The amount of women on bikes is a key indicator of how bike-friendly a city is (there have been studies on it). The City of Portland Office of Transportation Options is well aware of this fact. They’ve got a Women on Bikes program solely devoted to getting more women to ride by helping them gain confidence out on the roads.
In fact, the City has partnered with Bridge Pedal to offer the first ever women-only start at this year’s event.
That all sounds great. But two things I’ve seen and read lately have got me wondering about what’s really going on out there.
The other day I noticed a lady on her bike at a stop light. She was just minding her own business when some guys in a van pulled up. They tried to get her attention and it was clear they didn’t just want directions. They were verbally harassing her and being generally lewd and crude.
The lady just ignored them and they sped off when the light turned green, but I felt horrible for her. She was enjoying her ride, then it was suddenly ruined by these rude jerks.
Then, I read this recent post in the Portland Bike Forums. In this case, “Erica” was harassed by some guy while biking. What started as an innocent conversation, quickly turned creepy and Erica ended up calling the cops. She was very shaken up about the whole thing. I think it took a lot of guts for her to share her experience online.
My hunch is that the above experiences are rare, but maybe I’m wrong. I’d like to hear from the ladies out there about your experiences on the roads. Do you often get harassed while you’re out on your bike? Do you think being on a bike makes you more vulnerable or somehow more of a target?
“…I felt horrible for her. She was enjoying her ride, then it was suddenly ruined by these rude jerks.”
Welcome to a day in the life of.
It happens a lot more than you think. Listening to my music has saved me from hearing a lot of the harrassment. As dangerous as it might be, I choose music over cat calls.
I don’t know about the rest of Portland’s women cyclists, but I personally have only had one incident in six years that made me feel even a bit unsettled, but it was a slightly creepy unwanted leering, nothing one wouldn’t encounter in your average pub.
I feel that being on a bicycle gives me an advantage over encountering the same situation as a pedestrian. I can just stop, turn around and get out of a situation FAST if I need to. Most cars can’t simply switch direction the way a bicycle can.
Kudos to Jonathan for bringing this question up, but I’m not convinced women cyclists encounter worse harassment on our bicycles than anywhere else in our lives (and that’s what’s really upsetting.) This is just one outward symptom of the sexism that still exists in our culture (just visit any domestic violence agency’s website, like http://www.bradleyangle.org, and look at statistics on domestic violence to see what I mean.
I used to work early mornings at a bakery and on my way to work one morning I noticed a white Jeep Cherokee following me south down 20th. It was 4:30 in the morning and there was no reason for this car to be so close behind me so I pulled over a little closer to the sidewalk and slowed down thinking the car would feel more comfortable passing me that way. But the car didn’t pass. Instead, the driver pulled up along side me, squeezing me between the sidewalk and the car and when I looked over the man was very clearly masturbating. I freaked out and started pedaling as fast as I could. When the driver realized I was trying to get away he sped up and tried to cut me off at the intersection. Thankfully, adrenaline and fear helped me bunny hop a curb (a trick I’ve never been good at) and I was able to get to the 7-11 on Hawthorne where I sat for a good 20 minutes before I felt safe enough to go the rest of the way to work. I didn’t report the incident to the police but I wish I had because a few weeks later a co-worker of mine had a similar experience with the same vehicle.
That was by far the scariest thing to happen to me as a result of being a lady on a bike. All the other stuff (cat calls, whistles, shouts, hollers, etc.) is, unfortunately, what women face regardless of being on a bike or not.
One night I was riding home from a friend’s house. It was dark and I wasn’t too far from home. A man stepped out of nowhere and started running next to my bike asking me where I was going and hey baby hey baby etc. I just kept riding as fast as I could (with my gut in a knot) thankfully he eventually stopped and I could hear him laughing as I rode on.
One creepy experience out of thousands of good ones, but one I sourly remember.
Everyone needs to be aware of their surroundings…bicyclists, pedestrians, even if you’re in your car stopped at a light. No need to be paranoid, but we should all be aware.
These dirtbags make it really hard for decent and friendly guys like me to ever be nice to a woman I meet in public. And yes, it’s a huge problem. My wife can’t go running anywhere without getting cat calls. Though guys of all ethnicities do it, it seems to be more acceptable in some communities than others. The Hispanic guys in my neighborhood seem to be worst – they’ll do it right in front of me. C’mon guys – have a little respect. You can take a look without being a sleazeball.
just about everyday there seems to be a cat call, whistle, eyes fixed…many nasty comments of what they would like to do, or how i should ride my bike to be more sexy for them to look at…but this really isn’t that much different than a woman walking, running, sitting…i choose to ignore it majority of the time, then sometimes i make rude comments back if their comment is just f’n ridiculous…but the worst is when I am biking with my daughter and they make really disgusting remarks and then my daughter asks why they are saying that…that is what really pisses me off…the others i can handle and what not – to most degrees, but when it’s my 5 yr old with me, i feel this huge sorrow…
I second Webly’s comment: I know that a lot of people get up in arms about cyclists listening to music, but it’s almost a requirement for me when I ride alone. I find that I enjoy the ride much more when I don’t have to listen to some of the yahoos out there. I keep the volume at a moderate level, to screen out the unimportant stuff, and so that I can still hear important traffic noises or the bell of a passing bike.
However, when I ride with other people, I leave the iPod at home, and enjoy the company.
But of course! Particularly if I’m wearing a skirt.
Being on a bike makes you so much more visible than in a car that it’s just easier for slimy guys to see you and decide you’re worth sliming up.
I practice the same time-tested ignoring techniques taught me by my mother and honed in latin america, and it mostly works. When it doesn’t, I back up and sit behind them in the lane so that I have a better view of them than they of me, and they have a much harder time being heard, and then I just follow them until they get tired of driving 10 mph.
But it’s really obnoxious. Don’t get me wrong.
i think the title of the post is a bit misleading, are creepy cyclists really the problem? or, just creepy dudes in general? it doesn’t sound like many of them are cyclists (yet?).
I believe while part of this may be related to sexual orientation, what we really have here is a communitty base that does not respect the cyclist much at all, which, with that ignorant mind set, put’s female cyclists even lower on the level, and open for harrasment.
Why is it ok for anyone to be harrassed because they are either riding a bike, attractive, or alone?
This is why we pay the police.
The rules are as such:
You do not mess with the elderly, the handicapped, women or children.
If I see someone doing this, which sadly I do alot, I step in.
I have been sitting at a bar with friends, they witness such a act, and I have been sent off to follow people.
I have chased purse snatchers.
This is a problem for sure. The police are not in the position to handle much,let alone this problem.
So We need to watch each others backs, on the street every day.
If you are in a bad neighborhood, or late at night and see someone riding solo who maybe shouldn’t be, don’t stop them, just ride a few blocks behind until they are in the clear.
Say hi when you ride by, opening the lines of communication, in case they are needed.
The people that would be creepin’ others out are obviously stupid.
They will never know we are all watching……
thanks for keeping your eyes out for people, dabby. i hope you’re around the next time someone tries to run me off the road while masturbating.
not rare. men don’t seem to realize that a car horn or a whoop is startling and frightening to a bicyclist trying her best not to get run over. not at all a turn-on.
though i worry about free speech implications as much as the next civil libertarian, i really think there needs to be some sort of law regarding men who sexually harrass women they don’t know on the street. it’s really disgusting at best and terribly threatening at worst.
“The rules are as such:
You do not mess with the elderly, the handicapped, women or children.
You do not mess with ANYONE, period. Men should not be prone to being harassed either. Nobody should have to put up with it. A lot of people think that because someone is a male it is not that big a deal if others harass him. Not true.
Really, the only thing to say is that there are a lot of people in the world whose parents raised them without manners, respect or dignity. I simply put on my iPod (no preaching from the elitists please) and go on my merry way.
And if someone is obviously trying to physically confront me with their vehicle, I will introduce the front hood of their car to my U-lock. That’s just how it is. Sorry if that sounds so negative, but the world gets crazier by the day. It’s a sad reality and I try my best to take safe routes and deal only with respecful people, but it’s really hard to control your daily events and those who try to ruin your good day.
The search function at leg.state.or.us/ors is not working as usual, but I found this. Harassment of many different sorts is illegal in Oregon:
166.065 Harassment. (1) A person commits the crime of harassment if the person intentionally:
(a) Harasses or annoys another person by:
(A) Subjecting such other person to offensive physical contact; or
(B) Publicly insulting such other person by abusive words or gestures in a manner intended and likely to provoke a violent response;
(b) Subjects another to alarm by conveying a false report, known by the conveyor to be false, concerning death or serious physical injury to a person, which report reasonably would be expected to cause alarm; or
(c) Subjects another to alarm by conveying a telephonic, electronic or written threat to inflict serious physical injury on that person or to commit a felony involving the person or property of that person or any member of that person’s family, which threat reasonably would be expected to cause alarm.
(2) A person is criminally liable for harassment if the person knowingly permits any telephone or electronic device under the person’s control to be used in violation of subsection (1) of this section.
(3) Harassment is a Class B misdemeanor.
(4) Notwithstanding subsection (3) of this section, harassment is a Class A misdemeanor if a person violates subsection (1) of this section by subjecting another person to offensive physical contact and the offensive physical contact consists of touching the sexual or other intimate parts of the other person. [1971 c.743 §223; 1981 c.468 §1; 1985 c.498 §1; 1987 c.806 §3; 1995 c.802 §1; 2001 c.870 §2]
Although I will plead guilty for frequently staring and leaving drool stains on my work shirt, I go no futher than to smile and nervously look away while trying not to crash into a light pole. (it’s happened)
I had no idea the problem was so huge. Congrats to all you awesome ladies out there braving the bullshit. And like dabby said – whether biking or not – we all need to make that uncomfortable move of stepping into situations that arn’t right.
thanks, organic brian! i’ve gotten (B)’d for sure. the next guy who calls me a name for failure to respond might just learn that he’s committed a class B misdemeanor.
I think the bright side of this is Meghan’s comment that a bicyclist can get away more easily in difficult situations. I certainly would not walk through many neighborhoods that I’ve comfortably biked through. The Portland Police dept (not able to focus as much on such incidents, but helping nonetheless) offers classes in self defense which also boosts self confidence. Short of that a U-lock can be a great assett in disturbing situations (be careful though if they’re in a car).
I’m curious about how women feel about this in relation to the Bike Buddy program that Carye is working on. Would being a part of this make you feel more comfortable? Or would you feel limited?
gabriel (and others interested), craning your own neck to breaking hurts you more than us. for me, it’s when men expect more than a friendly “hello” from a gal who looks like she’s got some place to be that it gets annoying, and scary in some situations.
This is definitely something that can reduce the fun factor of a ride for any woman. My roommate, who is also an avid biker, had a really scary incident happen about two weeks ago when she was riding home. A car full of teenage boys sped around her, sped back and forth menacingly in front of her, threw some garbage at her, called her a bunch of horrible names and threated to beat her up and rape her (yes, they used those words). She just stopped as far as she could from where they were and called 911. They saw her on the phone and eventually sped off. She said she wasn’t really frightened at first, but their behavior was so ridiculous and unpredictable she just couldn’t trust what might happen next. She said the police did seem interested when she called, but she never got a follow-up call.
It’s been a while since anything so blatant has happened to me, but this time of year (when girls are biking around in shorts instead of rain gear) it’s pretty common to get things
like catcalls and forced conversations. I love biking in the winter, because it’s hard to tell which riders are men and which are women when everyone’s bundled up.
Something that also happens a lot, which I fail to understand at all, is when a guy in a car will “flirt” by acting like he’s going to hit me with his car. This happened to me a lot last summer … a guy whose path I was crossing (my legal right of way) would “fake” accelerate from a parking lot (or from behind the white line at a stop sign), scare the crap out of me, then usually laugh or lean out the window to say he was kidding. Or wave me on with a smile and a “No, YOU go ahead” (as if it weren’t already my right of way) or, “hey, I was just teasing” …
It’s extremely weird when someone forces an interaction onto you under the guise that they might hurt you. And since they didn’t hurt you and were in fact just “joking” about running over you with their car … that’s funny, right?
First of all, annonymous posts are silly, annoying, and complicate the problems already apparent in these posts.
Perhaps you should, first, Use the name people know you by.
Second, take a minute to look at my post in regards to the content of the origonal article.
It is not neccessary for me to be talking about men defending themselves in this context.
And second, this is my personal rule, regarding people who break laws in my way, ie, jaywalking, driving bad, late in a crosswalk, etc.
I do not allow myself to speak my mind to women, children, the handicapped, or the elderly.
I alow myself to speak my mind to other men, men who have the obvious ability at the time to deal with the circumstances of running me off the road.
This is the context of my post.
And, for your own info K., I also do not mess with anybody, man woman or child, unless either provoked by chance of death or wounding, or unless they are attacking someone else.
You obviously do not know me, or you never would have misinterpreted what I typed.
People here know me.
Maybe you should too?
I do not post on this website much at all, maybe two times in the last few months, if that. Second, suggesting my point is invalid because a) I choose not to post my full name or b) you have posted more than me is absurd.
I think anyone reading this thread will immediately notice your confrontational attitude, sadly.
Now to get to what you said:
“I alow myself to speak my mind to other men, men who have the obvious ability at the time to deal with the circumstances of running me off the road.”
So if a male runs you off the road its safe to curse at him? But not if it was a female behind the wheel? Absurd.
“And second, this is my personal rule, regarding people who break laws in my way, ie, jaywalking, driving bad, late in a crosswalk, etc.”
This makes sense for children, elderly and handicapped people who are obviously not as sharp as a healthy adult. Saying a woman cannot fathom the idea that jaywalking is a bad idea so if she does this she should be spared from scrutiny is insulting to women in general, and if you are asserting that it is ok to ‘speak your mind’ to a male who jaywalks, then why not speak your mind to a woman who jaywalks? Are both not mentally competent? Why should a male be subjected to verbal abuse? Because something exists between his legs that isn’t between yours?
What happened to the days when people conducted themselves with dignity and weren’t always chomping at the bit to chew everyone out over the most ridiculous of inconveniences? So someone slows down traffic for a whole 5 seconds while they jaywalk – sure, not the brightest idea, but you will live. On the other hand, if someone almost runs you off the road, it doesn’t matter whether it was a male or female, they need to be made aware of what they did. I’m not saying curse at them, but your posts suggests it is ok or ‘less bad’ to verbally abuse one group of people and not the other. This is a philosophy I will never encourage. It is unhealthy and sure to bring you heaps of bad karma.
Nothing like this has EVER happened to me in Portland. The only time I have ever been harrassed on my bicycle was several years ago in Philadelphia. I had recently arrived for graduate school and decided that the best way to learn the city was to ride around on my bike.
I was stopped at a stop light in a very crunchy neighborhood called Olney (a place, I found out only much later, that no woman should ever go alone, even in broad daylight!). While stopped, a young man approached me in the middle of the street and grabbed my handlebar. “Gimme the bike or I’ll kill you where you stand,” he growled. I kicked him hard in the groin, knocking him down, and sped away through the still-red light while he lay on the asphalt howling in pain.
I suggested that your name should be used simply because it is the way to go.
There is nothing here to hide behind, unless you have a paranoia complex.
I in no way sugested that your point was invalid because of this.
I sugested your point was invalid because first of all.
You don’t know me, and if you did you would know that I was a kind, lighthearted pacsifist who would do no harm to another, unless to help someone in need.
I also suggest that your point is invalid because you took it right the hell otu of context, and turned my statement into what you wanted to read, instead of what I wrote.
This is a fine example of twisting something into what you want to believe you have just read.
The sad thing about internet posts is that it is very difficult to infer what you mean into your post, leaving yourself wide open for mis-interpretation.
On that note, if you, or anyone else, man woman or child, are having a problem and see me or another messenger around you, within blocks, scream your head off.
We will come rolling right up.
This is what we do…
Cripes, I hope anyone confronted with a motorist who fakes them out (by accelerating toward them, or revving the engine while the cyclist is in front) at the very least pepper-sprays the dude and throws his keys into a dumpster or river. Do something, anything, that deters the person from this behavior. If they get away with doing that to you, they may do it again later to others.
Thank you Jonathon for bringing this topic up. There’ve been times when I’ve shared my stories of harassment as a cyclist and I’ve gotten looks of disbelief — especially from the male bikey friends, “that never happens to me.” As if I were making this crap up or something.
I’d say the amount of cat calls, hoots, honks, etc. I receive while riding alone is nowhere near as common as what Chakra endures–for me, it’s about 1-2 times per week. The most recent ugliest incident happened while riding in to town through the zoo (yep I live in SW now though my riding is probably equally divided between all 4 quadrants of the city), an older jeep cherokee packed with 20-something boys swooped around me aggressively while yelling stuff at me with their windows down and then, about 30 yds in front of me, tossed several Glass Bottles onto the road. Luckily, they had bad aim and only one landed in the street and broke into a mere 3 or 4 pieces.
That time I was a little shook up.
And I really don’t want to recall the situations in which I’ve gotten the fake outs described by Brian above. I work too hard trying to forget them. But it certainly happens.
Thank you for featuring this issue, Jonathan.
I have passed this man twice since the incident and he didn’t seem to recognize me at all. Call it a result of Portland’s Meth. Or just a really agressive guy. Still shaken up by it!
Damn. Have any of you women experienced MORE harrassment while cycling than at other times? I can only think of a couple of times people have made scary-lewd gestures to me on my bike, but a lot more from back in the day when I was a bus/ped person.
Having an air of confidence helps deter this kind of harassment to some extent. Ignoring it works even better. The same is true of people who just treat you crappily on your bike in an un-gendered way. I used to flip them off, and unpleasant confrontations would ensue–now I ignore them and lacking encouragement they move on. If someone’s wiggling their tongue at you/revving their engine, all they want is some kind of response. Don’t give it to them! Save it for the police when you call.
In general: When someone’s following you, whatever mode you’re using, go quickly and immediately to a business or find other people to be near. Call 911 as soon as you can. Don’t be afraid to jump the curb, go the wrong way down a one-way street, split lanes, pretend to be dangerously insane, or walk up to a group of strangers like you know them. If you have the presence of mind to get a plate number then even best, but really, just get away. If you can’t get away, then tell them loudly and bossily to “get lost, go away, no, go on” like they’re a drunk or a pushy dog. Beth’s technique has its pluses too (way to go, Beth!). If they just want money or ipod then give it to them. But the general rule is get the hell away.
this is kind of one of the wierder issues i’ve seen on bikeportland. i dunno, it’s really just the intersectioon of people being assholes to cyclist and creepy dudes being asses to women. i’ve had people yell shit and toss cups and the like at me riding. and i’ve heard all sorts of sexual harassment stories from girls who’ve just been walking around portland.
Aaron, you mentioned something about a Bike Buddy program? I don’t know if I’ve heard about that. What is it? How does it work?
I would suggest women carry some type of pepper spray and keep it within quick reach (ie: NOT in your backpack). I’ve seen women whip out a can of mace, point it, and the aggressor darts away like a bat out of hell. I’m not saying use it unless you must, especially since we are talking about people operating a few tons of metal and glass (unless they are at a red light), but the mere sight of having a pepper spray can pointed at them will likely be enough to get them to shut up and dive off. It at least lets them know you’re not defenseless, which is all that is required to shoo off these cowardly aggressors.
It takes a lot of courage to speak up about any kind of harrasment. The people who are willing to speak out are the ones who help make steps toward actually effecting change. The awareness created by this article might help someone else (beit motorist or cyclist) recognize and prevent a dangerous situation they observe. Well done… thank you for shining some light on this issue.
Dare I say? Bear Spray. If the wind is going the right direction, watch out…
Strangely this post coincides with a product I am developing in my melon.
Maybe now I should put it on paper…
etta-tron, you may have noticed the article just posted about the Bike Buddy program. This is still in development, I don’t think Carye meant to publicize it much until the idea is further along but it looks like the cat is already out. The program is meant to encourage biking newbies to ride bikes by mentoring them, if you want to add your own input and energy to this project then here is where you can get on the discussion list:
A few cat calls or non-lewd comments (like “That looks real nice.”) if I’m riding in a skirt.. I expect those and a lot of looks.. and I’m riding past too quickly for it to have any consequence. I will often choose to be comfortable in warm weather and not have to change clothes on the way to a party..as far as harrassment goes, I’m really glad I don’t have to commute to East Portland anymore..Portland’s outer city ghetto and the bane of cyclists regardelss of gender. As for the creepy dudes, I find that if I ride (or walk) with “attitude” awareness and confidence it sends a message that deters the predators who will choose easier prey.
Regarding BikeBunnygirl’s post #19
I may have an explanation (though it makes no sense). While riding past the school at 26th and Powell I saw a woman walking across the street. A young guy rolled forward a couple of inches and she yelped. I was about to step in when she walked over to the passenger door and started chatting with him. It was clear that they knew each other, and perhaps this is flirtation. It is the oddest thing.
I like the idea of calling in a person’s license plate while they can see you and let them know that you’re calling the police (if possible).
These are really amazing stories and my bike helmet’s off to you ladies for not letting yourself be intimidated.
when i’m on my bike, i don’t seem to have many problems, but i think i tend to go fast and look kind of mean. guys can be scary, but most of my issues are with guys who get really aggressive when i pass them. sorry, if i’ve been catching up to you for a mile, and i just passed you, i’m going faster than you, even if i am female. and i’m commuting to work, not inviting you to a race.
what’s also really annoying is when i go into the bike shop with my bike and my boyfriend, and the guy in the shop asks my boyfriend all the questions. it’s MY bike! I’M the one riding it! it’s as though they accept that i can ride a bike, but i still don’t have a brain. this is one reason i ride a fixed-gear now–very little to fix, and i can do it all myself.
I’m sorry. I’m a pig.
When I see a female on a bike, I can’t help but think how awesome she must be and how much more attractive this automatically makes her.
So ladies, I apologize for the comments I think in my head when I see you. Please feel comfort that I have the decency to keep these comments to myself.
The most you’ll get from me is a smile and a “hi”.
Ride on my fair ladies, ride on.
A second apology is in order…
I have been known to suffer from “male-blindness”.
Last summer, while riding downtown, I spotted a female cyclist on a fixed-gear that really got my attention. Thus, I hit a parked car.
No damage other than a bruised ego.
from one gal’s perspective, no apology required. If you read Brian’s posting above on what constitutes harassment, in no way thinking someone on a bike attractive should require an apology. You’re not insulting, threatening, provoking, etc. I’ve never hit a parked car while looking at a hot boy on a bike, but I’ve come close. And I’m not apologizing for it. :*)
and my last 2 cents on this whole subject is this —
while I understand this is purely anectdotal and correlative and therefore not causative, here goes.
I ride my bike with male friends about 50% of the time.
While with them, the amount of driver aggression/harrassment/cat calls is Very Low to non-existent. And
their tolerance of harassment is Very Low — it’s something they’re not used to (this includes a good friend who’s never had a license and has lived in PDX his whole life).
The other 50% of the time, I ride alone.
My tolerance of harassment is Very High – for it happens pretty frequently and i’ve learned to let it just roll off my back.
AND, it happens most often in the summer when I tend to wear skirts, girly colors, etc. rather than the black and yellow rain garb of winter.
So yes —
as a cyclist, I am subjected to mean and nasty behavior.
we all are.
I personally experience more crap when either or both of the following is true: I am
a. riding alone and/or
b. looking feminine.
and unlike Elly,
I tend to get harassed more often on a bike than in any other aspect of my life.
and I ride with “an air of confidence” in traffic — it’s just that when I’m in a skirt and/or on my recumbent…I’m prepared for some sort of altercation.
it’s not possible for some women to look edgy/mean/”confident.” i have curly hair, so i will forever look like i’m on the verge of singing the praises of the good ship lollipop. ask sarah vowell — some women were born to be called “hon.”
but in the case of bikers, remember: “hon” has a big strong u-lock in her backpack.
I have been cycling over 25 years and have had only a few cases of harassment; I’ve been slapped on the behind on two separate occasions by passengers in moving vehicles. On one occasion I was able to catch up to the goons and get their liscence number. I called the cops, who didn’t do a thing. This was some years ago and now I know that I would have insisted on action. A slap from a hand extended from a vehicle going 40+mph really hurts. Had I experienced such an assult in any other setting it would have been a clear case of assault/battery.
Recently I was harassed by a crazy man on a bike. He rode up next to me and started yelling obsenities all while running me into the curb. I slammed on my brakes, and he turned around and rode at me yelling more obsenities. This was the weirdest experience, scary at the time. But he was clearly not sane.
Although these cases felt pretty extreme, it’s only been three times in the 25 years. Catcalls and whistles have occured but the frequency for bike to non-bike situations is about the same. HOWEVER, I’ve never been slapped or hit or yelled at in public when not on my bike. Hm.
By the way any gals wanting to feel more confident about how to handle threatening situations should check out Patty O’Linger’s self-defense class through PCC.