Thursday, October 20, 2011

Let's Hear It For The Girls

"Let me tell you what I think of bicycling.  I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.  It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.  I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel...the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood."
                                                                                                       -Susan B. Anthony 1896

Inga Thompson (she was my hero growing up)

When I began my journey of becoming a cyclist there weren't many girls my age interested in the sport.  I found myself having to train primarily with boys and got a bit discouraged when I had to race with them as well.  Don't get me wrong, looking back I think it made me a stronger rider and got me to "toughen" up a bit but it would have been nice to have a choice.  Luckily two of my junior coaches were women and the early 80's were a highlight for women's pro racing with the Tour de France and Coor's Classic.  To this day the names Jeannie Longo, Connie Carpenter, Rebecca Twigg, and Inga Thompson provide a spark for me and I consider them the trailblazers that made it possible for the female cyclists today.

Rebecca Twigg
Jeannie Longo
Connie Carpenter

Since bike racing wasn't really considered a "normal" sport for boys let alone girls in the 80's and  Title IX was still struggling in the courts , there wasn't much available to me as far as training with other girls.  We were put on the back burner and just barely hung on.  I still remember the day that the women's Tour de France was cancelled and the year Celestial Seasonings chose to cancel it's sponsorship for their women's racing team.  Even the "normal" girls sports were struggling since most schools chose not to follow the rules of Title IX (to this day, thousands of schools across the country are not in compliance with this law).  You can understand how discouraged I was and can see some of the reasons I chose not to continue racing.  Also, at that time, trying to explain biker tan lines was just about impossible.  I found myself saying "No, I'm not a farmer" or "No, I don't golf" all the time.  Heck, I found it difficult just to find women's specific shorts and jerseys at bike shops.

Jumping ahead 30 years and things have really changed.  No, the women don't get the race coverage that the men get and the race purses are much smaller than the men's, however, ESPN just covered the entire women's Nature Valley Grand Prix and the field just about blew my socks off.  The real changes aren't just about racing.  Women are now all over the bike industry... wrenching, building bikes, and putting on all women bike events (which are getting great turnouts).

The start of Babes in Bikeland 5 in Minneapolis

Gathering up for the first Madtown Maidens Alleycat

This past year, I, along with Lisa Snyder and Ali Dwyer put on Madtown Maidens Alleycat (Madison's first all women's alleycat).  Women of all abilities and ages showed up and from the feedback I got had a great time.  Plans are already in place for Madtown Maidens part 2 and I'm hoping to pull in more than 100 women this year.  This, however, is just a drop in the bucket compared to a Minneapolis event called Babes in Bikeland.  Kayla Dotson has done the unthinkable and is now entering the 6th year of the largest women's alleycat in the world.  Lucky for me it's just a short 4.5 hour trip away in Minneapolis!  Her drive and determination to get more women on bikes is contagious and now many of the major cities in the country are trying their hands at all female bike events.

Although I could blather on about my experiences as a woman in the bike world...I thought it would be a hell of a lot more interesting to throw out some questions to other big time movers and shakers in the bike world...and yes, they are women.  So read on and get to know some really cool ladies.

Q & A with Kayla Dotson, co-creator of Babes in Bikeland

Q:  What is your earliest memory of being on a bike?

A:  I guess my first memory of riding a bike is my neighbor teaching my how to ride. I fell down a lot, but I always needed to scrape my knees a couple times to consider it a successful summer
Q:  What are you riding now?

A: My current favorite bike is a old pink Mercier track frame that I used to build up a coaster brake cruiser. It's a completely custom build, so it's a pretty fast cruiser. I also have a Steamroller track bike, a vintage steel Rossin road bike, and a beater Peugeot for my winter bike.
Q:  What made you decide to create Babes in Bikeland?

A:  When I first started getting into riding and hanging out within the bike community, I realized that the women I met through riding were consistently some of the most solid and awesome women I've ever met. The only unfortunate part about it was that the men very much so outnumbered the women. I knew that more women rode than were typically represented at bike events, so I wanted to get more women out riding together to let them know that they were welcome in the bike community and that it wasn't just a boy's club. I also wanted women who ride bikes to get to know each other, so they will have other women to ride with. I think that men (or bike shops or people in general or whatever) typically underestimate how important the social aspect of biking is for women. So Babes is a way to try to help create that.

Q:  Where would you like to see the world of women's biking go?

A: Oh man, what a question. I have no idea. I'd just like to see as many women as men out on their bikes - just as much as I'd like to see an equal representation of minority groups as well.

Q & A with Ali Dwyer, co-owner of WAAM (We are All Mechanics)

Q:  What is your earliest memory of being on a bike?

A:   Riding around in circles in the big backyard of my childhood home. I would pretend I was riding in the Big Top, as a circus stunt rider.

Q:  What are you riding right now?

A:  Most of my miles are logged on my commuter bike, a Trek Pilot frame (covered with reflective tape) with an Xtracycle FreeRadical attached.
Q:  Why did you and India Viola start WAAM?

A:  In short, I love teaching and I love bicycling. Collaborating with India to create and maintain We Are All Mechanics is perfect because I can do what I love and not have to be good at all the aspects of all that we do (we complement each other nicely).
We set out to share our love of bicycles and technical knowledge with other women in our community.

Q:  If there's one tip you could give women just starting to bike what would it be?

A:  Get informed in order for your early rides to be as safe, successful, and fun as possible. Get familiar with your bike, if needed, in a really low-stress environment, even if that means some laps of a quiet parking lot or empty bike/ped path.
Speaking of comfort, talk with other women (research) and try out MANY different saddles, to find the right one for you. the one that comes with the bike may not be a very good fit for your body!

Q & A with Toni Gnewuch, Executive Director of Dreambikes 

Q:  What is your earliest memory of being on a bike?

A:    My first memories on a bike are when my sister, cousin and I would ride our bikes to a little candy store a couple miles away from where we lived.  We would sneak a bit of money out of our piggy bank to buy some candy at the store.

Q:  What are you riding right now?

A:  I have a few bikes that I ride now.  I have an old Trek hybrid bike from the mid 90's that I still absolutely love.  I use this bike to ride around the neighborhood with my boys (ages 8 & 10).  I also have a Trek road bike that I purchased a couple years ago that I take out when the boys are not riding with me, and/or I am riding with some friends.
Q:  How do you think bicycles can help improve people's lives in low income neighborhoods?

A:  Bicycles are not only an affordable form of transportation, they are also a great form of physical activity and a positive way to spend time.  Bicycles have utilitarian benefits, are a great recreational activity, and offer many positive health benefits too!

Q:  What would you most like to see change in the next 10 years for the cycling community?

A:  Many people don't ride bicycles now because they are concerned about safety.  It would be great if more trails and bike lanes were created, more people were aware of and accepting of bicycle as a form of transportation, and as a result - more people from all generations were out riding their bicycle. 

I want to end this by thanking all of the women that make the bike world what it is today.  I'm amazed by how much has changed since I first got on two wheels and I'm so excited to see the impact women have 30 years from can only get better!