Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bicycle Greetings Based on Gender?

Several months ago, I made a casual observation. I noted that when riding my bicycle, most of the females I passed going in the opposite direction gave no response to my nods, waves or 'good mornings.' My initial response was to think that I simply hadn't really been paying attention, and the odds of a person, regardless of gender, responding to my hellos had to be more equal. So, I started paying better attention to those I was greeting.
As it turns out, my initial response was fairly accurate (with some exceptions that I'll note in a bit). At the time of my original observation, the majority of my cycling was taking place on back roads, on a more standard road bike intended for longer distance training rides. As I started to pay closer attention, I realized that the majority of the time, women who were riding alone didn't even look in my direction. If there were multiple female riders in a small group (2-4), they often stared generally at me as they rode by (the sort of look that says: Why exactly are you waving to me?), but didn't offer up any sort of acknowledgement to my greeting either. No sooner did I start to think that this possibility was a bit strange when a single male rider or small group of males would ride by and nod or wave in my direction. What gives? I thought.

I should note, that not every male cyclist heading in the opposite direction acknowledged me either, but the percentage who made some kind of attempt to offer a reply - or even initiate a greeting - was far higher than the females.

Soon, I started paying attention to the cyclists I passed on roads in town. If I casually waved or smiled at a rider, regardless of gender, the person on a bike was far more likely to respond in some fashion. However, I also realized that many of the transportation cyclists I was passing were male, which may have skewed this as any sort of valid theory/test/observation (not that any of this has any real or accurate measurement, as it's simply one persons experience). But, overall I did come to realize that the females I did pass seemed far more likely to offer a greeting when cycling for transportation.

Why does any of this matter? You may be asking yourself. I asked it of myself too when I started obsessing over this idea that seemed ridiculous. In the grand scheme of life, perhaps it doesn't make much of a difference, but I couldn't help but wonder about the cause or the motivation for the females on two wheels to all but ignore other riders on the road.

Random thoughts regarding this theory I was making started to develop. Perhaps those on a bike in town were moving at a slower pace and simply more aware of those around them? They weren't necessarily focused on getting a certain speed or rhythm to their riding and perhaps this plays a larger role than I would think. Maybe the female cyclists who were in training mode get harassed by male cyclists and have made it a policy to pay strict attention to what is directly in front of them, rather than glancing around them? It is entirely possible that this is a matter of geography and other locations in the country and world don't experience this same phenomena, or it could be that it is entirely just luck of the draw and I seem to happen past riders who choose not to greet other cyclists on the roads.

Though somewhat a different issue with possibly different answers, I have found that if I'm stopped on the side of the road, most male cyclists will ask if I have everything I need or if I require assistance, whereas it is pretty rare that a female will ask the same question(s) when passing. This scenario is perhaps a bit trickier to get into based on gender, and pretty much any observation made for either greetings or break-downs would require a lot of assumption-based theory, but I do find it interesting.

Obviously, I don't have any accurate findings to make purely on cycling by another person, but I am curious if anyone has experienced something similar, or to the contrary, or if you have any thoughts on why this could be taking place? Perhaps this is all just happenstance? Although it is certainly no skin off my nose if a cyclist doesn't respond, I am curious as to why there appears to be such a vast difference in response based on a riders gender. Could it be that there are simply more male cyclists and it just appears that more of them respond because there are higher numbers? Even given the higher percentage of males, it still seems that there are very few females responding. I love to see other women out on the roads and I suppose I simply have found this situation a bit curious and am trying to make a bit of sense of it. If you have a moment to respond, I'd be curious to know if you personally greet other cyclists, respond to others' hellos, or if you've observed anything in regard to passing other riders?


  1. "Could it be that there are simply more male cyclists and it just appears that more of them respond because there are higher numbers?"

    Yes. Women alone are also cautioned to think about their personal safety in ways that men are not, so that may also figure into why women are reluctant to return a greeting, regardless of the gender of the person doing the greeting.

    1. I agree that women tend to be more cautious in regards to their personal safety when out alone than men. This holds true on a bicycle or just walking on the street in the city. Even though today, in modern western society, we tend to think some of the egregious acts toward women that might have occurred just a hundred years ago are behind us, the reality is most women are still very careful - and rightly so.

      Speaking as a man, when I encounter a woman on a bike, I will tend to want to follow her lead and not be too boisterous in my greeting such that I might overwhelm her. If she nods, I would nod back with a smile. If she looks reserved, I will just pass by. If I pass a man, I might just go ahead and nod - not worried that I would cause him any concern.

      On a related side note, we had an experience just last week. My partner (female) and I rode our bikes up a narrow, residential, city street with cars parked on both sides of the road. A car coming the other way had to stop and wait for us to pass. I was in the lead and I noticed the driver (male) rolled down his window as I approached. As I passed by, he looked at me as if to say something and then turned away. I shrugged my shoulders and rode on. My partner following behind told me at the next stop sign that as she rode by, the driver chewed her out for not pulling off the road to let him pass. Luckily, I did not hear the exchange, or my chivalrous blood might have started to boil. Probably not very PC, but I was offended he had not taken up his beef with me, the man, instead. It's funny how we are conditioned to expect communication to follow certain gender lines.

    2. Augsburg,

      It's interesting what some drivers think is acceptable, and I think that some believe making comments to a female will result in less aggression or confrontation. For me, it would depend on my mood that day. They might get happy-go-lucky, let-it-all-go G.E., or they might get the how-dare-you G.E.. Either way, it's off-putting when those instances take place.

      Interestingly, we had an experience several years ago when Sam and I were riding to the grocery store together. It was back in the days when we had to pedal a highway to get to the grocery store and a couple of younger (I'd say no more than 20 years of age) guys started yelling out the window. I was riding in front and Sam was behind me (we've found it's easier to do this so that he doesn't leave me in the dust and not even know it). As the boys (and I'll use that term because it was infantile, so I consider them boys, not men) passed they yelled out, "Nice balls!" and something else that I couldn't make out as they sped away. I tried to work through it the entire way home, wondering why they would say such a thing to me because I just didn't "get it." I felt like a moron when Sam later said to me, "No, they were talking to me... because 'I'm the man' so I should be in front." The only thing I could think was that these guys really have no clue. I suppose I should be thankful it wasn't an instance that someone was trying to run us off the road though! :O)

      I think your method of reply seems the safest to me. If someone looks ready for some sort of acknowledgement, I can see how it would make - especially a female - feel less threatened or intimidated. Generally, I don't find passing cyclists to be offensive in their greetings, but I've run into a couple that are perhaps overly aggressive, which can, at times anyway, put me on edge.

      I find similar situations in regard to being stopped on the side of the road. Most of the time, women won't even acknowledge that I'm there at all whereas it is rare that a male will pass by and not making some sort of inquiry as to whether I have what I need or if I require assistance. Even though I'm about the worst person who could stop to help another rider, I do always ask if a cyclist is okay when stopped (unless someone else has just asked them, as I don't want to be a pain). Maybe women just assume someone on the side of the road is fine and men assume that I can't repair whatever is broken - or perhaps it's not either of these and it goes back to Cecily's thoughts that really it's just a numbers game and it just seems that more males will ask than females.

      But, I'm babbling now.


      I think personal safety likely has a big role in the picture as you've stated. Sometimes it's difficult to distinguish between riders and perhaps just having our guard up is an easier way to deal with the situation as a whole?

  2. Nice "Balls" indeed.

    On another note. I had just read this entry right before I went and rode on my lunch break yesterday, and what was swirling through my mind was, how few women I see riding, and how most men seem to "greet", and more often than the few women who are out. Even though I was riding at my normal frantic lunchtime MACH speed pace, I saw no less than 12 women riding between 12-1pm on a Wednesday, not one of them acknowledged me when I engaged them, but neither did the men. Everybody must hate Wednesday.

    1. Twelve sounds like a lot, but I'm sure you passed about 100 cyclists while riding for an hour or so.

  3. Often male cyclists return my greeting when we pass in the morning, but because we are frequent commuters we are less apt to ignore one another. Frankly, I see hardly any women though one lady (with panniers, like what I use) this morning who returned my "morning!" hello. The normal scenario is mostly people, men or women, ignore me. I'm not normally an A-type personality, but when I'm on a bicycle anything goes. Perhaps I come across too strong, but I figure the more we acknowledge our brethren the more we'll stand out against the automobile. However, if I have flat or I'm leaning over my bike acting perplexed most cyclists stop to lend a hand. Perhaps we are all aware of each other, yet are in our "zone" until something goes awry? At any rate, I'm the oddball who loves greeting cyclists and would love some response.

    1. It's been a long time, but I've actually had motorists stop and try to help me if something was wrong on the bike too. I always appreciate it -whether I need help or not.

      You could be quite right - maybe it's more that people are all kind of in their own heads and not as focused on what others are doing. I agree with you. It's nice to have someone acknowledge my greeting, though I've become so used to being ignored that it honestly doesn't faze me much these days.

  4. I don't know if what you are experiencing is a gendered thing or not, but I can guarantee you that my experience is a regional one: Here in the South everyone greets everyone! I don't think I've ever passed any cyclist of either gender or any race who didn't at least smile and nod.

    One qualifier: This is true on my commute, but not necessarily on longer, recreational rides. Sometimes a cyclist -- usually in full kit -- will be tucked in and riding hard and not acknowledge me. That makes sense to me since s/he is really focused.

    1. Yes, I agree. If the cyclist is very focused and in-the-mode, I realize they aren't going to respond. It completely makes sense.

      I'm impressed that casually, during every day riding though that everyone provides some kind of response. I can understand it though. My father remarried a few years ago a woman who was originally from the south (they are actually back living in GA now) and she is the most polite person I think I've ever met. I always worry that I'm going to say something to offend her. I know she's actually quite tough and would probably just laugh, but it's amazing how being around someone (even if it's speaking on the phone) who is always so polite can make me watch my p's and q's. Probably something good for me to do since I tend to not always put the filter on before I speak. :O)

  5. I think roadies want to save their breath and not break concentration. That's one reason they seem more aloof. It's training for them - not a social outing. I liked waving at first when cycling. Now I nod, or just go on by. There are so many different people out there on bikes and they ride for different reasons.


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