The Mary Poppins Effect

Post by Nicole of Bike Thoughts From A Broad

Last week I mentioned something called the ‘Mary Poppins Effect’. (LovelyBicycle first mentions it here.) This is a syndrome encountered only, in my limited observation, by women (or those dressed as women) while riding a bicycle and it means that traffics treat you differently while looking like Mary Poppins (i.e, while wearing a skirt).  It really does!

I’ve tried it in all guises.  I’ve ridden my Wilier in full-on Lycra with a helmet or only a cap.  I’ve ridden my Wilier in a  skirt.  I’ve ridden my Raleigh Wisp in Lycra and a helmet or just a hat, a skirt or in jeans.  I’ve ridden my Globe Vienna in a skirt with helmet or no helmet, with panniers, skirts, jeans the lot.  And lastly, the Boris bike, straight from the office this lunchtime, in the sunshine, with a skirt and shirt, no helmet and my handbag on the front.

How Does It Work?

After much careful observation it seems that the ‘MPE’ only takes effect while riding an upright bike, with no helmet, hair flowing in the breeze, skirt on and maybe a little heel.  And then the road is your own.  Traffic gives way, allows you room, even stops while you manoeuvre into a space.   It slows down, allows you to pass and while stopped at traffic lights, delays while you get yourself off when the lights turn green.  It doesn’t get cross if you weave in and out.  On the contrary, it slows down if you make a small error and the traffic starts to move faster then you can.  It lets you back in and it never shouts at you or raises a fist.  Amazing!

It must be something about the style of bike because it doesn’t happen on the Raleigh or the Wilier, which have drop bars.  Maybe traffic assumes a modicum of experience on a drop bar?  Maybe it assumes that if you’re riding a drop bar, you an handle yourself and don’t therefore need a polite distance between you and it?  Maybe traffic assumes that if you’re riding a dutch-style bike, you need all the help you can get, ‘cos you’re a woman and we all know about women drivers?  But why does traffic think that you can’t ride a dutch bike but that you can ride a drop bar?  I just don’t get it.  And maybe I never will.

Riding Styles

Maybe it’s because my riding style changes depending on which bike I’m on.  Maybe I’m more aggressive on a drop bar and more passive on an upright?  I don’t think so.  I’m more confident cycling through the traffic on an upright because my body position is upright and I think I can see more.  I’m leaning forward on a drop bar, feel like I can see less and I’m less confident, which  think is reflected in my riding style.  But I now know this much, if I ride without a helmet, traffic seems to give me a wide berth.

Does It Work For You?

Does this happen to guys on dutch bikes, without helmets?   Does traffic change when you ride a Boris bike from the office?  Life must be hell for you in Lycra on a drop bar?  Am I way off the mark here or does anybody else notice the change?

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53 Responses to The Mary Poppins Effect

  1. Andreas 22/03/2011 at 9:45 am #

    Great post Nicole – brings me back to that research someone did wearing a wig to measure the amount of space a car gave them! I tend to get plenty of space riding in central London (wigless) but when I take my bike to the outskirts drivers get more aggressive.

    • juleslostinlondon 22/03/2011 at 9:37 pm #

      i was taught at uni by the guy who did that research (ian walker if you fancy a google). i’d have given him a wide berth in a wig – i was then, and remain convinced that research is totally invalid and that people gave him more room so they could get a proper look at him in the wing mirrors as they went past. he is not a small man!

      but i have noticed this effect – the difference between me on my ridgeback step through hybrid and me on my roadie is profound. i cycle in the same way, but people assume i know less when i’m on the sit up and beg.

      sometimes fun, sometimes annoying!


  2. Vrinda 22/03/2011 at 9:57 am #

    I ride my pretty Raleigh Caprice in central London with flowing skirts and I’ve noticed this many, many a time. Drivers assume you’re a newer cyclist and don’t expect you to know what you’re doing. I love it personally and play on the fact, to the point of considering which outfits I have that will give me more space on the road.

    Good post, I’m glad to know it’s not just me!

  3. Adam 22/03/2011 at 10:03 am #

    Andreas, you’re referring to the sudies done by Dr Ian Walker from Bath.


    I’ve witnessed this effect to, and consequently don’t tend to wear a helmet when I have my kids on my bike with me.

    Also noticed the difference between riding my bike with bullhorns or drops and riding my upright town bike. I think that just comes down to a low down position just looking more aggressive though, as if you’re trying to be fast and aerodynamic, and anyone on the road who sees someone else trying to go fast always reacts to it in some way, especially jealous drivers stuck in congestion.

    • AdamS 25/03/2011 at 11:11 am #

      Do not kid yourselves that Dr Walker proved it is safer to ride without a helmet.

      He did not prove that wearing a helmet causes you to have more accidents, he merely observed a correlation between two factors. It is entirely possible that he rode in a different manner when he wasn’t wearing a helmet, which caused drivers to give him more space. He certainly didn’t go on to measure the frequency of a collision and the seriousness of the subsequent injury. It is also possible that he was subconsciously biased in his opinions which caused him to ride differently, but as there was no control group or double blind study then we will never know.

      In fact helmets have been proven to provide protection for low speed collisions, which actually makes them rather useful for children doesn’t it?

  4. Phil 22/03/2011 at 10:08 am #

    I don’t know if a kilt would have the same effect, although the possibility of it blowing up in the wind might give motorists pause for thought…

  5. G 22/03/2011 at 10:32 am #

    My housemate, on his 1947 Raleigh gent’s bike, wearing puttees, a tall Kashgar curly black wool hat and a khaki waxed cape usually gets given a wide berth….. wonder why..

    I am a woman, and never, never, never cycle in a long skirt/without a helmet. Might try now….

  6. nilling 22/03/2011 at 11:05 am #

    It’s simple called Cycle Chic

  7. Jackart 22/03/2011 at 11:58 am #

    I’ve given up wearing a helmet unless it’s wet or icy for just this reason. Even a hairy-arsed bloke on a very drop-handlebared condor gets a wider birth. It also gives me a reason to wear my collection of funky cycling caps.

  8. ibikelondon 22/03/2011 at 12:09 pm #

    The study Andreas mentions in the first comment was by Dr Ian Roberts in Bath – he found that motorists gave a helmeted cyclist less room than a cyclist wearing a blonde wig (and therefore perceived from behind to be a woman.)

    I used to cycle in high vis, a helmet and on a hybrid. I now (mostly) ride in my own clothes, with no helmet or high vis, on an upright.

    Suicide I hear you say? Maybe. Whilst I’m very aware that if I fall off I’ll probably have a bad scrape, this in turn makes me ride much more carefully. And yes, absolutely, I’ve found that I get a much wider berth and zero aggression from motorists.

    My own theory is the more vulnerable you look, the better you are treated. Also, because high viz jackets are now so ubiquitous on London’s streets it means I actually stand out more (if everyone is wearing a high vis jacket, nobody pays attention to them). I also find that being on an upright, with no helmet, means approaching drivers can see my head, and face when I turn, which somehow makes me seem more human. I don’t know if there are any real studies which back this all up, and of course the decision is down to the individual, but I have a much nicer riding experience since going a bit Mary Poppins (or should that be Bert the Chimney Sweep in a bloke’s case?)

    To see this in action you only need to look at the way drivers treat people on Boris Bike vs their attitude to the more racier cyclists.

    Great post! Mark

  9. Geoffroid 22/03/2011 at 12:12 pm #

    Perhaps another reason why this works is because your profile is not distinct, so a motorist cannot acurately place your position on the road. Therefore more space is given.

  10. Mr Colostomy 22/03/2011 at 12:28 pm #

    People are nicer to others when they can identify with them. On a racing bike with drops and lycra, a cyclist is more removed from the average person than you would be on a Boris bike in your normal clothes. The average person couldn’t see themselves in the position of being on a racing bike with technical clothing so you appear foreign to them and they don’t treat you in the manner they would wish to be treated themselves. The average person could see themselves on a Boris bike or a roadster, dressed in more average attire and so they see something more familiar in you and treat you as they would like to be treated in the same situation, because they can put themselves in your shoes more easily.

    This is part of the reason why I ride a roadster (other than the fact that they are the finest everyday, practical transport bikes ever conceived) in my regular attire and without a helmet (also, they don’t really work anyway) or high-vis. As they are a legal requirement, I obviously do have lights for after dark.

  11. Hannah 22/03/2011 at 12:35 pm #

    It’s true! I’m a pashley poppy girl and will never wear “sporting” cycle wear. People smile when they see my bike and are always lovely!

  12. Lindsay 22/03/2011 at 12:37 pm #

    I ride an upright bike, wearing whatever (often skirts) but never lycra, usually with a helmet unless it’s an impulsive boris bike trip. I’m faster than people expect, and quite assertive but certainly not aggressive.

    I’ve been beeped twice in the last two years and, although I often get people staring or smiling at me, I don’t encounter the same kind of sexual harrassment I hear about from other people. People do sometimes try to squeeze past me when they shouldn’t but usually back off when I give them a stern look.

    I think drivers do give me an easier time. I smile at everyone, which definitely helps, and I’m sure there’s a degree of “blonde girl needs special protection” which is slightly patronising, but it’s also because they can see I’m a normal human being. It’s easy to see cyclists on drop bar bikes in helmets, lycra and high viz as ‘just another lycra warrior’, especially if they’re wearing one of those face masks. It’s not just a bad look, it also dehumanises you in the eyes of other people. Plus I think it makes people lump you together with any other similarly dressed cyclist who has behaved badly in the past, so you become ‘just another lycra warrior, like that one who swerved in front of me last week’.

    Of course, I think racers in facemasks should be treated with as much courtesy on the road as Mary Poppins on a Pashley. This is just some of the stuff that I think goes on subconsciously in drivers’ minds…

  13. Jim Moore 22/03/2011 at 1:59 pm #

    Maybe it could be that “If you take away the bicycles from the bicycle users on the cycle track they resemble, by and large, pedestrians.
    The photoshopped pics of cyclists on this link making them look like pedestrians illustrate what this statement means.

    @Mr Colostomy, I believe this is similar to what you’re saying, that motorists will tend to identify with normal-looking cyclists. Maybe it triggers motorists’ empathy to a level where they don’t want to endanger them. I’m user a cognitive response survey could be set up on line to test the theory of the Mary Poppins Effect.

    Funny that you call it the MPE as I ride an old step-through Gazelle and I often see Julie Andrews in my mind’s eye when I’m riding it, which until now I thought was pretty weird for a 47 year old bloke from Australia!

  14. minty 22/03/2011 at 3:46 pm #

    As a female cyclist in London, and I have two bikes (one upright, one cycle-cross but with straight bars) and I also use the Borris bikes. I find this effect, but in a different way. I ride the upright without a helmet for short trips, in normal clothes. I don’t get treated any differently, but I do ride just as aggressively, albeit a bit more relaxed.

    However, when I am on my cycle-cross, with helmet, gloves and cycle shorts or leggings and technical tops (with handy back pockets!) my GOD to people disrespect me, try to cut me off, yell at me for taking up too much space, etc. And I dont ride any differently other than I do ride much faster! Just this past weekend in Richmond park, I was yelled at by another Lycra cyclist to stop at an intersection (I was going to stop!) and he called me “mate”. I was mistaken for a bloke, and its not the first time its happened! Its strange when you think about it, because tight clothing does tend to give away the female form… AND on this occasion I was even wearing a little short skirt over the whole ensemble to fem it up a bit! It doesn’t matter, when people see bike+helmet+tight clothes they just paint everyone with the same brush. Its f****** sad.

  15. Craig 22/03/2011 at 4:58 pm #

    LOL – Love it. I am now considering getting a sit up and beg to cycle as a “lady”

  16. Elena 22/03/2011 at 6:38 pm #

    Agree! I definitely get treated differently in skirts, even though my bike is usually the same sporty model (refurbed 1980s Raleigh roadbike in very bright colors), I do wear a helmet, and I ride rather assertively. For most extreme contrasts:
    –wearing a fitted fluourescent pink windbreaker with reflective stripes, I can guarantee I’ll be yelled at each trip I make, either by a pedestrian or driver, often both. I assume it’s the audacity of a woman in sportswear that sets them off. The coat’s functionally retired now because of this.
    –chugging uphill in a shorter skirt on a Borisbike, I actually had a male pedestrian slap my butt. He had no trouble identifying me as an individual woman to objectify/sexually harass.

  17. skippy 22/03/2011 at 7:59 pm #

    Has it reached the stage in London that the drivers differentiate between who they choose to harass ?

  18. Iain 22/03/2011 at 8:27 pm #

    Just thinking on this, forget the motorists for a moment, I probably give more space to a lady on an upright, or anyone on a Boris (largely because they tend to be quite unpredictable – which in a way is a good thing as it suggests new cyclists are using them) It’s easy sometimes to be drawn into the “war” between lycra and motorists, think I set a new record low for moaning at motorists on the ride home (does anyone else do this, then wonder why you said it out lioud as they can’t hear you anyway!) The few dangerously aggressive drivers I encounter are aggressive to all road users, not just me in lycra on my hybrid – it feels that way becuase you don’t notice the near miss with a car when you’re doing all you can to avoid a collision! Thing is, the numpty that pulls out in front of me or cuts me up costs me a negligable amount of time over my journey so why get angry…, today’s runs were great, largely because the lights were generally green and I lopped13 mins this moring and 5 mins this evening from the expected 2 hour schedule, and I doubt anyone on the train ever gets that result!

  19. Sarah 22/03/2011 at 8:42 pm #

    I have long hair, and even in hi-vis jacket and helmet, people give me room in Bristol (hybrid bike, so I think the girly + upright trumps dayglo + helmet)

    *However* I have also had people shout stuff at me & twice had a can thown out of a car at my head (with female-specific anti-cyclist swearing etc) – made me bloody glad for my helmet, I can tell you. The nasty stuff is very rare for me, but worth taking into account….

  20. Paul Martin 22/03/2011 at 9:55 pm #

    This was also mentioned on Helmet Freedom a while ago.

    I find the same is true in Australia on my situp bike, in normal clothes with no helmet (despite it being illegal here…). When I’m on my racing bike it is a very, very different story.

  21. ericonabike 23/03/2011 at 9:22 am #

    Doesn’t work for me [not that I’ve tried a skirt…] since I get more hassle when riding leisurely on my Dutch bike and street clothes than on anything else. My wife says I have ‘an arrogant back’ so perhaps that explains it. I prefer to think that drivers get more frustrated with me as I don’t keep up with the flow of traffic as much as I do on a sportier steed.

  22. Russell 23/03/2011 at 9:56 am #

    Back when I was psychologically able to do bodybuilding…

    Holy hell! It was a different story on the bike! I would actually have traffic ride past me, look at me, go ‘Holy crap’ SLAM the brakes on in the middle of traffic just so they could see me ride past and admire me! I was actually quite massive. I would do upper body, chest, lower etc etc. I was on a perfect diet, good supplements, MASSIVE training regime.

    Even in full lycra on a flat-bar road bike, NO ONE would DARE drive past in my lane! They would all change lanes no matter what speed I was doing!

    I even would pull out into traffic a couple of times, they would think ‘Oh damn…cyclist’. A few seconds later I would be slightly above the speed limit. They would just drive past once I had stopped again and wow…the looks were priceless!

    I guess what I’m saying is, want ultimate respect? Start bodybuilding 🙂

  23. Corin 23/03/2011 at 10:19 am #

    Definitely noticed the difference in the way I am treated when riding a hire bike wearing my normal work clothes and holding up the traffic compared to how I am treated when I am overtaking the rest of the traffic in my high-viz, shorts, etc on my hybrid.

    In the first case the drivers just don’t seem to mind, but in the latter for some reason they take exception!

  24. Phil 23/03/2011 at 11:22 am #

    That’s it- I’m putting a curly blonde wig on my lid andwearing a kilt*grin*

  25. Nicole 23/03/2011 at 12:55 pm #

    I’m really glad to see all these comments and to realise it’s not just me. To test my theory again I took a Boris bike from Bank of England yesterday at about 4pm and rode across town to Victoria Station, negotiating Hyde Park Corner roundabout in the process. I was wearing a dress and a skirt and no helmet and I can honestly say that the roundabout, although not pleasant, was bearable and I certainly benefited from the traffic allowing me to negotiate my way around.

    I’m loving it. This proves once and for all that you guys should ditch the flouro, get yourselves a wig, a Pashley and a smile and ride free from aggressive traffic!! You know it makes sense….

  26. Henz 23/03/2011 at 1:27 pm #

    I wonder whether men with “hair flowing in the breeze” (ie. long-ish for men) also experience the MPE.

    Personally (as a male cyclist with “bra-strap” length hair) I have experienced far more hair-specific abuse than bike-specific abuse. This seems to apply whether or not I don hi-viz and helmet.

    Riding a dutch-style bike (with step-through) seemed to increase this yet more.

    Does anyone fancy organising a system/survey/experiment whereby cyclists report driver attitudes and abuse + clothing, bike style, etc.? It might provide more info than a list of anecdotes.

  27. el-gordo 25/03/2011 at 10:15 am #

    Good post and interesting to hear. Not sure I can pull off the look but pretty sure the net result would be the same – give the bloke in a dress a bit more room!

    Interestingly I have found on Boris bikes I get far less room / far less tolerant drivers than when on my commuter in normal cycle garb. In my experience taxi drivers are far less tolerant of Boris bikes than they are of normal cyclists. That is obviously without the dress factor though.

  28. Nicki 25/03/2011 at 11:17 am #

    I’m now thinking of ditching the helmet again! Deliberately wore a normal coat rather than cycling jacket when I went up to town a couple of weeks ago as I thought traffic would give me a wider berth, drivers assuming I wasn’t very experienced. Still had a few boy racers demonstrating their superior 0-60 figures at traffic lights, but generally it was fine – got a bit hot on the way back though. I’ve almost religiously worn a helmet since an accident last year but it wouldn’t have made any difference to the injuries I sustained then – just felt a bit foolish and irresponsible in the ambulance when I confessed. That driver hadn’t even bothered to look when reversing on to a main road.

  29. Middle aged cyclist in a skirt 25/03/2011 at 11:37 am #

    I have certainly noticed and enjoyed the MPE effect, and I think it’s even more pronounced in summer (skirts are floatier and floral, don’t wear the hi-viz jacket). The downside is the occasional piece of sexist abuse, mostly from people who claim to be able to see up my skirt. I do feel sorry for anyone for whom the sight of my middle aged bum in bridget jones knickers is the most exciting thing they see all day…I have also noticed some abuse from pedestrians, who I think take out their frustration with lycra-clad zebra crossing jumpers on passing ‘normal’ cyclists. But on a day like today a central London commute is a real pleasure, whatever other road users are up to.

  30. Marc 25/03/2011 at 11:43 am #

    The Daily Telegraph has a rather different take on women in skirts on bikes:

    • AdamS 25/03/2011 at 11:58 am #

      Blimey! I can’t quite see how she decided that all London cyclists are a “preening, upper-middle class bunch”, which I would have thought is her core readership.

      Presumably she has never encountered the cyclists on Brixton Hill on a Friday night, though I doubt her “type” would venture so far south.

      • Nicole 25/03/2011 at 12:13 pm #

        Celia Walden….enough said!

    • Tisha 04/03/2014 at 3:56 pm #

      You have more useful info than the British had colonies prII-WeW.

  31. Lindsay 25/03/2011 at 12:58 pm #

    Berks like her are why I take a detour to go through Hyde Park instead.

    I think her “rage” is just sublimated fear that she’s going to kill someone, stemming from insecurity about her ability to drive, see clearly, and think like a rational person.

    I’ve been cycling in dresses all winter by the way…

  32. Aggi 25/03/2011 at 1:37 pm #

    Interesting post. I would suggest however that at night at least there’s a lot going for a reflective vest, or at least a Sam Browne belt. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male/female, upright/drops, etc if the driver doesn’t see you at all.

  33. Paul M 25/03/2011 at 3:42 pm #

    I ride a Brompton – M type with the cowhorn handlebars – which is reasonably upright if you have shortish legs and keep the saddle down. I wear a helmet, partly because my wife is happer if I do, and partly to mount my Exposure Joystick light (great light, by the way, if pricey). I don’t like wearing a helmet and otherwise would only wear one for mountian biking as I am convinced they are utterly useless in any city traffic situation.

    On clothes, I wear what I would wear off a bike – sometimes a suit if it is dry, or chinos and a rugby shirt or whatever. They are all good middle-aged earth colours, browns and greens etc. Never bright colours, never high vis.

    Motorists’ reactions? Fairly middling – not much overt courtesy but a reasonable amount of room and very little overt hostility either, and when I do see that, the motorists is generally being an a*se to other motorists as well.

  34. Mike rubbo 26/03/2011 at 3:33 am #

    I love the name. It’s something that I’ve been talking about for two years on on my blog, but without having this catchy title. I’m now thinking of how we can demonstrate the MP effect on film.

    Are there any Sydney readers who are naturally lycra types, who’d be prepared to cross-bike for a morning in city traffic so that we can filmically compare how they are treated so riding with their normal commute? Leave a response on my blog if interested in being part of this.

    If no one volunteers, I’ll probably use Gill Charlton who comes pretty close to testing the Mary Poppins effect in a short film we made a while ago for youtube called, Bike it or not

  35. Tim 26/03/2011 at 2:53 pm #

    Interesting post. Changing tack slightly, I feel that drivers are less considerate now that the days are getting longer.  Possibly because they cannot weigh up the cyclist in front of them at night and err on the side of caution.  It is also less easy to judge distance at night.

  36. BH 31/03/2011 at 4:16 pm #

    Slightly concerned about this desire from some to ‘throw off the shackles’ of wearing a helmet, and trust the traffic will steer clear.

    It’s not all about traffic in London – a couple of times I’ve come off the bike after a pedestrian has ran out in front without looking, luckily I wasn’t going so fast as to fall on the ground too hard.

    Go out on the roads as protected as you can.

  37. Lisa 31/03/2011 at 5:14 pm #

    I posted on this thread on Lovely Bicycle. Please don’t construe this as a Helmet Police stand (I ride in New York where potholes magically appear underfoot).

    The MPE Effect doesn’t require flowing hair (which is better left to movies. After three minutes the blissful feeling disppears as my hair becomes a stringy mess and I want to take a shower.) I have a Yakkay helmet, which so resembles a fetching hat that I’ve been reprimanded for riding without a helmet. That’s the closest I’ve come to an actual nasty encounter. I get lots of compliments, questions, reminiscences about foreign countries and childhood bikes. I am thus frequently late.

    On my Oma, in dresses and skirts and the Yakkay, the shouts of “Yo, Mary Poppins” from my Bed-Stuy neighbors are amusing, though my amusement is waning. It’s rather like listening to a child repeat a joke ad infinitum. This may give me the creative kick in the butt I need. Maybe, in an attempt to create an iconic character with a different name I’ll pen a best-seller whose protagonist is a bicyclist in a dress . She may have to have multiple personalities and names. Or maybe it should fashionable, bicycling octuplets.

  38. Julie 01/04/2011 at 10:12 pm #

    I totally believe in the MPE effect, but I do wear a helmet, but I also wear fancy gloves, faux frames and bright lipstick typically.

    I wore one outfit that made me feel like I looked like a delivery GUY and I noticed aggressiveness from cars and actually gave away the jacket I felt so yuck about that ride.

    (I ride an upright vintage-look schwinn bike with bern skater-style helmets)

  39. Lynzi Ashworth 04/04/2011 at 5:30 pm #

    On the back of some research that showed that drivers give girls more room when over taking, we produced ‘The Hair Helmet’ – a cycle helmet, which incorporates a long, flowing blonde wig.

    This was of course a April Fool prank – but it draws light on the notion that drivers react differently to different types of cyclist.

  40. Adrian 06/04/2011 at 10:33 am #

    I have no doubt the MPE exists. I’ve seen a car that’s almost written me off give a pretty female cyclist on a classic bike wearing a skirt a wider berth many times.

    The study into this examined the psychology of drivers, but how does this impact on the psychology of the cyclist. As the majority of fatalities involve female cyclists ( I wonder if the MPE has a side effect of making female rider less cautious in traffic, as they are used to a larger safety margin. It’s much easier for a sedan, or even a white van to give an undertaking cyclist a bit more room, as they’l be right there beside them as they glance to the left. Much harder for a lorry driver when you’re in their blind spots.

    I was thinking about all of this after seeing the aftermath of this accident on the way home:

    I’m not trying to place blame for this or any accident, but it did make me think…

  41. Water off a Duck's Back 06/04/2011 at 6:33 pm #

    I believe that there was a study carried out by Bath Universtity that discovred hat if you didn’t wear a helmet then cars were more likely to give you more room (6″) than if you were all lycraed up. I would say that the theory is the same with the upright bike/normal clothes v road bike and lycra. If people think that you are a novice rider (wearing your own clothes) then you may be more likely to wobble into their path… rather than lyra when you expect them to be steady on their wheels and so cut closer to them. I’m all for wearing normal clothes on a bike!!

  42. Peter 07/04/2011 at 1:13 pm #

    It does work for men also. Dress as normally as possible and dont wear a helmet. If you are Australian it is very frightening at first as we have this idiotic law. Importantly, I have found, ride an older style of upright bike. It does make a difference I have noticed.
    Usually I just wear a hat but bareheaded is definitely better if you want a little consideration from the drivers.
    The only concession I make is a flouro jacket. Partly for visibility. Partly so that the average working bloke driving behind might just think I could be of his own ilk and thereby not want to behave as dangerously towards me. Not sure yet it works.
    But mostly because it might help to demonstrate to policeman or magistrate that I was in fact considering my own safety to which I would add that I believe, in fact know, that the helmet makes me less safe in traffic, not to mention increased likelyhood of Diffuse Axonal Injury if I do hit the deck.
    This is the only defence that has worked in Australia.
    If you are reading this from another country take my advice and dont let helmet law into your country.

  43. Cameron Murray 18/04/2011 at 1:22 am #

    There was a study measuring distances of overtaking cars from bicycles using video camers and ultrasonic sensors. They found cars were more courteous to female cyclists.

  44. Liz 21/04/2011 at 7:06 pm #

    I think road and to some extent mtb/hybrid bike positions encourage tight, fast “jumpy” manoeuvres and these combined with a riding position that is coincidentally quite like the human aggressive stance (shoulders up, arms forward, face forward, glaring from under the eyebrows) cause a subconscious response in other humans so that the road cyclist is perceived as an aggressor, a threat, whatever the actual cyclist is doing.

    An upright bike puts the cyclist in a less aggressive physical position which allows more time for eye contact. Plus the lack of nippiness encourages the cyclist to make larger, slower manoeuvres which don’t trigger the same “uh-oh, watch out” response.

    The MPE effect isn’t that drivers behave better to people on uprights than they normally would, it’s that they behave normally to humans on upright bikes but badly to humans on more aggressive bikes

  45. Thalia 27/04/2011 at 5:37 pm #

    If you really want a lot of room on the road, ride with a kid! When I’m out riding on the street with my nine-year-old daughter, drivers treat us like kryptonite. I guess they’re OK with running me over, but don’t want my adorable child on their conscience …

  46. Jen 22/05/2013 at 11:36 am #

    Try riding an upright Dutch bike in a nurse’s uniform. Drivers not only give you plenty of room, they smile at you.

  47. Sabrina 01/01/2015 at 6:01 pm #

    I think that wearing a nice helmet adds to the MPE. I wear a Bern peaked helmet, not just for safety, but because it keeps my head warmer in the winter than a hat does (especially since I added hand-knitted ear warmers), and because the peak keeps some sun and rain out of my eyes.

    I think that drivers, male ones especially, see me when I’m my upright bike with swept-back handlebars and lavender pannier basket while I wear my helmet and a skirt and their “protect-girls instinct” kicks in and they are considerate around me (which I think is sweet!). Someone actually stopped their car the other day and waited for me to pass. I thought they were parking!

    I think the MPE has an effect on pedestrians too. Sometimes they will wait for you to pass even if you have slowed down to stop, when they are waiting to cross the road.

    The only time I have had a real trouble with a motorist was when a woman van-driver overtook me on a zebra crossing after a mini roundabout. I will take some of the blame as I was less experienced then. I attempted to dismount onto the pavement and fell off my bike instead. Incidentally I wasn’t wearing a helmet (I bought one online when I got home).

    I might just be lucky though, as when I was in South-west London doing my work placement there were several occasions when gallant gentlemen offered kindly to carry my suitcase up or down the station stairs, or to help with my hired Brompton. And before anyone thinks otherwise, I dress perfectly decently, have brown hair, and don’t even own a pair of heels — I wore knee-high winter boots nearly all the time I was in London.

    I have no intension of wearing typical cyclist gear. I use my bike as a fun way of getting about and I’ve no intension of changing my clothes after each trip! I am thinking of ways to add hi-vis (tastefully and stylishly/prettily) to my coat though. And I’ve made a handbag I never used into a handlebar-handbag. My handlebar is quite full now with two lights, my bag, a ding-dong bell (a lovely Christmas gift!) and two hi-vis wrist snap bands keeping the cables out of the way (safely, mind you).

    When I started cycling I thought it would be a good idea if there were something like an L-plate for new cyclists. I think we’ve found it! 🙂

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