A Long Explanation of Why the Biking-While-Sexy Story Is No Hoax

Jasmijn Rijcken asked a tourist to take this picture of her on the Brooklyn Bridge on May 3.

While it’s shocking to think that, in this day and age, a New York City police officer would stop and harass a female cyclist for biking in a short skirt, as Jasmijn Rijcken said happened to her last month, it also seems to fit the zeitgeist, coming amidst the well-publicized NYPD bike crackdown and following the sordid trial of two cops on rape charges (and their stunning acquittal). But when Streetsblog and Gothamist readers discovered that Rijcken touts her expertise in “guerrilla marketing” on her LinkedIn profile (sample prose: “We provide marketing in disguise and make YOU the talk of the town”), rumors started fluttering on Twitter that the story might have been too perfectly placed. Was it all a ploy to drum up publicity for the bikes that she was in town to promote?

The biking-while-sexy storyline has certainly garnered a lot of attention, getting picked up on Gothamist, the Daily News, Gawker and lots of blogs, most of which don’t seem to mention Rijcken’s bike company, Vanmoof. So Streetsblog reviewed the available information, double- and triple-checked with our sources, and spoke to a few more people. Our conclusion: It’s much more likely that Rijcken is the victim of harassment than the diabolical mastermind of an intricate viral marketing campaign.

Rijcken’s story is difficult to prove or disprove beyond the shadow of a doubt. No ticket was issued, no friends were with her to witness the episode, and Rijcken did not obtain the name or badge number of the cop. All of which is perfectly plausible given that Rijcken was a foreign tourist in an unfamiliar city, who committed no actual offense. But it leaves a dearth of direct evidence.

The indirect evidence is persuasive, however, starting with the fact that Rijcken told her American acquaintances about the incident the day it happened — May 3 — nearly three weeks before she posted a short note about it on Facebook.

George Bliss and Marlo Medrano of Hudson Urban Bicycles, a West Village bike shop, confirmed that Rijcken described an encounter with NYPD when she saw them later the same day. “She told it to us at the store,” said Bliss, “the night it happened.” Rijcken was in town for the New Amsterdam Bike Show and had a business meeting with Bliss and Medrano at their shop, which carries her company’s bikes. When she arrived, they said, she told them what had taken place.

Bliss’s recap of Rijcken’s account more or less matched what Rijcken told Streetsblog last Friday: An NYPD officer stopped her, accused her of endangering people by wearing a skirt that would distract drivers, took her ID and only let her off once she said she was Dutch. Medrano confirmed that she was wearing the skirt shown in the widely-circulated photograph of Rijcken on her bike, which Rijcken said was taken by other tourists while she was sightseeing on the Brooklyn Bridge, before she was stopped by the police.

After the meeting, Rijcken said, she headed back to her hotel and changed into pants before heading out on foot to grab dinner. (Rijcken told the Daily News that she was “on my way back to the hotel when [the police stop] happened and I changed into pants.”) The next day she flew back to Amsterdam.

Upon returning to the Netherlands, Rijcken was in no hurry to get the word out about the encounter with NYPD. Nearly three weeks passed. She says that’s when she had a conversation with a friend that prompted her to share the story publicly. “I was telling her about my trip to the states, about the bike show, about biking in the city, about the green lanes and also about the cop incident,” she said. “She thought it was very crazy. And then I put it on Facebook to see what others thought of it. If it was a cultural difference.”

On May 23 she posted a photo and short note about the incident on her Facebook page and on a LinkedIn discussion about the NYPD citing a female cyclist for riding with a bag slung from her handlebars. Rijcken’s LinkedIn comment got picked up by a local trade publication. Three days later, she emailed Joanna Virello and Stephanie Musso, her American acquaintances who organized the New Amsterdam Bike Show, asking if the New York Press would be interested in the story. (The Bike Show is co-produced by Manhattan Media, publisher of New York Press and other local NYC outlets.) New York Press editor Jerry Portwood said he waited to pursue the story until he could get a reporter to confirm it.

Another two weeks passed. On June 9, Virello posted the photo of Rijcken on the Brooklyn Bridge to the New Amsterdam Bike Show Facebook photo wall. A link to the photo from the Bike Show Twitter feed led Streetsblog to notice the story.

Is it possible that Rijcken planned this scenario all in advance, invented a story out of whole cloth, strategically invited tourists to snap her photograph, lied to her American business partners with the intent of bolstering her future credibility, waited three weeks, posted to Facebook in order to embed a viral marketing campaign, then repeated the fabricated story to several media outlets? It’s not completely inconceivable, but it comes close.

According to Rijcken, the practices she described as “guerrilla marketing” and “social media marketing” on her LinkedIn profile are far more straightforward, referring to tactics like gathering input on bike prototypes from Twitter followers, holding photo contests of customers with their bikes, or a yet-to-be completed project to design the boxes of their bicycles for reuse as extra-large paper airplanes.

Those practices are in line with how Nancy Samahito, a marketing manager at the non-traditional advertising firm Attack!, described guerrilla marketing. “Making up a story,” she said, is not the type of practice that marketers refer to when they describe their work as “guerrilla marketing.” But exploiting an experience to promote your brand, she added, would fit with the type of “social media marketing” that Rijcken mentions on her LinkedIn profile.

On the off chance that Rijcken has fooled us all, the hoax rumors have made her plot even more successful. Now Vanmoof has two Streetsblog posts under their belt.

  • Rrtff

    Offcoarse she didn’t made this up. I admire Jasmijn’s work for VANMOOF and I love those bikes!

  • Anonymous

    I believe her.

  • Anonymous

    I believe her.

  • I’d feel a lot more comfortable about this story if a journalist (or blogger) actually asked her directly whether or not it was a hoax. Even then, I’d take the story with a grain of salt – after all, there’s not much that separates “guerrilla marketing” from a garden-variety prank.

  • I’d feel a lot more comfortable about this story if a journalist (or blogger) actually asked her directly whether or not it was a hoax. Even then, I’d take the story with a grain of salt – after all, there’s not much that separates “guerrilla marketing” from a garden-variety prank.

  • Anonymous

    With all the corruption in this city and the NYPD this is what the author and these many outlets decide to focus on? The incident was reported on last week and there have been multiple articles in too many publications since. The fact is there’s no ‘there’ there and it’s time to move on.
     
    Please try and publish something relevant.

  • With an extensive background in social media, from an insider’s (and perhaps cynical, slightly anti-guerrilla-marketing) perspective, I’m leaning heavily toward “hoax” given the facts presented.

    Ethical or not, and whether or not this happened as Jasmijn claims it did, it is still pro-bike.

    In that regard, it’s a brilliant either way, and I like it.

  • eric

    All Streetsblog has done is verify that a group of people have heard the same story from the same person. What they can’t verify is the time and location, which could be used to determine what if any patrol cars were in the area. The name, badge number or patrol car number can not be verified.

    You haven’t even verified the story by talking to the stories point of origin. Someone who specializes in guerrilla marketing and their Linkedin profile states:
    “Jasmijn likes to shock the market” and “Growing lifestyle companies with use of very limited resources”.

    A savy marketer could have just as easily have scripted this, it’s got shock factor and a degree of plausibility and at the same time can not be idenpendently verified. This is compounded by the fact that Streetsblog has a known bias towards cyclists so you can hardly call this article verification of anything. The evidence only holds up in a court of public opinion, not a court of law. Color me skeptical but this all to convenient and until this story can be independently verified I remain skeptical.

  • Greg Richane

    I think it’s real, and hope it’s  not. Because that would make it brilliant.

  • Greg Richane

    I think it’s real, and hope it’s  not. Because that would make it brilliant.

  • Joe R.

    The way I was taught about finding out the truth is to begin eliminating possibilities.  Once you do that, what remains, no matter how bizarre, is the truth.  The big problem here is there are no reliable sources to either verify or refute any possibilities.  Video or photos of the incident? Nope. Ticket? Nope. All that exists is several eyewitness accounts which tell basically the same story.  Eyewitness testimony in general is highly unreliable.  It may only pass muster if multiple eyewitnesses who never talked to one another tell the same story.  Even then, it’s still subject to the inherent biases of the time.  If 20 Streetsbloggers witness a cyclist being ticketed, in all likelihood they see a victim.  If 20 motorists see the same, they might call it justice.  OK, so this story can’t be proven by forensic evidence which verifies it.

    The second way to prove something is to disprove the converse.  If what is being proven is binary in nature, then proof can come by disproving the converse.  This event is certainly binary in nature.  Either it happened or it didn’t.  There’s just no middle ground.  To see how this method works you might, in the absence of forensic evidence showing someone committed murder, instead provide evidence showing nobody else could possibly have committed that murder.  You eliminate all the other possibilities, and therefore prove the only remaining one.  Obviously this is a taller order, but it can be done.  In this case, the converse of it happened as Jasmijn said is that she made it up.  This is exactly the method used by Noah.  It’s a valid way to disprove something, in this case that everything was made up.  In order for a hoax this elaborate to not fall apart eventually, all the stories of witnesses must match for starters.  This seems to be the case.  Second, everything else has to be consistent as the story gets passed down the line.  Can it be done?  Certainly, but generally deceit of this nature is done by professionals well versed in propaganda, and able to consistently lie with a straight face.  Generally, this means governments, some more skillfully than others (North Korea is masterful at this sort of outright deceit).  It would be difficult for one person to successfully pull this off, especially someone who has multiple other responsibilities. This is why governments have ministers of progaganda.  In the US, we happen to call them the news media.  Usually even here, despite the best efforts, the truth leaks out anyway.  Governments have an answer to that answer-discredit those telling the truth by portraying them as untrustworthy, mentally unbalanced, criminals, dissidents, or some combination.

    By now if there was any other, “truthful” version of this story it would have surfaced by now.  Look at how long it took, which isn’t long at all, for the truth to surface with Anthony Weiner, for example, and this despite the fact that he (all politicians, actually) have control of “the ministry of propaganda” to do their bidding for them.  The evidence is pretty good that nobody is pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes here.  The only thing possibly wrong is Jasmijn’s interpretation of events.  I think this was an attempted pickup gone wrong, where the officer just had to quickly “invent” a plausible reason for stopping Jasmijn.

  • Henry

    This is an article about the NYPD harassing a bicyclist on a blog about bicycling and livable streets. How is this irrelevant?

  • Jo

    Noah, I’m afraid you’ve done nothing to dispel the hoax rumors; in fact, I would dare say you’ve only further corroborated my belief that this is a bad guerilla marketing stunt. You’ve given me too many reasons to compress in a short comment, so my complete elaboration is here.

  • Anonymous

    Livable streets. You’ve got to be kidding.

    The only accident that cop was worried about was the one he was going to have in his pants. That schmuck was thinking out loud. A horny cop making a sexist remark in place of a pickup line isn’t news. I’m sure he was was considering public safety while contemplating putting her in handcuffs.

    Ticket, stop and frisk and arrest quota’s, unlawful arrests and ticket fixing are just a few of the many things that contribute to making this city unlivable.

  • krstrois

    Unfortunately there’s no real way to know definitively if this is true or not. I did believe this story because it is consistent with my own experience with some cops since the crackdown, which unfortunately I did not report.

    Would anyone truly be surprised to learn that a tiny minority of cops have taken their officially sanctioned harassment of cyclists in a sexual direction? 

  • Anonymous

    Past NYPD absurdities + my own experience riding in skirts of all lengths leads me to believe the story is true. I’ve had men tell me it’s not safe to ride in a dress (seriously), or that I simply can’t do it, old women roll their eyes out of their heads in disapproval, various comments, yelled at by “real” cyclists in lycra on road bikes. People have tiny narrow minds: riding a bike is still too out there for people, let alone riding in nice work duds or a skirt. 

  • Larry Littlefield

    I vote for a stunt.  This story could have been printed in The Onion.  If it was real, there would be more stories like it.

    I hear the sound of laughter at the kind of very serious minded, very earnest people who post and comment on Streetsblog.  We’ve been had.

  • vhamer

    Sounds like the cop was just hitting on her, awkwardly. Unprofessional? Yes. Sleazy? Yes. Surprising? Nope.

  • Wow. Once again I’m impressed with the level of old fashioned journalism Streetsblog has shown. You put the mainstream media – with their incenstuous reprintings of each others faulty stories – to complete and utter shame. STREETSBLOG = WIN!

  • J:Lai

    On the other hand, if you were seeking to create a guerilla (or viral, or whatever) marketing buzz this is exactly the type of thing you would do.  In the absence of any evidence, it’s impossible to have any confidence one way or the other. 

  • Marcia Kramer’s Earlobe

    We might need to bring in CNN’s Truth-O-Meter.

  • Holly

    I believe her, people really are weirded out by women on bikes in skirts in my experience.  90% of the time that I’m biking I’m wearing a skirt (although I’m more of a knee-length kinda gal).  I’ve had a guy ask me if I were a member of some religion that requires that I wear skirts.  I said, no, it’s just comfortable, but my husband told me I should have told him I’m not allowed to speak to men.   Just two weeks ago a guy in Brooklyn with a Mitt Romney t-shirt — and hipsters, I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t get any more ironic than riding a bike through Brooklyn wearing a Mitt Romney t-shirt — asked me why I was wearing a skirt.  Really?  Guys never ask those kinds of questions when I’m walking.

    In both cases, the guys were wearing lycra shorts.  Perhaps I should have asked them about that…

  • Re: lycra wearing guys – I’m not complaining. Those guys have great legs… And bums  🙂

  • pedaller

    After being hit by a tow truck on the Hudson Greenway I had to wait for the head cop to get the driver’s story at which point the other cop took the opportunity to take a long look up and down my backside and tell me he liked how biking didn’t make women skinny like running. different situation. same cluelessness. Her story is entirely believable.   

  • Anonymous

    Weiner rides in a skirt. 

  • Oh, Come on! “endangering people by wearing a skir”. ??? So what now, people will be fined for being too sexy. This is rediculous!

  • Jaypeewhy

     “… It’s not completely inconceivable, but it comes close …”  If I know PR people, and I think I do, then it is entirely conceivable.  i am not even against her doing it, she used her best assets, legs and brain, in equal measure and the fact that she did it three weeks in advance doesn’t exactly place her in the realms of strategic genius.  Good on her I say, but the danger is that when you get found out it all looks a bit shallow.

  • Vegas Vic

    With more muslims in the force there will be fines for showing too much face.

  • philstein

    Why would “other tourists” take a picture of this woman’s legs only…and how did she then obtain this photo?

  • Hollyf

    philstein,

    It wasn’t a picture of only her legs.. the picture was cropped for this article.  You can see the original here:  http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2011/06/skirts_on_bikes.php

  • Anonymous

    I just came across this little “story.” A previous, long-winded poster claimed that there were multiple “witnesses.” There were no witnesses. We have only the word of guerilla marketer Jasmijn Rijcken. Noah Kazis says he “double- and triple-checked with [his] sources.” Excuse me, I realize that you’re Harry Reutlinger, Harry Romanov, and George S. Schuyler rolled into one, Noah, but what kind of frickin’ sources could you possibly have for a non-story like this—God, who in His omniscience told you what really went down? And you really used the word “victim,” to describe the bicycle marketer?
     
    There are real crimes committed against bicyclists in this town committed by real bad guys. If you want to play journalist, I suggest you cover some of them, and give real physical descriptions of the perps, while you’re at it, just like the cops do.
       
    I realize that there are a lot of stupid cop-haters in New York, the kind who can’t handle themselves, yet who demand and get help from the NYPD when they need it, who ate this “story” up. I am no friend to “the job,” but I have never relied on it, and when I criticize it, I’ve got the goods on it.
     
    http://nicholasstixuncensored.blogspot.com/2010/11/disappearing-urban-crime.html
     
    If this story were legit, we would have seen a physical description of the offending officer. Until Ms. Rijcken produces one, I say she pulled off a hoax for the obvious reason.
     
    http://nicholasstixuncensored.blogspot.com/  

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