Do you have an exit plan, Ladies?

This was recently passed on to me via a female cycling friend:

Today I went for a long bike ride by myself. This is one of my favorite things to do for so many reasons that I rarely, if ever, think about things that could potentially go wrong. So I was blissfully descending down a long canyon (hwy 74/Bear Creek Rd) and I noticed a guy in a pick-up truck pass me slowly, then pull over to the side of the road. He repeated this several times to the point I thought it was odd. A few minutes later, a guy on a motorcycle pulled up beside me as I was riding and told me he noticed it too. He told me to keep an eye out and said he was going to go up to the next corner and wait. He did this several times until the guy in the pick-up seemingly gave up, turned around, and left. I had no idea of the intent of the guy in the pick-up, but it still felt good to know someone was looking after me out there. There's nothing as refreshing as a stranger having the awareness to notice something potentially bad for someone else, then taking time out of their day to prevent it from happening. Thank you, motorcycle man and humanity in general! Pedal on.

This brings up an important topic, ladies. What would you have done in this situation? As much as I am loathe to admit it, any time we head out on our bikes by ourselves we are assuming some risk regarding "the crazies" (as I like to call them). Most of the time things are fine. And like the cyclist who posted this said, we "rarely, if ever, think about things that could potentially go wrong". But this should always be in the back of our minds. We all need to have an "Exit Plan" on our rides.

Last Fall on a ride I was followed up Lookout mtn in Golden by a random crazy guy. No matter what my pace, no matter what I did, said or didn't do/say he rode side by side with me. For 20 minutes. It started with a polite wave as I went by. That’s it. What I do to everyone. He jumped on my wheel and never left. At 1.5 minutes, I realized that he was insane. Completely. I hadn't had a situation like this on the bike in...well, ever. As luck would have it, that day I happened to be really under the weather. I wasn't riding well, I wasn't thinking clearly, etc. You know the feeling--how you feel right before you get slammed with the flu.

In retrospect, (and as my husband pointed out later) there were many things I COULD have done. I could have just stopped. I could have turned around and simply ridden down. I could have told him to go take a hike (or a variation of those words). I could have even called the cops, and told them I was being harassed. But instead? I did nothing. I rode my bike. I seethed. By the time we reached the top, I was feverish and...pissed. The more I thought about it, the more angry I became. ESPECIALLY when I discussed this with my husband later.

“You engaged him.”
“By waving as I went past?”
“By continuing to ride with him. By not just turning around and riding down Lookout. Or simply dropping him.”
“But why should I have to completely change MY ride plan, and MY pace due to some...crazy...GUY WHO WASN’T EVEN WEARING A HELMET?!?!?”
“I guess because...you’re a woman.”

Ouch. That hurt. I was almost insulted. I was furious that I wasn't strong enough that day to drop this guy who was obviously fueled on insanity (as well as the half dozen donuts he proudly told me he’d eaten that morning). I was irritated that I had been intimidated and I was really angry at my husband for seemingly not taking my side.

“A reversal of this situation would never have happened,” I pointed out.
“True. I would have dropped him. ”
“That’s not what I mean. A man would never have to worry about his safety on the bike because a woman was making him uncomfortable. Changed his ride plan, wondered if he’d been sending the wrong signals, etc.”
“...You're right.”


Photo: courtesy of Amanda Cyr

When I read the post from the cyclist coming down Bear Creek, it left a bad taste in my mouth. As well it should. When your panic instincts are on full alert, it's hard to think clearly. What would I have done? Probably stopped and called the cops. Probably. But cell-phone service is a gamble in this Canyon (as with many of the solo rides I do).

I guess I would have pretended to use my phone and took a picture of the parked vehicle. Or maybe flagged down a motorist. But in reality, those solutions make me cringe. How many times have you thought, "I'm probably over-reacting."? Ladies, I'd like to suggest that we don't worry so much about "over-reacting" and worry more about our safety. And if that doesn't do it for you, let's sprinkle in a little Catholic guilt. Think of the future safety of OTHER WOMEN.

I guarantee this wasn't the first time the Bear Creek Canyon Creep did this to a female cyclist. And it certainly won't be the last. Same with the guy on Lookout. I put it out on twitter and actually got a response from a female cyclist in Ft. Collins: “My sister rode with the SAME guy up Lookout about a month ago. It had to be him. He did the exact same thing to her.”

I'm not saying that I won't stop riding solo (although I did neglect Lookout Mtn for several days after that unpleasant experience), but I'm trying to remind myself to ride smart. On EVERY solo ride we do, let's have a "what would I do if..." plan in place. For you, your loved ones and the other female cyclists out there. Let's take a stand against the creeps out there. Call the cops. Call a friend. Flag a motorist down. Whatever you have to do to feel safe. And then as the woman said in her post, "Pedal on".



Photo: courtesy of @calverphoto
Women's Tour of Britain
via GirlBikeLove

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45 Comments

Smart woman.

Anna, thank you for sharing your story. This article got way more attention that all of us at 303 expected. It obviously struck a chord with many of our readers. I'm dismayed to know that this type of thing has happened to so many women, but empowered to hear how so many of us are taking a stand. Creepiness can take many different forms, but it's still creepy. Good for you for trusting your instincts and acting. Getting the license plate and make of the car, for example. I'm happy you found a group of pedaling friends and hope that fear of riding alone has subsided.

To the guys out there who thought this was a joke of an article, I'd like to ask you this: Would you feel okay with these types of scenarios happening to your sister, mother, wife, girlfriend, or daughter while out on a ride? I'm young, fit, and relatively large for a woman. I can't help but think about the woman who isn't. Take a stand, ladies. Own your road.

Good article, Katie. Ironic

Good article, Katie. Ironic that I had just posted about getting street harrassed by construction workers on my FB feed last week.

Like Katie said - consider how you would view this sort of behavior were it to happen to your sister, your daughter or your mom, and STOP objectifying women that you don't know merely because they have the nerve to wear lycra in public. To dismiss this issue (known as "gaslighting") gives a social pass to other men to treat women exercising in public this way. Which means you are also making it okay for the women you love to get the same treatment. It stops with you and how you raise your sons and educate your brothers. And I don't buy for a minute the concealed carry derail or the tough-guy-on-the-internet pose. It's easy to say you'd be the tough guy, but we all know that in the moment these things rarely play out well.

Here's a pullquote from a discussion on another forum about how toxic the male gaze / harrassment issue is to 50% of the world's population, not just your wives or daughters who are trying to train on the local roads and trails:

I am tired the male gaze, and the investigation of a female's every move to discern whether she is engaging in sexualised presentation, action or behaviour. The male gaze is a social panopticon that imprisons women within sets of expectations and blame profiles. It zooms in and locks on to one aspect of ourselves, our gender, and views everything about us through that one narrow lens. Many women and nearly all men view people through the lens of the male gaze, it's that prevalent. It's so prevalent that exhibits of female physicality that don't pander to it, or at least acknowledge it covertly, are concern trolled for their potential subtle sexual content; content which in this and many cases lies only in the eyes of the beholder.

Imagine, just for an awesome moment, what every woman on the internet, heck the world! could have achieved if she hadn't been burdened day after day, generation after generation, with the demands of the male gaze. It's indescribably insidious. When you think about it deeply, what are elements of Sharia law but the male gaze given legal rights?

So, please, shut the hell up and just let us enjoy being humans who can do whatever we want or need to do to express ourselves. STOP gazing at us, we don't exist for critique. View us as humans first and foremost and consider us as individuals long before you look for our gender and way, way before you seek evidence of sexualised expression.

I don't question much about

I don't question much about this article, except the part where the husband said 'I would have dropped him."

Let's be clear....is he saying he would 'drop' him as in, hammer-down and ride away? (because who outruns a motor vehicle, especially on a climb)

Or 'drop' him...as in, stop riding, walk over and punch the guy in the face...

Either of the two are probably bad ideas.

I'm pretty sure I know who

I'm pretty sure I know who you are talking about, the no-helmet clued me in. I've even seen him ride up and down Lookout on the wrong side of the road and ride with other unsafe behaviors. If the same guy, I haven't seen him for a few months now, hopefully he is done with that.

I've been lucky enough to

I've been lucky enough to have never had uncomfortable instances with men driving while I'm riding, but male cyclists have—on occasion—given me pause.

I've been out alone on a ride and suddenly realized that I have a strange man inches from my rear end. Never announced himself, never made a noise. I slow, he slows. I speed up, he speeds up. Still never says anything.

It has made me wonder what I would do if I needed to get away: I don't know this man, odds are good he has 50lbs or more on me and can probably out sprint me. Would someone in a car notice if I needed help? Should I stop? What if he stops? What then? Damnit, why aren't there more people on empty country roads?

I generally start getting pretty liberal with snot rockets at this point.

I'm not saying "all men that draft without announcing themselves are without-a-doubt-bona-fide creeprs." I think most of the time they're happily—and thoughtlessly—enjoying the draft. But. I don't know you. I don't know if you're a creep. If I was walking down Pearl St. or 16th St Mall, and some dude decided to follow 2-3ft behind me all the way down the street, no one would question why I'd be uncomfortable or whether that's intimidating or harassing.

I think, generally speaking, men don't realize how aware-of-being-women women are nearly all the time. I think the assumption is, "well, we're riding bikes. This is just cycling." Or maybe they're even thinking, "This female cyclist is going at a pretty good clip. That's rad. I'll hang out here for a bit and catch a ride."

So, maybe in addition to the question, "What if it were my wife/girlfriend/daughter/sister/mother?" how about: "Would this be appropriate behavior if there weren't bikes involved?"

“A reversal of this situation

“A reversal of this situation would never have happened,” I pointed out.
“True. I would have dropped him. ”
“That’s not what I mean. A man would never have to worry about his safety on the bike because a woman was making him uncomfortable. Changed his ride plan, wondered if he’d been sending the wrong signals, etc.”
“You're right.”

I understand the authors anger at her husband for the above exchange but both are wrong. Men could very well be placed in dangerous situations by "crazies" and should consider what they would do in a situation like that. Doesn't matter if it was by a woman or another man. The issue is not one of gender but one of safety.

Guns and Safety

Interesting how this has turned into a gun debate. If you think a firearm is the best option for staying safe on a bicycle, I don't know if cycling is for you. Fact is, people who carry guns tend to get themselves into more dangerous situations be it overconfidence, stupidity, or lack of training. Statistically, gun owners are more likely to die from being shot by a firearm than the general public. Please leave your guns at home when riding. It is already tense enough between cyclists and motorists, the last thing we need is a cyclist doing something dumb with a gun.

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