Breaking ‘The Code’

Women on bikes are really, really sexy. Let me just get that out there now. I think women, generally, are pretty amazing creatures, but on bikes, we are even more so. We are a minority in a man’s sport, changing the face of that sport one basket, dress, skirt and pair of heels at a time. Whether we are riding in full kit or a sundress, doing a century ride or going to the farmer’s market, we women on bikes are pretty effing hot. We don’t always acknowledge it, and sometimes we are really self-conscious about it, but deep down we know its true. For myself, I love the feeling of riding hard and arriving somewhere sweaty and looking like I had a good time. Generally, I think nearly any activity which leaves you sore, out of breath, sweaty and generally disgusting is totally worth doing. Don’t get me wrong – I have and will continue to bike in dresses and skirts and when I commute to work, I hold back just enough to not desperately need a shower when I arrive. I feel just as luscious in those clothes, enjoying the slowness and more romantic side of riding as I do when I push myself past the point I maxed out at yesterday.

Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel...the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood. ~ Susan B. Anthony 1896

There are certain things that we cyclists have come to expect from our less-aware driving brethren. Aside from the inevitable risk of being doored, buzzed, hit or honked at, there are other, less understandable risks. It never ceases to amaze me that a person in a car feels justified trying to engage me in conversation while we are both moving. I’m not talking only about the irritating person who thinks its acceptable to hit on me while I am trying to ride in peace, but also about the car that one time pulled up beside me, everyone inside screaming at me like I was on fire and just didn’t know it, only to tell me that they thought it was so cool that I rode a bike in traffic. My attention is already in four places at once – and every second a driver or pedestrian demands it is a second my safety is less certain. I am also mystified constantly at the level of hostility generated by stop signs. I will concede that cyclists who blow through a 4-way stop with no regard for traffic are foolish and are a hazard to cars, themselves, and other cyclists in equal measure. However, it takes very little energy to accelerate a car and a great deal more to accelerate a bike from a dead stop. Particularly if there are groceries, clothes, a child or other items attached to it, as there so often are for so many of us. But at the end of the day, these things break down mostly to cultural difference. Where I never expect these things to come from are other cyclists. Those times when they do are the only times that it actually bothers me.

But life in the bike lane is hard for women – arguably harder than it is for men. As a cyclist who doesn’t always get to ride on trails but is instead relegated to city streets, I sometimes feel a need to be careful and particular about how I dress for my rides. I don’t always want to wear tight pants, and will more often than not wear a hoodie even if I know I am going to end up drenched when I arrive at my destination because it is simply not worth the catcalling or, frightening but mercifully infrequent, person stepping out into the street directly in front of me to get my attention. So, what does that leave me? Jeans? No way – I hate biking in jeans. Skirts and dresses are not always practical without pants or shorts under them and then what? A skirt and a hoodie? No, thank you. I’ll pass.

The other day, I was riding to meet a friend for lunch, with the intention of doing a much longer ride afterwards. I had been sick and the weather had been terrible for over a week.  I was determined to take advantage of the first healthy, sunny day. As I arrived at my destination, I realized not only that I was early, but that I was not ready to stop, so I just kept going, eventually turning around to lock up. As I was making my U-turn, the male cyclist who had been behind me for who knows how long, pulled along side me, asking if I was going back the way I had come. When I responded that I was, he said to me ‘that’s a shame. I was enjoying the view’. I had no idea what to say. There was no malice or creepiness to him – he genuinely thought he was paying me a compliment. But…seriously. Enjoying the goddamn view? Are you kidding? It struck me in that moment just how much credit I had been giving my fellow intrepid cyclists – which is not to say that many of them don’t deserve it. I was immediately self-conscious about continuing my ride – I didn’t feel unsafe, but felt that for the rest of the day, someone behind me would be having this exact thought, possibly for a long time, and I had no say-so about it. No cyclist has control of how far their ass sticks up or out when they are riding – and for those of us with hips, it is a more substantial concern. We not only have to contend with any lingering sense of self-consciousness, but also with people sometimes feel they can tell us their every thought and opinion about our bodies – like there is some comfort zone we all have developed as some bizarre evolutionary tactic that makes this enjoyable or at least tolerable.

So, to the kit riders and the hipsters on fixies, the drivers and day-to-day bike commuters, male and female, young and old, I say: keep it to yourself. Don’t yell at us out of car windows, don’t distract us when we are flying through traffic on a busy street. Please, for the love of god, don’t jump in front of us to get our attention. Nothing I am doing – from the clothing I am wearing to the placement of my ass on my saddle, has anything to do with you. Besides, with all these very real hazards and irritants in mind, is the woman on a bike, riding in traffic or exhausting herself on a trail in spite of everything else, really the kind of person you want to be messing with?


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