Does cycling in a skirt make you a motoring hazard? – The Guardian

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Following the viral response one cyclist filmed after being ticketed for not riding in a bike lane in New York, a visiting Dutch cyclist, Jasmijn Rijcken reported she’d been confronted by a police officer, then threatened with a ticket for wearing a skirt. The problem, according to police officer, was that a cyclist in a skirt was distracting, and therefore dangerous to motorists and other road users.

Cycling in a skirt isn’t unusual – I cycle nearly every day and rarely wear trousers, spotting dozens of cyclists in dresses and skirts around London. Regardless of the length of skirts, they tend to offer more coverage than shorts, especially of the lycra variety. Skirts also help avoid the minefield of seams when cycling long distances and are far more comfortable than jeans.

I’m regularly confronted by men’s backsides in skintight lycra, and both myself and the drivers around me manage not to crash. Sarah Ditum cycles in a skirt regularly in Bath, and manages not to cause car crashes: “I tend not to worry about flashing a bit of leg. I used to find it mortifying, but now I figure that if I’ve got leggings or tights on, I’m as covered-up as the Lycra-clad speed demons; and if I’m going bare legged, I wear shorts underneath. A bit of thigh isn’t the end of the world”.

One company has capitalised on the worry of exposing too much, and has invented the cycling “skort” – a pair of cycling shorts with a polyester skirt over the top. It does, however, induce flashbacks of netball kit, so perhaps not one for the fashionable cyclist.

Whether skirts, and the sight of women’s legs are a motoring hazard is another matter. The online outrage caused by the New York incident stems from the uneasy area city cyclists inhabit – not quite a motorist, but also not a pedestrian. You may be on the road, but you are seen as a person, rather than a vehicle.

Any driver who was distracted enough by a cyclist in a skirt could reasonably be charged with driving without due care and attention. The hazards drivers are expected to respond to and avoid far outweigh skirts in terms of severity – high-speed police cars, ambulances and fire engines regularly force cars to clear roads at short notice, and the vast majority of drivers are able to do so safely. Considering step-through frames were invented to accommodate cyclists wishing to ride in skirts and dresses, doing so doesn’t seem such a bizarre choice. Cycling isn’t an extreme sport for most people, and the fact that you can easily cycle from A to B in your normal attire is a huge draw in the effort to increase cycling numbers.

The problem with cycling in skirts, it seems, is less about real risks to road safety, and more to do with the invective that tells women to rein in the way they present themselves to prevent crimes and accidents. Much as with the debate surrounding the recent Slutwalks, it seems that if a woman is involved in any form of crime, or crash, she will be asked what she could have done to prevent it.

Should a driver be so irresponsible as to crash on sight of a woman’s legs, bare or otherwise, a woman is expected to think about whether a modest boiler suit could have prevented a pile-up. Many women who’ve been involved in collisions in London have been asked by police at the scene if they were wearing high heels on their bikes at the time: drivers are not asked the same question.

Considering women have a higher risk of being killed on roads, usually by left-turning HGVs, that the opinion that women’s attire causes crashes, rather than poor driving and faulty infrastructure is insulting. If we’re serious about increasing the number of women and girls cycling, claiming their presence on the road is a hazard needs to stop. Blaming cyclists for bad drivers is the same as blaming any victim for a criminals actions, and all cyclists should be free to wear whatever they feel comfortable in. Saying that, I wouldn’t recommend cycling commando in a recumbent.