Like other accouterments of our lives—housing, clothing, pets—how we get from Point A to Point B communicates to those around us—and not everyone draws the same conclusions! The following observations are some of the most common (or loudest) I’ve come across; different countries and time periods have had varied observations about modes of transportation. Like most stereotypes and public perceptions, the following are of varying degrees of truth.

As general background: when users have to decide which mode of transport to use (private car, public transport, cycling, walking, etc.) gender is often a more robust determinant than age or income!

Shank’s Mare (A.K.A. walking): the Oldest Mode 

If only we could see what was on the other side!
  • Seldom chosen as the primary or only way to get around
  • People on long pilgrimages (Hajj to Mecca, walking cross country to raise awareness for a cause, Gandhi’s march to the Sea)
  • Depending on other info, may indicate poverty or health awareness

Bicycle: Impressions Depend on Model, Condition, Etc.

Many cities in China have more bicycles than cars.

Bicycles, mopeds, scooters, and motorcycles are almost always two-wheeled vehicles driven and steered by one rider. The distinctions are, like almost everything else, varied around the world and prone to blurring. A bicycle is powered entirely by the rider pedaling; a moped has a small motor attached to assist with pedaling in especially difficult environments. Bicycles are relatively easily modified for people with physical limitations, compared to cars and motorcycles.

  • People are in the best mood when riding bicycles
  • Can be inexpensive or very expensive, depending on type of bicycle and riding gear
  • Environmentally friendly 
  • Difficult to park securely in many places
  • Primarily for physical fitness
    • In fact, the vast majority of regular bicyclists in the US ride for transportation as they cannot afford a car and do not have access to public transit
  • Limited passenger capacity
    • Not as limited as most in the U.S. assume.
    • In Copenhagen, “’Cargo-bike moms’ are gentrifying the Netherlands.”

Scooter Impressions

Scooters are powered entirely by an engine, with a foot well for the seated rider’s legs. Unlike a car, all engine controls are in the handles.

Ambulance scooter with a sidecar for patients
  • Easy to drive
  • Cheaper and slower than a motorcycle
  • No safer than motorcycles 
  • Popular on very rural country rides for teenagers
  • More popular abroad than in the U.S.
  • Easier to maneuver and store in crowded areas
  • Driving permit requirements are often different from those of a car or motorcycle
    • Many areas don’t require permits at all
    • Iran and Saudi Arabia (among others) are questioning whether scooters fall under the same laws forbidding women to drive

Motorcycle Rider Stereotypes

Motorcycles and scooters are very similar, but a motorcyclist sits astride the seat. The engine of a motorcycle is generally more powerful than that of a scooter.

Bessie Stringfield rode her motorcycle from one end of America to the other, and as a dispatch rider in World War II.
  • Violent
  • Gang members
  • Harley riders are elitist and only care about brand; Other riders are effeminate
  • Reckless behavior
    • Stunt hooligans on the road
    • Prone to road-rage
    • Have a death wish
      • Emergency Response personnel sometimes refer to motorcycle riders as “Organ Donors,” but that is more because of the lack of safety gear than specific behavior patterns
  • Car haters
  • Uneducated rednecks
  • All young riders prefer sports bikes
“Dykes on Bikes” motorcycle club at a Pride rally
  • Physically tough appearance
    • Men have long, unkempt beards
    • Tattoos are common
    • Women dress provocatively
    • Lots of black leather, chains, spikes, gang markings, etc.
    • Gear is chosen to look tough rather than for practicality
  • Many of these perceptions are based on Hell’s Angels and other “outlaw motorcycle clubs”

Multi-Passenger Public Transportation

Public transport is much safer than automobiles (the above photo is an exception).  For example, bus and rail travelers are 20 times less likely to die en route than drivers. Even if self-driving and safety technology could reduce car by 90%, fatalities per passenger mile would still be twice as high in private automobiles.

Dogs ride free, right?
  • World-wide, the largest share of public transportation users are women
  • Bus and train riders experience the most negative emotions
    • Bus: poor people who cannot afford a vehicle/gas;
      • homeless/mentally ill people seeking temporary shelter from the elements.
    • Subway: city-dweller
    • Train: long-distance commuters;
      • More common in Europe and Asia, where train systems are much more comprehensive
    • Plane: long-distance (business or pleasure) travelers of means

Individual Cars

Private automobiles are especially dangerous if they don’t obey the laws of gravity.
So happy! He knows he’s going to the park.
  • The second happiest people are car passengers, followed by car drivers
  • Carpoolers: cut down air pollution
    • Lessen expenses of gas/parking
  • Private chauffeur
    • Renting a limousine or similar
  • Driver alone: not sociality responsible
    • Selfish or ego-centric
  • Taxi/Lyft/Uber: short distance trips for those valuing convenience
    • People who cannot drive for whatever reason (inebriation, tourist, moving larger than normal cargo, etc.)
    • Consider the possible conflicts between traditional taxi services and Lyft or Uber style companies, or even the conflict between drivers and management within those companies
  • Car drivers are so common that to dig into assumptions, it’s necessary to get into make and model


Other methods of transportation are more common outside the US. Extreme climates, different resources, and distance have made what we might see as extraordinary into the everyday.

Ferries are common in highly populated areas on the water.
  • Dog sled, snow mobile, cross-country skiing
  • Bush plane
  • Tuktuk, marsrhutka, or any other kind of informal minibus system run by individual drivers
  • Horseback or horse-drawn vehicle (or donkey, mule, camel, etc.)
  • Canoe or kayak
  • Hitch-hiking
  • Rickshaw

BOTTOM LINE for writers: consider your choice and the reason for it!

UCI Road World Championships: Long-term Effects of Bicycles in Women’s Lives.

UCI Road World Championships are over and congratulations are due to all cyclists, especially Chloe Dygert and Emma White, two US cyclists who came in first and second in the women’s junior road race. Dygert and White were also 1 & 2 in the women’s junior time trial. It made me reflect again on the long-term effects of bicycles in women’s lives.

On September 17, I posted this picture on my Facebook page and mentioned that some suffragists called bicycles Freedom Machines because of all they opened up in the lives of 19th century women. I’ve been thinking about bicycles a lot this past week, and it seems this is a topic worth revisiting after the close of race week.
cloth doll on child's bike
Male domination of cycling ended as a result of the introduction of the safety bicycle in the 1880s. The safety bicycle had smaller wheels, a lower seat, a diamond frame and (soon) pneumatic tires. In 1896, Margaret Valentine Le Long garnered fame (if not fortune) by riding a safety bicycle from Chicago to San Francisco.

A 1889 Lady’s safety bicycle.
A 1889 Lady’s safety bicycle. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.

Not all women cycled for feminist reasons. Indeed, at the end of the 19th century, some cycled in order to expand Victorian moral and aesthetic tastes and sentiments into the public arena. These women cycled to feminize, domesticate, and civilize public spaces they considered masculine, loud, and rowdy.

Annie “Londonderry” Cohen Kopchovsk was the first woman to bicycle around the world. “Annielondonderry” by Unknown – http://www.annielondonderry.com. Licensed under PD-US via Wikipedia.


But regardless of why women took up cycling, the bicycle took them out of the home and into an expanded world. In addition, practical dress for women cyclists (in addition to eliminating corsets) resulted in divided skirts, bloomers, and knickerbockers. It was practical, facilitating more comfortable riding. But at the same time, it was symbolic in breaking from the dominant norms of appropriate female dress and behavior. In 1896, Susan B. Anthony told the New York World’s Nellie Bly that bicycling had “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”

Bicycle suit punch 1895
Bicycle suit, 1895. By http://www.victorianweb.org/periodicals/punch/15.html [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Frances Willard, suffragist and founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, was one of the most famous women of her day with a mass following of independent-minded, often politically active women. At the age of 53 Willard determined to learn to ride a bicycle because she “wanted to help women to a wider world…from natural love of adventure—a love long hampered and impeded…[and] from a love of acquiring this new implement of power and literally putting it underfoot.” Her book, A Wheel Within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle, was published in 1895. Bicycling magazine called it “the greatest book ever written on learning to ride.”

Frances Willard
Frances Willard by English: photo taken before 1898, author not known, Image edited Deutsch: Urheber unbekannt; Das Bild wurde vor 1898 aufgenommen; Bild wurde später (am oder vor dem 30.12.2009) nachbearbeitet. (http://memory.loc.gov) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In his novel trilogy The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy had this to say about cycling: “Under its influence, wholly or in part, have wilted chaperones, long and narrow skirts, tight corsets, hair that would have come down, black stockings, thick ankles, large hats, prudery and fear of the dark; under its influence, wholly or in part, have bloomed week-end, strong nerves, strong legs, strong language, knickers, knowledge of make and shape, knowledge of woods and pastures, equality of sex, good digestion and professional occupation—in four words, the emancipation of woman.” (Quoted in Dave Horton’s “Social Movements and the Bicycle.”)
 bicycle painted in rainbow colors as art
Some authorities warned against excessive cycling by women, girls, and middled-aged men. Also of concern in the 1890s was the possibility that bike riding might be sexually stimulating for women—which resulted in remodeled “hygienic” seats, high stems, and upright  handlebars that reduced the angle at which women would ride.  Even so, through cycling, doctors discovered that exercise is healthful—even for women! The bicycle caused the death of the corset and “straight laced” women, leaving only “loose” women. (FYI: during the Civil War, “loose women” were also known as “soiled doves.”)
Ashland bike art, bike with birds
Willard named her bicycle Gladys, for the “gladdening effect” it had on her health and political optimism.The overall message of her book presented mastery of the bicycle as a metaphor for women’s mastery over their own lives.
bicycle art: yellow bike with sun
bike with flowers
So, that’s all ancient history, right? None of this really speaks to women today, right? Unless you are Rosemary Shomaker—or one of the platoons of other women whose experiences still resonate with those of our foremothers. Rosemary posted on my Facebook page: “In the 1970s the bicycle was definitely a ‘freedom machine’ for one girl escaping a less-than-fabulous home life—me! I rode my bike everywhere. To softball and field hockey practices ad gaes. To my part-time job. To friends and boyfriends; houses. To Wolf Trap Farm Park. Along the W&OD bike path. To parks. To tennis courts. Early bike riding shaped my still uber-independent spirit. Go Richmond 2-15 UCI Road World Championships! Best wishes from a bike lover.”
mannequin on bike
I was never a bike-for-pleasure person. But bike as transportation was a big deal. It allowed me to ride from my house a few miles along a county road to visit with my cousins. My sister and I shared that bike. When I got my first car at 16, my dear sister got sole possession of that dear bike.

Go, girls! Go!
girls' bikes