Heels to Safer Urban Cycling

September 10, 2012

Short essay by Annette Ferrara.


Mas issue visibility heels to safer urban cycling 01

© Annette Ferrara.

Mas issue visibility heels to safer urban cycling 02

© Annette Ferrara.

“You bike in heels and a skirt? Are you crazy?!?”

This is a common refrain when I roll up to a stoplight on my bike in an outfit more suited for a gallery opening than a typical morning commute on the gritty streets of Chicago. I’ll be the first to admit I’m perpetually—nay, pathologically—overdressed for every occasion, but in the case of urban cycling, I trust my outré fashion sense is plain good safety sense. In 15 years of pedaling in cities all over the world, I’ve had only two minor accidents (knock on pavement) and neither was the result of a wardrobe malfunction. To what do I owe this good fortune? I attribute it to a simple fact: I look like I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not alone in this observation. Many cycling blogs have commented on this phenomenon, also known as the “Mary Poppins Effect.”

It goes something like this. Urban drivers expect to see bikers pimped out head-to-toe in spandex, wearing aerodynamic helmets, hunkered down on drop bars, weaving through traffic with high-octane recklessness. And hate to see them. And love to run them off the road for their cycling hubris. It’s Pavlovian. As an occasional driver myself, I’m ashamed to admit I feel the same. But sitting astride my bespoke, upright bike with its woven pine panniers, matching Brooks saddle, and cute cork grips in 4-inch leopard-print platform heels, a silver lamé knife pleat skirt, chunky vintage jewelry, and decidedly un-aerodynamic Bern helmet, I’m a unexpected sight. And a highly visible one. I’m humanized. I look like I might fall off or post something cute to Pinterest while I’m riding and because of this, most drivers slow down, give me a wide, wide berth, and wave me past with bewildered bemusement. I bike in a fashionable cocoon of safety. For this reason—and many more—I’m a vocal advocate of ditching ghastly athletic gear in favor of chicer cycling attire. And who knows, maybe my next purchase will be a bike umbrella.