Today we are pleased to present a guest post from writer/reporter John Greenfield, who co-writes Streetsblog Chicago, the region’s best transportation blog, among many other things.
[This article also runs in Checkerboard City, John's transportation column
in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]
I first heard about the “Mary Poppins Effect” back in March 2011 from local bike blogger Dottie, also known as The Martha Stewart of Chicago Cycling. “This is basically the idea that drivers are nicer to women bicyclists riding upright bikes with dresses and flowing hair,” she wrote on her site Let’s Go Ride a Bike. “Who could be mean to Mary Poppins?”
Mary Poppins’ commute
On the other hand, it’s believed that motorists are less likely to operate safely around people wearing bike-specific clothing, bent over drop handlebars on a racing bike. “A cyclist dressed ‘normally’ looks more human to the driver,” wrote Dottie’s Massachusetts counterpart Constance, who coined the term for the phenomenon on her blog Lovely Bicycle two months earlier. “The more ‘I am human! I am you!’ signals we give off when cycling, the more empathy a driver will feel towards us. Dehumanization, on the other hand, makes it easier to cause harm to another human being.”
Dottie speculated that nattily dressed men on upright city bikes might enjoy the same benefits, known as the “Dick Van Dyke Effect,” after the debonair actor who played Mary Poppins’ gentleman friend Bert in the beloved 1964 Disney film. Van Dyke, who grew up in Danville, Illinois, also starred in classic musicals like “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” as well as the 1960s sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
Dick Van Dyke on a bike!
I was interested in testing out the theory by my having one of my male bike buddies pedal downtown in a suit, then in Spandex, while I followed behind taking notes on motorists’ behavior. There were no takers at the time, so I added the idea to my potential story list and promptly forgot about it.
Fast-forward two-and-a-half years to Tuesday of last week, when I was scanning the headlines over my morning coffee. Lo and behold, a Tribune story described how Van Dyke miraculously escaped unscathed after his Jaguar caught fire on a Los Angeles freeway the previous afternoon.
“Somebody’s looking after me,” he told a TV reporter from local station KTLA5, looking chipper as ever. “At first I thought I had a flat. Then it started smoking, then it burned to a crisp.” Later that day he tweeted, “Used Jag for sale REAL CHEAP!!” How many eighty-seven-year-olds do you know who use Twitter?
Inspired by Van Dyke’s obvious joie de vivre, I resolved to test out his eponymous effect, even if I had to serve as my own guinea pig. My blogging partner Steven Vance agreed to follow behind me with a camera as I rode downtown and observe how closely drivers passed me.
John Greenfield tests the “Dick Van Dyke Effect” (photo by Steven Vance)
That afternoon I put on the pinstripe suit I bought in Bangkok and a straw fedora and began riding my Dutch-inspired cruiser down Milwaukee Avenue from Logan Square at 2:50pm, feeling like William S. Burroughs, the well-dressed author of “Naked Lunch.” When we come to a stoplight, Steven tells me that some drivers are crossing the yellow line to give me plenty of room as they pass me. As I roll past a bus stop at Oakley Avenue, a young man on the bench gets a load of my get-up, grins and nods his head in approval.
We turn east onto Chicago Avenue and roll into River North. Around Wells Street, Steven reports that a cabbie switched lanes in order to pass me. We continue south on Clark Street, where motorists are generally driving in the other travel lane rather than sharing lanes with me. When we arrive at Daley Plaza, we remark that no one had honked or catcalled at me the entire time.
The following afternoon I squeeze myself into some Spandex, which I never wear in real life, strap on a helmet and wraparound shades, and mount my skinny-tired road bike. As Steven and I depart at 2:50pm again, I feel less a distinguished Beat writer and more like a space alien, and more than a little self-conscious. We take the same route and, despite my garish apparel and insect-like posture, I seem to get a fairly similar reception from drivers.
When we reach the plaza I ask Steven for his conclusions. “I think whether a driver passes a cyclist with more or less space is based ninety-nine percent on how much open space the driver has to the left of his or her car,” he says. “There didn’t seem to be a Dick Van Dyke Effect.”
“However, I did hear about a guy who bicycled wearing men’s clothing, and then made the same trip wearing a dress and a wig,” Steven added. “He found he got better treatment when dressed as a woman. That would be the next thing to try.” But that’s an experiment for another day. Oh, the things I do for science!
Thanks for the research, John! I was surprised that there was no discernible difference in driver behavior, but happy to hear that drivers treat different bicyclists equally well (or equally poorly?). We’d love to hear the experiences of others out there, especially men in relation to the possible existence of the Dick Van Dyke Effect.
Also, some have astutely commented in the past that part of the effect may be based on race, class and conformity to societal norms. I am working on a follow-up to address those issues, so please share below if you have thoughts on this.
Today I’m honored to share this guest post by my friend Samantha, who blogs at Ding Ding Let’s Ride! (This originally appeared there.) She was profiled here as a Roll Model earlier this year, where the focus was on her personal bicycling history and encouragement of other women to start biking. This post is an in-depth look at the bicycling history of her adorable stepson.
Besides writing about Dutch bikes and other city bikes, I also write about adaptive bikes for kids. We’ve gone through a number of bike variations over the last three to four years for my 8 year-old stepson, as he has grown and his abilities have changed. All the while we’ve tried to keep him on a bike that he can get on and off by himself and ride without our assistance. His Cerebral Palsy has made that a bit of a challenge.
These days, I don’t think twice about our family riding our bikes to meet up with the Kidical Mass families for a ride instead of driving there and unloading our bikes. Actually though, it’s a big deal that he’s got the endurance and ability to ride those extra miles. Thinking about that made me take a moment and look back over how far our young cyclist has come in the last few years.
Burley Bike Trailer
We started with a Burley bike-trailer as he grew too big for a regular stroller. His mom went with a special-needs stroller – they are a little bigger and heavier-duty than typical strollers. We thought we’d try using the Burley bike trailer with a stroller attachment instead, though we certainly had to borrow the stroller once in a while. When LD was 4 and 5, trips to places like the zoo or a museum could not happen without something for him to ride in like a stroller or the Burley. He began walking much later than most kids do, and his legs and energy didn’t last that long either- a typical challenge with CP. With the Burley, we could ride our bikes to the zoo, neighborhood festival, or park, lock up the bikes, un-hitch the Burley, flip down the front stroller wheel, slide on the stroller handlebar, and be ready to go. He could walk around and play, and then climb back in when he got tired.
Red Kid’s Trike
The first bike we tried out with him was a regular kids tricycle – a used red Radio Flyer even! But it didn’t work. He felt awkward, couldn’t really pedal, and almost fell off. We tried to entice him with a walk-bike, but he was almost too tall for one at that point, and it just wasn’t comfortable for him either. Then, in 2010, his therapists presented him with a specially-adapted tricycle (as part of a program sponsored by The TelecomPioneers) That was a banner day. He zoomed around the therapy room with it like nothing any of us had ever seen. He was ecstatic and so were all his parents.
He and his Dad met me when I got home that night and the first thing he had to do was show me how he could ride his new trike.
The trike really made us believe that he’d be able to ride a bike one day. We weren’t sure what kind of bike, but we knew there had to be one and that he’d be game for it.
Adapted Kids Bike with ‘Fat Wheels’
It didn’t take too many months for him to overpower that first trike. As he grew more confident in his ability, like any kid he only wanted to ride harder and faster. We started our research, and you can find more pictures and details about the first bike we got for him in this post. We thought we would get a trail-a-bike for him to ride behind Andrew – but realized he would most likely be constantly leaning to one side or the other. Instead, we bought a standard kids bike, and had it adapted with a larger seat, weighted flat pedals with foot straps, a hand brake, and an extra set of tires, larger than traditional ‘training wheel’s attached via a sturdy bracket.
This bike has been powerfully successful. He became just another kid on a bike. He was able to ride it around the block, ride it on vacation with other kids and family members, and so on. Tentative at times, but still a kid riding a bike.
(Riding with my brother)
Trike Conversion Kit
He took some spills, went through phases where he was too scared to ride much like many kids, then got back on it again and took off. Last spring though, he became really uncomfortable riding it as he had grown so tall that he was very top-heavy against the wobble of those extra wheels. Which meant it was time to change up his bike again. This time, we went with a full trike-conversion kit, which you can read more about in this post. He still rides the same bike frame, but now it’s been converted to the coolest, orangest-looking trike you’ve ever seen.
Riding along in the February Kidical Mass ride. (photo courtesy Ashley Lottes)
Both Andrew and I love the feeling we get when we’re out riding – for both of us, a bad day riding a bike is better than any other day not riding one. We commute by bike and do as many of our errands and everyday trips by bike as possible. We wanted to include the little guy in our rides and teach him how to ride so that he can share that great feeling and always have an independent means of transportation. Based on how much he loves to ride his bike these days, I think we’ve succeeded. And most of the time I forget how far along he’s come from that first red trike.
LD gets on his bike by stepping up on the rear axle. Check out those wheel lights!
If you want to catch a view of his trike in action, here’s a video from a recent Chicago Kidical Mass ride (Jan 2013). He pops up here and there the video, and again at the end of the ride. I kept the video going for a bit as we rode on home with LD in front of me, hamming it up, and riding along like a pro.
Thanks so much, Samantha!
Read more posts from Samantha about adaptive bikes:
The approaching warm weather has me itching to take long bike rides. I’m betting you all feel the same. For some inspiration, I’m sharing reader Jeff Kwapil’s story of biking on his Trek fixed gear, leaving from Chicago, Illinois in the morning and arriving in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the evening. Enjoy!
My long-time half-baked plan to ride from my place in Chicago to my mother’s house in Grand Rapids Michigan (GR) became reality last summer. I haven’t ridden much long distance. I commute a lot, 12 miles each way. And I take weekend rides, 10, 20, 30 miles, occasionally 50 or 60. I have done one century, four years ago.
However, in my mind I’m a bike touring kind of guy. But three obstacles have prevented this ride until now.
1) The one-way ride would take take three days. That reduces the time I have in GR to visit Mom, compared to just driving there in three hours.
2) Amtrak does not take any luggage from GR to Chicago, so I would have to ride back (another three days) or arrange some other ride home.
3) Navigating through the steel mills & such around Gary Indiana does not look like fun.
So, I have a week off work, and the solution popped into my head. I made it in ONE day! Here’s how I did it.
06:15 AM Depart home on bike to Metra commuter train stop
06:33 AM Depart Chicago on train to Kenosha WI
08:25 AM 35 miles biking Kenosha WI to Milwaukee ferry terminal (arrived 11:00 AM)
12:30 PM Depart Milwaukee on boat – arrive Muskegon MI ferry terminal 04:00 PM
04:40 PM 50 miles biking Muskegon to GR
09:00 PM Arrive Mom’s
This was not planned as a fixie ride, but my geared bike suffered a catastrophic frame failure Wednesday, so I went ahead on the my lovely fixie*.
Holy Moly, people have built A LOT of trails in the past few years!! Maybe 60% of the riding was on paved and crushed rock trails. Much appreciated. It’s very different from the days of my youth, riding 2-lane roads and earning the ire of drivers who felt crowded and expressed themselves with honked horns and upraised fingers.
The Racine and Kenosha county crushed rock bike rails-to-trails bike path got me most of the way to Milwaukee. In Milwaukee County a lot of the ride was in the lakefront parks.
In Michigan, the Musketawa Trail led from the outskirts of Muskegon to the outskirts of GR.
Google Maps bicycle directions are amazingly helpful.
Navigating with only a smartphone is a pain in the ass, but the GPS is spiffy. In the future I will carry real paper maps, augmented with the GPS phone.
Fixed gear is no fun on downhills. Normally I only use my fixie around town, where the “hills” are bridges with 10- to 40-foot elevations. I missed tucking in and racing full-bore downhill. Instead I had to either brake a lot, or spread my legs and risk the Whirling Pedals of Death (not comfortable).
85 miles in a day was hard, but not bad. After a long hot shower and a good night’s sleep I felt fine, no aches, no sores. I think I am in pretty good shape thanks to the commuting.
Last Monday someone on the sidewalk yelled “Happy birthday” to me while I was riding to Bridgeport through University Village (UIC’s south campus). It was my birthday. I turned around to identify the shouting person. Joe was a classmate and now I most often see him at a local bike shop or playing bike polo. We went inside the store and chatted for awhile.
The bicycle is an extremely social tool. While it helps me get to the places I need to go, it does so in such a way that fosters community and interaction. As I ride, I’m exposed to the whims of the street: the noises, the chatter, the honks, the people, and the people I know. But it also helps me get to know new people.
I participated in another bike light distribution with Active Transportation Alliance on November 17, 2010. I photographed a previous distribution in Wicker Park a week earlier. This time around, at the corner of Halsted and Roosevelt at the UIC campus, I took a more direct role by flagging people riding bikes without lights to pull over and stop. I would then attach a brand new headlight to their bicycle, courtesy of customers of Groupon and the law office of Jim Freeman. During the two minutes I had their undivided attention, I told them about the state law requiring a front light and the role of Active Transportation Alliance in the city and suburbs.
This time I wanted to record more information about all the people I helped and talked to. I kept a little note card in my pocket and recorded the revealed reasons why the person didn’t have a headlight, how many men and women I helped (I only recorded two categories), and some select quotes.
I think six people refused my offer for a free headlight – this is because they couldn’t hear me (several wore headphones), didn’t understand our intentions, or both. Also confused, a man driving a car said, “You little bastard with your bikes,” but I won’t let anyone distract me.
Genaro installs a headlight to someone riding on Halsted Street in University Village.
Of all the people I stopped, I identified 21 men and 11 women (32 total). Four people said they lost their lights or had them stolen and hadn’t yet replaced the lights. One person forgot their lights. 27 of the 32 people riding bikes didn’t know it was state law to ride a bike with a headlight on at night. Here’s what some riders had to say:
“No one told me that!” I suspect this is an extremely common explanation. This is definitely an opportunity for local bike shops to educate their customers, but there are other places people can get this information, like resident advisers at dorms, churches, and workplaces. The Active Transportation Alliance fights tirelessly to instill basic information into the minds of people riding bikes around town.
One person I was talking to hadn’t heard of the Active Transportation Alliance and after I explained to him what the organization does, he said, “My friends and I want to start our own group.”
Someone on foot asked me, “How long are you going to be here? I want my friend to get one.” This guy came back with his friend and they both got free headlights.
Speaking of the bicycling leading me to meetings with people I know, three friends were walking by and said hello. I had met one of them, Andrew, at the same spot, in front of the UIC Skyspace as we both raced in an October 2006 scavenger hunt.
Walk under the Skyspace to get a direct and undistracted view of the sky and space.
Great story! Read more from Steve at his excellent blog about urban planning, cities and transportation, Steven Can Plan.
Since I took public transportation instead of riding my bike during the two-day windstorm, I bring this story from my intrepid reporter/friend E A. If there’s ever a day when I don’t ride due to weather conditions, I can be 95% sure that E A rode anyway.
At 7am Tuesday rain was pouring down and traffic reports showed the results of jack-knifed semis and cars in ditches. Luckily the worst of the storms moved over Chicago quickly and I found myself staring out into an eery calm after the storm by 8:30am. Shortly after 9am I was on the road with a light wind breaker for a dry commute into strong (but not gale force) southerly winds. Along my route, I bike down Wells Street – which to me is always ridden with cyclonic type winds – and my commute on Tuesday (or Wednesday) did not disappoint.
So… from my commute, I offer you some cautionary advice for dealing with such gusty wind storms:
* Keep both hands firmly gripped on your handlebars
* Tuck your upper body down more so less of you is exposed to the brunt of the wind
* Forge ahead
* Don’t be ashamed to bail out to use public transportation if the conditions are not safe – put your own safety first
Especially when the cross-winds come, I find it particularly challenging to keep my line and not be blown into parked cars or traffic speeding by. But I know my route well and that high level of familiarity helps me know just when and where I’m most exposed and where I can seek shelter or alternate transportation if need be.
I rode both ways Tuesday and Wednesday despite the high wind advisory. Going home both days the winds should have be at my back, but some of those gusts whipped at me from every direction… The best part was when the wind literally did PUSH me home – “Look Ma – No pedaling!”
At least the these are the warm winds. It’s when these winds turn blustery that I start to shudder.
Stay upright out there! And please share your stormy/windy commuting adventures and tips.
Our final guest post is from none other than ecovelo, bike-lifestyle blog extraordinaire. (Technical difficulties prevented me from receiving the post until recently.) Chances are you’re already a fan. If not, you soon will be. Below are thoughts from husband and wife team Alan and Michael about tandem riding.
They say there’s nothing quite like a long ride on a tandem to shine a bright light on a relationship. If the relationship is good, the ride will be too, but if the relationship has its problems, well…
Riding together on individual bikes is not too unlike riding a tandem as a couple. In other words, it can be a real joy or a real pain depending upon how it’s approached. We’ve been riding together for a number of years, and though we’ve experienced a few bumps along the way, we’re fortunate to have a harmonious relationship on the road in which we read each other’s subtle cues and ride together with little effort and zero conflict. We only arrived at this on-road relationship through many, many miles of practice, and lots of talking about how to better communicate and take care of each other while riding our bicycles. Following are a few of the things we think are key to riding smoothly and safely as a couple:
Someone needs to lead and someone needs to follow – It’s usually best if a ride leader is determined before departure to reduce the likelihood of confusion or conflict on the road. Typically the more experienced rider leads.
The slower person determines the pace – The slower person should always determine the ride pace, even if they’re in the following position. It’s the leader’s responsibility to be sure they don’t drop the follower or inadvertently push the pace beyond the comfort level of the slower rider.
The slower person should be on an equal or faster bicycle – If at all possible, the slower rider should be on the faster bike to reduce the speed differential between the two riders. It’s common to see the less-experienced, less-fit rider on the heavier, slower bike, which only undermines the pacing rule above.
The less experienced rider sets the comfort level of the route (traffic levels, infrastructure, distance) – It’s up to the less-experienced rider to determine what type of roads they’re willing to traverse. The leader should never pressure the less-experienced rider into situations in which they’re uncomfortable.
The leader always defers to the less experienced rider unless it’s a safety issue – A less-experienced rider may not understand what they’re getting into and find themselves feeling overwhelmed once they’re on the road. It’s imperative that the leader defers to the follower and respects their need to turn back, take an alternate route, or whatever is necessary to reduce their unease.
Develop a consistent method of communicating (hand signals, voice, visual) – It’s important to learn each other’s signals and cues. Agree upon a set of simple hand signals to indicate upcoming turns, slowing, debris in road, car-behind, etc.
A sure way to put a quick end to a riding relationship is to simply head out the door without a clear understanding of each other’s expectations. Acknowledging each other’s expectations and agreeing upon a plan for the ride, while always putting the other rider’s needs above your own, is the most effective way to ensure a healthy, long-term riding relationship.
Thanks, ecovelo! This really makes me want to grab a companion and go on a ride. What has everyone else’s experience been riding “in tandem.” And has anyone else out there ridden an actual tandem?
We may be back from France in body, but not in spirit. Therefore, our fabulous guest blogging continues just a bit longer! Today we have the lovely Sigrid from My Hyggelig.
A place to share
A place to be positive
A place to be creative
A place to focus on happiness.
Along the journey
bicycles, bicycling, and bicyclists,
something always close to my heart,
began to become an important and enjoyable focus.
It is interesting how an interest
can open a world
enhance the everyday
bring like-minded people together
and create new journeys…
My interest in Dutch-Style bicycles in particular
has taken me to…
where I have found
that there can be happiness and beauty
in a cold and wintery climate:
thank you Mikael
where I can wander the streets of Amsterdam everyday
and enjoy a vacation trip with Marc via Dutch Bicycle:
thank you Marc
where a chat withMiss S
helped seal the deal on the Pash…Edmonton
thank you Sarah
…San Francisco My Hyggelig
Where Meli-g takes me on all her adventures
And lets me know it is okay for home to be where the heart is.
thank you Meli-g…Soon my friend, soon….
where I was along for Trisha’s Batuvus adventure.
thank you Trisha
where D.O.T. inspires me
when it is -20 below, grey, and windy
or 98 above, sunny, and humid…Chicago
I love this picture, Dottie looks like a Scandinavian Ice Princess
Thank you D.O.T.
On a business trip to San Francisco
I had a lovely morning
test riding and talking bicycles.
On a vacation trip to Sweden
I spent two of the loveliest afternoons of all time
test riding a Skeppshult and a Kronan
And in Minneapolis
I make small local trips
more about the journey
than the destination.
Fitting bicycles into my daily life,
where ever I may be
or want to go
brings me unique experiences
and lasting memories.
Finding happiness in the ordinary
by making it extraordinary
is what my life in Minneapolis has taught me.
Where has your bicycle journey taken you?
Continue the journey with Sigrid at her beautiful blog, My Hyggelig.
Hi, Chelsea from Frolic! here! I am so glad to be guest blogging on Let’s Go Ride a Bike today! It’s one of my daily reads. I recently came across these old photos and I think the girls and their bicycles are super chic!
Today’s guest post is from Elisa, one of the two women who make up Bike Skirt, a blog based in Birmingham, Alabama. Elisa and Anna started blogging about the same time Dottie and I did, and it was so wonderful to discover kindred spirits here in the Southeast! They are doing their best to bring cycling to the mainstream through work at the Bici Coop and organizing Alleycats and other events (including one tonight).
First, thanks to Dottie and Trisha for asking me to guest post (and apologies for my tardiness on getting it to them…oops). When they asked me to post, I didn’t know what to write about, since our blogs seem to have talked about everything under the sun with biking! So, I decided to write about just that: that riding a bike, while it hasn’t changed, is new every day.
Birmingham bikers back in the day
I love that everyone knows and uses this statement: ” It’s like riding a bike.” Why do we say that? Because riding a bike is something that we never forget how to do and always want to get back to it. Yes, we may get rusty and need a few practice runs, but once you remember how…oh, how wonderful it is! Each day I ride roughly the same route, but it feels new each day. I see new people on the corners, new delivery trucks taking up my space and the seasonal flowers that I get to smell every day. I see how my neighborhood changes with the seasons, heck, each day. I feel the slightest crisp in the air and the hint of a storm when it is coming. Those things are hard to get in a car, and I get them every single day.
What is my point? My point is that riding a bike itself hasn’t changed…still 2 wheels, a saddle and handlebars (yes, the components have changed and it has gotten easier), but the ride changes every day. That is probably the thing I love the most about riding. The everyday mystery of it. That, and that I get to wax poetic about my commute of all things.
Birmingham riders today
Thanks again to Trisha and Dottie, I hope you two are having the most fabulous time in France. Can’t wait to see the photos of all the bikes and fun that you have