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.