After a successful debut last year, the League of American Bicyclists brought back the National Women’s Bicycling Forum. While the 2012 event consisted of just a panel discussion (albeit a great one), this year the League stepped things up. Yesterday 325 advocates —well over 90% of which were women — enjoyed an entire day of panel discussions, workshops, networking, top-notch speakers, and more. The improvements to the event, and the resources spent on it from the League, are emblematic of the organization’s rising effort to “change the face of bicycling.”
Below are some photos and thoughts on how it went…
These are not the faces the bike movement is known for. Yet.
From left to right: Adonia Lugo, Co-founder of City of Lights and CicLAVia and blogger at Urban Adonia; Jenna Burton, founder of Red, Bike and Green; and Megan Odette, founder of Kidical Mass DC at a panel discussion titled, “Community-based advocacy: Building the movement from the ground up.”
Sweetpea Bicycles owner Natalie Ramsland from Portland and bike industry pioneer and framebuilder Georgena Terry shared their insights and experiences at a lunch time panel discussion. Both women spoke of the doubts they faced at the outset of their careers. When she started, Ramsland said, “People questioned the wisdom of custom, high-end bikes for women.” That sounded familiar to Terry, who heard the same thing when she started out in the 1980s. “It was motivation to me,” she said with the confident attitude she’s known for.
When asked by the panel moderator, Dirt Rag Magazine’s Karen Brooks, why it’s important for women to be in positions of leadership in the bike industry, Terry said, “Women bring a different approach; a more humanitarian approach, to the business.” Terry said bike shops should play a major role in making bicycling more appealing to women. “That’s where we’re fighting the battle. That’s where we need the influence.”
Women are often influenced in their bike buying decisions by their boyfriends or husbands, which is unfortunate said Ramsland. So much so that she joked about giving her customers a “boyfriend charge.” “I have this policy: You can have a boyfriend, you can have a dad, that won’t cost you anything. But if I start hearing about it, it will cost you.” Ramsland said at bike shows women will be interested in a bike; but their boyfriend or husband will ask all the questions and dominate the discussion. “I feel like telling them, ‘Why don’t you just go take a walk?'”
Lilian Karabaic, a bicycle transportation researcher from Portland was, quite simply, fired up to be at the Women’s Forum. “I just can’t believe all the bikey women that are here!” she exclaimed in the lobby during a break between sessions. Karabaic finally found an event where there are many other women who enjoy a spirited, in-depth discussion about cycle tracks.
Martina Fahrner, a co-owner of Clever Cycles in Portland, spoke on a panel discussion about women-friendly bike shops.
For Veronica Davis, one of the founders of Black Women Bike DC, a major takeaway from a panel she participated in was broadening the conversation around bicycling. “We often talk in code to avoid uncomfortable conversations.” As an example, Davis shared a buzz word among many planners these days: Millennials. “We always hear that, ‘millenials’ are moving in and they want transit and they want bike lanes. OK, they’re talking about white people.”
All the breakout sessions were jam-packed.
Business owner Elizabeth Williams is the living embodiment of just about every major theme at this year’s Bike Summit. She’s a black woman who founded Cali Bike Tours, a bike touring business based in Long Beach. Williams shared her story of leaving her comfortable professional job and going “all-in” to follow her passion for bicycling and start her company. She spoke at length about how her trusted friends and family, whom she deemed her “cheerleaders,” have helped her tackle challenges along the way.
As a fun surprise, we were treated to a performance by New York Bike Dance (FB). These ladies, who were inspired to start a bike-themed dance troupe by Portland’s Sprockettes, traveled up from New York City to share a very entertaining routine.
The League has created a platform and women have stepped up in a big way. Throughout Monday’s events I was amazed at the new (to me) faces in the crowd. The diversity and lack of men in the crowd stood in stark contrast to any League event I’d ever been to. There was also a palpable sense of excitement and support. Everywhere I turned, women were engaged in lively discussions and were making connections with other advocates.
Adonia Lugo summed it up when she said, “Women are no longer just the indicator species, we are the face of bicycling.”
While the strength of this burgeoning movement grows by the day, how it integrates and complements the bike movement at large remains to be seen. Some things we can count on is that these amazing women will make bicycling in America more stylish, supportive, family-oriented, and “joyful” (a term I’ve heard several times so far). As the Women’s Forum ended and the official National Bike Summit began, the faces and energy in the room changed dramatically. Perhaps by next year we won’t need a separate women’s event. The National Bike Summit — and the bike movement on the whole — can always use an infusion of fresh ideas and enthusiasm.