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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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

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