It's not about the bike

4th September 2009 at 01:00

Sweat. Helmet hair. Skintight fluorescent lycra. It's easy to see why teenage girls might not be the biggest fans of cycling.

This is no stereotype, but an observation backed up by hard data. A 2008 Edinburgh University study found that 48 per cent of P7 girls get on a bike at least once a week, compared with 51 per cent of boys. But by S4 that has dropped to 11 per cent of girls, against 38 per cent of boys.

A trial in Edinburgh and Perth aims to increase substantially the number of girls who cycle to school (about 2 per cent) and reduce obesity levels. A key tactic will be to shift the focus away from the physical act of riding a bike.

Instead, the provisionally-titled Bike Hub Project, run by sustainable transport charity Sustrans, will home in on fashion and health advice. "Often, girls have bikes when they are younger, but as they move through secondary the bikes end up in a shed," says Lynn Marshall, Sustrans' school travel project officer. "Cycling's not seen as cool. There are barriers, like the perception it leaves you sweaty and dishevelled."

The two-year project starts this month and will take place at Perth Academy, Perth Grammar, and Edinburgh's Firhill Secondary and Portobello High, as well as 18 feeder primaries. It is similar to Beauty and the Bike, a Sustrans project which proved a huge success in Exeter.

It will include advice on cycling fashion tips (girls might be asked to design outfits), combating perspiration, and avoiding the dreaded "helmet hair" - hair and beauty vouchers might be used as incentives to participation. There will also be training in riding bikes and cycling maintenance.

The focus will be on girls moving from P7-S1, but the project will also involve pupils aged nine to 16, some work with boys, and helping schools promote cycling. It will use pound;230,000 awarded by cycling industry organisation Bike Hub.

www.sustrans.org.uk; www.bikebelles.org.uk.

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