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  • Writer's pictureLauren O'Bryan

But is it Safe? – Perspectives From a Solo Female Cyclist

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

Happy world bicycle day from Turkey
Within the first few minutes of meeting someone the inevitable question pops up, ‘But is it safe to be cycling on your own?’.

As the months passed, I was hit with this question again and again. I pondered the correct response, and began to get a bit annoyed with the question. Purely because it’s hard to answer.

During the planning process for the trip, I considered the cultural differences in the countries I’d be cycling through, and did what I could to prepare myself for the likely harassment and issues. Mostly my behaviour was a learned behaviour, from my previous experience traveling solo. I was already comfortable backpacking solo, but I also read plenty of blogs from women bicycle touring solo.

Beyond doing this research, there’s not much more preparation you can do other than just go and be aware. I dressed in a way that was culturally appropriate and tried my best not to be too friendly to men in the streets (it’s always hard when you consider a smile to be polite), the standard tools of the trade.

Over the length of my bicycle tour, I’ve been flashed at, stalked and groped. Does it scare me? Honestly, yes sometimes it does. It also makes me really angry.

Yes, this kind of harassment makes me angry. While I know some men that have been harassed cycling alone, cycling alone as a woman most definitely changes the game. It makes me angry because it’s not fair that it’s so much harder for women to travel solo, but it just is.

My fellow male solo cyclists were casually sleeping on the floors of men they’d met at a café for all of five minutes, while I had to be more cautious. Despite the fact that I was equally as bedraggled and tired and would have happily curled up in a corner. As a solo female traveler, you have to balance cautiousness with an openness that allows you to fully experience a country, its people, and its hospitality.

The balance can be a rather fine line, sometimes you get a shake-up. A warning to be more careful next time, and then you simply have to build your confidence back up.

I read an interesting article where the author, a solo cyclist, insisted that whilst she felt angry in response to harassment, she also felt a kind of sympathy for the men. They are raised in a completely opposite society and essentially don’t fully understand that their behaviour is wrong. I really tried to see it this way, to be more understanding and sympathetic to the cultural differences. However, in a majority of situations, I disagree.

My Worst Day on the Bike

Incident #1

I was followed by a man in a car in Eastern Turkey for well over an hour one day. At first, he approached me asking if I wanted a lift, but I politely declined and explained I am cycling. After this, he persistently followed me trying to get me to stop and talk to him again, but I wouldn’t stop cycling.

He decided to stop the car and try to approach me on foot and grab at me as I cycled past, almost knocking me off my bike. What I noticed though was that he would close his car door as soon as another car came around the bend. He knew that this harassment was wrong, and he was trying to hide his behaviour.

Only after I had furiously yelled ‘police’ at him several times and attempted to pull over a passing driver did he finally disappear completely. I was now a little rattled and on edge, and I had to cross into Georgia in a few hours.

All along my trip I’d had friends recommend I carry pepper spray, but I insisted that the best way to get out of a tough situation was to avoid getting in one in the first place. When a person is scared and under stress, their judgment goes haywire. In my opinion, if you carry something like pepper spray you are more likely to panic and pepper spray some poor old man who’s just trying to offer you chai. So, I was hesitant to carry pepper spray.

I do often carry a stick for dogs, which can have many purposes. However, I had recently lost my stick somewhere and hadn’t yet found a suitable replacement.

Incident #2

I crossed into Georgia, and quite soon after passing through my first Georgian village, I noticed the same van pass by me a couple of times. I always notice an ‘over-curious’ driver, and this sends alarm bells ringing in my mind. Not to mention I was already on a downward spiral of mistrust and concern after the earlier incident in Turkey.

Sure enough, I rounded a bend to find the van pulled over and the man standing by the road pretending to be looking at something. But I know, he’s waiting for me to pass by. I was very aware that I was now out of town on a very quiet road, in a new country where I was unfamiliar with the language.

I played a game of Mexican stand-off, also pretending to be occupied having a water break whilst actually assessing the situation from afar. Eventually, I decided I’d just have to cycle past. I psyched myself up and gave him an extra wide berth as I cycled past him.

As I was just beyond the van he ran out and grabbed at my handlebars (keep in mind I was cycling up a hill, very slowly). Unlike the man in Turkey, he managed to stop me. He got a firm hold of my handlebars and wasn’t letting go anytime soon.

I told myself — be calm and firm and don’t show your fear. A little bit of language bingo ensued where I constantly repeated ‘No’ and ‘Let go of my bike’ in various orders and he kept saying something in Russian. When I finally tried to grab me on the butt, I decided it was time to change tactic’s. It’s called, ‘crazy to the point that you’re not worth the effort’.

I crudely hit him in the face and jumped backward causing the weight of the bike to unbalance him, and then proceeded to yell obscenities. It worked, and much to my contempt, he laughed and went back to his van and drove off.

This incident really rattled me though and took me a while to build my confidence and trust back up. I didn’t camp in the days following, and I found another ‘dog’ stick. Despite all my attempts to be cautious and stay out of harms way, this won’t be my last hair-razing experience, of that I am sure.

My Overall Opinion: Is it Safe?

Do these and other experiences simply prove that cycling solo as a woman is completely and utterly unsafe?

Statistically speaking, I have far more incidents with dangerous dogs than men — and I could never hate dogs. It doesn’t mean the risk is insignificant, it certainly needs to be considered and taken seriously. But, don’t let the fear of others, or your imagination cloud your judgment.

On the flip-side, when you yourself are giving travel advice, say it how it is. I can’t help but get frustrated when people, often men, insist that a country is ‘sooooo safe, don’t believe what you hear in the news’ or ‘no, no it’s amazing you’ll be totally fine’.

The reality is that a woman’s experience in a country will be totally different to a man’s experience. Don’t let a man convince you with their travel advice, based on the experiences they had.

So, is solo cycle touring safe for a woman? Yes and no.

My advice is to be realistic. Give yourself time to build up some confidence in your own judgement and find that balance. But always consider an exit strategy, no matter how friendly someone seems.

Trust me, it will be frustrating sometimes, and other times it’s downright scary. Don’t let fear prevent you from traveling the way you want, but you might have to accept that it will be challenging at times. In my opinion, the gains of solo travel, far outweigh the risk.

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