Why I hate cycling around London as a woman

A female cyclist taking her life in her hands on the streets of London. Image: Getty.

“I said sorry,” the businessman shouted at me as I swore at him. Not because it’s fun to swear at businessmen (it is), but because he had just opened the car door of his Uber onto me as I cycled past, apparently oblivious to my bright red bike in broad daylight.

I have been cycling around London since I was 9, but only recently have I started noticing the behaviour of men on the road. Be it as a cyclist, driver or pedestrian, an underlying entitlement permeates every move.

My daily commute is the only long passage of time where I’m not distracted by something, so in order to pass the dull minutes inside my own head I tend to observe the behaviour around me. The more I cycle around London, the more it becomes clear: men feel entitled to the road, men heckle you as you ride past, and men are almost always the ones knocking you off your bike as they ride through a red light, presumably guided by some super-male power of premonition.

This might seem anecdotal, but it does fit with a statistically observable trend: drivers treat women worse on roads. A 2015 survey noted that, even though women make up a smaller portion of cyclists in London, and cycle slower, they’re still twice as likely to have a “near miss”.

In the same year, women were most likely to be killed by a lorry: a striking statistic, considering the lower number of female cyclists. Women are on average slower and more cautious, yet are constantly penalised for being on the road. No wonder women make up only 27 per cent of London’s cycling community.

If you’re a female cyclist this gender disparity is noticeable, especially in the way you’re treated differently to the lyrca-clad cyclebros. It is almost always men who will walk in front of me as I’m cycling, their glowing shield of virility and manliness forcing me to slow down for their passing, clocking my gaze as if to say “I, man, am walking now.”


I am surrounded by a sea of men weaving past in the mornings, but even the obvious amateurs (Santander bike/ sweaty shirt/ dangerous levels of enthusiasm at 8am) overtake and cut me off, running red lights because who has time to wait when you’ve got important things to do like be a man? Men, in their unchecked arrogance on the road, make my cycling life crap.

The way women are treated on bikes is similar to the way women are treated running – or doing any form of physical activity that isn’t directly related to the pleasure of men. The audacity that we might use our bodies for something other than being passive sexual objects: taking up space, exercising, being strong – all a big no no for women in public. Not only would that discourage women from cycling to work, but it can be a sweaty business, which is not ideal for a gender that is expected to appear perfectly made-up and devoid of bodily function.

Cycling is just another subculture that men dominate, even when it comes to just getting to and from work. The ownership that men feel on road, on bikes, even as helpless pedestrians, is just another opportunity for them to assert power. A cycle home for me is a constant barrage of fragile masculinity manifesting in jeers and near collisions.

I’m grateful that I was bought up feeling confident cycling around London, and for the advice I’ve been given by my other female friends who cycle (“take up space – you’re allowed to be on the road too”). But the condescending and sexist behaviour by men is more than just irritating – it’s potentially dangerous. Sexism isn’t usually fatal – but in this case, it could be.

Ruby Lott-Lavigna tweets as @RubyJLL.

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What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.