I would hardly be the first to observe that being a cyclist in a car space is a bit like being a woman in reality. The world isn’t really designed with you in mind, and you are a bit more vulnerable that those around you, often in ways that they don’t realise. As someone who identifies both as “woman” and “cyclist”, here are five similarities I’ve noticed between the two.
1. We worry about our friends…
When my husband goes out riding late at night I ask him to share his location with me. This is mostly so I can see how far away from home he is and have an idea of when he’ll get back, but there is also a little voice inside my head that thinks, at least I’ll know where to send the ambulance if he gets hit. Women do this for each other too – tell me where you’re going, let me know when you get safely home.
2.…Because we know someone who has been hurt.
Some years ago my husband was knocked off his bike by a car that turned straight into him from the other side of the road without looking. He got off relatively lightly, but still had to make major adjustments to his life for months of recovery time. We know it’s a risk, but we still get on our bikes and live our lives every day (with sensible precautions) because the alternative is unacceptable.
3. We are expected to move around in spaces where we are very vulnerable
Yes, not all men. Yes, not all drivers. But still, when I’m on the road I don’t know which drivers think that getting to their destination thirty seconds faster is more important than my life – so I have to cycle defensively and position myself protectively on the road around all of them. Many drivers don’t recognise that the actions we take are for safety reasons, they think we’re just being awkward.
4. If something does go wrong, everyone will ask what I was wearing
No helmet, black clothes, and killed by a car? Guess what the narrative in the media would focus on if that happened to me. What would actually make me safer as a woman and a cyclist is a change in culture and infrastructure, not a bigger focus on how I can “make myself safe”.
5. We still need to look out for other, more vulnerable groups
It’s easy to notice situations where you have been disadvantaged, but sometimes it’s harder to recognise situations where it’s you that has the upper hand. As cyclists, we (rightly, I think, given the climate crisis) are asking motorists to make space for us – but we also need to make sure that we are treating pedestrians with caution and respect. Just because we’re a vulnerable minority doesn’t mean that we’re the most vulnerable minority.
On that note, we’ve said before and I’d like to take this opportunity to reiterate that, regardless of your ethnicity, religion, gender, sex or sexual orientation, you and your family are welcome at our rides if you want better cycling infrastructure for children in Reading.
Aside from women and cyclists having a lot in common, women who are cyclists can face additional barriers, especially around cycling in the dark. Together with Reading Cycle Campaign and Avanti we are hosting a Glow Ride on Friday 10th November at 6pm, meeting at the Thames Lido (see the Facebook event). We hope to draw attention to the issue of safe cycling at night. The ride will be at a comfortable adult riding pace and will not be marshalled. Come and join us for the ride and please do stay for a drink afterwards.