Reflecting at and on the Women & Bikes Forum

I was fortunate enough to attend the National Forum on Women & Bicycling, a day before the 2015 National Bike Summit. This was the fourth year in a row for the women & bikes day, and the third year I attended. As promised, I wore my new reflective bomber jacket and my Ligne 8 jeans, and I risked the rain to wear my Dansko Nevin Mary Jane heels. Although the temperatures are no longer flirting with the freezing mark, I still opted for a wool overcoat. But no, I did not bike to the National Forum on Women & Bicycling. I couldn’t get up early enough….  Women Bikes Forum 1

Numbers. Martha Roskowski, the VP of Local Innovation at PeopleforBikes shared some statistics from a recent participation study. Some of the points include the fact that only one-third of people in the US rode a bike last year, 30% of those people rode five days or fewer, and 70% of those people riding for transportation rode to a “leisure time activity,” rather than to work. Martha also said that 39% of women respondents still worry about their personal safety on a bike, that is, they worry getting attacked while they are riding their bikes, and that only 14% of women feel safer than they did five years ago. That’s pretty sad. Elysa Walk of Giant Bicycles said that almost 90% of both men and women have ridden a bike at some point in their lives, but only 44% of women have ridden in the last year, and of those, only 42% rode frequently (sorry, I don’t remember her source). Basically, women ride less as the years go by. I assume this is as their lives get more complicated, and they have children and hobbies and business clothes and meetings or more than one job, or any number of other barriers that keep women from biking. Or maybe they are concerned about their safety, both lack of safe infrastructure and personal safety, and lose confidence and interest. Regardless of the reasons, women are not biking as much as they could be.

"With increasing bicycle infrastructure, there will be more & more women like me."

“With increasing bicycle infrastructure, there will be more & more women like me.”

Speakers. The opening plenary, “A Case Study in Leadership,” featured Ren Barger, the CEO of Tulsa Hub, and her mentor and Tulsa Hub Past Board President Barbara Bannon. Barbara Bannon seems like the kind of woman we should all want in our lives – honest, upfront, intelligent, perceptive, strong, driven, caring funny. The two of them shared how Barbara help Ren grow into a stronger, more skilled CEO while developing Tulsa Hub into a functional organization. I found their partnership inspiring and encouraging. Rue Mapp, CEO and Founder of Outdoor Afro,  was the closing plenary speaker, and also funny and engaging and motivating. Her organization focuses on getting African-Americans in nature, hiking, camping, biking, fishing, and so on, and because I have a strong belief in the need for nature, I really support her mission.

Barbara Bannon, left, and Ren Barger, right

Barbara Bannon, left, and Ren Barger, right

Marketing. Once again, presenters talked about how women are not and have not been represented in marketing, and talked about what they are doing to fix that. Representatives from SRAM, Specialized and Liv Giant are all doing basically the same thing, focusing on building community networks, having “ambassadors” lead events, clinics and rides for women, and focus on the fact that women like social networks. Maria Boustead of Po Campo was the fourth presenter, and the most interesting to me, because she admitted that she started making a product then realized she needed a marketing campaign. Some of the stuff she did was really creative, like hosting a “Braid Bar,” where women could get their hair braided and talk about biking. I liked hearing about Po Campo events because her market is only urban riding, whereas the other three still are geared more towards road and/or mountain biking. Less “bikes as transportation” conversations happening there. Women Bikes Forum 2

Shopping! I don’t only go to the Women & Bikes Forum for the women-owned bike product pop-up shops, but it is a huge plus! I planned on buying “bloomers” from Bikie Girl Bloomers, and she had the turquoise and red polka dots pair that I wanted, yay! Owner Karen and I chatted a bit; she’s only been doing this for two years! I think she has a fabulous product, and I can’t wait to wear mine. I also loved the black pair with the red flames print. I chatted with Susi Wunsch of VeloJoy, Susan Mocarski of Cleverhood, Lara Neece of Forest and Fin and the upcoming Bicycle Wrap Skirt, Robin Bylenga of Pedal Chic, Lani Tarozzi of TandemNYC Skirtweights, and many other creative and talented women who are developing useful and stylish products to help women feel more comfortable while biking. We all have different definitions of comfort, but there are enough options out there that we can find what suits us best. The important thing is to have those options!

My takeaway this year was less inspiration and more thought-provoking. The statistics really make me think about the need for more “comfortable” bike accessibility. I admit that I’m a chicken cyclist – I like my bike lanes and buffered lanes and separated bike lanes, and quiet neighborhood streets. I prefer to ride on streets that have lanes, rather than sharrows or of course nothing at all. I’m not brave like The Mechanic and numerous other men and women I know who bike regularly, although I try to be! I think I am not alone in this. Maybe I need to do more to speak up about my safety concerns, so that planners and developers and city officials and whomever else know that A) I ride my bike B) I shop, pay taxes, and vote C) I dislike being treated as a second class citizen because I don’t drive a car everywhere. Make my city (okay, county) safe for me! And then it will become safer for the children, older people, people with physical challenges, and everyone else in my community. Even those who own cars.

It's not all serious at the #womenbike #NBS15 National Forum on Women & Bicycling!

It’s not all serious at the National Forum on Women & Bicycling!

 

Fitting In, or, Cycle Cliques

When I was riding home in the rain this evening, I had a total high school moment – there I was, wearing my big blue poncho with rain drops speckling my clear glasses, when a trio of young, well-dressed, fashionable women waltzed past under their equally fancy umbrellas. I felt about as uncool as I felt in junior high and high school, when the cool girls would breeze right past me.

You know you are jealous of my big blue poncho....

You know you are jealous of my big blue poncho….

IMG_4941

Memories of awkwardness in 1000 pages…

I guess I’m feeling sensitive this week because my parents just shipped my junior high and high school yearbooks to me, and flipping through the pages reminds me of how dorky I was, and how many cliques there were in my high school  – the cheerleader girls, the arts department girls, the Goth girls, and so on, the “in” crowds I never fit into.

And there I was, on the sidelines, doing my own, unique brand of unusual…

1985, 1986, and Senior Year, 1990 (with bonus baby picture!)

1985, 1986, and Senior Year, 1990 (with bonus baby picture!)

I spent the rest of my ride home reminding myself of the fact that it’s far more important to me to be my own self, than to fit in.

Oh you know, just another day at the office... (okay, theater...)

Oh you know, just another day at the office… (okay, theater…)

However…. it also made me think about the Bike World, and how there are just as many cliques in cycling – roadies, mountain bikers, urban/messenger cyclists, lady cyclists, commuters, etc. Lady Fleur talks about “bicycle tribes” in a recent post on her blog, “One Woman. Many Bicycles.” She points out that she belongs to many tribes, and I must as well, since I have more than one style of bike. But is it important to belong to a tribe, or clique?

Well, no, obviously. But, as much as I enjoy my uniqueness, there is still a degree of wanting to be around others like me. It’s human nature, whether I like it or not. I don’t really want to belong to a “women who bike” clique but I love that shops like Pedal Chic exist, sell products I love, host cycling weekly cycling events, etc. (I would probably hang out there often, if I lived in Greenville!) They have categories as well, one for each cycling type/tribe/clique. It’s hard to get away from classification.

CAD Costume Design Workshop, early 1990s. Going my own way...

CAD Costume Design Workshop, early 1990s. Going my own way…

In Arlington, there are fewer women on bikes to begin with. I saw two women today, both in gym clothes with long blonde ponytails, riding hybrid-type “city” bikes. Nope, don’t fit into that clique. I wish there were more women like me, on funkier bikes, in everyday clothes, with fashionable panniers and baskets. I have only seen one other woman with Basil panniers, a mom with her husband and three kids, all on bikes – I don’t fit that clique either, although I quizzed them about their bakfiets. I certainly see more women on bikes when I’m in DC, so I guess the trick is, bike more often in DC! Then I’ll fit in better with the “in” crowd – until I need to be ME again and come home to Arlington!

Now THIS is my clique!

Now THIS is my clique!

And I have to add, my high school angst dissipated when I flew past the gridlocked cars on my way home. Being unique had its advantages once again!