Friday, September 07, 2007

Womankind: You can save Mankind

Everyone knows the benefits of commuting to work or school on a bicycle. It saves money, the exercise is good for you, zero carbon emissions, cuts down on congestion, etc, etc. However, getting people to do it on a large scale in the US is a completely different story.

I recently came across a delightful blog called “Copenhagen girls on bikes.” It's about the bicycle culture in Copenhagen, Denmark, where 35% of the population, 550,000 people ride their bike to work or school each day. Bicycles are an integral part of their culture.

Mikael and Aaron, the two guys behind the blog, state, “Perhaps we can inspire people in other countries to commute by bicycle or lobby for better bike conditions in their cities by providing a portrait of a city that lives and breathes bikes.”

A recent article in the New York Observer talked about a trend in that city of attractive women riding bicycles everywhere wearing skirts, dresses, and high heels.

One of the obstacles in getting people to ride bikes is that it is perceived as dangerous. The only reason it becomes dangerous is that drivers of cars and other vehicles are not aware of bicycles, and they just don’t see the bike rider. However, the more cyclists on the road the more visible they become.

If you are a lady on a bike, with your dress and hair flowing in the wind, you are probably the most visible person out there. What gentleman would object to slowing briefly before passing you with caution? What lady driver would not envy you?

Riding a bicycle you will burn 32 calories per mile. So a modest five mile trip, to work or shopping, and back home again will deplete you of 320 calories. That is a whopping 1,600 calories a five day week. Imagine how hard it would be to cut that amount from your diet; it is almost like not eating for a whole day. Plus you are toning your muscles and doing your heart and lungs a great service.

How do you ride a bike in high heels? I have not tried it, but actually I imagine it works fine, because you pedal with the sole of your shoe, not the heel. And when you come to a stop your toe is already extended downwards towards the road. Kind of like a built in kick stand. (See left.)

Ladies, if you do decide to ride, please follow the rules of the road. Don’t ride against the traffic flow. I don’t care what you were taught as a child, this is a highly dangerous practice.

Riding with the traffic, if it is not safe for a car to pass, they can at least slow and wait until it is safe. Riding towards traffic a driver suddenly comes upon you, often without warning. They can do nothing except put you, or themselves and others in danger.

Drivers merging onto a street are looking in the direction the traffic is coming from, and not expecting to find someone coming the wrong way.

Do not ride on the sidewalk; it is against the law, you are a danger to pedestrians. You also put yourself in grave danger at every road intersection you cross.

I would also advise against talking on a cell phone while riding. Your contemporaries in Copenhagen have the luxury of being in a city where people are aware of bikes, this is America and you need to be cautious and aware of other road users at all times.

In Copenhagen there are over 500,000 bicycles on the streets on any given day. That means almost that number less cars; imagine what an impact a fraction of that would have on the congestion in any American city. In addition, with this many bikes on the streets, how can drivers not be aware, and drive cautiously? This many bicycles make the streets a safer place for everyone.

If more bikes means greater safety, it also means more fun. A thirty something girl bike commuter from London, UK wrote in her “London Cycling Diary.”

“The highlight of my day, was cycling the length of Kensington High Street with a group of fellow cyclists. We were all strangers, but all of equal ability and we journeyed together for about a mile-and-a-half, taking up an entire lane and watching out for each other. We were traveling at the same speed as the motorized traffic and it felt good.”

The bicycle was one of the ways that women expressed their independence during the women’s suffrage movement in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Maybe it is time for the women of America to lead the way again. I gaurantee, men will follow.


Daniel said...

So true. I believe I may be physically incapable of not looking at a woman on a bicycle.

Maybe this is part of the answer to getting more people to use bikes as transport rather than just as recreation: Make bikes fashionable.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear! Glad you weighed in on this and offered a sensible and fair perspective. Of course the men will follow and will probably stop to gawk. Many will be thinking "I wished my wife did, and looked like, that", envious for sure. Good job Dave.

Anonymous said...

I rode yesterday morning with an acquaintance and she managed to get her platform heels into a toe clip.

More women riding would be a great way to show people that riding a bike is safer than they think.

VintageSpin said...

One of the best blog (op-ed?) pieces I’ve read-ever. My wife thoroughly enjoyed it also.
Without saying too much, you said it all.
Well done.

c-record said...

I happened across Zakkaliciousness's photos on flickr a few months ago and thought the same thing. The women in his photos seem to have the perfect combination of beauty, style, and poise. Who wouldn't want to join them in the bikelanes? :)

Anonymous said...

I'm all for women wearing bikes. I'm just a little bothered by a website that snaps pictures of unsuspecting women and posts them online.

Anonymous said...

erm, "riding" bikes. sheesh.

c-record said...

yeah, i do agree that perhaps he is being a somewhat voyeuristic with his camera lens, but most pictures of women by male photographers are like that, be it in magazines or in the 'art' realm.

Jenny Lamont said...

Jesus, will you give us a break! It seems women can't go anywhere these days without some pervert hovering near by. Men, evolve please. Strive beyond your basis instincts. Let us women be free of it!

Erik Sandblom said...

Hey, I like my basic instinct and plan to keep it! And I know women like me to keep it too.

Wear a burka if you want to be invisible on the street.

Anonymous said...

Where are their helmets? Brains belong inside the skull.

Anonymous said...

I started a blog with this in mind:

Anonymous said...

neat article!

Anonymous said...

As a lady rider, I would prefer that you not talk down to us like we're children. Your concern about us riding up the wrong side of the street, and hypothesizing about the experience of riding in high heels is clearly well-intentioned, however it sounds really condescending.

Nonetheless, thank you and your readers for getting all excited over girls on bikes. Except Erik Sandblom, who can keep his "basic instinct," as long as it is very far away from me.

Anonymous said...

Dear Claire, it's "Babes on Bikes", not "Witches on Wheels". Love, Cheryl