It’s not what you wear, it’s how you ride

On her blog Let’s Go Ride a Bike, Dottie writes about the Mary Poppins Effect, saying she failed to experience it on her latest ride after wearing a pantsuit.

For those just catching up, the Mary Poppins Effect is the idea that motorists drive more carefully and politely around women riding in skirts.

Something I have never experienced, needless to say. Though I do have a blue jersey that I’ve learned not to wear without a vest, since it seems to act as a cloak of invisibility to the drivers around me.

If it’s any consolation to Dottie, though, I nearly got run over a few times on Tuesday, and I’m sure it had nothing to do with my attire. More likely, it was due to drivers who weren’t paying attention, or exercising the care required of someone operating such a dangerous vehicle.

Take the blue Mercedes than nearly hit me in Brentwood.

I was riding on a side street, and found myself passing a large panel truck that blocked the view of anything that might be on its other side. As usual in such situations, I moved a little further out into the lane to give myself more room to maneuver in case something unexpected happened.

And sure enough, just as I came around the front of the truck, I glanced to the right and saw a car lurching out at me from a hidden driveway. Fortunately, the extra distance I had added gave me time to swerve out of the way, and gave the driver time to jam on his brakes to avoid me.

I shook it off and just kept riding, grateful that a little extra caution gave me the safety cushion I needed.

So I was surprised when the same car passed me a few minutes later, with the driver pointing his finger at me and shaking his head.

Clearly, he blamed me for what had just happened. Though how I could be responsible for his failure to exit his driveway cautiously when he had no view of oncoming traffic is beyond me.

In fact, the only fault I could have possible born in the situation was simply exercising my right to be on the street. But I’ve long ago learned that doing everything right doesn’t keep those who don’t from assessing blame.

Then there was the woman on Ocean in Santa Monica who right hooked me, cutting over to make her turn without checking to see if there was anyone else there.

So I quickly turned along with her, making an unplanned right to avoid smashing into the side of her car.

I was tempted to say something. But when I looked in her car, I saw two young women pouring over maps and searching out landmarks while they drove, and it quickly became clear that they were a couple of tourists, and would just say they never saw me.

And anything I might add after that would be wasted breath.

Here’s the thing, though.

It would be easy to look at close calls like that as confirmation of the common perception that cycling is just too dangerous.

But the truth is, in both cases, it only took a modicum of caution on my part to keep me safe. Because I was prepared for something unexpected, I was able to respond to both instances — and a handful of others that took place before I got home — making them nothing more than minor irritations on an otherwise pleasant ride.

In fact, none were enough to stir my anger for more than a few passing moments. And as Richard Masoner of Cyclelicious points out, those were just a handful of negative incidents, compared to the tens of thousands of interactions with motorists in which nothing bad happened.

Whether cycling is safe or dangerous doesn’t depend on what you wear, or whether drivers are distracted, or the position of the sun and moon in your astrological charts.

It all depends on the cyclist, and the skills you bring to your ride.

If you ride carelessly or obliviously to the risks, or take chances that push the limits of safety, then yes, bicycling can be a very dangerous activity. And you can easily fall victim to the first texting, arguing, sight-seeing distracted driver who comes along.

But if you ride carefully and defensively, chances are, you’ll avoid the dangers. And enjoy a safe, healthy and happy ride — and years of safe riding to come.

Yes, that does mean stopping for red lights, signaling and observing the right-of way.

It’s true that some things can’t be avoided. But you can say that about anything in life whether you’re riding a bike, driving your car or sitting on your couch.

As proof, I can only offer my own experience.

In 30-some odd years of riding, the only time I’ve felt the painful bite of a car was when I forgot the cardinal rule of never flipping off the driver behind you. And in response, the woman behind me gladly plowed her car into the back of my bike.

Yes, I have had a lot of close calls over the years.

But a little care, a little caution — and a little discretion with words and gestures — is usually all it takes to stay safe.

.………

The League of American Bicyclists offers stats comparing Federal spending for bikes compared with bike-related sales data on a district level; not surprisingly, retail revenue matches or exceeds Federal investment in almost every case.

.………

The Northridge South Neighborhood Council unanimously votes to support completion of the Reseda Blvd bike lanes — the same lanes that nearly were written off for peak hour traffic lanes in a blindside attack two years ago. The Times chooses one of Mikey Wally’s typical exceptional bike photos as their Southern California Moment of the Day. LADOT Bike Blog points out several important upcoming meetings and bike events; Bikeside urges all to join them at the BPIT meeting April 5th. LACBC says the citywide Safe Routes to School plan needs your help on Friday. Travelin’ Local offers stats showing that L.A. bike collisions are on the rise. Burbank’s Magnolia Avenue shopping district plans a bike themed evening this Saturday. Santa Monica Spoke reminds you about this weekend’s Sunday Funday ride; I’ll be there myself, so come join the fun. Highway 1 in Big Sur is sort of reopen for bike and pedestrian traffic following a recent landslide. San Francisco’s Market Street gets its first green bike boxes. The makers of Clif Bars have opened Vino Velo Napa Valley, a bike-themed wine tasting room; cabernet and pinot Clif Bars are sure to follow.

Lovely Bicycle is giving away a free Superba bike to a woman in need; maybe even you? Commute by Bike calls the Brompton the Sex Pistols of folding bikes; Long Beach’s biking expats seem to like theirs. Crate and Barrel’s CB2 stores now sell Dutch Bikes. Bicycling asks if Livestrong can live on without Lance. Tim Blumenthal of Bikes Belong and People for Bikes shares 12 trends that will help biking grow in the coming years. A writer calls on bike-friendly Boulder CO to maintain a ban on mountain bikes in one area. The Purdue chapter of my old fraternity is staging a 72-hour bike-a-thon to raise funds for a member suffering from cancer. New York finally fights back against misinformation about the city’s bike lanes. Zeke designs his own bike cap; you can order yours for $20.

Next year could see an 18,000 mile around the world bike race. A UK man faces manslaughter charges in the death of a former 100-mile time trial champion. A Brit engineering apprentice will be coming to L.A. in May to compete with 1,600 other students thanks to a bike helmet she developed to help cyclists make their presence and intentions known. The UK proposes longer trailers on trucks in order to kill more cyclists cut carbon emissions. The organizer of the Tour de France is staging an amateur version of the famed Paris – Roubaix race next month. Not only is a 91-year old New Zealand man one of the world’s oldest active two-wheel riders, he also has a sponsor.

Finally, cyclists don’t need traffic calming devices, we are traffic calming devices.

6 comments

  1. cycler says:

    Obviously fashion choices are not a substitute for riding cautiously and defensively, but I think that Dottie’s point, and my experience, is that drivers allow more space when passing, and are less aggressive when following (less honking) when one is wearing dress clothing than lycra kit.

    That kind of aggressive behavior is harder to control by defensive riding than SIDSYM general oblivousness.

    • bikinginla says:

      Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t discount the Mary Poppins Effect; one reason I’m a fan of Cycle Chic is that I’ve seen drivers take notice of an attractive woman on a bike while failing to my presence.

      I’m just saying that how you ride can go a long way towards keeping you safe, regardless of how you’re dressed or what other people on the road do or don’t do.

      • Nancy says:

        True. But maybe some lessons can be learned here in regards to how one can stand out on a bicycle? ;-)

        It’s more than wearing a fluorescent jacket.

  2. anty says:

    Do people treat me differently when I ride in a skirt? Am I less likely ride aggressively when I’m dressed up on my bike? I can’t say. I do know that I don’t get any more or less catcalled when I’m dressed up on my bike, so I can’t attribute that to my clothing and either way it is evident I am a lady on a bike. But as with the article mentioned and your story, those are just personal observations. I’m not saying her perceived experiences are anymore right or wrong than your perceived experiences. I’ve also got theories on the neighborhoods that are the least aggro to me when I ride through that other LA riders may disagree with me on based on their own perceptions.

    While I agree that it is important to ride cautiously and safely, isn’t this ignoring the overwhelming importance of cycling infrastructure and things like speed limits? Everything else seems like window dressing. To follow the logic you put forth above (and I know from reading your blog you don’t agree with this), then it’s the cyclist’s fault for not riding cautiously enough in the event of a collision with a car.

    • bikinginla says:

      As you point out, I’ve written many times about the need for better infrastructure, and for drivers to be more responsible for their actions behind the wheel.

      But let’s be honest. It will take years to make our streets safer for cyclists — if ever. And nothing you can do will make a careless or distracted driver pay attention and drive safely.

      So yes, those things are both important, and we need to fight for them every chance we get. But the only thing you can do right now to protect yourself on the streets is to ride safely and defensively.

  3. Nancy says:

    I agree with cycler, there are a lot of factors – whether we think they are irrelevant or not – that affect how drivers treat us. And things like bike riding style and dress are nearly as relevant as how cautious and law-abiding you are when riding.

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