Does a Woman on a Bike Need a Weapon?

Annie Londonderry photo

No backpack or panniers, but somewhere a pearl-handled revolver.

Urban cycling, which at TreeHugger we wholeheartedly support, is not without its large and small dangers, and for women, the top two perceived or real ones beyond falling or crashing would seem to be catcalls, and the possibility of being accosted. The first daring woman to circle the globe (or at least major parts of it) on a bike in 1894 was Annie "Londonderry" Kopchovsky, and she was always armed while on her bike with a pearl-handled revolver. In this modern day, is it smart or even feasible for regular-riding females to have some kind of protection or weapon? Read on for hints from the TreeHugger crew plus a bike-mounted pepper spray.

Self-defense that makes sense?

First off, there are certainly differences to biking say, on the streets of San Francisco, the bike lanes of Gothenburg or Copenhagen, and the leaf-lined paths of suburban Virginia. TreeHugger Matthew says neither he nor anyone he knows has considered needing protection while biking in NYC (though he as a kid he carried a big stick to fend off bike-attacking dogs).

If you are a regular biker whose morning or nighttime commute will be done in the dark, or if you ride solo where for long stretches there's nothing but you, your bike, and the road, self-defense is at least worth thinking about. Erin Weed, CEO and founder of Girls Fight Back! says 'stranger danger' is pretty overblown, and women are more likely to be subjected to violence from someone they know rather than an unknown assailant.

But Weed has a list of safety tips for women runners that can be relevant to women bikers, too. Among them are to have other people in the know about your route, make sure you can be seen, carry your cellphone, use your senses to stay alert to danger, and don't be afraid to be heard - in other words, yell your head off if you do get accosted.

Weapons can work against you

The big problem with carrying a weapon is that it may be used against you. Two small, unobtrustive items can be considered if a woman (or anyone else for that matter) is planning to be a bicycle commuter and wants some extra peace of mind. After making sure your bike is well-equipped with lights, the other options could be an attack alarm or a whistle, and a can of pepper spray.

A little can of pepper spray can be mounted on your bike if you get a mounting set from someplace like DefenseDevices (though note that it's not legal in every state to use pepper spray). TreeHugger John suggests two separate cans of pepper spray if you are going for maximum safety - one strapped to a wrist and another strapped to an ankle. Pepper spray, unfortunately, has a pretty heavy footprint. Let's hope you never have to use it.

Lastly, if you ever are threatened while on your bike, self-defense experts agree on one thing - your first and foremost strategy is to try to get away from your assailant. After that, a u-lock, if you have one, might be one weapon of self-defense you have handy. Safe riding!

Read more about bike safety at TreeHugger
Tricycle Super Hero in Fight for Cycle Safety Episode
7 Ways You Can Make Your Bike More Secure
Cyclists Fight Back With Exploding Bike Lock

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