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Soc Sci Med. 2011 Apr;72(7):1123-30. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.01.033. Epub 2011 Feb 18.

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

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London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Public Health and Policy, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT, United Kingdom.


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.

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