PSA about BWW: 6 Reasons to Bike While a Woman
Biking While a Woman (BWW) is a condition that appears to affect large numbers of potential female cyclists in the US. Nearly every study that looks to answer the question “who rides bikes” turns up results indicating “mostly men.”
Something about being a woman keeps women off bikes, or perhaps it’s BWM that gets men onto bikes. But as a woman, I can only share insights into what it’s like for me and other female friends to ride our bikes in Philly and surrounding areas.
I started riding a bike because I was in grad school, spending insane hours at school and coming home at various hours. The thought of paying Septa for the privilege of sitting in traffic on a bus; standing on a corner waiting for a bus; a bus or train schedule dictating my arrival or departure from school made me anxious and even a little angry. Even though it’s public transit, I didn’t like needing fossil fuels to get around.
I got a bike and never looked back.
Are you a lady who still hasn’t made the transition to biking?
Here’s 6 reasons you should catch on to the BWW now:
1. You don’t need special clothes to ride a bike.
I bike in skirts. I bike in heels. I bike in boots. I do not own spandex.
A lawyer friend of mine loves her beautiful bike with a step-through frame (easy to mount in a skirt), but was having a problem with pencil skirts. To resolve this issue, she bought a saddle with no nose. If you like pencil skirts, try a noseless saddle or one with a very short nose (think beach cruiser). Another woman gets around the problem by hiking up her skirt above the nose of her saddle when riding.
In the heat of summer, I choose my clothes differently than I would if I were going to, say, take the bus to work. I like synthetics, because they don’t show sweat. Since I hate ironing, this works out just fine.
2. There are a lot of bike shops to choose from; shop at the one that treats you well.
Because there are generally more men than women in the world of bicycles, many stores are staffed largely (sometimes only) by men.
If you walk into a store and don’t see a woman on staff, or female-specific options on display, find a new store. I refuse to shop at a few stores around town because the staff is rude and condescending.
Other stores are actively working to increase the number of women on bicycles through women-specific events and classes; I find them to be much more pleasant places to shop.
3. It’s not about speed – unless you want it to be.
You may see folks in spandex trying to set speed records on Kelly Drive. That isn’t me or most riders I know.
Most people can handle riding a bike at 12 mph. A five mile ride from City Hall to the Navy Yard takes about half an hour. The Broad Street Line and a walk would take the same amount of time. If you rode slower, you’d arrive at about the same time as a car in traffic.
My competitive side comes out when I see someone wearing spandex. I like to pace them when I’m wearing a skirt and heels.
4. Free parking!
I’ve never had to pay money to park my bike. I never have to stand on a corner and wonder if my bike will arrive on time or if I should shell out for a cab. I have never had to park my bike more than one block from my destination, rather usually much less.
This means I can wear cute shoes that wouldn’t be good for much walking when I wear my bike.
5. Right of way
Yes, you can ride in the middle of the lane. When I don’t have a bike lane, I feel safer in the middle.
Pennsylvania has a law that requires drivers to give you 4′ when they pass you on your bicycle. Since most city streets are too narrow to allow passing with 4′, I ride in the middle of the lane to prevent drivers from trying.
I don’t assume drivers know what they’re doing. One drove into a parked car trying to get around me, and when the police came, the driver told him that the two of us on our bicycles failed to yield to him so he had to pass to get around us. Because he was behind us and honking, he thought we should have had to get out of his way.
In the eight years I’ve been riding my bike in Philly, things have gotten much better, and I’ve been able to develop a few rules:
- If you can hear the car coming, get out of its way.
- If the driver is laying on the horn, get out of the way.
- If you can hear the engine revving, get out of the way (this rule applies both for beat up cars with rusting mufflers and for cars fitted with intentionally loud mufflers, as well as cars that are just trying to intimidate).
- If you can hear the music from the car, get out of the way.
You don’t have to get out of the way because you have to (you don’t), but because it’s best not to tempt the nutjobs, regardless of your mode of transit.
6. It’s good.
Riding a bike is good for the planet. It’s good for you, your wallet, and multitasking exercise with transit. Biking is good for interacting with your fellow humans on sidewalks and in open car windows.
Kristen Suzda is an urban eco-geek who keeps worms in her basement and rides her bike everywhere, and is slowly DIYing her Philadelphia row house. Follow her musings on sustainability, biking, and more @blondeonbicycle.