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Biking to work? Safety tips for women

Posted at 5:25 PM, May 29, 2024

BALTIMORE — When Alison Gillespie arrives at work each morning, she draws some attention.

"My co-workers will see me in the elevator with my helmet and they'll say, 'oh, I'd love to do that, but I'm so scared to try.'"

She’s hardly a daredevil - she just rides her bike to work.

It’s a habit she wants to normalize in her Montgomery County community.

"I don't want to be a novelty in the elevator anymore," Gillespie said.

For Gillespie, inspiring more people to get in the saddle means showing them it doesn't have to be scary - a feeling she can understand.

"I used to ride when I was in my early 20s. And I had a couple of very bad incidents that really scared me, and as much as I hated to admit it, it caused me to quit cycling.”

Now, she’s a board member for Bike Maryland, a nonprofit group that advocates for cyclists across the state. She wants to help other women overcome their fears too - whether it’s fear of a crash, crime, or, as Gillespie experienced - harassment.

"I think people aren't using to seeing women on bikes as much. So I think it sometimes encourages, or makes people take a second look. I think a lot of women would like to be invisible. They just want to go work - this is my vehicle, I'm just going to work," Gillespie said.

Gillespie and fellow board member Meisha Sutton, who lives in Baltimore, recently hosted a safety session for women interested in cycling. You can watch it here.

Sutton says her biggest tip is having a buddy, even if they’re not physically with you.

"Is it a group ride? Make sure I know somebody in the group, somebody can call my name and I can call their name. If it's a solo ride, if I'm just going by myself, make sure somebody knows I'm out, whether I share my GPS or say this is where I'm gonna be. So it's just that idea of - I can go alone, but I don't have to be alone,” Sutton said.

The women also suggest planning your route ahead of time. Even if it’s not the most direct, it might be the safest.

"There are actually really good routes that are not on main roads. So we encourage people to practice ahead of time,” Gillespie said.

"When I'm riding on the road, it's being aware of where I am. If I'm on a busy street, I'm gonna take my time. If I know that the roads are narrow, being able to look behind me, do I need to stop and walk for a moment?” Sutton said.

Even riding at nighttime can be safe if you’re prepared.

"You gotta have a good light. You need a light to see, and be seen,” Gillespie suggested. "I don't park my bike in a place that is completely deserted and alone. I try to park in a place with a lot of visibility. So that when I'm unlocking my bike and I'm concentrating on the lock, I know what's happening around me."