Ride For Change
Giving Thanks, bikewise.
Most women have learned to ride bikes as girls. Cruising around neighborhoods with friends, maybe even riding to and from school. I certainly did.
“I remember running after my older sister riding because I couldn’t ride yet and while it made me a fast runner, it felt like I was missing out on something essential here.” Jasmin Welter
“I grew up in a beach town and was always on my bicycle, riding the streets in my swimsuit as a kid. It meant freedom.” Elizabeth Riley
However, growing into a woman, at one point riding bikes became somewhat of an inconvenience. While on a bike, you can’t dress the way you want 100%, you might even get sweaty - how un-ladylike! While I did have a commuter bike for transportation while in college, like so many of my female friends, bikes were not part of my life in more than a proper transportation sense.
Fast forward to 2013, when I had moved to Chicago and somehow ended up meeting more cyclists (the racing kind), than I ever imagined could exist in this city. The cycling scene can seem intimidating, especially for women.
Ambassador Elizabeth recalls: “Since I lived in big cities that were largely influenced by bike messenger culture it always seemed like a sport that was difficult to be part of. For years, every time I would step foot in a bike shop alone, without knowing what to ask for, I was often met with a fairly unhelpful salesperson.”
While I did not necessarily have the same experience, I know that it is very common. I was lucky to all of a sudden be surrounded by both men and women who encouraged riding. Hell, they were racing their bikes faster than I thought was possible. It was this supportive, empowering community that helped me overcome the limitations I've met riding in the past. I dove into the world of bikes full force.
I had already been a commuter, but being confronted with severe weather conditions in Chicago, I learned a whole lot about withstanding snow and cold. I tried racing on the road, on the track, I dabbled in mountain biking, I loved getting into cyclocross, I rode group rides as much as I could and did my first century - I tried it all.
More important than the diversity of cycling, I felt what it is really about.
It’s more than a means of transportation. It’s more than a sport - it’s a feeling. It’s freedom, empowerment, and a physical challenge, as much as it is a mental one. It’s about camaraderie, and learning to be self-sufficient, to be an advocate, a role model, a leader.
Riding bikes did much more for me than adding a new layer to my identity. It made both my mind and my body stronger. I learned to love being by myself for hours on end, fighting headwinds and unfavorable weather. I learned what it means to support a teammate in distress, to help fix flats, to encourage someone who’s struggling. And, of course, I experienced support, help and encouragement by my fellow cyclists.
Like many of my fellow Women Ride for Change ambassadors, I got involved with local organizations, made myself available for opportunities to promote cycling, commuting and racing, and try to serve as a first point of contact for women who are interested in riding. I am lucky enough to ride for BFF Bikes Racing, the Midwest’s first women-specific bike shop that does so much to get women on bikes.
Having ridden for two years now, I feel decently capable of riding long, and even riding moderately fast. I put in a lot of hours to ride and train. However, being a woman rider often comes with an additional layer of doubt. I am often the only female cyclist on a ride. Which, honestly, can make you feel like a badass cyclist, but it can also make you feel weak and lonely.
In order to better deal with feelings of insufficiency or self-doubt, I have taken on the habit of putting myself out of my comfort zone, a lot. I join rides that I know are too fast for me. And I picked up mountain biking, a discipline that I was deeply terrified of. But the uneven terrain of the trails is indeed a nice parallel for the challenges you encounter throughout life. Mostly, you feel unprepared - at least I do. But learning to take each corner, each up/downhill and each technical section one pedal stroke at a time has made me feel much more confident in how to tackle the unknown.
Riding is not always fun in the traditional sense of the word. Often times, cycling puts you into situations that are way out of your perceived comfort zone.
As Elizabeth so aptly puts it: “I was just in full survival mode, what I lovingly think of as beast mode. That ride made me a better rider. I don't recommend anyone with my experience level taking on this ride, it wasn't "fun" though I thoroughly enjoyed myself.”
I think the most widespread feeling among my fellow Women Ride for Change ambassadors is that bikes really are machines for freedom.
For Rachel, bikes mean “Freedom. Sport. Transport. Sometimes it's all three and at other moments, perhaps only one (or two) out of the three. And, riding as a woman (especially long distance rides) is very empowering as it's a tangible reminder not only that I can "do this", but that I "got this”.” Similarly, the bike gives Elizabeth “the opportunity to go places by my own power. I think it still means freedom. Exploration. Boundary pushing.”
The fact that female riders are still underrepresented in commuting and racing makes public support ever more important, whether it be local groups, fellow cyclists, or big brands.
Elizabeth: “I think organizations that are getting more women on bikes are spreading goodness in ways that are unmeasurable.“
I feel very fortunate to have fantastic organizations and companies such as Cyclofemme, Pretty Damned Fast, Girl.Bike.Love and GT Bicycles support my fellow lady riders and myself in our efforts. Their support inspires me to pay it forward, every time I see an opportunity. Just like my fellow ambassadors Elizabeth and Rachel, I hope to encourage other women to ride just by being the point of contact for information, and to give the gentle yet necessary push to clip in.
Like life, riding bikes can be a struggle. But in the end, what counts is not how well you do, it’s that you showed up and gave it your all. With every pedal stroke.
Jasmin decided racing a mountain bike race was an appropriate challenge for a triathlete.
Elizabeth bikepacked the Colorado Trail (from Silverton to Durango) with her friend Sarai who has really stepped up as a mentor for her.
Rachel enjoys the bike-friendly city of Madison and volunteers with the huge local cycling community.