October is Women’s Bike Month, and as a long-time cyclist and bike advocate, I love to talk about how fun and liberating riding a bike around New York can be. But I know it can also be intimidating, especially for women, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on my experiences biking in the city.
First, some background
Three years ago, I was a newbie to the urban biking scene. I bought a three-speed cruiser with the intention of taking it on a few trips around Brooklyn and through the park. I’ve since graduated to a 15-speed vintage road bike that I transformed into a commuter bike. It is my primary form of transportation. I bike everywhere now, even when it’s freezing or super hot. It’s the best way to see the city.
Isn’t it scary or unsafe?
Well, sure. It’s a little nerve-racking. But just like anything, you get more confident as you practice. The more comfortable you feel on your bike, the more familiar the routes, and the more exposure you have to biking on the streets will make cycling safer and easier. Overall, the biking infrastructure in New York is pretty great. And statistically, the roads are getting safer for cyclists. Most drivers in New York know to look out for you. They may be assholes about encountering a cyclist on the street, but that’s on them. You have a right to be there. Just follow the rules of the road and keep pedaling.
Let’s talk about commuting to work (and getting sweaty).
When I was working in Manhattan, I would bike to work three or four days a week. My commute was about six miles one-way, or about 40 minutes. I would almost always bring a change of clothes and put my makeup on at work or at the gym. If it was particularly hot, I would shower at the gym across the street. I often looked better than my coworkers who came in from sweaty commutes on trains!
What about bike maintenance?
If the bike maintenance aspect of owning a bike is holding you back from riding, don’t let it. Realistically, I don’t have time or patience to fix my own bike. It’s not something I find fun. Plus, there are bike shops everywhere in the city. Just take it to one of them if you think you need a tune up. If the mechanics are dicks or a little bit “holier than thou” about helping you, leave and don’t go back. They don’t deserve your business. Fortunately, I’ve had nothing but incredibly positive experiences dealing with bike mechanics. The biking community is filled with great people. I recommend Red Lantern Bicycles in Brooklyn and Zen Bikes in Manhattan (their motto is “We’re not dicks!”).
I will say, you should probably know how to fill up your tires because biking on deflated tires is horrible. That’s it. That’s the only bit of bike maintenance you need. If anything else sounds funny, feels funny, or isn’t working right, just take it in! No need to beat yourself up over it.
Do you bike in a skirt or a dress?
Yes! I never feel sexier than when I’m biking in a skirt. It’s fun. My legs and calves always look great and women who bike in skirts look so confident! If the skirt feels a bit too short or flowy, I wear “safety shorts” with some lace trim, like these, to prevent..erm..flashing people (probably should have worn them while taking photos for this post!). Sometimes your skirt gets caught around the bike seat and it rides up, so safety shorts are good for that too.
Even if wardrobe malfunctions happen on a bike, who cares? Just adjust your skirt and hit the pedals. You’ve got places to be, girl, no sense in worrying about it.
Riding is great for exercise, for the environment, and for mental health!
I always feel good when I choose to ride my bike. Studies show that women are interested in biking more, but they’re still apprehensive. Female cyclists make up a big minority in the cycling community. If you’re nervous about biking in the city, I encourage you to just give it a try. Start slow. Grab your helmet, pick up a citibike day pass (or bring your own bike!) and head to a low-traffic neighborhood. Biking is so much fun! Hope to see you out there!