Heels to Safer Urban Cycling

© Annette Ferrara.


Short essay by 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.


Annette Ferrara is a Senior Writer at IDEO and a seasoned cyclist in Chicago. She loves wearing Chie Mihara heels, all things French bulldog, and pronouncing the word “panniers” in a fake French accent.
www.ideo.com | @anetferrara

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One Response to “Heels to Safer Urban Cycling”

  1. Sabrina says:

    That’s one of the reasons I wear a helmet! People see me and think, “Oh, she’s a new cyclist so I’d better be careful and considerate.” (It’s also a very practical peaked helmet which I have given hand-knitted ear warmers so I’m glad of it, even if I’d otherwise rather not wear one).

    I also see no reason why cycling should mean I have to dress badly. I love cycling, but there is no way I want to dress like a road worker in a shapeless hi-vis jacket, so I plan to take mine in and *try* to make it stylish.

    I also don’t own any trousers or jeans so I cycle all the time in skirts. I am making a handbag into a bike-handbag (which I will put on my blog when I’ve finished), which adds more usefulness to my bike, and looks a lot smarter (and better for work) than the hideously mannish or garishly floral cycle bags available. It’s also a lot cheaper. 🙂

    A benefit of the bag being at the front is that it works as a modesty panel for my skirted lower half on windy days, and presumably will help to keep the draft out. I really want it to make it easier to get my water bottle and tissues when I’m waiting in traffic, instead of having to get off my bike, go to my pannier basket, untie my backpack’s bow, get a drink or a tissue, and then reverse the whole process!

    I don’t own any high-heels, but I’d love to try cycling in some 1920’s style Mary Jane shoes. 😀

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