The Bike Commuter Stereotype

Let’s face it: bike commuters are stereotyped as fringe, eccentric, a bit odd.  Even in Chicago where there are plenty of cyclists, I am an anomaly as a bike commuter.

"This is what a bike commuter looks like"

"This is what a bike commuter looks like"

The reaction I get from most people is easy to predict, as I watch their stereotype confront reality.  Usually, they are surprised and slightly impressed.  The average Chicagoan is aware of bike commuters, so that big hurdle is cleared from the start, but people are surprised because I am a fairly quiet and unassuming female – I don’t fit the stereotype. There are always questions.

The most common:

  • Aren’t you scared of cars? You do wear a helmet, I hope?
  • You didn’t ride here in that skirt, did you??
  • But not during winter, right???

Some people are “hip” to the bike commuting “trend.”  Their questions tend to be:

  • Cool, where do you shower and change clothes?
  • You didn’t ride here in that skirt, did you??
  • But not during winter, right???

Once they learn that I ride in skirts and through the winter, they are shocked and confused. I love talking about cycling – obviously!- but even I grow weary of answering these questions.

I want to know from all of you:  What reactions do people have when they learn you are a bike commuter?  What questions do they ask you the most?  Which of your characteristics contribute to the way people react? How about your geographic location?

Finally, assuming this stereotype prevents a lot of people from considering bike commuting, what can be done to revamp our image, short of enlisting Don Draper’s assistance?

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89 thoughts on “The Bike Commuter Stereotype

  1. Sarah says:

    Personally, I don’t get a lot of questions so much as strange looks. I live in NC and it’s fairly urban.. however, I am the only person in my entire building that bikes to work. If I do get Q’s it’s usually about “what do you do when it rains? when it get’s cold?” I think the majority of the inquiries/looks come from when they see a girl in a dress on a bike… Rarely do I see a woman dressed in cute attire on a bike around town. It may just confuse people..?

    I think just continuing to bike to work and looking fabulous doing it will begin to beat the stereotype.

    • dottie says:

      Absolutely! We can be the change we want to see in the world. I grew up in NC, but never rode a bike there (not counting in my neighborhood as a kid and teenager). Fun to hear from bike commuters who live in the motherland :)

  2. Boston is full of eccentric cyclists – including women in skirts – so I am not so unique in that respect. What is unique about me are the bikes I ride. Both Eustacia (the Pashley) and Marianne (the Motobecane mixte) get lots of compliments and comments. People remember me and my bikes, and tell me how nice they are. I think to them, my bikes make me different from the stereotypical Boston cyclists – who ride either a fixed gear or a fully “geeked out” commuter bike covered with panniers, lights and various unidentifiable gadgets. I think the key to “improving the image of cyclists” is simply for more cyclists to defy the unfavourable stereotypes.

    • Maggie says:

      I’m confused. Are you saying that ‘unfavourable stereotypes’ of cyclists include ‘cyclists who ride either a fixed gear or a fully “geeked out” commuter bike covered with panniers, lights and various unidentifiable gadgets’?

      If so, I don’t understand why you would consider this unfavorable. On my commute I see these types of cyclists as well as the bus boys on their old (and often too small) mountain bikes and guys totally ‘lycra’d’ out, racing to work. In my opinion, all of these cyclists are a welcome site and portray a positive image for cycling.

      • Maybe I did not phrase that quite right. I am saying that (non-cycling) people in my area find those stereotypes unfavourable. Fixed gear cyclists are perceived as aggressive, snobby, and intentionally antagonistic to drivers. “Geeked out” commuters are viewed as ridiculous and annoying. This is not my opinion, but the public perception. It does not matter to me what a person does, how they dress, what kind of bicycle they ride, etc., unless they directly threaten my freedom or personal safety.

  3. Mishi says:

    I only get car questions. “why didn’t you take a car?”, “Don’t you have a car?”, “Do you have a liscence?”

    • dottie says:

      That’s interesting. I remember someone saying before that when they started bike commuting in the 80’s, people assumed he had his license taken away by a DUI or something. I guess that view is still around in some areas – like everyone would want to drive if they could.

  4. Dean Peddle says:

    I get the same comments you do….except for the skirt comments :) Especially the winter comments as I’ve ridden in the same conditions as you do. My favorite is “You mean a motorcycle….right?” It’s amazing that people think it’s so darn difficult. I like to tell them it only seems impossible until you try it. Adults are just stubborn and stuck in their ways. I’ve tried to coax a few people who live very close to work into trying but never have I had 1 try. I work in a building that has around 6000 workers with probably 80% of the people living in a 10 mile radius yet there is only about 3 people that ride. I’m really ready to start giving up hope.

  5. Sarah says:

    I got the “how do you ride in a skirt” reaction this morning. The person was amazed at how, immediately after parking my bike, I didn’t even look like I had just ridden a bike there. I think I said something along the lines of “well, I just do” – I’m not exactly sure how else to respond. How do I ride in a skirt? Well, I put the skirt on, and then I get on my bike and start pedaling… The funny thing was that the skirt I was wearing today was particularly good for biking in – knee-length and stretchy.

    I also get comments in the winter, not even because of the snow (although that as well) but just the temperature. People seem to be very afraid of the cold. They don’t seem to realize that all you have to do is put on the proper number of layers (nor do they realize how warm you get once you get going).

    • Cycler says:

      “I put the skirt on and then I get on my bike and start pedaling” HA!! I’m going to appropriate that line if it’s OK with you!

      I think that if you have the right bike (chain guards, fenders, skirt guards)
      it really is that easy. I tend to forget that if you have a diamond frame bike with drop bars, it’s really uncomfortable to get on and off and halt if you’re wearing a skirt. I tend to think that people are responding to the lycra-kit stereotype that you need “special clothes” to ride a bike, but unfortunately if you have one of those “sport” bikes you probably DO need special clothes to be comfortable.

      • Sarah says:

        Certainly, feel free to use that response. I’ve never actually said it aloud to anyone, just thought it to myself…

        You are right, it would be much less comfortable to ride in a skirt on a diamond-frame bike, but I’ve never had one to try it on (I don’t think I would like one even in pants/shorts; I’d be afraid of hitting myself on the top tube when I got off b/c I’m so used to having a dropped top tube :-p ). With sport bikes you also need the padded shorts because the seats are so darn uncomfortable! I suppose people are responding to the stereotype that you need special clothes to ride a bike, but they aren’t nearly as likely to make a comment when I arrive in (nice) pants rather than a skirt.

  6. Elaine says:

    That is SO funny!! I often think those questions in my mind when I see elegantly dressed bikers. Mostly I am jealous :) I wish I could look chic while riding my bike! Unfortunately I end up having a big work out so looking nice doesn’t really pay :/

  7. The simplest answer to your question on how to get people to try bike commuting, is to watch how other people persuade you to change you’re behaviors. The worst thing would seem to be, giving people a reason not to like it. I had an ex-girlfriend who was all about eating smaller portions of good food. Sounds wonderful, but she was so pushy and preachy about it, that I didn’t really start trying it until 6 months after we broke up. Which is interesting to me. Maybe her pushy/preachy schtick worked, eventually? Or maybe more likely, she pointed to something that made sense to me, but I couldn’t adopt until she was out of the equation. My initial reaction to your question, was to be the best example of a bike commuter that, that person sees. But now I think I’d add that you may also need to point out to other people, what you see as true. And they may not like it, at first, but at least they know that somebody is doing something different from the herd. It’s tough, because the change may be down the road and out of your sight. Perhaps the best thing, is to do what’s right for you and don’t rest your happiness on their changing. Did that simplify things? ;^)

    Lovely B~ How’s that Motobecane? A woman who works at my coop rides one. Don’t know anything about the bike, but the name is killer. You say Mowtowbecain, I say Mowtowbekahn!

  8. miss sarah says:

    I’m sure you’ve read on my blog that the reaction I generally got for the last year was, “You bike when your PREGNANT?! You’re going to kill your baby!”


    And to think… Dexter is alive and very well indeed!


  9. Brrr says:

    I too wonder how girls ride wearing skirts, lucky for me I don’t have to worry about that!

    Most people are concerned about my safety, especially riding at night (I work graveyard shift), and considering the really rough area of town I have to travel through. I can’t say I disagree with them, I just do it anyway.

    Riding in the winter is something even I won’t do. They filmed “Whiteout” here as a stand-in for Antarctica. It’s not the cold, I can dress for that, and I do spend a lot of time outdoors in the winter (skating, skiing, running, etc). The roads are just mostly impassable for most of the winter, and cars are bumping into each other all the time because of the ice–it’s just not safe to be on the same roads as they are.

    • I agree with you about Northern climates. We lived in rural NH for a couple of years in the Hanover area, and it would have been suicidal to cycle there in winter. The winding mountainous roads have a permanent layer of snow and ice that just does not get cleared. Everyone’s car is a 4WD, or else they simply cannot use it. Even with studded tires, a bicycle would not be able to take that terrain.

  10. Beany says:

    I’ve always responded with questions of my own, “how did _you_ get here?”, “do you drive in the rain/heat/fog? Then yes, I bike in the rain/heat/fog.”

    I do ride with a skirt every now and then and there are quite a few transportational cyclists who ride wearing regular/everyday clothes. But in some circles not owning a polluting machine in San Diego is quite the anomaly.

  11. It is completely normal to commute by bike here in Oxford UK. Nobody would bat an eyelid or be surprised that I cycle in normal clothes. I hope that everywhere else gets to be the same too.

  12. Mamavee says:

    I think most of the people I see think I’m a novalty. Well see what happens when I am biking in Nov.

    MY question is always the same ” Wow, that’s different. Now, if is hard to push?”

    My routine answer is ” It’s great, It’s actualy a lot easier than you would expect.” and then push off…

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  14. Narndt says:

    My favorite response: “Oh…you’re not one of those people who ride out in the street instead of on the sidewalk, are you?” Said with a disgusted look, of course.

  15. Maggie says:

    Interesting topic. In all my years of cycling in non-biking cities, this is the typical comment I hear from colleagues: “Hey, I saw you cycling to work today!”

  16. Deb says:

    I am not a skirt kind of girl (don’t even have one), and I ride to work in yoga pants and a t-shirt or whatever layers are appropriate for the season. It is a long enough ride (14 miles) that I change right down to the skin when I get to work. But I’m not stylish when I’m off the bike either. I could claim that what I wear on the bike is my regular (non-work) clothes, because mostly what you find me wearing is as casual as I can get away with.

    I don’t mind having to change when I get to work. It is probably good for me. A signal to get into work-mode or something. It also makes the weather completely irrelevant to me. I don’t care if I get rained on (or snowed or sleeted or sweat to the point of dripping) because I’m going to change everything I’m wearing anyway once I get to work.

    I get questions when it rains or when it is really cold. My answer for “what do you do when it rains” is “I get wet. You?” (The fenders keep the worst of it off me anyway.) And my answer for “what are you doing riding in 12 degree weather?” is “sweating.”

    Mostly I get positive responses from my friends and coworkers. Some think I am crazy, others have told me how much they admire me and how happy they are that someone in the office is riding to work. I live in an area where people tend to live far from work. My 14 mile commute is one of the shortest of the people I work with. One person lives 100 miles away, most live more like 40 miles away.

    Most of the bike commuters I see are dressed in full lycra wear. I have yet to meet a bike commuter (granted I don’t talk to many) who has a shorter commute than I have. The average seems to be 17-19 miles each way. This is in the DC burbs. People who live and work in DC itself have a much higher bike commuting rate, and based on the people I’ve seen (via gwadzilla’s blog) they mostly wear regular clothes. But DC is very small, and I think the shorter the ride, the more likely you’ll hop on the bike in whatever clothes you wear.

    • dottie says:

      Yeah, definitely. Bike commuting outside the city has a whole other set of challenges, namely distance as you mention. I wear regular clothes for most rides, but for my commute I used to change at the office since I had to wear a suit.

    • Catherine says:

      Yikes, most people in your office live about 40 miles away? That doesn’t strike me as typical DC at all. I think I’m among the closer-in people at my work (9 miles from Old Town Alexandria to Capitol Hill) but I really have to stretch to think of anyone who lives farther out than Manassas or Gaithersburg–and those are only 30 miles away. Unless you meant 40 miles round trip, then I’m with you on that :).

      I also suppose it depends where you work. I think that people who work in the suburbs (Tysons, Springfield, etc) tend to commute from farther away–the exurbs and rural areas and places like that.

      For what it’s worth, I don’t know anyone who lives in the District itself who bike commutes. It’s either because they live so close to work that they just walk to work (or most take Metro), or because they used to ride bikes but they got stolen, or because it’s too much of a hassle getting them into and out of high rises. Most of the bike commuters I know live in the inside-the-Beltway suburbs where bike trails are plentiful to the point of having an “embarrassment of riches”, streets aren’t as congested and bikes don’t (usually) disappear out of locked garages overnight.

  17. Elisa M says:

    I get “Are you crazy?” “I would be scared of cars!” and “that is awesome, but I could never do it”.

    I used to launch into a pro-bike campaign every time this happened, but starting noticing the glazing of eyes. Now I just answer their question with “Try it…you’ll never go back. Guaranteed”

    It is hilarious and ridiculous to have to answer questions every time I arrive. What if we changed it around “Are you worried about your weight and health being as sedentary as you are? Tell me, why do you drive to a gym when you could work on for free…does the money bother you? Are you worried about your children when you take out a car, you have heard the statistics, haven’t you?”
    that would be awesome…

    • Sarah says:

      Turning around like that is really telling – most people would find such comments offensive, but they don’t think it is offensive to make comments about biking. Probably because cycling is minority behavior, whereas the majority driving/sedentary behavior is accepted as normal and questioning that is threatening to people.

      I am constantly amazed that so many people do not seem to see the irony in driving to the gym.

  18. Todd says:

    I don’t get the questions so much here in DenCo. Allot of people bicycle commute here. I do get the occasional rain or cold question. To which I reply there is no such thing as bad weather only bad gear. I ride year around. Or I laugh and tell them “It’s very zen, when it rains I get wet, when it’s freezing I get cold.” Besides, I look like a nut anyways, one of those fringe types. I have been asked why I don’t own a car, I tell them for me it makes no sense. I live in a city close to everything I need. Why go through that expense when I don’t need a automobile.

  19. melanie says:

    The unexpected thing I found when I came to Philly for my PhD was that half of my classmates are car free, bike commuting, plain clotheswearing bike lifestylists like myself. It actually bummed me out a little that it was not a big deal, at all.

  20. Hi
    People ask me about my 15 miles (go & return) commute:
    “how much time do you take to do that?”
    “you must be in excelent shape?”
    “and when it rains?”

    After all answered, everybody envies me, but there’s allways a “BUT for me it’s impossible”

    the “sweat” factor and the “kids” factor are not so common, but i allways add that i negociated with a basketball club the use of their showers (instead of using the non-existence of showers excuse) and that i take my almost 5 yers old kid to school in my way to work…

    cheers from Southern Europe’s Portugal
    Gonçalo Pais

  21. Brrr says:

    The time!

    Yes, people ask me how long it takes! They’re usually floored when I tell them I can do my 12km route in less time on my bike than I can by car. Paths and footbridges can shave a of of time!

    • Cycler says:

      And when there’s not paths and footbridges, there’s the fact that many city traffic lights are timed at 20mph, so there’s not much advantage at going faster.
      I often used to “race” my fiance to work in his car, and I’d often win, or at least tie.
      People would race past me, only to stop at the next light where I’d pull up slowly to wait next to them.

  22. e says:

    I love to wear heels, and quite a few are astounded that I can bike in a 3-4 inch heel. (When it’s sooo easy!) I reply that I’d not consider wearing the heel if I had to walk from my parked car–it’s too far!

  23. chibikegal says:

    So my bike-train-bus commute leads to interesting situations – I was actually picked on by this loser on our corporate shuttle bus (“hey dorothy, what’s in the basket?… where’s toto?” every. single. day. as I carried my bike basket onto the bus – thankfully he worked at another company). and I recently sat at a retirement lunch as a colleague recounted how much money she had just spent to buy her football-star son a car to get to his job (“I mean, I couldn’t expect him to ride his bike to the train, could I?”)

    I also ride my bike to the gym (about 2.5 miles) really all year round, which leads to the always perplexing, “you rode your bike to the gym?!” Um, yes?

    If I get a really crazy comment, I just tell people that the more I bike, the more donuts I get to eat … but lately the comments are less, I think with the latest round of gas price hikes, people are getting a bit more used to us.

  24. Steven Vance says:

    I think the only comment I get is “How far away do you live?”

    When I say 4 miles to work, 3 miles to school, they are relieved I don’t give myself “too much trouble” riding my bike.

    • dottie says:

      I get that question a lot, but then people are shocked because apparently Roscoe Village is sooo far away.

      • Edward Lark says:

        I have pretty much the same commute and when people ask how far I am always rather sheepish with the reply because I don’t consider it a long distance at all. I generally bike straight to in the morning, but will do a larger loop coming home to double the ride distance and get in a decent workout.

    • Brrr says:

      My 12km each way (~7.5 miles) answer usually is greeted with relief too. I wonder how far they think “too far” is?

      • Maggie says:

        My colleague commutes 40 miles R/T 4 days a week which I think is amazing because:
        A) The bulk of his commute is on a very busy, bike unfriendly boulevard.
        B) He leaves home at 05:15.
        C) His job is physical; he is on his feet all
        day long.
        D) He’s fortysomething.

        Sometimes he’ll mix up the routine by taking the bus in for 15 miles and run the last 5.

  25. Anu says:

    Not very long back in the smaller cities in India women used to bicycle in saris. I am not sure how they did it but it looked effortless.

    I am a skirt person – like yours my bicycle doesn’t have a top bar/tube which helps – but I have to be careful with the length of the skirt, anything flowing can get snagged.

  26. Anu says:

    These girls seem to have made some modifications :-)

  27. Lilia Pilia says:

    When I arrive at work, the Director usually comments on how “noble” I am. If it’s noble to enjoy yourself and save time, then I guess that’s the right word.

    My coworkers comment on me wearing skirts on the bike “You’re going to bike in a skirt?”

    A friend of mine a while ago didn’t want to start biking to work because she didn’t want to be the “crazy bike woman” since she was already the “crazy dog woman” who brought her dog to work on Fridays. Are we really only permitted to be eccentric in one way only? If so, I’m in big trouble.

  28. Zweiradler says:

    In Germany there is no such thing as bike commuters. We don’t even have a word for it. You could translate it literally and say “Fahrradpendler”, but I think you would then just get silly looks and get asked why you find that something special. There are people who use bikes here and there are people who don’t use bikes. The people with bikes use them for many different things, e.g. going to work, shopping, visiting friends – not exclusively for commuting. So it would be quite pointless to describe oneself as a “bike commuter”. People cycling to work and to school are very common here.
    We don’t talk much about that. From time to time I talk with interested co-workers or friends about bike repairs or silly drivers, but I will certainly never get a “WOW! You came by BIKE?” reaction. :)


    • dottie says:

      That should be a goal for the U.S. Technically, I’m not currently a “bike commuter” since I have no job to commute to, but I would still use that term to describe myself to people out of the cycling loop because I know it’s one they will understand. Easier than explaining “I have no car and ride my bike everywhere.”

  29. Tad Salyards says:

    I get almost nothing but positive reactions, particularly from other parents as I’m dropping my son off or picking him up from daycare. Like Dottie, I’m usually dressed professionally for my downtown job.

    It’s good for folks to see that not all bikers are road warriors on fixies. They also get tripped out when I actually stop and wait for traffic lights.

  30. Pearl says:

    I have only been commuting for the past two weeks–bought the bike in July, semester just started–but so far two colleagues have cheered me on (while adding how “cute” my bike is), several students I’ve run into at the bike racks have been surprised to see a professor biking, and drivers in my neighborhood seem surprised to see a biker biking in skirts and sandals, but that confusion might just be the regular wary aggression between bikers and car drivers found everyday in Dallas. I ride to and fro in skirts or linen pants, usually wearing a t-shirt and then changing (Dallas is still 95+ degrees msot days and humid), and sandals with a 1″ heel. Winter here is not so cold as Boston or Chicago, but rainy, so that will be a challenge; one person already commented on the fact that it’s good I have the car for rainy days, assuming I would drive then. We’ll see.

  31. anna says:

    I love the increase of the questionsmarks in your post ;-). The statement about the cycling with skirts I get very often too. An collegue at work once stated that “today you didn’t come to work by bike” because I wore a skirt. Well, of course I did. Why not? By now people know that I also ride in the winter, but it sometimes scares the shit of out them and they think I must be very brave. Don’t ask me why…

    • Trisha says:

      I get that same question just about every. day. from our office manager…you would think she might have figured out by now that yes, I did ride my bike today!

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  33. Catherine says:

    Depending on what time I’m getting into work (I work in a library and therefore have varying work hours) I get a bunch of different, and mostly positive (if shocked/confused) reactions.

    During rush hour, I get mostly confused looks from the Spandex Mafia types on the trails. If I’m taking my regular bike (Electra Amsterdam) they seem a little huffy because I go slow on it. It’s a slow bike, and I’m not out there to win a race. If I’m on my electric bike, they get really confused because I’m in work clothes but going their speed easily.

    Mid/late morning, and any time in the afternoon and evening, I encounter a LOT of tourists because my ride takes me up the National Mall and around the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial. I get my picture taken a whole lot along this stretch–people seem truly shocked to see (a) so many bikes all at once (the Mall is a major bike commute thoroughfare, particularly for anyone going to the Virginia suburbs, and there’s usually a queue of 4 or 5 at any traffic light) and (b) a girl riding a bike in a dress/skirt. I overhear lots of little explanations to Little Susie along the lines of “she’s going home from work”, “it’s so she doesn’t hurt her head if she falls”, “yes, grown ups are allowed to ride bikes”. It’s amusing.

    The other major and always nice reaction I get is from the Capitol Police–the House/Senate’s police force/security (think the campus police from a large university). They rotate duty areas, so I see a lot of different officers and they’re always all smiles when I roll up, and very sympathetic to the evil leg killer that is Capitol Hill itself (they have bicycle patrol, so they know). They’re cool guys and most of them seem to know bikes, and they dig the dresses (which I can now wear to commute thanks to the hybrid electric bike–which Capitol Police get a real kick out of !)

    • dottie says:

      Hi Catherine,

      So interesting to hear about your experiences around Capitol Hill. The comments you hear between adults and kids are priceless! I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets her picture taken by tourists, although only a couple of times for me that I know of. It’s all about the sweet bikes! An Electra Amsterdam and an electric bike is an awesome stable. I love the idea of you keeping up with the spandexies in your dress :)

  34. Lorenza says:

    how many responses! And how great to read them all :D I don’t own a car, I haven’t done so for three years, I do have a Vespa though and of course my Pashley. I get a lot of ‘you must be mad riding amongst our crazy bus drivers’… which in a way they are probably right… I do thank my lucky star every time I get home in one piece, but the more ride in traffic the more I am learning to be confident on the road feeling like I have a right to be there just as much as car drivers and all. I now smile at bus drivers who cut me off on purpose and that seems to really throw them so they profusely apologise, nice!

    I get lots of shocked reactions from people either that I ride Vespa or Pashley. Everyone, and I mean everyone ask ‘don’t you drive?’, ‘don’t you have a driving license?’. Yes I do, I am a pretty good driver too actually (modest of me eh?!), I just enjoy not having a car, saving a lot of money and reducing my carbon footprint… is that so bad?! ;)

    I also walk and use public transport, I have an allotment, I love recycling, buying in charity shops, sewing and altering my own clothes… so I get a lot of ‘ohhhhh you’re so green’… which a) I am not really coz all my family is in italy so I take few plans a year to go home and b) if I do try to live a little greener is because I enjoy those activities first of all. But people are so quick in singling you out as ‘eccentric’, but I find it all rather funny!

    I love Elisa M comment! I think we should start asking some questions like that in return ;)

    Do you wanna know the latest one? Myself and my boyfriend take our recycling to the recycling centre by bikes while everyone else (never seen otherwise) by car, and we get so many people smiling/smirking and/or shaking their heads telling us ‘we’re just showing off’ on the ‘being green’…. doesn’t cross their mind that we don’t have a car and we only live 2 miles down the road, so driving for some plastic bottles and cardboard cereals boxes would be rather silly and probably take longer by the time you have to start the engine, load the boot and all ;)

    I say to silly questions from skeptical people you can either delve into an educational debate or just smile and say ‘I enjoy it’ :D xxx

  35. Karen says:

    Annoyingly, at my office my co-workers describe me and my bike commuting as “cute”! I am not quite sure how to take this, most of the time.

    I get the skirt and high-heels questions and quite a few people wonder how I can bike in from a shocking 5 miles away.

    I suspect, many of todays bike commuters are a bit out of the mainstream. I don’t mind being out of the mainstream but it can be a lonely place.

  36. donna says:

    Hi, I just started commuting by bike this summer (takes me 30-40 min to get to work). What kind of gear do you folks suggest I get for when it rains?

    • Cycler says:

      Ahh, this is a perennial problem
      If it’s pouring rain, I wake up a bit earlier and take public transportation.
      If it’s sprinkling or just threatening, I have a goretex type rain shell, but without rain pants, my bottom half gets a little damp.
      Unfortunately, even “waterproof breathable” fabrics tend to get me all steamy, and personally I’d rather get damp from the outside than the inside. Plus they don’t go with most of the rest of what I wear.
      I’m working on a trenchcoat solution. I found a trenchcoat in a semi-metallic silver, and I’m going to try to self-waterproof it with a nickwax product from REI.

      Fenders are key- because often you can get more wet from splashes of nasty dirty puddle water than from the stuff coming down from the sky.

  37. Simone says:

    Your bike and biking outfit are very lovely!

    I don’t own a bike (yet) but my partner commutes on a motorcycle. I’m definitely considering buying a bicycle in the near future. Biking is becoming really popular in Toronto. On one hand I think its a trendy hipster thing for some people, but I also think people are starting to really support it because it just makes sense. It’s very expensive to own & park a car in downtown Toronto. I mostly walk or take the subway everywhere :)

    PS. I forgot to reply to mention in my other comment–congrats for also quitting your job! This economy does suck, but I’m hoping the risk will be worth it in the end. Good luck with everything!

  38. Sarah says:

    I don’t bike in Chicago in the winter (never got the courage up or bought the gear!) but rain, wind, fog, heat–I bike commute in all those conditions. Mostly people are just shocked silent when I tell them how far it is, how fast it goes, and how otherwise normal I am. But these aren’t negative reactions. The overwhelming response I’ve gotten is positive support and admiration.

    • Edward Lark says:

      You should give the Chicago winter commute a try – odds on you will end up liking it. Generally, for anything above freezing, you probably don’t need special gear. When I committed to riding in the winter I gave myself permission to not ride if the temp was below 20 degrees, then it was below 10, and now it is 0 where it will probably stay (even three pairs of socks didn’t keep the piggies from freezing that day). When it “warmed up” to 30 degrees last winter, it felt like shorts and t-shirt weather. :)

      For me anyway, it got addictive. There is something very satisfying about being out on the road in the more extreme conditions. It is also very fun to see the shocked expressions of the people shivering at the bus stops as you roll on by, smile and waive.

      Hardest part is finding a decent pair of winter cycling gloves. I recommend the “lobster” style three-finger mittens from Planet Bike with a wool glove liner for the below 20 days.

  39. Cycler says:

    I’ll second that you don’t need special gear to probably below freezing. Just wear your normal coat that you’d wear walking around in that weather. You’ll almost certainly be much warmer than you would be walking, just from the exertion.
    I ride in a shell or trenchcoat until late December (in Boston) and for the really cold days in January will sometimes ride in a down puffy jacket.
    That said, I hate the advice you often see in sportif magazines to dress so that you’re cold starting out. It’s hard enough getting moving in the morning without being cold, you might as well start too warm and unlayer as you go.
    That’s one of the main functions of my basket- accessible outerwear storage.
    Hands, ears and face are the most vulnerable. My Bern multi-sport helmet has a liner for skiing with built-in earflaps.

    • dottie says:

      I agree, but I’ll go one step further and say that I cannot wear my regular winter coat while cycling. I would sweat like a pig in the puffy down Patagonia coat :) I have the same type of Bern helmet with build in ear flaps – very useful.

      • cycler says:

        Yeah, about the only time I’ve worn the puffy coat was when it was like 10 degrees and minus 3 windchill- and I think I may have had to unzip 2/3 into the ride. No skirt that day either!

        I hate to be cold at the beginning of my ride, so I’d rather bundle up and do a striptease at stoplights.
        Once I forgot I had my helmet on and pulled a sweater up over my head! It was touch and go but I DID manage to get it over my helmet, but I’m sure I looked like a total dufus!

  40. […] are not interested in following the herd without question. Going back to the subject of the bike commuter stereotype, we are perceived as “fringe” and a lot of us are, at least a little. This […]

  41. […] are not interested in following the herd without question. Going back to the subject of the bike commuter stereotype, we are perceived as “fringe” and a lot of us are, at least a little. This […]

  42. Felicity says:

    A few months ago, I was moving to sacramento, ca for school and looking around for an apartment. At one place, I mentioned to the landlady that I didn’t have a car and she started telling me about all the public transit options. I told her that I biked to class. She looked shocked and said “Well, this apartment won’t be good for you then, we are way out of biking distance! There’s no way you could bike that far to the university!” The apartment was about 5 miles from the university. It’s amazing to me how many people have never even gotten on a bike and seen how easily they could travel “long” distances!

  43. […] answer is a start, but I’d like to hear all of your ideas. We’ve touched on this in The Bike Commuter Stereotype, and now we’d like to take the issue head-on. What would you do with unlimited resources, or […]

  44. […] answer is a start, but I’d like to hear all of your ideas. We’ve touched on this in The Bike Commuter Stereotype, and now we’d like to take the issue head-on. What would you do with unlimited resources, or […]

  45. Brian "The Bum" says:

    I was riding in the winter to the bank and then to the grocers, about 20 miles round trip. It was cold, snowing, and miserable out (I live in Michigan) so it’s even more unusual to see a cyclist. A lady in a Big Buick passed me in the same direction I was going then pulled in front of me and rolled down her window. I thought she needed directions but instead I was surprised when she offered to give me all her bottles she had in her trunk. Michigans return law is .10 cents per bottle/can and if I see any by the roadside I will pick them up, not that I’m a destitute drunk with no drivers license and the only transportation I am allowed is a bicycle and it’s how I get money for booze, but I’m sure that’s what she was thinking. Never mind the fact I was riding an Opa, which is not exactly a old used Huffy. My friends said I should have taken advantage of her generosity, but I turned her down. I’ve had people toss out empty cans as they drive by me, not to hit me, but so this poor destitute drunk with no drivers license who’s only allowed to ride a bicycle can get his booze money. To bad the grocery store isn’t near a blood plasma donation center, I could make a killing.

  46. kerri says:

    I just found your blog and I love it, particularly this post and the comments! After procrastinating for years on becoming a bike commuter, I recently took this up after my car required expensive repairs, prompting me to just stop with all that nonsense. I live in New England and am wondering how riding in snow/ice will be, but to be honest, I absolutely hated driving in that anyway, so I figure that if I can’t handle it on the bike, I’ll just walk to work.

    I’ve only ridden in a skirt a few times so far. I’m trying to master this. I will say that I feel really badass when biking in full girly clothes.

  47. Dottie says:

    @kerri – Great to hear from you! I hope you’re keeping the biking up.

  48. Michelle B. says:

    There are a number of bike commuters here in Louisville, KY. Most of them are men wearing spandex, a few wear suits etc. I don’t see many girls, once I saw a girl in a skirt just riding around one weekend, but not commuting. My colleagues also like to tell me that they saw me riding and ask me lots of questions. I just keep on answering and try to inspire them to try it for themselves. Even if it isn’t commuting, just riding a bike! People are so curious and I want them to know the biking community is welcoming, friendly, and fun!

  49. Samurai Pro says:


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