Male Cyclists Need to Stop the “Macho Nonsense” Directed at Female Riders

Photo: Steve Crane/Flickr
Photo: Steve Crane/Flickr

Bicycling has a machismo problem.

In the United States, women account for only a quarter of bike trips. There are many possible factors for the discrepancy: the lack of bike infrastructure, social pressures during adolescence, and complex trip patterns play a role. But one of the big things keeping women out of the saddle is that when they bike they’re harassed. All the time.

A study from the United Kingdom found that female bike riders encounter harassment from drivers almost twice as often as their male counterparts. But it’s not just drivers. Many female riders say they also constantly deal with discouraging and disparaging comments from men on two wheels. Take this example from someone who wrote to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association:

I rode on Bike to Work day and it was awful. People treated it like a race. I was one of 3 women out of the at least 35 people on the trail (Mt Vernon Trail) into the city, both to and from work.

My pannier came unhooked and bounced off my bike that day and instead of anyone stopping to see if everything was fine, some jersey-wearing man yelled “GET A BACKPACK” while a peloton of jerks rode by.

Then again on Monday—in the rain—my foot slipped off my pedal and I swerved for a second and a man passing by yells “GET OFF YOUR BIKE”.

These are not ways to build camaraderie or boost ridership. These are reasons so many women or minorities don’t ride, or don’t ride safely. It really really bothers me that there is a very deliberate blind eye turned towards this macho attitude. It sucks.

“Resist the temptation to ascribe this rider’s experience to some sort of equal-opportunity jerkitude,” writes WABA’s Colin Browne. “The entitled macho nonsense described above is a very real barrier to biking.”

America’s streets are typically a hostile environment for cycling. When people have to take the lane or keep up with traffic to get around on a bike, that may draw more aggressive personalities than the population as a whole. But when that attitude gets directed at other people, it can turn into a stream of invective that turns them off from bicycling, Alex Baca explains:

Sexism manifests in different ways, which Baca, Aimee Custis, Kristen Jeffers, and Susan Balding discussed with Joanne Pierce at Greater Greater Washington yesterday.

“The last time I took my (then-partner’s) bike into a bike shop for routine maintenance, as the resident bike expert in my relationship, the guy at the bike shop treated me like I knew nothing, which was very frustrating,” Custis said. “Dude, I’m here because my boyfriend is afraid to even come into the bike shop. Simmer down with the better-than-thou attitude.”

WABA also offers some advice for male cyclists. For example, asking a woman with a flat, “Do you have all the tools you need?” is much less patronizing than asking, “Do you know what you’re doing?”

“WABA works to make our roads and trails safe for all users, and that includes safety from harassment by other bicyclists,” Browne writes. “It means having tough conversations with friends and neighbors, and sometimes taking a long look at ourselves. But it’s necessary to create the kind of community that we want to bike in.”

Ultimately, the goal is to create streets where everyone feels safe enough to walk or bike. We’re a long way from that. Until we reach the promised land of safe, equitable streets, Custis proposes a simple rule of the road.

“Don’t shout things at fellow trail or infrastructure users, including and especially women,” she writes, “because the system is shaped in a way that women get shouted at too much, because they’re women.”

78 thoughts on Male Cyclists Need to Stop the “Macho Nonsense” Directed at Female Riders

  1. I generally agree with the points that you have been making. I will add one thing, though.

    On the Queensboro bridge, it is a daily occurrence to find cyclists climbing out of Queens while riding straight up the center line, which technically divides bike traffic from pedestrian traffic.

    This is a problem with the bridge. On the bike path leading up to the bridge, it’s westbound cyclists to the right, and eastbound cyclists to the left, with traditional street markings. But, as soon as you get onto the bridge, the right side immediately becomes the pedestrian side, while the left side is the bicycle side; Manhattan-bound cyclists are meant to cross over to the left side. The idea is that the left side itself is to be subdivided such that westbound (Manhattan-bound) cyclists ride in the right half of the left side and eastbound (Queens-bound) cyclists ride in the left half of the left side.

    But the markings at the beginning of the bridge path are not clear, which results in some Manhattan-bound cyclists not knowing that they’re supposed to get over to the left side. They thus stay on the right side until they see the first set of markings.

    But, even the cyclists who know that they are supposed to go over to the left side often split the difference. They ride on the centre line, mainly because the left side is not really wide enough for two-way bike traffic. Indeed, the practice of many Manhattan-bound bicyclists is to ride on the right side (the pedestrian side) until they encounter a pedestrian, then to move over to the left side while passing the pedestrian, and then to resume riding on the right side. Also, those Manhattan-bound cyclists who are correctly riding on the left side will often veer over to the right side when a Queens-bound rider is passing them in the opposite direction.

    It seems to me that the lane apportionment on that bridge is all fouled up. If they want to keep two-way pedestrian traffic on one side of the path and two-way bicycle traffic on the other, then the bicycle side needs to be much wider and the pedestrian side much narrower. Right now both sides are the same width.

    But better would be to have everyone keep to the right at all times, like on a normal street. Pedestrians would be given the outer edges, and bicyclists the central portions of each of the lanes. This would harmonise better with the approach on the Queens side.

    Best of all would be to open the south service road (the one on the side of Queens-bound auto traffic), and to completely separate pedestrians and bicyclists, just like on the Manhattan Bridge and the Williamsburg Bridge. For many years the Queensboro Bridge bike crossing was on the south path (I have a harrowing tale of my first crossing over that path back in 1981); I don’t know what that path is used for now. Is it sometimes open to cars? I don’t think it is; but I could be wrong.

  2. Do you announce your intention to pass? I believe it is still the law that one must audibly signal when passing (yes, for autos too!).

    Saying “on your left” or a bell signal (and hand signals when veering off course) is both the smart and legal thing to do.

    Not many cyclists have achieved the level of Mind Reader yet. All but the deaf will acknowledge that traffic is imminent.

  3. A few hundred miles is a couple months of my commute,…

    And it’s a couple of weeks for me, so.

    Sure, they go up hills faster than most people, but otherwise the ones I’ve encountered bike mostly like other people, just with less effort.

    I wouldn’t complain too loudly about them, no. Mostly they surprise me by passing close when I’m traveling at a speed where I’m rarely passed by other cyclists.

  4. Laws probably vary on this. Given that we’re commenting on the USA side of Streetsblog, your law might not be my law.

    Anyway, I used to. Then I was told that nobody likes being “alerted” in this way. Nowadays I make a decision about what the circumstances actually require.

  5. I agree that the lane markings on the bridge aren’t helpful. Personally, I think the safest thing to do westbound is to ride fully on the pedestrian side (when there aren’t pedestrians for an extended period) and to merge carefully into the right side of the bike lane well before any pedestrians are near. The down-the-middle approach is predictable, but leaves too little room on either side for safe passing, while riding in the right side of the bike lane can be misleading – cyclists who do this, I’ve found, could just be meandering their way back into the middle, or into the pedestrian lane, or something else.

    I realize that riding on the pedestrian side is “wrong,” so I try to do so courteously and without making any pedestrians feel like I’m putting them at risk. I’m typically out of the lane entirely at least 50-100 feet away from them.

    The south roadway is used, I believe, for regular traffic during daytime/evening hours. I think they close it at nine? Too many people driving off of it Queens-side.

  6. And it’s a couple of weeks for me, so.

    I’m afraid you’ll need to finish that sentence for me and connect the dots. How does your commute being longer than mine make your comment that I need to “try riding a few hundred miles” anything but an inaccurate and condescending assumption about whether I’ve ridden enough to have an opinion based on experience?

    Are you just making up a new arbitrary bar for how much riding someone has to do before they can have an opinion because your last arbitrary bar failed to disqualify me?

  7. I believe that the sexism toward women and animosity toward e-bikes stems from the same macho root.

  8. > I do think that the resentment that you’re experiencing from bicyclists
    is due to the fact that you’re operating an electric-powered vehicle on a
    bike path

    Clearly, yes. But explain why only the Spandex-and-carbon set gives a **** about what vehicle I use?

    > You’ve got acceleration and endurance on that thing that no human
    powered vehicle can touch

    Actually I don’t. I have a limited top speed that makes me both slower than the best bikers on the flat, and also slower down hills that almost any Fred. And I only have 30-40 miles of “endurance” (range), which puts my vehicle out of the running for any “Century” tours.

    Anyway, why do they care? I don’t care whether they pass me, as long as they do it safely; and sometimes they do, especially down hills.

    > we are
    all operating our machines in a cheek by jowl fashion.

    All of the incidents happened at places and times where there were only two people in sight.

    > Everything I just read from you smacks of profiling.

    True. But it’s how I judge how closely I must watch a biker closely for possible dangerous behavior. As I said before, bad encounters with other cyclists are not at all random. This s*** never happens with someone on a Citibike.

  9. So we’ve established that most higher-speed bikers (Freds and e-bikers) pass too closely without giving an audible signal. Which is really inexcusable.

  10. > How does your commute being longer than mine make your comment that I need to “try riding a few hundred miles”

    I think he means to say it only takes him a couple of weeks to adjust to the new dynamics introduced by e-bikes.

  11. Wow. I couldn’t even read all the comments because of the tempers flaring. There are a few folks on here that perfectly exemplify the attitudes that make it difficult for new people to get into bicycling — especially commuting.

    As a now-much-slower bike commuter and former professional bike advocate (i.e. I used to listen to people’s bike woes for a living), I’m familiar with the conflicts between people who want to go fast and those who can’t or don’t want to keep up the same pace. Paths and protected bike lanes are inherently going o move more slowly. They aren’t for high-speed travel any more than your local street is appropriate for 45 mph car speeds.

    I get frustrated too by people who are weaving, indecisive, or just not able to ride in a straight line. Sometimes I almost have to slow waaaaaay down to pass a family with little kids or some tourists on bikeshare bikes that probably haven’t ridden in a decade. But I try to appreciate that they are out there and give them calm, friendly advice IF we are at a stop sign or riding side-by side AND it is actually useful advice. (Earlier this week I encouraged someone to not wait for the light in the gutter because she was setting herself up for a right hook by turning drivers. She said she appreciative of the advice.)

    Maybe this is more a regional issue. I’m a Midwesterner, and people stop and ask if they can help, even when I’m just pulled over looking at flowers or birds (or checking for an address.)

    It seems to me that if there is a lack of space to pass safely or share the available bike facilities, maybe the real problem is that we need more space for bikes!

  12. I’m saying that, if you’re not familiar with the different way that e-bikers travel, then you apparently don’t have enough experience with e-bikers.

  13. Unlikely, given that no e-biker has every used any audible signal with me. That’s how your approach to generalization works, right?

  14. If you say so. As far as I can tell, you’ll complain no matter what a “Fred” does. Does he say, “On your left”? He should be more polite and not just bark it out, slowing down to say instead, “Excuse me, but I am coming up on your left presently.” Does he use an electronic noisemaker? He should use a bell, the noisemaker’s too loud and ear-piercing. Does he use a bell? Well, evidently not at the right time, because you didn’t hear it. Does he forgo any noisemaking device or technique whatsoever, passing instead safely and without incident? Well, that’s just inexcusable.

    Your strangely selective and hypocritical antipathy towards so-called “Freds” is just silly.

  15. There not “idiots” just because thy don’t know how to get into a lower gear to go in a straight line up a hill. It could very well have been they were taught to wobble. Again, trying to give friendly advise is a lot better than complaining about them online or IRL.

  16. I wonder if this is a Manhattan thing. I’ve been riding mostly in eastern Queens for the last 39 years and I’ve almost never seen the type of behavior you described, regardless of how the cyclist is dressed or what type of bike they’re riding. Maybe it has to do with people getting more territorial or aggressive under more crowded conditions. If you ride under those conditions often, you might tend to keep the bad attitude even when conditions are less stressful.

    The only ones who have seemed to harass me on a semi-regular basis are motorists. I’ve had stuff thrown at me, told to ride in the park, get a car, wear a helmet, been called every name in the book, etc. All this at times when I’m been on mostly empty streets minding my own business and not doing anything which should have pissed anyone off besides simply existing.

    I personally don’t wear spandex and shun carbon bikes. My current ride is a titanium Airborne I picked up on eBay in 2011 for under $1300. I picked titanium over carbon because it’s also rustproof (my old Raleigh was literally rusting out under me), and not prone to the dangerous failure mode of carbon (i.e. suddenly shattering). When I see the guys/gals in spandex on carbon bikes I’m usually the one doing the passing, which elicits lots of stunned looks.

    The one encounter I remember with a stereotypical spandexed cyclist was actually a positive one. I was on 73rd Avenue around Springfield Blvd. heading west at a pretty good clip. I noted someone turning onto the road behind me. I was expecting to leave her in my wake like I was doing with just about everyone in those days (early 1990s when I was at the top of my game and 25 or 26 mph was my normal pace). Then I notice her coming up on me. Just kept riding my normal pace. She was hot on my tail but still far enough away that she was out of my wake. Impressive! Breaking her own wind and keeping up. Four miles of this, with speeds sometimes getting close to 35 mph, and including the climb after Utopia where she was gaining on me. When I turned off at Main Street I gave her a Top Gun style salute and she smiled back. Heck, I rarely had guys who could match my pace back then, much less hang on my tail for four miles.

    Anyway, the lousy attitude of those spandexed riders shouldn’t color your perceptions. Their behavior in all cases was puzzling and indefensible. Seriously, cursing you out for complimenting him on a nice tail light? I think I would have kicked his butt if I had witnessed that.

  17. “It could very well have been they were taught to wobble.”

    Not a very good excuse especially if you parallel that with “they very well may have been taught to completely and utterly blow red lights and crosswalks”, “they were taught to swerve back and forth in / on a [ENTER VEHICLE TYPE HERE]”.

    One needs to display some form of road worthy performance and operation if you’re operating any kind of road capable vehicle — however, this doesn’t mean one GOTTA GO FAST or WEAR A BACKPACK or WEAR MFING LYCRA. People need to do their part if interacting with traffic of any mode (walking, biking, driving, etc).

  18. > I wonder if this is a Manhattan thing.

    I think you’re on to something there. The route up the Hudson, across the GWB and then 9W to Nyack is a primary Fredding route. The South County Trailway is as well. If you’ve only seen one set of Spandex in Eastern Queens, then it is definitely NOT a popular Fredding route. I see them all over the place on any day with halfway decent weather.

    Or maybe I’m observing something that happens when you remove cars from the situation, these encounters have all been on bike trails. Maybe there’s a territorial sense of “this is MY trail.” Still… better an angry Fred than an angry car driver.

    Anyway… if I encountered you (in the 1990’s), I’d probably be duly impressed by your ability to keep up with, and eventually pass, by e-bike. And as long as you don’t tailgate me or pass me closely without ringing your bell, I would give you a thumbs up of true respect as well.

    > Seriously, cursing you out for complimenting him on a nice tail light?

    I don’t think he heard my compliment, I think he was already bent out of shape over (a) my e-bike, and (b) my bright headlight shining from behind him.

    And yes… there always seems to be SOME car driver out to harass bikers. Luckily, most of my commute is now off road.

  19. I really don’t care what Fred uses to make noise as he passes. But my observation is he rarely if ever uses anything. More often than not, I’m riding behind him and ringing my bell to alert the person IN FRONT of both of us that he is about to pass.

  20. People fcking think that adult cyclists not wearing bicycle helmets is illegal in NYC… It boggles my mind that I have to show them the VTL and Administrative Codes just so that they believe me on common laws related to cycling here. Our culture is moronic in many respects.

  21. No, I don’t think there are many popular Fredding routes out here. I have a couple of regular routes I take which are reasonably free of traffic lights and stop signs, but they’re hardly 9W or the Hudson River Greenway north of midtown. Still lots of need to stop or slow, even at 3 AM. Even when I’m riding enough to be at peak fitness, I’m hard-pressed to average much over low 16s on these routes, despite mostly cruising in the 18 to 23 mph area.

    I still see a fair number of spandexed riders here, but they just don’t seem to be the stereotypical ones you’re had the misfortune to encounter.

    Yes, I’d definitely have given you your space had I encountered you back when I was at my peak. I not only give the usual 3 feet when passing, but I typically veer as far left as I safely can. Often there’s 10 feet between me and the person I’m passing. I figure with that much space, it doesn’t matter how wobbly or unpredictable they are. I’m far enough away so I can avoid any sudden moves.

    These days though I certainly wouldn’t be passing you. I’d be lucky to keep up. Last two years I haven’t ridden much over 1,000 miles annually. Not enough for my fitness level to plateau. Probably most of my cruising is in the 17 to 20 mph area. I’d be lucky to hold 22 mph on a really great day.

  22. 5 minutes extra on the worst days doesn’t seem to be all that horrible. You’re right, I’d rather have crowded conditions like that so we can start advocating for much better bike facilities, like the bike highways you and I both want. If enduring crowds for a few years is the way to get them, then it’s certainly a worthwhile tradeoff.

    I haven’t taken a major spill in 18 years.

    Sound like you practice the same kind of riding I do. When in doubt, I don’t. It’s great to ride fast and all that, but doing risky things to save a few seconds here and there will eventually get you into trouble. I haven’t had a fall, period, in the last 20 years. It’s a combination of riding during low-traffic times plus anticipating every situation such that I leave myself an out. And of course not giving myself margins of mere tenths of a second when making maneuvers.

  23. I don’t think a lack of skill makes someone an idiot. It may just be that they’re riding an unfamiliar bike with a different center of gravity and gear system. It doesn’t really matter. There’s no reason for verbal abuse, and I’m glad you’re not one of the abusers.

  24. i had an interesting situation this past weekend where I think I came off to a female rider during an organized ride like a macho a-hole, while in reality I said something to her (I asked if she needed help) that I would have said to another male rider.

    She was on the side of the road standing towards the back of her bike. We were pretty far away from anywhere, and I knew the SAG van was already helping people a while back because I’d passed them recently. I asked if she was OK and needed help. She replied back pretty tersely that she was fine and “I’m just drinking water dude.”

    I honestly felt bad, because I could sense she felt as if I was trying to coddle her. I wasn’t. I would have asked the same question if she had been male, as I just do it out of courtesy any time I see a rider stopped on an organized ride that may need a hand.

    That said, I get it, and why she reacted that way. It sucks that cycling society can be so f’ed up in how it treats women that her first reaction was to feel as if I was being patronizing to her and trying to white knight.

  25. Same Here, but in deep South Texas. Ive been on many mass rides, day and night and with all cultures. I ride city streets, trails and parks and Ive never had any rampant or sexist mistreatment from males on rides, or in bike shops in my city. I dont think i would stand for that and would be very proactive in preventing such a thing. Its quite the opposite here. A great many Women dominate, are well respected, informed and educated, and stay in charge of the ride and themselves. I feel we are supported and encouraged by the opposite sex. I do also feel bad for any female who has felt harassed or ridiculed by a male on a bike or the the cycling community. Other than immature people or a lone incident. Its unacceptable and not the normal in my decades of city and urban biking here. #satxsocialride

  26. Thanks for your sensitive comment. And I agree that it’s a frustrating thing for the whole cycling culture, men and women, because honestly, I think it’s important for us to stop and check on any cyclist by the side of the road. I do appreciate what the article says about phrasing. “Do you have the tools you need?” or even just “You good?” can sound a lot less patronizing than “Do you know what you’re doing?” I also agree with what this article says about providing better infrastructure for bikes, which helps normalize cycling culture for drivers and makes a less hostile environment for all cyclists.

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