feeling safe as a woman cyclist

As cyclists we are all vulnerable.  It’s often cited as one of the biggest reasons women don’t bike as much as men.  A lot of women aren’t sure of their ability to get out of a possibly dangerous situation; a fear many men don’t share.  Sometimes that’s a lack of confidence in physical ability: am I strong enough to pedal away from danger? Sometimes it simply comes down to plain old fear of dangers around us.

Wearing visible clothing and making sure you have lights and reflectors are things you can do to make yourself more visible.  But what about the emotional aspect of cycling safety?

The more you ride, the more confident you become in your physical fitness and the better you are able to assess your abilities.  For example, I’ve never felt strong climbing hills.  I know I have the leg strength, but I feel my lung capacity leaves a bit to be desired.  I poop out on big, steep hills.  I am left gasping for air. I hope no one ever chases me up a hill; I know I’d lose.

What about other hazards?  Stray dogs, angry people, and groups of sketchy-looking people can make you feel very vulnerable indeed.  What about the motorist you flipped off because he almost clipped you and now he’s following you?  Road rage against cyclists is real. What can you do to ride without fear so you can enjoy yourself?  How can you learn to ride like a badass?

Besides riding more to get stronger I’ve taken a few precautions to boost my emotional strength.  I never ride without my phone and ID.  I’ve stored the phone number of my city’s police department in my phone and I can always dial 911 if it’s a true emergency.  I wear an open-air bluetooth device and all I have to do is press a button, say “city police” or “911,” and I’m connected – no fumbling with my phone (check to see if it’s legal to wear a bluetooth device in your city first – most will allow you to have one ear covered, but not both).  If you ride through more than one city enter all the police department phone numbers and keep track of where you are. Also, create an emergency contact in your phone.  Enter it as “I.C.E.” (In Case of Emergency) and the contact person and their number.  Most emergency responders are aware of this designation.

In addition, if you have a smartphone with a camera you can use it in case you have an accident,  if you need to document something for the police, or to snap a picture of a license plate to report a dangerous driver.

I carry a canister of pepper spray attached to my handlebars.  Find out what’s legal in your state – some states allow mace.  If a stray dog attacks, you need it handy for defense (I’ve also entered the phone number for Animal Control in my city; I’d rather call them than spray a dog unless it is attacking).   If someone stops you and is threatening you, you need defense before the police can arrive.  I’ve only had to pull out my pepper spray once and I didn’t have to use it, but it sure made the guy who was hassling me back off. Don’t be afraid to threaten using it and don’t be afraid to actually use it if you need to. I held mine up to his face and I said, “The police know about you. Don’t f— with me.”  He backed off.   If you have to use it, try to remember to stay upwind of the stream so it doesn’t get in your eyes and you can get away.

If you’re going on a solo exploration ride to places you’ve never been before it’s a good idea to let someone know where you’re going and how long you think you’ll be gone.

If you ride the same route regularly be nice to the other regulars you see every day.  Nod to them, greet them with a hello or a good morning.  Often the people you encounter daily  will keep an eye out for each other.  That’s comforting.

Keep looking around you and be aware of your surroundings.  This includes behind you as well. It’s unnerving when someone sneaks up behind you and you had no idea anyone was there.  If you’re not comfortable looking over your shoulder consider a rear view mirror either attached to your handlebars or your helmet.

If you see a group of people who scare you, try to avoid them.  If you can’t, try to pick up speed so you can get past them quickly.  And fake it until you make it – ride like you’re a badass with an attitude.  They may choose not to mess with you.

This is not designed to be a comprehensive list, but these are some of the things I’ve done to feel safer when I ride.  Fear should not keep you off your bike.  When you take some concrete precautions you will feel more confident, and confidence makes for an enjoyable ride.

Do you have any safety tips for feeling more confident when out and about on your bike? Please share them in the comments.

Ride safe and have fun!

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