Sexism, Gender Bias, or… Chivalry?

How and why menacing motorists heckle female vs. male cyclists – or not.

“Don’t you know that it’s different for girls?”

Harassment or heckling of cyclists by manic motorists on the roads of the world is a hot and seemingly inexhaustible topic in the cycling community.  Tragically, a number of these encounters result in injury or death of the cyclist.  For most, thankfully, the result of car vs. bike is more often an emotionally frustrating experience that drains a blissful bike ride of all its inherent joy.  The concerning part of that equation – and the reason why we all get in such a lather over these merely verbal taunts – is that any time an angry motorist veers toward a cyclist the potential for tragic physical injury is clear and present.  Any driving instructor will caution you that all but experienced stunt drivers will automatically and gradually point the car toward whatever the driver is looking at.  Essentially, if a driver’s attention is focused on you, he or she is going to get too close whether or not their intention was to endanger you… even if that attention is considered generally “positive”.  And that is where my perspective comes in.

I have been riding bikes for…  a long time.  I have been reading the accounts, blogs and articles concerning harassment, written almost exclusively by men, in the cycling community with increasing puzzlement.  I’ve been pondering this issue out on the pavement for some months, as car after car gives me a gracious and WIDE berth on the quiet, rural roads I’ve been riding on of late.  I think back at the seeming lack of negative encounters I’ve had even on urban and suburban routes.  Sure, I’ve been passed too close, but rarely has it seemed intentional rather than absent-minded.  The only menacing taunts I’ve ever received have been from rambunctious children in the backseat of SUVs screaming “Ride like Lance!” “Boo!’ or some other silliness.  It makes me jump out of my skin sometimes but it doesn’t oppress my soul or destroy my bike buzz.

I have been cat-called, wolf whistled and AAA-WOOed.  Like most cyclists of any age I pack fabulous back and men often voice their approval.  No harm, no foul.  There have been a few, very few, encounters that have gotten ugly.  Muscle cars with tinted windows have cruised me, passing and circling the block until I finally pull into the driveway of a lighted house or business and wait for them to lose interest.  It’s the silent ones who are really terrifying.  The worst by far are the three instances in which some moronic driver in an open car pulled up alongside me and cheered his moronic passenger on as he reached for a handful of my ass – this is a compliment no woman needs.  Ladies, if this ever occurs to you get the license plate number, stop as soon as it’s safe and call the police.  Grabbing someone’s ass without their consent is called sexual battery and when it’s done from a moving vehicle it’s a felony.  If the halfwit succeeds in his stunt with you, egged on by his bros, guaranteed he’ll keep doing it until some unlucky, nerve-wrecked girl wobbles and goes “crunch” under his wheels – when it becomes third degree murder.  Call the cops; they will take you seriously.  All three of my assailants and their drivers were caught and charged.  As unpleasant as that was, one knucklehead per decade is not that bad considering the frequency of ride-ruining run-ins with road-ragers that my male counterparts suffer through.  Are there more women out there fielding equal amounts of grief and they just aren’t writing as much?

For the most part my encounters with motorists are polite, complimentary or, overwhelmingly, blissfully non-existent.  So what’s up?  Do angry men behind the wheel recognize the curves and leave us be?  Does a guy pass me hurriedly only to see a fair face in his rear view (impinging on his right-hand turn) and think ‘oh, it’s a chick’ and cool his jets instead of yelling “Get out of my way, you stupid bitch!”?  Are men reluctant to scream at a woman in the street because they recognize it as a form of violence against women?  Do guys on bikes simply bring out the worst in guys driving cars?  Do men, already fuming over a bad day, think another bloke on a bike (protected only by a thin skin of lycra)  is a safe target on which to unload their angst, whereas hurling obscenities at a woman would just be Wrong?  Is it all ego and testosterone, rivalry versus chivalry?

I read a statistic that male cyclists killed by motorists outnumber females 7 to 1.  You could answer that simply by saying, ‘well, there are more men out there on bikes’.  Not that many more.  The majority of the men who were fatally injured were between the ages of 50 – 54, so you can’t say that it’s because men engage in riskier behavior.  What’s going on out there, boys and girls?

I think it’s a topic worthy of discussion.  Please weigh in!  Comments encouraged!

The "Wait" is Beginning to Lift

It’s a sunny day at the beginning of the Obama Era…

Warning: You are about to see poetry. But not just any poetry, one of the greatest American Postmodernist poems ever written. Don’t be afraid. I promise it won’t kill you.

In the streets, the shops and on the web it feels like the dawning of a new age. Now I know this man will be just a president and a president is just a man – who needs a congress, a senate and corporate America to cooperate with his vision. Not only that, he will be a president who inherits a generation of troubles to solve. Four years is such a little time. And we’ll all need a lot of meditation, good vibrations and old fashioned prayer. But the People! The spirit of the American People is hopeful and excited and able to dream again about being ‘the shining city on the hill’.

All my life I had read this poem in a mood of angst and irony. It is one of my top three most favorite. Today I read it and felt for the first time that maybe for some things the wait would soon be over. Please give it a chance and try to get all the way to the end. I hope you will get something from it and maybe love it as I do.

First published in A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1958.

I Am Waiting

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder


I am waiting for the Second Coming
and I am waiting
for a religious revival
to sweep thru the state of Arizona
and I am waiting
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored
and I am waiting
for them to prove
that God is really American
and I am seriously waiting
for Billy Graham and Elvis Presley
to exchange roles seriously
and I am waiting
to see God on television
piped onto church altars
if only they can find
the right channel
to tune in on
and I am waiting
for the Last Supper to be served again
with a strange new appetizer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the living end
and I am waiting
for dad to come home
his pockets full
of irradiated silver dollars
and I am waiting
for the atomic tests to end
and I am waiting happily
for things to get much worse
before they improve
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the human crowd
to wander off a cliff somewhere
clutching its atomic umbrella
and I am waiting
for Ike to act
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder


I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed
and I am anxiously waiting
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered
by an obscure general practitioner
and save me forever from certain death
and I am waiting
for life to begin
and I am waiting
for the storms of life,
to be over
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and tv rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder


I am waiting for the day
that maketh all things clear
and I am waiting
for Ole Man River
to just stop rolling along
past the country club
and I am waiting
for the deepest South
to just stop Reconstructing itself
in its own image
and I am waiting
for a sweet desegregated chariot
to swing low
and carry me back to Ole Virginie
and I am waiting
for Ole Virginie to discover
just why Darkies are born
and I am waiting
for God to lookout
from Lookout Mountain
and see the Ode to the Confederate Dead
as a real farce
and I am awaiting retribution
for what America did
to Tom Sawyer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder


I am waiting for Tom Swift to grow up
and I am waiting
for the American Boy
to take off Beauty’s clothes
and get on top of her
and I am waiting
for Alice in Wonderland
to retransmit to me
her total dream of innocence
and I am waiting
for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder


I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder


-Lawrence Ferlinghetti


San Francisco’s Poet Laureate and co-founder of City Lights Booksellers and Publishers was born in Yonkers, New York on March 24th 1919. Ferlinghetti, who is also known for his activism, essays and painting, has often been considered a Beat poet though he doesn’t consider himself one. Located in San Francisco’s North Beach district, City Lights Publishing is most noted for publishing the controversial and legendary Howl by Allen Ginsberg. Ferlinghetti was then famously charged and tried for violating obscenity laws, then acquitted. At age 89 Lawrence Ferlinghetti is still writing, touring, traveling and speaking his mind. His voice and life are heroic and he is one of the greatest artists and Americans this nation has ever produced.


Lawrence Ferlinghetti
about to sign my copy of Americus, Book I at D.G. Wills Books in
La Jolla, CA
2005