A Unity Ride recap and thoughts on respecting bodies in public spaces

Posted by on July 15th, 2021 at 9:21 am

Riders meet up prior to rolling out for a recent Unity Ride.
(Photos: Maritza Arango/@arango_mari)

Maritza Arango.

Publisher’s Note: Maritza Arango is BikePortland’s new events editor! This is her first (non Weekend Event Guide) post. Maritza moved to Portland from Bogotá, Colombia in January 2021. Stay tuned for a proper intro and more of her perspectives on Portland’s bike scene. – Jonathan

How hard is it for humans to understand that differences should be acknowledged and respected? It is not just a matter of thinking that we are all the same, because we are not. With that on my mind, I attended my first bike ride in Portland earlier this month. It was the Unity Ride; a ride only for women, trans and non-binary people.

“I want to get to know the community through the eyes of those who, like myself, believe their bodies are not welcome, appreciated, suitable, or even allowed on a bike.”

For centuries, the patriarchy has drawn a line between “them” – as the bodies that matter, the bodies that “can and should” occupy public space like it belonged to them – and “the others.” They feel entitled to comment, to look, to touch, to harass. It is unnecessary for me to explain (and honestly I don’t want to because it is exhausting) which bodies belong to that historical patriarchal status-quo and which don’t.

Now, you should be asking yourself: What does all this have to do with biking? Why should I make the decision to start writing about biking in Portland on such an uncomfortable topic? Well, I want to get to know the community through the eyes of those who, like myself, believe their bodies are not welcome, appreciated, suitable, or even allowed on a bike. This is how I want to introduce myself.

Some may think that bikes are just for sports, for fun, or for daily transportation. I was drawn to the Unity Ride for several reasons, in part because I think that bikes are so much more than that. I think riding a bike can be a political expression of individuals and communities.

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In Sellwood, on one of our stops along the Willamette River.

So let’s get to the ride recap!

Before I continue, I want to mention that I invited two friends to join me. Not only because I wanted to spend time with them, but also because I believed that I was not going to fit in. Why? Because I am a woman, I am overweight, I am Latina, and I have a disability and a service dog. Sounds like a perfect recipe for an entertaining conversation for a group of proud and drunk boys, right?

Amélie, my service dog, getting to know the community.

Here’s how it happened: First, I reached out to Sofie, one of the organizers, to let them know I wanted to join the ride and get to know them so I could write this report.

I arrived at Colonel Summers park, Friday July 3rd, at 7:00 pm. Around 15 people had already gathered, and were talking and waiting for something or someone. Everyone seemed to know each other except me. As I was waiting for Sofie, I felt like I was in an awkward blind date where I was waiting and looking for someone that should arrive “on a red bike.” My bike needed some adjustment so I decided to approach the group. People reached out to help and I even got a tool kit offered (thank you, PCC Active Transportation!). Everything seemed to have started from a good place. More people were showing up, and we quickly became a group of 20 or 30 bikers with so many different bodies and gender expressions.

Someone started talking to the group: “No homophobia allowed, no fatphobia allowed, no transphobia allowed, no misogynistic behavior allowed, no harassment allowed…” I can’t remember the exact words but I can summarize those with: No discrimination allowed. Turns out that person was Sofie. And that’s how I met her.

Some safety instructions were given to the group and we were ready to go. The ride was smooth, sunny, and beautiful. People were happy and it felt like a place where I could show any weakness with no judgment. During the ride some people approached me to check in, some to have a short talk and some were just sharing music and chillness – I know, it sounds too much like a unicorn safety fairytale, but it was real.

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We arrived at Sellwood park for a swim and a picnic after a 10-mile ride across a couple of bridges. (I wouldn’t recommend the ride to beginners that are just learning how to ride; I’d say it required a minimum set of skills.)

At the picnic I talked to some of the organizers of the ride; here is a little bit of what they shared with me:

“The ride has been going on for about a year now. It started biweekly but now is weekly. We have two rides: One that goes at a pace that’s inclusive to all riders, and one that’s faster for more experienced riders. We strive to include women, transgender and non-binary people that have felt excluded or intimidated to forming community around bikes. We want the community to be as involved in the ride as they want to be! We aim to create an inclusive environment where no one person is the sole leader. We prioritize safety and inclusion while having fun!”

What is my conclusion after riding and talking with them? Everyone is invited except the ones that have a privilege that allows them to be respected, accepted and safe in any or every other ride. Why? Because women and other bodies that are non-dominant need spaces to feel safe and to…. just be. Don’t take my word as the Unity Ride’s word, this is just me asking the world to give women and others more spaces where we can take care of each other, be vulnerable, learn and especially, not be harassed!

I promise that you’ll read from me a lot more reasons why women belong on bikes and why public space is in debt to us, “the others.” Thank you for reading!

— Maritza Arango, @arango_mari on Instagram and Twitter.
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NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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Alan 1.0squaremanRain WatersWinnieEmily Guise (Contributor) Recent comment authors
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Let's Active

Maritza, thanks for sharing your experience on the ride and in biking in general. It’s so great to hear your perspective on BikePortland!

Justin
Guest
Justin

I don’t believe this way of thinking is helpful to the supposed issues the ride aims to address. In my view, it is this kind of thinking that creates / perpetuates the ‘us / them’ mentality. Would seem to me having a ride to bring diverse groups together is a terrific idea; but this seems like rallying against a supposed common enemy and therefore I think pushes away from the ideal of a harmonious society.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

Hi Justin,

Thanks for the comment.

I think I understand what you’re saying and I get that concern. But I don’t agree. I don’t feel any “rallying against a common enemy” when I read this. I don’t take any offense to it at all — even though I’m sort of like the exact type of person who isn’t welcome at the Unity Ride (and I’m totally cool with it! In fact, one reason I was excited to hire Maritza is that she can exist in spaces where I can’t). Also, I think the whole idea that you want to feel like you are in a “harmonious society” just shows some of the privilege that this piece tries to point out. What I mean is, for many of the folks who love/need/want spaces and events like the Unity Ride, their mere existence has never been harmonious and I think that in order for that to change, things might need to get a bit uncomfortable for those who’ve always fit in and who’ve never been discriminated against. In other words, I don’t think we can truly expand harmony to everyone until they can feel a basic level of embrace and respect when they are out in the community… and to create that respectful space it means that guys like you and I need to step away and let those spaces happen without us. I hope this makes sense! Thanks again for chiming in.

Justin
Guest
Justin

Well said, Jonathan. Indeed, I find the spirit of your response more conducive than that of the article. Perhaps I bristle at terms such as ‘oppression’ and ‘patriarchy’ being bandied about to refer to white guys collectively who are just trying to go about their lives without intentionally harming anyone, just like everyone else. But that nag is bigger than this article, and I’m glad people are getting on their bikes for a purpose.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin

Thanks Justin.

To that I’d say, just take a second to understand who is saying/writing those words and why she is saying them. This is her perspective and her truth about what it’s like to exist. And take a second to consider why you feel Maritza has “bandied about” and/or why you feel different when reading my words versus reading her words. Yes we have a different style of writing and communicating…because we are very different people! And that’s part of the point! As she says in the piece, recognizing and understanding these differences — and being OK with them existing even if it means you have to do more processing and feeling un-harmonious stuff in your head — is really important to improving our community. At least that’s my opinion.

rain panther
Guest
rain panther

I would also suggest that oppression and patriarchy do not depend on intentionality for their existence. They exist, and thus require intentional effort in order to be interrupted or diminished or changed in some way.

In other words what I don’t intend is less important than what I do intend. I have to explicitly intend not to harm if that’s my goal.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

What Jonathan wrote in that comment is essentially exactly what Maritza said in the article but in different words. You should take some time and really think about why you sensed hostility in Maritza’s article but not in Jonathan’s comment. I have doubts that they are simply the result of those key words. Oppression and patriarchy are systems that were set in place in the distant past, but that have been allowed to continue as a result of the beneficiaries of those systems “just trying to go about their lives” without acknowledging or doing anything about the benefit they gain at the expense of others. It doesn’t matter that you intend no harm. Harm is being done and people subjected to that harm are sick and tired of it. Guess what women, non-binary people, trans people, people of color, disabled people, etc. are trying to do. They’re also trying to go about their lives without harm being done on them, regardless of whether that harm is intentional or not.

You talk about avoiding the creation and perpetration of an us vs. them mentality. I’m afraid that ship has sailed centuries ago and helped colonize the world. And it wasn’t perpetrated and created by marginalized people. In a Western context, it was perpetrated by straight cisgender white men (and to a slightly lesser extent, women of the same description). It is not the job of marginalized people to accommodate you. Respect that history.

joan
Guest
joan

Justin, there have been many women, trans, and non-binary folks in Portland who have attended supposedly-inclusive group rides and have been touched and harassed in incredibly unwelcome ways, and where requests for help were ignored by others on the ride. That behavior–the harassing and touching, and then the ignoring of it–is what creates the us & them mentality. No wonder so many folks want to create rides that are more welcoming to them.

Cis men are the majority of folks active in many local group rides. It’s totally reasonable and understandable that people who aren’t cis men might want to spend time together in a different context.

It’s not the job of women, trans, and nonbinary folks to tolerate terrible behavior towards them in the name of pretend harmony. It really should be the job of everyone on large group rides to make sure other folks aren’t being harassed and touched in unwelcome ways.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Out of curiosity, do we know the demographic make-up of the group doing the unwanted touching? Was it many folks doing it over different events or the same folks over and over?

The insinuation here seems to be that it was cis-presenting men.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

These spaces are so important to creating an inclusive and welcoming society. Thanks for highlighting the ride and look forward to your perspective on how we can use policy and infastructure design to create more of them!

Ria
Guest
Ria

Interesting article. I applaud you for opening up about topics such as body image, dissability, and fitting in. As a latina I sometimes wonder if I fit in Portland at all.

K
Guest
K

I’ve been on a few PDX Unity Rides, and they’re great. A space for woman, trans, and non-binary individuals on bikes is very much needed. The vibe on these rides has been welcoming and supportive. Also, I’m looking forward to reading more BP articles from Maritza. I met her on the ride and she’s awesome.

joan
Guest
joan

Welcome, Maritza! I’m so glad you’re in Portland and contributing to BikePortland!

Winnie
Guest
Winnie

That’s not a service dog. You have pictures on your Instagram of the dog and it doesn’t have a service collar or vest. It’s really hard for people who actually have service dogs to be taken serious when they see this. Jonathon, sorry for complaining. But that’s how you create false narratives. Call it an emotional support animal, and I understand. What kind of service could the dog provide while your riding a bike? Is this the pro ledge that she’s talking about in the article. Yes, I focused on one point, but real service dogs provide an actual service.

squareman
Subscriber

How do you know it’s not a service dog? Two seconds of Googling would have told you that there are zero requirements for an ADA-recognized service dog to be wearing any kind of special gear (it is true of seeing-eye dogs through a function of the lead itself).

Many service dogs (and I’m not talking emotional-support animals which are different and not specially privileged) perform critical services for invisible disabilities. You have no clue just looking at a dog what its service function is – a business may ask two questions: is the dog required because of a disability? And what is the specific task that the dog performs? One may not ask for documentation or for the dog to perform the task for you.

These are some examples of legal service dogs from the ADA government site itself:

Q1. What is a service animal?
A. Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.

Q2. What does “do work or perform tasks” mean?
A. The dog must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability. For example, a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar reaches high or low levels. A person with depression may have a dog that is trained to remind her to take her medication. Or, a person who has epilepsy may have a dog that is trained to detect the onset of a seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure.

Winnie
Guest
Winnie

Please read my whole comment to see how I came to my conclusion. Not only the 1st sentence.

squareman
Subscriber

Winne, I indeed read your complete statement, several times in fact, before writing mine – I even went to Mariza’s Instagram too. I still don’t understand how you are able to draw any conclusions that her dog is not a service dog or that Mariza does not have a disability for which she needs a service dog. You also cannot make a statement that the dog cannot do its service while trotting alongside a slow-moving bike because you don’t even know what service the dog provides. You are making a stink about something for which you have no reason to think she is lying. I’ve laid out exactly the rules according to the ADA and how dogs do not need to have any identifying gear or even documentation. Many people have legit service dogs that serve a task-oriented function around their owner’s invisible disability or disorder. You simply have no basis for making the judgment you’ve made here.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

Squareman, I agree with all you have written on this, and I’ve been around the working dog world for over 20 years. It is slightly complicated. Working dogs include service dogs, but most working dogs are not ADA-qualified despite extensive training (hunting, herding, guarding, SAR, scent work, etc). Yet some nearly untrained dogs are ADA-qualified; a friend of mine relies on a rescue dog with only simple obedience training to alert for diabetic episodes, including demonstrating its ability to a physician. It is legally allowed to accompany its person everywhere with no identification besides ordinary dog tags. I have no reason to believe that Maritza’s dog is not similarly capable in its service, and in the context of this article I see no reason to bring it up.

And yet Winnie does touch on a raw point (perhaps indelicately). Many people do claim fake “service” status for their dogs, entering restaurants, grocery stores, transit, airplanes, and more. Some misbehave or trigger allergies or have other negative consequences to other people. It’s become a tragedy of the commons situation, and there is pushback not the least from people who need their service dog. Ironically, Maritza – accepting that her dog is what she says it is – then becomes a victim of that abuse of privilege.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Ok, so fair warning, I am one who would straight up not be allowed on this ride, and I am about to draw a parallel (NOT an equivalence, so please don’t explain why the things I mention aren’t equivalent; I know they’re not).

For anyone who might take offense, or even wonder why participants of rides like this believe they are necessary as a refuge from the everyday experiences of those participants, I have to say that as bicyclists, we all should understand this with pretty much crystal clarity. The parallel that I want to draw is that as bicyclists–from the most timid to the most “macho”–we all make use of a system that ostensibly grants us “equal access”, but in fact is so hostile as to be exclusionary.

Yes, the “privilege” in this system is transient; I can take it up and put it down whenever I want. I can be “us”, and I can be “them”. I am not trapped as a non-privileged, oppressed person in this system. I very much want “The System” to be truly “fair” and equitable, but there are thousands of “others” who already believe that it is fair and equitable and resent any hint that I somehow “deserve” any more consideration than I already get. Many of those “others” feel that if something unfortunate should happen to me while existing in this system, it would ultimately be my own fault for not staying in my place. Even if a privileged user of The System were to directly harm or even kill me, the chance of any real repercussions for that person would be small.

In the absence of real systemic change, which, we must admit is very unlikely in the near term, I must either feel like I am constantly fighting when I use The System, or else seek out oases where the hyper-privileged, who claim The System was created for them from the beginning, are excluded. To be sure, not all–in fact, probably most–of the privileged users of The System truly, truly intend me no harm, and believe they are conducting themselves circumspectly, just trying to go about their own daily lives. They probably even believe they are “helping” me when they behave this way. Even these “conscientious” privileged folks, though, don’t realize how their very presence affects me in a negative way. If I encounter one of these folks and I don’t immediately recognize them, I have no idea how they are going to use or abuse the system to my detriment, and so must always be on high alert, even around those who are really trying to be “nice”.

Of course you know the System I am talking about. I’ve just been reading other articles about the South Park Blocks being made “traffic-free”–we even have to euphemize “car-free” so it doesn’t offend the privileged. Any time non-motorized road users ask for “protected” or “car-free” infrastructure, or dream about how nice it would be, we know why there are rides like this.

I know this parallel isn’t perfect; I only write about it because as someone who doesn’t have to think about such things in other aspects of life, it gives me some glimpse (I said “glimpse” because I can never truly understand [and because “glimpse” is just such a fun word]) into the daily struggles of people who have to exist in a much larger system that has much larger and more insidious issues that make that system inherently much easier for some people to navigate than others. I only hope it is not too offensive, and that it may help anyone struggling with feelings of privileged exclusion understand that “exclusion” in these cases is not a cause for alarm or offense–we don’t need to have full, unfettered access to absolutely everything.

Rain Waters
Guest
Rain Waters

i ride trails on a gravel bike near Reno. Any and all trails formerly frequented by anything MOTORIZED are completely useless having had all topsoil first displaced in the 20th century by excessive tire torque then blown toward Utah by the incessant prevailing Gale Peavine, queen of Reno in the 21st century.

Any and all trails which gated or blocked all motor access prior to the Californification of the 1990’s are returning to or have stayed in much more usable condition. I lived here 1989-1991, I know what I see and remember what I remember accurately.

Motor vehicles so obviously DESTROY unpaved roads that any argument is banal and childish at this point. People are so hopelessly brainwashed and distracted by nothingburger bs like most of this sites content that the effect of the MOTOR on those surviving in hostile, loud, crude places like PDX cant possibly understand the magnitude of MIASMA in which they exist.

Here at 9k ft our daily high temps now approach 85 deg f. Its 7/19, Ive yet to SEE even ONE mosquito this year ! There is only dew before 8am in the absolute lowest places of the meadows. Only flies from all the tourist dockshite occaisionally appear to annoy one at a time nowadaze.

NO INSECTS, NO PEOPLE DAMMNIT ! excuse the loudness but please

bickering about sjw non issues in a tiny sewer pipe just seems so. . . .

Emily Guise (Contributor)
Subscriber

Welcome to Portland, Maritza! So glad you’re here, and that you found the Unity Ride. It’s one of my favorite group rides since it’s so welcoming, inclusive, and devoid of a lot of macho energy. Hope to see you on a ride soon!