Does riding a situp style bike in normal clothes without a helmet make you safer than riding in lycra and helmet?

That’s a question being increasingly asked by a number of researchers who are examining driver behaviour in response to the presence of cyclists.  While the Safety In Numbers Effect explains adaptation in driver behaviour to the number of cyclists on the roads, behaviour response to the style of cyclist present has been labelled the Mary Poppins Effect.

Is a cyclist who looks ‘normal’ to a motorist treated differently to one who doesn’t?  Is lycra and styrofoam a red rag to motorists?  Research by traffic and transport psychologist Ian Walker would suggest that this might just be so.

Perhaps specialist clothing and equipment like lycra and helmets, de-normalise cycling and make cyclists ‘the other’ in the eyes of motorists.  After all, it’s much harder to deal with the consequences of your actions if the victim looks like you, your friends or even your mother.  As Lovely Bike Blog notes, only a monster would do anything mean to Mary Poppins.