With bike lanes drawn on many city roads and bike sharing programs growing nationwide, cycling has been making a move into the mainstream, and more women are getting on bikes than ever before. But, women still remain underrepresented as riders and leaders in many aspects of the bicycle movement. Today, thanks to programs like The League of American Bicyclists’, Women Bike, that gender gap is shrinking.
Launched last month, Women Bike aims to change the face of bicycling by inspiring women to participate in cycling as riders, advocates and leaders. Serving as a central source of information, inspiration and community, Women Bike is building awareness of the benefits of biking through its network and by targeted programs that will put more of us in the saddle.
In the League’s recent study, Women On A Roll, they state: “We know gender equity in bicycling is possible. More than social good, bicycling also offers a quintessential liberty: not only freedom, but joy.”
From 2003 to 2012, the number of women and girls participating in bicycling rose 20%. To continue this growth, and make bicycling for transportation and recreation accessible for all, women must be engaged and encouraged to ride in greater numbers.
Bringing more women into all aspects of the bicycle movement is already beginning to change the face of bicycling, and these are just some of the dynamic WYSK’s leading the way.
CongresswomanTammy Duckworth, Illinois’ 8th District
In the blink of an eye, Tammy Duckworth went from the peak of physical fitness to the confines of a hospital bed. One of the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Duckworth lost both of her legs when the Blackhawk helicopter she was piloting was shot down in 2004. “I went from strength to absolute weakness,” says Duckworth, now a member of Congress, representing Illinois’ 8th District. “I couldn’t even scratch my nose. I couldn’t move a single part of my body except for my left wrist. To go from commanding a Blackhawk helicopter to not being able to even roll over in bed, I needed something. And biking was it for me.” Using a recumbent, handcrank bicycle, Duckworth rebuilt her strength. Now part of two bicycling clubs, she’s completed three Chicago marathons and has become a vocal advocate for cycling as a healthy lifestyle. “You feel powerful; you feel strong; you feel in control,” she says of bicycling. “If your body can do this, you can do anything… It’s really quite an amazing gift to have.”
Veronica Davis, Black Women Bike DC
Veronica O. Davis was just biking to meet some friends for a movie when a little girl shouted: “Mommy, mommy, look at the black lady on a bike!” For a moment Davis was taken aback. “This is an area with bike lanes, so I know there are bicyclists,” she says. “But I had the realization that, I looked like her, and she was very excited to see someone who looked like her riding a bike.” Davis and a few fellow bicyclists started a simple but bold Twitter hashtag #blackwomenbike that set a movement in motion. A Twitter following became a Facebook group, buzzing with wide-ranging conversations about biking. Soon the online presence spawned a formal group, with rides, workshops and high-profile media coverage. Ranging from teens to retirees, from first-time riders to endurance athletes, Black Women Bike now has more than 700 members, creating a powerful new presence and voice in the bike lanes and local advocacy and policy discussions.
Susi Wunsch, Founder of Velojoy
For Susi Wunsch, the love of bikes started in spin classes in New York City. Before long, cranking the pedals in the name of fitness took her to the roads, training for Olympic distance triathlons. Soon the Manhattan resident saw a transformation on her local streets, as well. “In 2010, I discovered the protected bike lane on Ninth Avenue,” she says. “To me, it signaled the city’s commitment to making a place for cyclists on our streets, and it made me feel safer. I’ve been happily using my bicycle for daily transportation ever since.” Wunsch didn’t just join the ranks in the bike lanes – she became an evangelist for cycling lifestyle, launching Velojoy, a site dedicated to attracting more people to riding bicycles by demystifying and celebrating the joys of two-wheeled transportation. “What gets lost sometimes in the discussion about bicycling is what’s most elemental: the fun and freedom of it,” she says. “Making cycling a part of everyday life is what Velojoy is about.”
Emily Finch, Portland, OR
Three years ago, while pregnant and living in Williamsport, PA, Emily Finch made a decision that changed her life dramatically: She traded in her nine-passenger Suburban for a bike. Rethinking the impossible, the Portland mom now shuttles her six children — and all the necessities of family life, from groceries to home improvement supplies — with a seven-passenger Bakfiets bicycle. Yes, surly children, rain showers and the stress of household responsibilities often make it difficult, but Finch has tapped into a depth of strength and spirit she never would have experienced in her GMC Suburban. “My bike has brought me unspeakable happiness and joy,” she says. “I’ve realized that I want to continue to spread the message to women like me that biking is soooo much fun (and realistically, sometimes very challenging with small children); women you might expect to be the last type of people to get on their bikes, kids in tow. I’ve realized that my voice is important.” And her story has become an inspiration nationwide.
Elysa Walk, General Manager, Giant Bicycles, INC.
At the end of the challenging, 600-mile ride around the perimeter of Taiwan, Elysa Walk was the only female General Manager worldwide to roll into Giant Bicycles’ global headquarters. As a top executive in the bicycle industry, Walk is often the only woman in the room, or on the ride, in the male-dominated sector. Walk joined the bicycle industry in 2004 and stepped up to General Manager for Giant USA in 2007. Since then, she’s not only grown the company by 40% overall, but launched Giant’s women’s specific brand, Liv/giant, and pioneered an innovative female ambassador program to engage more riders at the local level. “With the ambassador program, we want to support those local ladies who are key influencers for bicycling in their community. We’re giving them tools and incentives to structure women’s group rides, maintenance clinics, ladies nights — because we want to get more women on bikes.” Beyond mentoring women in her company, Walk has been a trailblazer for women across the industry, serving in board positions for Bikes Belong and the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association.
Maria Sipin, Women on Bikes SoCal, League Cycling Instructor (LCI)
As Melissa Balmer was launching Women on Bikes SoCal in 2011 she had a quick realization: Despite living one of the most densely populated areas of the United States, she discovered that the League of American Bicyclists had only three female Cycling Instructors SoCal. To get more female leaders engaged in bicycling skills education, Balmer garnered the support of organizations like the California Bicycle Coalition, Bike Long Beach, and the California Endowment to launch the first all-women’s LCI training. “I became an LCI to increase my capacity as a bicycle advocate and educator,” says Maria Sipin, one of the original training participants and now an active LCI. “This certification pushed me to be more active in teaching about safety, as well as promoting the benefits and joys of biking. Since my LCI certification in 2012, I’m now working with local organizations to facilitate Traffic Skills 101 classes offered at no cost in cities where they have never been available before. Reducing barriers to education and sharing my experiences with others are just some of the rewards of being an LCI.”
Sarai Snyder, Co-Founder of CycloFemme
After years as a bike shop co-owner and advocate, Sarai Snyder started GirlBikeLove to connect women bicyclists across the country. “I couldn’t help but feel we needed the camaraderie of shared experiences to bring us all together,” she says. “That desire for a shared experience evolved into CycloFemme, a single day that would unify our voices and showcase the diverse power of women who ride.” In 2012, 164 rides took place in six countries with the simple but powerful mission: Honor the Past, Celebrate the Present, Empower the Future. “We rode as casual riders, road racers, coffee sippers, beer drinkers, gritty mountain bikers, mothers, daughters, and professional athletes,” she says. Uniting the full spectrum of female riders under the banner of a single cause, CycloFemme exploded to 229 rides in 31 countries in 2013, showcasing the growth and passion around women’s cycling worldwide.