I taught myself to cycle about two years ago, and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time. I’ve never had a driving lesson, so being able to travel as and when I felt like it, without being held hostage by public transports price and erratic timekeeping was a great freedom. Even cycling home last winter at 3am, in the snow didn’t feel like a chore: I started to relish wearing mittens and how pedalling uphill warmed me up. One thing that remained constant, and was a surprise to me, as a new road user and cyclist: the sheer volume of abuse I received whilst cycling. As a pedestrian, people occasionally shouted comments as they drove past, but this didn’t happen more than 3 times a month usually. Whereas when cycling, I seemed to be a magnet for the angry, the obnoxious, and the sexist. People swerved towards me, then laughed when I visibly freaked out a little. Men shouted at me to get off the road, or commented on my arse, or just shouted swearwords. Whenever I mentioned this to male friends they looked at me incredulous. Female friends who also cycled reacted very differently. One night in the pub, I broached the subject with a large group of friends who all cycled. The women in the group were immediately animated, proffering countless incidents of their own, battling to shock each other with the worst incidents (I still maintain the time that someone pulled my top down when I was waiting at traffic lights deserves that accolade). All of my male friends bar one were aghast. The lone bloke who understood our plight had, until recently, had long hair. In the winter, he found motorists often insulted him, then looked bemused as they overtook him, looked back and realised he had a Y chromosome. I went to a university on the outskirts of a Midlands city, so many of us had bikes, being middle class but also a bit Green and lefty. Often, women complained that a certain stretch of the five-mile journey from the studenty suburbs to the campus became a rat run for abusive idiots: some motorists would have a passenger who shouted an inane comment at every female cyclist he passed.
Moving to London increased this: I don’t necessarily think it’s more prevalent in London, but suddenly I was cycling on average 15 miles more a day, always on busy main roads. I passed far, far more cars, and this meant that incidents were more frequent. It didn’t matter what I wore. Whether I was cycling in a low-cut dress, or my gym gear, the incidents persisted, the comments were always asinine, and often lewd and explicit. Aside from the air pollution, it was the only thing spoiling my two-wheeled adventures around the capital. Male friends were always horrified, but intrigued by the kind of things people shouted at me. Female pals wanted to share their own stories and vent. One evening after an altercation with the driver of a company vehicle I was drinking with some friends. They suggested I record all of the comments asked the familiar question: “Where are the morons concentrated?” I wasn’t sure, but suggested that I might make a map of the incidents and write down what happened. And so the idea for the blog was formed. Even after blogging one lone incident, the level of interest it generated was phenomenal. I was getting around 20000 hits a day, a huge volume of traffic on Twitter and the map had close to 7000 views in 72 hours. I worried that people would react badly to it, but all of the comments I’ve received have been massively positive. Scores of emails from across the globe have arrived in my inbox, almost exclusively from men, saying what a great project it is. Journalists contacted me for interviews and background information. People actually found it funny.
I’ve been asked a lot of questions, mostly along these lines:
Why are they all in South London?
Mostly because I cycle across South London to get to work. I visit friends and go to events North of the river, so I imagine with time the map will be less biased.
What are you doing to make people so angry?
Honestly, nothing. I’m a good cyclist, I wear a helmet, always stop at traffic lights, indicate and I don’t take up much space on the road. People who shout at me tend to do so because they know I’ll be gone in seconds, or they’re angry I have the temerity to be on the road in the first place. Whenever I cycle with male friends, I don’t get any abuse.
If your chain keep falling off, there’s something wrong with it.
I know! My bike however is 28, so even older than me, and fixing it costs money I don’t really have. I’m saving up for a better bike, so I can cope with my old banger for a while longer.
What will you do when you reach 101?
I’ve thought about this, and what I’d like to do is set up a site for women cyclists to submit their own stories and map them, alongside articles and contributions on cycling for women. I love cycling, and spend a lot of time trying to convince other women to take it up. It’d be great to be able to promote cycling through doing this.
It’s early days, but I’ve really enjoyed this project so far. Mostly because now, whenever someone shouts at me, I don’t get despondent, or quietly seethe, I think “YES! Another one for the blog!” So now, every time someone insults me, I know that a couple of thousand people are a bit more amused and entertained.