Rome Travel Guide

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sidesaddle Cycling

India--one hand around the driver, maybe.
We read with curiosity a recent story in the New York Times describing the efforts of Shariah law advocates in Lhokseumawe, on the island of Sumatra, to prohibit as "improper" women riding on motorcycles and scooters with their legs spread.  Under the new regulation, women can ride (presumably only as passengers) but only sidesaddle--that is, with both legs on one side of the vehicle.  In addition, women are not supposed to hold on to the guy who's driving.  We suspect that Lhokseumawe's directive derives in part from a Shariah-based society in which women are discouraged, or prohibited, from wearing pants (an odd perspective, in that pants, while a mark of liberation, are also, arguably, the less sexy option.  See Hillary Clinton). 






Something similar happened in America in the late-19th century, when men took issue with women riding bicycles.  Just too sexy.  In that case, the prohibition had to be absolute, or men had to get used to it, for sidesaddle was not an option, at least for the woman doing the pedaling.  There was a time, too, when proper western women who rode horses were expected to use special saddles that allowed both legs to go comfortably to one side.

Rome, 2007.  Waiting for the dress to
get caught in the wheel.









It's understandable that Muslim men of a Shariah bent--who paradoxically seem to be titillated by just about everything--would find their hearts beating fast at the sight of the spread legs and prominent rear ends of cycle-straddling young women.  Indeed, we (that is, I) have not been immune to the occasional palpitation while surfing the streets of Rome on a warm spring day. 

And we have witnessed, with shock and concern, the occasional effort at going sidesaddle (right).  It's a dangerous practice: bikes must negotiate bumps and the occasional object, and they lean as they turn.  A passenger with both legs on one side, and only an awkward grip on the handles (that only sometimes exist) on either side of the back seat, could easily fall off.  Modesty has its price. 

Bill 

China.  Two riders, one helmet. 


 



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