Greater Greater Washington

Bicycling


Women: How comfortable do you feel biking?

Of all American cities, DC has one of the highest percentages of its bike commuters who are women, an important sign of bike-friendliness for all genders in any city.


Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Bike infrastructure can make a difference in enticing commuters to cycle, as can driver behavior and the availability of showers. Some stories suggest drivers may also treat women on bikes better if they're wearing street clothes, feminine helmets, and skirts.

University of Oregon masters student Kory Northrup created this terrific infographic showing statistics about bicycling in various states and major cities:


Image by Kory Northrop via League of American Bicyclists and Streetsblog.

The graphic breaks down the cycling rate between men and women. Tanya Snyder wrote,

The male-female ratio is no trivial factoid. Women are considered an "indicator species" for cycling. When the conditions are right, female cyclists multiply. When urban biking feels like a game of Pole Position, the ladies tend to find other modes.
DC comes out well on gender equality. It has the 8th highest rate of bike commuting overall, but is 3rd best in the percentage of bike commuters who are women, with 38%, just barely edging out Boston. Minneapolis is the most equal, with 45.4% of its bike commuters women, and Portland, the #1 city for biking overall, is second with 39.1%.

What else affects women's comfort level riding? Chicago cyclist Dottie wrote about her experience with the "Mary Poppins Effect." Basically, drivers seem to be more deferential to people riding bikes if they're women, riding upright, and wearing street clothes.

Dottie also observed that an important element for getting this deference is either not wearing a helmet or wearing a brightly colored feminine-looking helmet with hearts or flowers. Most fascinatingly, her experience is that one of the biggest factors is whether the rider is wearing a skirt:

Typically I wear a dress or skirt, but today I wore a navy pinstripe pantsuit with a ankle strap on my left leg. Everything else was the same: I rode an upright Danish bike, wore a helmet covered with red hearts and rode with my typical calm assertiveness, but luxury SUV after luxury SUV after car passed me too closely. The effect was decidedly non-Mary Poppins.
This would be a great topic for a more scientific study. Meanwhile, it would be best if drivers treated all cyclists with respect and care, both men and women, regardless of how much leg is visible.

If you're a woman who bikes, have you noticed more deference from drivers at some times versus others? What are the biggest obstacles to more women (and men) feeling comfortable biking?

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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As Portland transplants, my partner and I have decided that biking in DC has essentially sucked all the fun from biking. Between negligent cabs and aggressive SUVs, even riding in designated bike lanes is a hazard.

My (female) partner goes out of her way to obey traffic laws and behave as if she were a vehicle, which seems to only further antagonize drivers (when you don't move so they can turn right on red, or take a little longer to gain momentum after the signal changes, etc.) She does not typically dress overtly "feminine," so maybe that is the problem?

We still use our cycles to commute to work, because it is faster and cheaper than anything else, but it really is not all that pleasant.

by Dan on Mar 30, 2011 2:51 pm • linkreport

charlie: The ACS data was very accurate for all of DC. It estimated the final Census population for DC very closely, for example. It was just on a ward by ward level that the sample size was too small. This was something that came up in the discussion over that analysis.

by David Alpert on Mar 30, 2011 3:04 pm • linkreport

so, the more granular the data the more the noise shows up.

And you're looking at bike commuting...

by charlie on Mar 30, 2011 3:22 pm • linkreport

David: Mind removing charlie's homophobic comments?

Charlie: The same thing is true of anti-lock brakes on cars. Doesn't mean that they're necessarily a bad thing, especially for the drivers/cyclists who do happen to be cautious.

The study and map are indeed interesting though. Do you know if they normalized the number of females who commute by bicycle to compensate for any gender disparity in the overall workforce? (Which is not an issue to be ignored or minimized, but simply an entirely different topic for discussion)

by andrew on Mar 30, 2011 3:44 pm • linkreport

Dan - welcome to the East Coast. Everyone out here is very important and in more of a rush then you.

by wd on Mar 30, 2011 3:55 pm • linkreport

What homophobic comments?

Oh wait, guess they were deleted. NVM

by HogWash on Mar 30, 2011 3:55 pm • linkreport

Re: ACS data

But doesn't the ACS ask what your primary mode of transportation for your commute is? That is very different from determining the overall number of bikers since there are so many transit options. In other cities that may not have as many transit options, people may cite cycling as their primary commuter mode. In DC, however, someone who bikes half the time to work but takes, say, bus or Metro the other half isn't necessarily being counted.

by Adam L on Mar 30, 2011 4:03 pm • linkreport

Funny, yesterday's morning commute was notable because it marked the first time in almost a year of bicycling around the city that I was the subject of bad behavior from a driver. After I indicated a lane change (so that I could make a left turn) and moved over, a driver overtook me (straddling two lanes to do so) on the right, and cursed at me as she sped past.

I was upright, wearing my pink, flowery helmet, skirt & heels.

For the most part, biking in DC has been the best urban biking experience I've ever had - and I'm not kidding, this is the first time I've been yelled at here. Compared to Miami & Orlando/Central Florida, DC is heaven for bike commuting - both for the infrastructure and the drivers.

by Erin M on Mar 30, 2011 4:06 pm • linkreport

@charlie
Seriously, after you saw the ACS was so bad in predicting census data, why do you think it is more accurate on bike-usage?

Because the ACS is designed to predict sample-level data (percentages of populations like race, commute stats, etc.) and not designed to predict tract-level population counts? It's pretty good at what it's supposed to be used for, and it can't help it if David and others want to use the data for things it's not meant to do.

by MLD on Mar 30, 2011 4:11 pm • linkreport

@ Adam L ; plus commuting isn't the only bicycle usage. Garbage data again, Perhaps you might be able to extrapolate a trend -- and DC biking does seem more feminine.

I'd rather look at Cabi membership or some other metric.

@ErinM; see what your flowery helmet did. And a good reminder that it is a lot better than 10 years ago with bike messengers.

@Andrew; if the original article postulated that girls in skirts get better treatment, how else do you square that data with, well, about half of drivers being women?

by charlie on Mar 30, 2011 4:17 pm • linkreport

charlie: Why would it only be men drivers who treat women better?

by David Alpert on Mar 30, 2011 4:19 pm • linkreport

Forget about Chicago-girls anecdotes. Its already refuted by Erin M. Its not worth pursuing. I see no plausibity in terms of crash risk from this anecdote.

I don't like this emphasis on clothes. It reminds me of the police investigation into Alice Swansons death. And its too much in the same area of conversation/cultural mistreatment that blames women for crimes against them because of how they dressed or where they were or when they were there.

If bikers are doing what they're supposed to do then the emphasis should always be on drivers respecting bikers.

Should we now blame Alice for not wearing a skirt and pink helmet? Its something she could have done to protect herself while biking! Except that if she was sexually assualted she was asking for it by dressing that way!

by Tina on Mar 30, 2011 4:35 pm • linkreport

My own purely anecdotal evidence tells me there are more women bikeriders who wear non-athletic clothes when biking than men. As a man, I can't say whether that affects their riding experience, but it does make me feel more comfortable as a rider to see others riding like that.

I will say too that I get very envious of women who are able to wear skirts to work in the summer. I have been an active CaBi user up to this point, riding home from work frequently, but I'm going to have to hang it up come June. When are we finally going to make Bermuda shorts acceptable as business casual? I'll even wear the goofy socks!

As for lesbian pantsuits, let me say that if a pair of pantsuits loves another pair of pantsuits, who am I to tell them they can't get married, let alone exist. Stop the H8 of lesbian, bisexual, or trans pantsuits.

by TM on Mar 30, 2011 4:44 pm • linkreport

I agree with Erin M. Last night I was aggressively honked at and passed too closely despite riding completely legally and being on my way to a dressy event. What cyclists wear is not (and should not be) responsible for how drivers behave. Better education about cyclists' rights on the road, however, may change that behavior. I'd love to see more of a focus educating suburban commuters, as (in my two years of bike commuting) most of my negative experiences have involved cars with non-DC tags.

by Laura on Mar 30, 2011 4:56 pm • linkreport

@TM, why don't you just change your pants when you get there?

by Tina on Mar 30, 2011 4:56 pm • linkreport

Would I, as a man, get the skirt effect if I wore a kilt? Because I wouldn't mind a breeze on a hot summer's day.

by OctaviusIII on Mar 30, 2011 5:22 pm • linkreport

@OctaviusIII -except that kilts are made of heavy wool. Try a traditional sarong for summer wear. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9njURVBRaN4

by Tina on Mar 30, 2011 5:27 pm • linkreport

Although it's unfair to emphasize the clothing that female cyclists wear while they ride, if they are treated differently due to fancy clothing, it's definitely worth close examination. It could say a lot about perspectives on cyclists, regarding machismo, classism, gender roles, etc.

by Neil Flanagan on Mar 30, 2011 6:09 pm • linkreport

@Tina -

Sure, kilts were relatively heavy and made of wool, but from what I understand they are also traditionally worn commando-style. I imagine the breeze would be quite nice on a hot day! And we're a lot closer, as a society, to accepting the corporate casual kilt than we are to accepting the corporate casual sarong.

by Joe on Mar 30, 2011 6:15 pm • linkreport

@Neil F, except that we already have 2/1 evidence against clothing having any impact, since our "evidence" is a single anecdote. The notion was brought up by a single commentor from Chicago. Two commentors here refute her experience. Personally I've never noticed a difference. My life gets threatened regularly no matter what the hell I'm wearing. There's nothing there to "examine" except the way drivers treat bikers generally.

by Tina on Mar 30, 2011 6:36 pm • linkreport

I bike in skirts a lot, and am always careful about how they fall, and to wear leggings if necessary. My helmet is boring and white.

I definitely find that drivers are nicer to me when I'm riding upright, and even more so when I'm on a cruiser (I usually call that the adorable bike factor), skirt or no skirt.

One thing that might discourage women from biking is creepy cat calling. My female friends and I have noticed that we get more of it on bikes that on foot. Anyone else?

by Lauren on Mar 30, 2011 6:41 pm • linkreport

When I was younger and more immortal and living in Baltimore, biking was about 90% of my transportation. (I was a bicycle commuter in the 2000 Census.) I rode a beat-up-looking mountain bike with street tires, I wore a helmet that didn't have hearts or flowers, I didn't wear a skirt, and I don't think that the effect (or non-effect) of my non-Mary-Poppins-ishness ever, ever occurred to me.

My guess is that the biggest obstacles to more women feeling comfortable biking are the same as the biggest obstacles to more men feeling comfortable biking: lack of safety (or lack of perceived safety) and lack of convenience.

by Miriam on Mar 30, 2011 6:42 pm • linkreport

@Miriam +1

by Tina on Mar 30, 2011 6:44 pm • linkreport

As a bicyclist and driver I am quite sure that bikers get treated differently depending on the impression they make on drivers, and clothing is going to be part of that, though I've never thought about that aspect before. Observing that is not a moral judgment that cyclists are responsible for driver behavior. That logical fallacy is really annoying. This blog brings up driver behavior all the time, but it also brings up cyclist behavior. It's relevant.

I'm not sure Dottie from Chicago was really trying to paint a picture of a national trend. If she was, she could ease up on the stereotypes herself. Was it really only lux SUVs who passed too close?

by DavidDuck on Mar 30, 2011 6:46 pm • linkreport

Sure drivers will percieve a person differently depending on how they're dressed - and the type of bike they're riding. However I am certain that what you wear and the bike you ride affects your behavior while biking more than it does the behavior of drivers.

by Tina on Mar 30, 2011 7:11 pm • linkreport

^if it affects drivers' behavior at all, which I'm highly skeptical of. Their perception/judgement of you as they pass you? yeah. Their sense of your safty? Highly doubtful.

by Tina on Mar 30, 2011 7:15 pm • linkreport

@Dan 'We still use our cycles to commute to work, because it is faster and cheaper than anything else, but it really is not all that pleasant.'

What you're experiencing is the difference between cycling in a 'town' and in a 'city'. There's a time and place for everything. Cycling in cities during rush hour isn't a smart idea ... either from a person safety perspective or from a 'fairness' perspective. Yeah, you might have the time to bike and you might be saving money doing so .. but what about all the thousands of folks who end up late for work because of you? When in Rome do as the Romans. In DC that means keep the bike for the trails and leisurely weekend biking and use your car or take a bus or train during the week when it's really important that all traffic flow together ... and at the same speed. It's the right thing to do.

by Lance on Mar 30, 2011 7:19 pm • linkreport

Tina/Miriam, I agree that the big issues keeping women off bikes are the safety and convenience issues.

Perhaps I was unclear, but I mean to say that it says more about the biases of a driver than the fashion sense of a cyclists if the driver treats a girly cyclist with kid gloves. Similarly if he or she treats a man in a suit differently from one in. Clothing should not affect how someone thinks about passing, an accident, assault, or rape, but it does</> in far too many cases. And most people don't recognize the biases that encourage this.

I think David wanted to hear from other women, so I don't want to belabor this.

by Neil Flanagan on Mar 30, 2011 7:21 pm • linkreport

If you're talking about harrassment, I really don't experience that. However, I do from time to time get scared, just from general bad, reckless car driving, and as a result I do not bike as much as I used to or would otherwise. However, it is good to have the perspective of cycling in other cities, something I do not have. As a woman, though, I am not sure I would feel more pressure on the road than a man. In fact, I would tend to think men get it a lot more than women. (I really don't ride in dresses or skirts though.)

"It reminds me of the police investigation into Alice Swansons death."

What investigation?

by Jazzy on Mar 30, 2011 7:31 pm • linkreport

if the driver treats a girly cyclist with kid gloves. I just do not accept this as a premise. And we already have recent accounts (Erin and Laura) who refute the single anecdotal assertion of this premise.

by Tina on Mar 30, 2011 7:31 pm • linkreport

I have not found that the way I dress affects how I am treated by drivers one way or another (admittedly I've never tried a helmet with hearts). I do find that drivers who cut me off, etc. are apologetic to me once they are actually looking me in the face, as opposed to more confrontational behavior I have seen toward male cyclists.

I do LOVE having the option of wearing skirts to work, because I can just quickly slip a nice wool skirt over my grubby bike shorts before entering the office with no need for changing rooms and no one the wiser.

by Erica on Mar 30, 2011 7:31 pm • linkreport

@Lance- I guess it should be expected of you to take an opportunity to bash cyclists, even if your comments aren't at all relevant to the post. I'll take the bait though:

when it's really important that all traffic flow together ... and at the same speed. It's the right thing to do.

So by that logic when downtown is absolute gridlock during peak times, shouldn't drivers be on bikes? Or even walking? What about when there are delays on Metro? You gonna blame that on cyclists too?

If a 10 second delay passing a cyclist is making you late for work, you were probably already going to be late anyways, and it was probably due to auto congestion.

by Jeff on Mar 30, 2011 7:33 pm • linkreport

I find charlie's comment offensive also, and endorse its removal, although I'm sure he thinks it's funny.

by David desJardins on Mar 30, 2011 7:33 pm • linkreport

I wonder if the real Lance is upset, if he's around any more, that all of these bogus Lances are posting mockeries of him under his own name.

by David desJardins on Mar 30, 2011 7:36 pm • linkreport

@Jazzy, the police report commented on her footwear. Remember she was right-hooked while crossing an intersection on a road that has bike lanes, wearing a helmet, looking girly . She was a cute young woman. She would have had to go out of her way to not look girly.

by Tina on Mar 30, 2011 7:40 pm • linkreport

@Tina: However I am certain that what you wear and the bike you ride affects your behavior while biking more than it does the behavior of drivers.

Huh? What you are wearing affects your own behavior? That seems ridiculous on its face. I'm not even looking at what I'm wearing, much less being affected by that. I already know what I think about myself. It's other people, who don't know me or my thoughts, who form opinions on me based on superficial data like clothing, because they don't have anything else to go on.

by David desJardins on Mar 30, 2011 7:45 pm • linkreport

How about some actual data: http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/653/blonde-wigs-safer-helmets-cyclists

I have been bike commuting a few years now, not in DC, but in NoVA from Arlington to Springfield. I wear workout clothes on the bike and change when I get to work, and while it's not really "bike specific clothing", it's definitely not skirts and flowered anything.

I wasn't much of a cyclist before I started bike commuting. It was WABA's cycling classes that gave me a lot of confidence, and of course at this point my experience on the bike in traffic also gives me confidence.

I have "bike facilities" (sharrows and bike lanes) for about half my commute, the rest is on the road in the regular travel lane. I'm mostly treated with courtesy.

What makes the biggest difference, in my opinion, is whether the particular driver on the road with me has shared the road with a cyclist before. It's generally pretty obvious, from my perspective. I try to do my part by being visible and predictable. Because I ride on pretty fast roads much of the time (welcome to suburbia, where neighborhoods don't connect), I wear bright clothes with reflective stuff and run my lights more often than not so that drivers can (hopefully!) see me from further away and adjust accordingly. I also have a giant helmet mirror so that I can keep an eye on the overtaking cars and perform defensive maneuvers if necessary.

How comfortable do I feel biking? Pretty comfortable. I'd love if there were more bike facilities, but until then I'm okay riding on the roads, even in suburbia designed for cars.

by Deb on Mar 30, 2011 7:48 pm • linkreport

Huh? What you are wearing affects your own behavior? That seems ridiculous on its face. really? It seems ridiculaous on its face? I guess you haven't experienced the difference between riding a cruiser while in a dress and heels and riding a racer while in tights. Very differnt biking behavior.

by Tina on Mar 30, 2011 7:50 pm • linkreport

Perhaps the disparity in cycling begins at the level of bike stores. Being a woman who has worked at DC area bike stores, there is an alarming level of misogyny from employees towards women cyclists. This can only be perpetuated through women dressing "more" feminine to be "safer". I commute on my bicycle and have altered my apparel to be "less" feminine by covering up. I have been harassed many times for cycling while based on what others seem to define as attractive apparel. Perhaps when misogyny in bike stores and on the street stops more women will cycle.

by Laura W on Mar 30, 2011 7:51 pm • linkreport

I'm reminded of a comment by a lady at an Alexandria transportation meeting about a year ago. This lady stated that she was car-free and spoke out very much for transit. When it came to bicycling, she said, "If there's no bike lane, I'm afraid of traffic."

by Froggie on Mar 30, 2011 8:24 pm • linkreport

@Laura +1. Although I haven't experienced harassment in bike shops so much as that "invisible feeling."

by Erica on Mar 30, 2011 8:54 pm • linkreport

I have always thought it extremely sexist that men and women have different clothing requirements at work. Women are allowed to show their legs and their bare shoulders but men are not? It doesn't make any sense to me. It's separate AND unequal treatment. If it were the other way around, you know there'd be a lawsuit by now.

by Matt on Mar 30, 2011 8:57 pm • linkreport

I love biking and I bike all the time, but everybody should recognize the obvious. For men or women biking is dangerous. Accidents per mile are higher than any other form of transportation. Driving drunk is safer. Smoking three packs per day is safer. Smoking three packs per day while drunk driving is safer. Enjoy your bike but don't make believe its safe.

by JAY on Mar 30, 2011 8:58 pm • linkreport

I have deleted charlie's original comment from earlier this afternoon.

by David Alpert on Mar 30, 2011 9:29 pm • linkreport

Women are allowed to show their legs and their bare shoulders but men are not? It doesn't make any sense to me. It's separate AND unequal treatment.

Consider it the price you pay for making 20% more than women for the same job.

by MPC on Mar 30, 2011 9:35 pm • linkreport

Thanks for sharing this graphic - very cool to check out and compare. I'd like to see this data with pedestrian numbers and with age break-outs as well. Having resided in both PDX and DC I'd note that from my perspective there's many more pedestrians in the District and over a larger expanse. Within that walking cohort there's also a greater diversity of age groups than within the bicycling community of PDX I'd premise. It is apples to oranges, but in the end I think that place-based planning practices need to be considered. Aside from the west side of Portland, the density isn't all that high and thus the need/benefit of bicycling to get from all the lower density east side neighborhoods to the city center which would be a long walk for most east side residents. The metro also presents DC with a better rail system than Max. So considering the context I think it's fair to say that many folks may opt for walking or metroing instead of biking in DC, which I don't think is a bad thing.

DC and Arlington have great bicycling infrastructure too, to the point that I'm confused why PDX is rated so much more highly. There seems to be a bit of an obsession regarding reputation. In other words, I'd like to see a Malcolm Gladwell-esque write-up in this domain! Having said all that, what would really make DC more attractive for bicycling would be cross town infrastructure. The Connecticut and Mass Ave. corridors in particular are the main boulevards cutting across and into the center of DC... somehow to get a bicycle version of that would be awesome. And less humidity in the summer riding months!

by PaulM on Mar 30, 2011 10:11 pm • linkreport

I'd like to see the breakdown in the workforce in each city by gender, especially in those under 40. It may be that DC has more women bike commuters than average because DC has more women commuters than average. I've always thought this town had a crazy large number of women* - which is why I've lived here for so long.

*As opposed to a crazy number of large women (I'm typing in your direction Houston)

by David C on Mar 30, 2011 10:43 pm • linkreport

I would think biking in a skirt to be really uncomfortable. I can barely sit down in a chair when wearing a skirtsuit, I can only imagine the show people would get if my feet had to move at the same time.

by Elysian on Mar 31, 2011 7:44 am • linkreport

MPC -

That's a bunk number that you're citing and the current wage gap and gender as a determinant of income research don't support it. Furthermore, it really has no bearing on why men aren't allowed to wear more cycling-appropriate attire to work. Please don't undermine my campaign for the acceptance of the corporate kilt with hackish, poorly-researched talking points!

by J on Mar 31, 2011 8:07 am • linkreport

@David C, on that topic minneapolis consistently rates as "a good city for women" by several criterion. All else being equal maybe that has something to do with the higher prevalence of women biking there. Perhaps this says something about the culture in Minneapple as well as Minneapple women (they're the "strong" transplants from Lake Wogegone? i.e. more fearless and assertive than women in other places? This last point goes to both the biking prevalence and the rating of the city as "good" for women.)

@Paul M and others - why don't you just change clothes when you get there?

by Tina on Mar 31, 2011 10:11 am • linkreport

Despite past instances of extremely harsh ridicule for bringing matters like this to the conversation, I find it heartening that someone is actually paying attention.
We need to move away from the male dominated athletic bicycling mentality that discourages many different kinds of cyclists- and inhibits a broader access by more groups.
Reinforcing the notion that you do not have to get decked out in full combat regalia, and that you do not have to "share the road" with cars and trucks will certainly bring MANY MANY more people - both men and women- into everyday cycling.
I am always amazed by how few of the racer set actually use bicycles for purposes other than racing or commuting- you cannot haul a full load of groceries on a racing bike- and most of the racers I have known thru the years are dedicated car drivers- and they do not see the wisdom of having a bicycle as a utility vehicle that can replace their car. It is a speed and macho thing-function with these people.
We need to make it safer and less threatening in order to attract women and men who otherwise will never cycle. And the racer/athletic people need to get out of their intellectual ghettos and realize that cycling is more than just recreation.
I would love to see more sit up bikes, cargo bikes, casual clothes, dedicated auto-protected bikeways that are NOT in the roads.Basically the bike racers and the athletic vehicular cyclists have stymied bicycling for the broad demographic- and we need to move away from this parochialism and very closed group of loudmouths. On this very blog there has been an incredible resistance to new ways of thinking that move away from racer & athletic oriented bike culture. This is not a healthy mindset at all- it works against sustainability and responsible change.These people are SELFISH.
Why is this concept met with such incredible hostility?
Why is it still seen as "radical"?

by w on Mar 31, 2011 10:13 am • linkreport

@Matt/J: True, women can wear skirts and sleeveless tops to work. On the other hand, there exists such a thing as a comfortable men's dress shoe. And men are not continually baffled as to what is or is not acceptable under the ill-defined rules of "business casual". So I think it's a wash, sartorially.

(But don't get me wrong - I fully support the campaign for the corporate kilt.)

by Erica on Mar 31, 2011 10:23 am • linkreport

@Elysian I would think biking in a skirt to be really uncomfortable. And flowy skirts are dangerous to bike in b/c they can hang down and get caught in the spokes or chain. (hence the different biking behavior while in a skirt vs. tights)

by Tina on Mar 31, 2011 10:28 am • linkreport

Personally, as a woman, I feel safer biking in DC than the suburbs where I live (I use CaBi). I'm pretty sure it has nothing to do with the women on bikes making me feel safe. The designated bike lanes and all the bikers using them helped edge me into feeling safe to bike, but the number one factor in making me feel comfortable with riding in DC is the large number of pedestrians on the sidewalks. I just don't have that in the suburbs and when I have biked from home to the metro, I am alarmed at how something could happen to me and no one would be on the street to car (in my opinion, drivers are just too separated from the street to care and cyclists see themselves more as drivers than as pedestrians. When I've ever had a problem, it is not drivers or cyclists who check to see if I'm okay--it is pedestrians. Any place that is safe to walk feels safer to bike. Just my opinion...

by melissa on Mar 31, 2011 10:41 am • linkreport

Any place that is safe to walk feels safer to bike. I agree

by Tina on Mar 31, 2011 10:57 am • linkreport

@Elysian, it depends on the skirt, and the bike. For a standard frame bike, I find that loose skirts (definitely not pencil type suit skirts) that hit well above the knee are fine. A step-through frame bike lets you wear a longer skirt. You can deal with the "flashing" problem in one of two ways: 1) wear bike shorts underneath 2) cease caring. I usually go for 2) myself.

by Erica on Mar 31, 2011 11:53 am • linkreport

@Elysian, it depends on the skirt, and the bike. For a standard frame bike, I find that loose skirts (definitely not pencil type suit skirts) that hit well above the knee are fine. A step-through frame bike lets you wear a longer skirt. You can deal with the "flashing" problem in one of two ways: 1) wear bike shorts underneath 2) cease caring. I usually go for 2) myself.

by Erica on Mar 31, 2011 11:54 am • linkreport

I find this subject pretty annoying. Women cyclists need to learn safe biking techniques, like being confident, staying visible at intersections to avoid getting hit. It's not about clothing or accessories, people! This thing about wearing a flowery helmet is just a stupid anecdote -- there is REAL evidence out there that women being too timid on the road leads to them GETTING HIT BY TRUCKS. We need to learn how to bike safely; we certainly don't need any more crap about fashion. http://seriousaccidents.com/blog/wrongful-death-accidents/do-fatal-bicycle-accidents-kill-more-women-than-men/

by M on Mar 31, 2011 1:17 pm • linkreport

Is 'M' bizzaro-world 'w', by any chance?

:)

by oboe on Mar 31, 2011 1:51 pm • linkreport

@M thanks for the link, and we certainly don't need any more crap about fashion. Yeah!
However despite the need for all bikers to learn to be confident in order to enable them to protect themselves better, i agree with the comment from Mark Ames in the linked article that, “It is less about how you ride and what you ride and more about how other road users have to look out for the most vulnerable,”. All things being equal it always comes down to whether or not the driver is clued in enough to know what to do to not kill you.

by Tina on Mar 31, 2011 2:04 pm • linkreport

all women, small children, elderly people who wish to bicycle should learn to bicycle safely and defensively ,to "share the road " in all manner of conditions with heavy traffic including speeding cars and trucks- they have NO BUSINESS cycling otherwise.

by w on Mar 31, 2011 2:05 pm • linkreport

How does he *do* that?

by oboe on Mar 31, 2011 2:07 pm • linkreport

@w, why did you leave 'men' off that list of "must do's"? I'm sure you don't think all men innately have those skills. I agree that bikers need those skills no matter their age, gender or attire. I just wonder why you're not including men (non-seniors).

by Tina on Mar 31, 2011 3:15 pm • linkreport

“It is less about how you ride and what you ride and more about how other road users have to look out for the most vulnerable,”

I really don't believe that! Yes, everyone should share the road. But there are specific things every biker can do to stay safer by staying visible to cars. No car is going to run you over on purpose if they can see you.

Is 'M' bizzaro-world 'w', by any chance?

My bike tires are square.

by M on Mar 31, 2011 3:21 pm • linkreport

I personally think that cyclist appearance does have some sort of effect on driver behavior, but I think it's less a feminine/non-feminine thing and more of a street clothes vs. cycling gear thing.

I think that riding a bike in street clothes sends the signal of "just going about my daily business" whereas cycling gear sends the signal of working out/"showing off" (as some people, drivers or not, may take it). I think that's where a lot of the "Lance wannabe" comments stem from. I'd imagine that encountering someone who's going going about their day, and it just so happens to be on a bike, allows people to identify with the cyclist more than if the person is portraying a gear-head/athletic/competitive/more-fit-than-thou image.

I think that the sight of someone on a bike in regular clothes (particularly on a "cute" bike and/or in dressier clothes) is something of a throw-back, either to days gone by or to childhood, and is quaint, and therefore pleasing, and people may respond better. Along those lines, women in dressier clothes (dresses, skirts etc) probably stand out even more than people in non-dressy street clothes (jeans etc), just because it's so relatively rare in this part of the world. And something about the image of a women in a dress on a vintage type bike is particularly quaint and pleasing (keep an eye out--magazine ads, fashion ads, tv commercials--lots of women in dresses on bikes). If this translates into better treatment, I'd suspect it's more from an "I can identify with you" perspective rather than a "let the pretty girl go on her merry way" attitude.

Finally, where I *do* think that women in skirts and heels etc (and men in suits) on bikes can make a difference is that it seems to me to be an odd sort of cycling advocacy. I get comments to this effect ALL the time. I think it humanizes the rider and the activity, and makes it seem less athletic and more of a "normal" mode of daily transport.

by Catherine on Mar 31, 2011 3:27 pm • linkreport

@M, of course no driver is going to run you over on purpose. thats not at all what i'm suggesting happens. Again, all things being equal - if all bikers behaved in a uniform predictable way with the same level of assertiveness that you think is approporaite and under the same circumstances/road conditions - there will still be bikers killed by drivers who are clueless and careless.

There are limits to what I, and any biker, can do to protect myself/oneself. I rely on drivers to pay attention and know how to behave to not kill me. So far its worked. But I KNOW my safety is not all up to me. Its a cooperative effort.

by Tina on Mar 31, 2011 3:55 pm • linkreport

Catherine +1

by Lauren on Mar 31, 2011 4:01 pm • linkreport

Catherine +2

by Jacques on Mar 31, 2011 4:31 pm • linkreport

Skirts and helmet hearts? Are you kidding me?? My headlight and flashing red lights alert drivers to my presence but my neon vest has made the biggest difference riding in the mornings. Your gear should alert drivers before they have to weave around you or drive too close.

by M on Mar 31, 2011 9:26 pm • linkreport

Tina I was being sarcastic- and echoing how the vehicular cyclists so often sound- and these vehicular cyclists are almost always men- anthough there are certainly some women among them. Point is- if cycling were to be made less of a risky thing- more women would participate.
I do not blame them at all for not wanting to bike since we force cyclists into the roads in the USA and give cyclists no alternatives. This must- and I am sure- will change- despite contrary voices that ridiculae anyone suggesting this kind of change.

by w on Apr 1, 2011 12:24 pm • linkreport

I'm breaking my self-imposed, "do not engage with w" rule for one second.

if cycling were to be made less of a risky thing- more women would participate.

Cycling is not particularly risky. Not when compared with walking and only slightly more so than driving (though not if you add in health benefits). I think the added risk of biking removes like 5 days from your life expectancy, while the improved cardio-vascular benefits are closer to two years (that is from memory and may be off, but the idea is close). So, the problem isn't risk.

The problem is that biking is scary at first. It's like riding a roller coaster, which is high on scary, but low on risk.

by David C on Apr 1, 2011 12:52 pm • linkreport

@David C: how about "if cycling were to be made less of a thing perceived to be risky"?

I may, in fact, be perfectly safe riding my bicycle on my two-lane, hilly, windy, no-shoulder, 40 mph-legal-speed-limit, full-of-speeding-commuters state highway. It might even extend my life by two years! But I sure don't feel safe. And so I don't do it.

I'd do it if the state put in a bike lane, though -- or even just a shoulder.

by Miriam on Apr 1, 2011 1:42 pm • linkreport

@Laura W & @Erica, You guys should check out BicycleSPACE. Fantastic shop. They are also great about helping new cyclists feel comfortable on city streets, including offering a free group ride for beginners every Saturday & Sunday and a free flat-repair class Thursdays.

by Liz P on Apr 3, 2011 10:06 pm • linkreport

One interesting experience: I used to ride the Crescent Trail from Bethesda to Capitol Hill a couple of times a week. The person who showed me how to do so - the safe route - was, and is, a man. Sometimes we'd ride back up to Bethesda a deux. He'd been doing this ride for 10 years.

On hot, humid, summer evenings we'd sometimes take off our helmets as we made the slow slog up to Bethesda after you cross the canal. No big deal. But EVERY time I did this while riding on my own, a male cyclist would shout at me, "PUT YOUR HELMET ON!!!!" It never happened while I rode with a man who also had his helmet off. And he said it never happened to him when he did so riding alone.

What women wear matters.

Draw your own conclusions.

by Capt. Hilts on Jun 23, 2011 5:06 pm • linkreport

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