Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips
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Getting Started:
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SPECIAL SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS FOR WOMEN BICYCLISTS

A female "Bike Commuting Tips" visitor wrote:

Hi Paul. I just read your online article about cycling for commuters [ ... ] I have tried to become informed about bicycle traffic safety and there are more than enough web pages on this subject. My main concern, however, is the traveling safety I may face as a young woman traveling alone on my bicycle. [ ... ] I have tried to map out safe streets to ride through but I am still concerned about my safety. I just wanted to know if you have any information or web links about violence against women while on bicycles. Specifically rape or abduction. Thank you


Dear YYYYYY,

Thanks for visiting my bike commuting tips page and for your post. This is a very difficult topic, so I hope you won't mind that I consulted with my wife, Marianne. She has been a regular bike commuter for several years, and now travels through and works in a San Francisco neighborhood that isn't always the safest area for women.

The first thing to say is that an automobile is no protection from violent crime, as "car jacking" incidents and other attacks demonstrate. Parking lots and garages are notoriously dangerous places. And driving is inherently hazardous, with automobile accidents killing nearly 42,000 people and hospitalizing another 1 million every year. Sadly, women are never entirely safe from verbal abuse, rape, abduction, or other assault. This unfortunate reality means that you'll always need to take precautions, however you travel.

That said, there is a difference between appropriate caution and paranoia. You shouldn't let fear prevent you from enjoying activities like bicycling that can greatly enhance your life. And in many ways, bicycling is safer than driving. For example, in dangerous situations, you can easily redirect your bike 180 degrees and go the opposite direction, even on the sidewalk if necessary. Try that with a car!

Among the precautions that Marianne suggests are these:

1) Heed your gut feelings. If a situation causes anxiety, turn around and leave. Get away to a place where you feel more secure. Trust your instincts.

2) Improve your basic self-defense skills. Consider taking a "model mugging" course, martial arts classes, or similar training. Try carrying something like pepper spray, which is available in lightweight, sports specific containers. Carry a whistle, horn or other loud noise-making device. Carry a cell phone.

3) Improve your bike handling skills. Practice sprinting, jumping curbs, quick turns, and other escape techniques. Generally, the more confident you are while bicycling, the safer you will be in all circumstances. Riding too cautiously or fearfully invites abuse, from drivers or potential attackers. Be assertive and confident.

4) Vary your route. If you travel regularly through sketchy areas, don't be predictable.

5) Be on top of the situation. Know your route and travel decisively. Be aware of your surroundings. If approached by a stranger, make eye contact. Just enough so they understand you would be able to identify them. Maintain and define your space. Don't ride too close to pedestrians or objects that might conceal an attacker. Don't be taken by surprise. When traveling at night, use lights that are bright enough to illuminate the road ahead.

6) Maintain your bicycle. Avoid having an unfortunate mechanical breakdown by keeping your bike serviceable. Make sure your tires aren't too worn down.

7) Your locks are weapons. If you can't avoid or easily flee a dangerous situation, your u-lock can be used as a club, and a cable lock makes an effective flail. I suggest this course only as a last resort; flight is generally safer than confrontation.

Again, don't let fear diminish your enjoyment of cycling (or life.) The world is not as dangerous as our overly sensationalistic media would like us to think. Precaution, not paranoia.

Another resource you might find helpful, for safety and other cycling considerations, is Dave Glowacz' great book Urban Bikers' Tricks & Tips: Low Tech & No-Tech Ways to Find, Ride, & Keep a Bicycle.

Happy biking,

Paul


Other Resources Related to Safety for Women:
Here are some resources that might be of interest for female cyclists concerned about safety. I haven't used these products myself, and am relying on product reviews at Amazon.com. If you have useful suggestions for women's safety resources, please send them to me. You may also visit my bike commute tips blog, where safety concerns are a common topic.

DVD: Be Your Own Bodyguard for Women - Self Defense
Book: Fearless: The Complete Personal Safety Guide for Women
Pepper Spray: SecurityRun - Runner Self-Defense Spray - Unisex
Air Horn: Delta Airzound Bike Horn
Whistle: Fox40 Classic Whistle


Send other suggestions or experiences to me.
Comments? Suggestions? Contact dornbiker@yahoo.com || Updated 02.17.11

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