa & Katoshevski-Cavari, Rachel, 2014. "The role of socio-economic and environmental characteristics in school-commuting behavior: A comparative study of Jewish and Arab children in Israel," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(C), pages 79-87.
    3. Zhang, Dapeng & Magalhães, David José Ahouagi Vaz & Wang, Xiaokun (Cara), 2014. "Prioritizing bicycle paths in Belo Horizonte City, Brazil: Analysis based on user preferences and willingness considering individual heterogeneity," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 67(C), pages 268-278.
    4. Aldred, Rachel & Woodcock, James, 2015. "Reframing safety: An analysis of perceptions of cycle safety clothing," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 103-112.
    5. Song, Yena & Preston, John & Ogilvie, David, 2017. "New walking and cycling infrastructure and modal shift in the UK: A quasi-experimental panel study," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 320-333.
    6. repec:eee:jotrge:v:68:y:2018:i:c:p:9-21 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Goodman, Anna & Guell, Cornelia & Panter, Jenna & Jones, Natalia R. & Ogilvie, David, 2012. "Healthy travel and the socio-economic structure of car commuting in Cambridge, UK: A mixed-methods analysis," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(12), pages 1929-1938.
    8. repec:bla:ijurrs:v:41:y:2017:i:1:p:162-180 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Sherwin, Henrietta & Chatterjee, Kiron & Jain, Juliet, 2014. "An exploration of the importance of social influence in the decision to start bicycling in England," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 68(C), pages 32-45.
    10. Aldred, Rachel, 2016. "Cycling near misses: Their frequency, impact, and prevention," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 69-83.


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