September 17 was the day of the Fancy Women Bike Ride around the world. This year, there were rides in over 200 cities.
Riding with a group of women can be a joyous occasion, as you can see from the video of this year’s ride in Izmir, Turkey, where it all began in 2013.
İzmir’de gerçekleştirilen süslü kadınlar bisiklet turu’na 4 bin kişi katıldı 🌸 pic.twitter.com/kheVXcIGrZ— İzmir 🇹🇷 (@izmirgibiyiz) September 18, 2023
After the ride though, our local organizer commented that she wasn’t entirely comfortable with the name. Did it exclude people who didn’t want to dress up, or didn’t feel they had anything fancy enough to wear?
That led to a lively discussion among participants about the merits of dressing in different ways as a safety measure. Many of us had found that being super femme was protective. Drivers tended to give us more space. One woman noted that going from a gender-neutral coat to something more fitted and colourful had a noticeable impact on drivers around her.
However, this doesn’t always work. Female cyclists face harassment and bad driving at twice the rate of male cyclists, according to one study. They are particularly vulnerable to close passes and dooring because they tend to keep to the side of the road. But if they take the lane, they are sometimes threatened by aggressive drivers. Anecdotally, this was the experience in our group too.
Even within our group, some felt more vulnerable than others. The local organizer of Black Girls Do Bike rides said there just aren’t many women like her on the road so it always feels a bit uncomfortable. The woman who organizes rides focused on safety for kids (and brought her two along). The trans women who arrived at the last possible moment, hung back on the ride, and didn’t join the discussion until they heard us talking about “female presenting” cyclists.
My very unscientific answer to whether we need a Fancy Women Bike Ride is yes. It’s not just for women in places where riding is relatively safe for them. It’s for women who are marginalized in our community, and for women in communities where women are marginalized. It’s for women who don’t want to be fancy but want to be safe moving around on a bicycle. And it’s for women like me who see being fancy as part of their subversive feminism and celebrate the pink.
Dian Harper lives and swims (and cycles) in Ottawa.