The sense of joy and pride I feel when I pull up behind another womxn cyclist is the same every time. I don’t feel alone on the road. I feel empowered, part of a community, and I want to shout over the rush of traffic and car engines and bus brakes, “You go, grrrl!”
What is really happening, instead, is I’m simultaneously attempting to catch my breath, trying not to get hit by a car, and playing through the remainder of my route in my head. I’m hoping my timing is right so that I can shower or not shower and maybe put on the shoes I brought or just leave my Tevas on and hope I haven’t sweated enough that my helmet hair is obvious and maybe put a splash of foundation or mascara on depending on how many people I will be in contact with for the day.
When it makes sense, my internalized “You go, grrrl” is nothing more than awkward good wishes for the morning or afternoon or a passing comment about the weather or the bad timing of every traffic light or the particular aggressiveness and collective hurry on the road.
Sometimes the number of womxn I share the road with is three or four bicycles deep, and I feel lucky enough to have stumbled upon this convention of sorts. Often, though, I am the lone goddess, being passed by folx in spandex or “work” clothes, not carrying much more than a small knapsack or just a bike lock in their back pocket, if anything. I am often envious and maybe annoyed that their bag isn’t full of toiletries and a hair dryer or several layers of clothing and shoes and accessories. I have found that I have kept up my pedicures and shaved my legs more often because I have convinced myself it balances out my slightly disheveled, make-up free mornings after a seven-mile ride up and down the Seattle landscape.
I had fears and insecurities around being exposed on the open road, the same as I feel when I’m walking around the city. The difference being that while walking I use headphones to “protect” me from unwanted comments or interactions. On a bike I’m hyper aware of my surroundings and any words or horns or objects coming my way. It surprises me that words hurled towards me have much more often been a cat-call for my bike over my body. That, too, has felt empowering. My bike is an object being objectified, as it should be, my strong body is just powering it.
I once was walking out of my office building in a plain cotton dress, bike shorts underneath, helmet and sunglasses on, wheeling my bike out to end my day. “You must get a lot of attention out there”. No, actually, I am happy to report your assumptions are wrong. And maybe too little attention, as cars turn in front of me or ignore the existence of a bike lane. The funny thing about being on a bike is you want to be seen. Ache to be seen. Hope to be as visible as possible by the tons of steels speeding around you.