Cyclist harassment: Less common than we think?

99.9% of my bike rides are uneventful. I only talk about the ones where something happens.

Does this give the impression that cycling is more hazardous than the reality?

Kathleen King wonders if its just something men talk about, or if drivers are more polite around female cyclists.

I have been reading the accounts, blogs and articles concerning harassment, written almost exclusively by men, in the cycling community with increasing puzzlement. I’ve been pondering this issue out on the pavement for some months, as car after car gives me a gracious and WIDE berth on the quiet, rural roads I’ve been riding on of late. I think back at the seeming lack of negative encounters I’ve had even on urban and suburban routes.

Does Professor Ian Walker’s wig theory come into play here?

what’s your experience? Do the bad ones just happen to stick out more in your memory?

More at Surfeit of Passion: Sexism, Gender Bias, or… Chivalry? How and why menacing motorists heckle female vs. male cyclists – or not.

11 Comments

  • February 28, 2013 - 2:16 pm | Permalink

    It can also be that “street harassment” is such an everday occurrance for women in general (not just female cyclists) that its not even noteworthy. Something I can attest to.

  • February 28, 2013 - 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Something like that occurred to me, too, and I think Kathleen alludes to that when talking about the catcalls. It’s everyday background noise for you, but when we males encounter similar harassment we freak out.

  • Archergal
    February 28, 2013 - 2:43 pm | Permalink

    In the places I ride, probably 95% of the folks I see are fine. I’m neither young nor particularly attractive, so I don’t get hooted at like many other women might. I DO get close passes and driver obliviousness. Worst incidents: the jerk who drove past me shouting insults, turned around up ahead, and came back to shout at me again. Or the time someone threw trash at me from a car. (I was thankful it wasn’t a Big Gulp. ) About once every other week, someone will scream at the top of their lungs as they drive past me. I think they’re trying to make me startle. Ha. Ha.

    I’m a worrier. To counteract my worry on the bike, I started saying “thank you” under my breath every time someone passed me safely or was polite. That made me a little more aware of how most of my interactions were pretty benign.

    Of course, it only takes one bad one to ruin your whole day. :(

  • February 28, 2013 - 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Just wow. And I’m really sorry you have to put up with that kind of nonsense.

    Maybe it’s geographic? I don’t remember the last time I was verbally harassed — it’s certainly been several years. Occasionally I’ll get a clown who revs his diesel engine to shoot a cloud of soot my way, and even that is only once every couple of years.

  • Wes
    February 28, 2013 - 2:54 pm | Permalink

    There was a small study where they found that when drivers identified the rider as female, they on average gave them more room.

    http://streetsblog.net/2011/10/26/the-surprising-psychology-of-driver-interaction-with-cyclists/

    I’ve heard from women about different kinds of harassment on bikes, like getting asses slapped etc. that has never happened to me as a male.

  • Mark
    February 28, 2013 - 4:19 pm | Permalink

    95% of my riding is commuting, so I am on the same roads, at the same times every day – and for the most part have very few issues – there are a few exceptions though which I do think about:
    In the morning, if I leave earlier than usual I often encounter harassment from pick up truck drivers going North on Bowers in Santa Clara between Cabrillo and Chromite – there are Sharrows in the road along this stretch, and the lane is too narrow to share, so I am usually positioned in the middle of the rightmost lane. At this hour of the morning (before 7) there is little traffic so it is no big deal for passing motorists to move to the left lane to pass.
    In the evening, if I leave work earlier than usual, in that same stretch of road, an a$$hole who drives a Prius will pass me very close, and often yell out the window – usually something like ‘Get on the sidewalk’ or ‘share the road’. I have video of the prius driver from one incident where he came close enough to bump my handlebar.

    The vast majority of my commutes though are uneventful.

  • February 28, 2013 - 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Writing about the uneventful rides and polite motorists (as I often do on my blog) isn’t what most people really want to read. It is the same phenomenon as the news which reports on motorists driving the wrong way on freeways and crashing into inanimate objects rather than the usual traffic. “Death Drives on My Left” is a lot spicier than “My Friend Motorama.”

  • John
    February 28, 2013 - 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I am a 43 yr old man, I ride for fitness in Norcal near Folsom Lake, been yelled at by many teenage kids. Funny it doesn’t happen if I ride with just one other person (usually) Found women give the most room, young men the least. I tend to ride alone because I don’t like groups who blow though stop signs. Case in point, car ahead is at ‘T’ stop sign, I am 30 yards away and they wave me through and i go left.. I don’t stop (normally I stop at this point) . Another car coming to the intersection who I pass as I go left yellls at me ‘you gotta stop!’ Woman driver really let me go when she shouldn’t, maybe conditioned to cyclists not stopping? The yeller was…. a young dude. Big surprise.

    That said, most rides are uneventful.

  • Jennifer
    February 28, 2013 - 5:24 pm | Permalink

    I have noticed a dramatic reduction in harassment since I stopped chopping my hair short. It was around the same time that I got a faster, more aggressive racing-style bike and started dressing in technical gear more often, which seems to invalidate another commonly held notion about cyclist harassment.

    Someone suggested that I might have grown thicker skin over the years, but then I was hit by a car, and I can’t say I noticed a sudden huge increase in harassment in particular (as opposed to general incompetence) while I was recovering from that. Another possibility is that drivers around here really are more aware and considerate than they used to be, and/or that all the infrastructure creeping toward completion really is working as promised. But Occam’s Razor tells me it’s just the ponytail.

  • March 1, 2013 - 11:41 am | Permalink

    My wife and I have unpleasant experiences all the time, both when we are together or riding alone. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the problem is just bad driving, or intentional harassment. But we also get obvious aggressive behavior like yelling all too often.

  • March 4, 2013 - 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I agree the vast majority of my rides are uneventful…. though I hardly ever ride rural roads. My expectation is harassment is worse “out of town”.

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