Mid way through last year Merie Polkamp published an article on the Women's Melbourne Network website, click here to read. In the article she shared her experience of commuting in Melbourne:
"The lack of bike lanes, in combination with often aggressive car driving, makes cycling among the super busy inner-city traffic a rather unpleasant experience."
However, it was the attitudes of the male cyclists which she found very unpleasant. The sense of entitlement to the right of way, the comments:
"Let me pass, Lady!"
We asked some of our Chicks Who Ride Bikes members their thoughts on this article and asked if they had experienced any gender bias or sexism whilst cycling in their community.
Here are their responses:
My first reaction to this article is disgust and concern for this woman’s safety and wellbeing. It isn’t fair that she should have to endure that kind of treatment. It is not ok and should not be accepted, and I see this and other sexism constantly socially accepted in our modern society. However, as I started writing this and reflecting on my own experiences in the Australian biking community, I found them to be completely different from the authors’. The reason for these differences may have to do with the fact that pretty much all of my 2,500+ kilometres of biking experience in Australia has been strictly on trails. I identify as a mountain biker and have found this community to be a special breed. We are different.
As a female mountain biker, I am used to being the minority, but it has never caused me to feel unsafe. I bike on trails in the woods alone all the time without being afraid of who I might come across, I have never had an issue. I have actually had some great experiences meeting local trail builders while out on rides alone, and yes, they are always men. These men have consistently greeted me with kind words and offers to show me the trail they are so proud that they created. They offer information regarding features I may find ahead on the trail and advice on other trails in the area. I enjoy going out on solo adventures in the bush, it is my happy place and it is where I feel safe (unless I am self-inflicting danger by trail or line choice, of course!). Alternatively, I have enjoyed the social aspect of mountain biking by using social media to find locals in the area I wish to explore. I have found some lovely groups (more often of men but also of women) to shred trails with, and I have found that mountain bikers are pretty much just plain stoked that others are as stoked as they are on this fantastic sport, no matter who you are!
In conclusion, my heart goes out to the author of the article, and to every woman who has experienced discrimination while biking, but not all bikers are bad. Maybe the roads are not safe for women in Melbourne. But, women, the trails are! The mountain biking community will accept you and embrace you as a woman, it will support you to go faster and bigger (or take it slow and steady if you prefer), but it will not yell at you or make you feel unsafe unless you choose to feel unsafe. The obstacles we face as mountain bikers are trees, rocks, dirt, and our own mental will. In the mountain biking community, all that matters is that you are riding a bike, whatever kind it is, whatever terrain you prefer. Now it’s time to get the rest of the biking community—because we really are all one community no matter our discipline or gender—to unite as a sport. Get with the program roadies!
Gender differences have always taught me to treat people the way that I would want to be treated. As a kid I always played male dominated sports and usually coped with the “gender specific abilities”. Of course that followed into my adult life where I chose to join the military, where again it was a male dominated area. It was a boys club and I found that out quick when I got to my first duty station. The first person I met was a man who was in his late 40’s telling me that woman didn’t belong in the military. I was 17 at the time and just brushed it off.
After reading the article by Merie Polkamp about cycling in Melbourne I related to it by different incidents in my life. As a woman creating my own path in life I discovered that I will sadly probably always encounter sexism. Which comes to me starting biking about over a year ago. I started to commute to work everyday which was a 20 mile round trip. Comparing my commutes to Polkamp’s, mine was more peaceful. Usually I only got an “on your left” from the opposite sex. Then I began to notice that I only saw one female every once in a while on my commutes. The only time I had any contact with male cyclist was when I had a flat and they offered to help or wanted to make sure I could change my tire. Thanks to Liv and my father I knew how to change my tires.
When I started to enter cycling events I started to notice a little diversity but never in a hostile way. Usually, like Polkamp, my kit and bikes would be commented on. I would hear how cute it was that everything matches on my bike. There would also be small comments on how to be better or faster at cycling. Then some men would be a bit surprised about how fast I could ride. The ratio of female to male was vastly different. When I did see another female we would be so interested in each other and what our cycling abilities were.
I was amazed at the article and how Polkamp was talked to on the streets of Melbourne. I think compared to living in San Diego where the bike lanes are a lot more farther apart it makes it a lot less hostile. It makes me wonder how commuting would be in a closer knit biking community.