I first became aware of Black Girls Do Bike when compiling a list of women’s group rides for our website 3 or 4 years ago, and was shocked to discover the number of cities that they have group rides in. This is one of the biggest women’s cycling organizations around, and they are doing really amazing work in terms of getting more women of color on bicycles and making them feel welcome and engaged in the sport of cycling.
In this interview with the founder of Black Girls Do Bike, Monica Garrison, we talk about the origin of Black Girls Do Bike, how we can all work to make cycling more inclusive and welcoming, and the good that bikes bring to our lives as women.
Stuff We Chat About In This Episode
- How getting involved in cycling improved Monica’s life for the better.
- The origin of Black Girls Do Bike.
- How to start a chapter.
- What your donations go toward.
- Why Black Girls Do Bike is starting a race team.
- Their partnership with Little Bellas.
- How to make cycling clubs and group rides welcoming to women of color.
- Barriers to black women getting involved in cycling.
- The state of cycling in Pittsburg.
- Why electric bikes are the future.
- Organizations that are doing a good job or improving diversity in cycling and the improvements that still need to take place.
Links Mentioned In This Episode & Related Resources
- Ultimate List of Women’s Cycling Clubs and Rides (Road and Mountain Bike)
- 5 Tips for Your First Group Ride
- How Little Bellas Is Creating Confident Young Women With Sabra Davidson
Connect With Monica & Black Girls Do Bike
- Website: Black Girls Do Bike
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/BlackGirlsDoBike
- Email: email@example.com
Connect With Femme Cyclist
Listen To The Femme Cyclist Podcast On Your Favorite Podcast App
First off, thank you so very much for being here today. And we’re gonna talk a lot about black girls do bike. But first, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and how you got started in cycling?
Sure I uhm, I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And I, I’ve cycled on and off throughout my life, but probably most intensely, I returned to cycling in 2013. And the goal was to get fit mentally and physically. And then that summer of 2013, spring in summer. And that’s exactly what happened, I, you know, I lost some excess weight, I was able to get out of a fog, a mental fog. And I was able to find that I spent a lot of time on the bike with my kids, which was just an added bonus that I hadn’t even anticipated. And so cycling was really life changing for me. And in the course of that summer, I noticed there weren’t a lot of women who look like me who were also riding bikes. And so my goal with starting black girls do bike fit, which was just a Facebook group, was to find women around the country who were either actively cycling and give them a community or find women who were curious about cycling, and now give them a community to get answers to the questions that they had and, you know, become regular cyclists. So So cycling was really an answer to my prayers. And so I wanted to share that with other women who I thought could benefit from it.
Did you start out as just the one chapter in Pittsburgh, or did it immediately start with multiple chapters?
Yeah. So that’s the that’s the million dollar question. There was not a chapter in Pittsburgh. I mean, I asked my mom and my aunts and my co workers and tried to get, excuse me, all the women around me on bikes, of course, but but the first chapter was started in Florida, I received a letter from a woman in Florida, who was following black girls do bike online. She thought the mission was great. And she wanted to, you know, materialize it, and former writing group in her town. And so I have what some indignation I was hesitant at first, but I agreed. And, she, she did and it started very slow and very small. But once that chapter was established, thing quickly, other women around the country started to contact me. And they wanted to do the same thing. And so we started chapters, I think the Pittsburgh chapter started two to three years into this journey. So we actually weren’t the first chapter.
Oh, that’s really interesting. Yeah, it’s funny. What is the What did the group rides look like? Do they look pretty uniformly the same across chapters? Are they all a little different?
Yeah, the, the chapters kind of all have their own personalities, to be honest with you. So you know, where and how, and when they ride varies, I will say there are some things that are universal. Like we, you know, we have everyone, you have to have a helmet to ride with us, we ask that you sign a waiver, we ask that you you know, show up with a positive attitude. And before the ride kicks off, we generally do some some sort of safety check to make sure everyone’s on the same page, make sure their bikes are in you know, good enough working order to start and complete the ride. And and then we our rides are all no woman left behind. So we generally have a sweeper that you know, at the back of the ride to make sure everyone is caught up and we give some instructions about what the rides gonna be like where we expect to start and stop and and what time we expect to return.
how does somebody go about starting a chapter if they’re interested in doing so?
Yeah, so on our website on black girls do bike that org, we have a chapter page Actually, it’s called locations. And it lists all of our chapters, but also on that page, our instructions to start a chapter in your town or on your college campus. And so, essentially, if you are, you know, you have a willing spirit and you volunteered to lead the chapter. Some of our ladies are, you know, experts when they start and some of them are just discovering cycling, and they’ve completely fallen in love with it like I did in 2013. And they want to share it with other women in their neighborhoods. So, you know, we require that you are enthusiastic that you’re you have a self sacrificing spirit and that you you You are caring and you your intention is to help other women. And we take you through a process of explaining, you know, how the chapters work, how they’re structured, what’s expected of you in terms of, you know, networking with your local bike shop. And just connecting with the community, and even other bike clubs to give you access to cycling events. And then we, you know, we walk you through a process of setting up a Facebook group page, each of our chapters has their own dedicated Facebook group. And and then once that’s launched, we pretty much will launch the chapter typically takes about two weeks from start to finish from contact to to an inaugural, ride or event.
Is there anywhere where there is not a chapter that you would really love to see one started?
Huh? That’s a good question. Um, we got our first international chapter. Last year, we started a London Uk black girls do bike. So that was on my list for a very long time, because we had lots of interest there. So that dream was realized, I also would be really excited to have a chapter on the African continent. I know that we’ve got a lot of interest there. And I think logistically, it might be trickier than starting a chapter here in the in the States. But I think I think we can totally do it. So that’s kind of next on my, my dream list.
When you started, did you ever think that this was going to be something that would be international or that it would be this big? Have you been surprised by that success?
Definitely surprised. I mean, as I said, the goal really initially was not to start chapters and connect with people locally. So when that became, you know, the direction that we were heading, then I started to kind of dream a little bit bigger, but it never was the it never was, in the plan to be honest with you. And, and it still amazes me to this day that, that we’ve been able to grow as quickly as we have. And, for instance, last year, during the pandemic, we we started 12 new chapters, and we weren’t even we had ceased writing in March. We weren’t even writing last year, but the enthusiasm was still there. And folks, were still jumping on board, in anticipation of, you know, US opening up and writing again, So, definitely more than I could have ever dreamed, but very happy with the results. Is this your full time job now? Um, yes, and no, I mean, we, I’m a photographer by trade. And so that’s, that’s my full time work. But it’s funny that black girls do bike is quickly taking over, it’s monopolized a lot of my time, so I do spend, you know, 40 plus hours a week managing and navigating Black girls do bike. And we recently converted to a nonprofit. So that seems to actually take even more of my, my time and resources to manage, because there are lots of other logistical things attached to that. designation. So yeah, it definitely takes you know, more than 40 hours a week to make black girls do bike run.
You’re like all the other amazing women out there who has multiple jobs? Right. Yeah, you mentioned that you’re now a nonprofit, a 501-C3, and you do actually accept and seek donations, what are those donations going towards?
Sure, I mean, at the most basic level, it’s to maintain the website and the network that we have in place. It’s also to support the chapters. Because they, they host events, and they do things every day that needs support. We’re also we’re branching out into a little bit of an educational program that we’ve been putting together. That will, we’ll be launching. And my my newest project is a black girls do bike racing team. which everyone says I’m crazy to attempt, but I think, I think if we’re going to affect change, it’s probably a good place to start. And so, so the racing team, is something that will be you know, a way for us to help athletes, you know, take care of raise fees, and perhaps even travel to events that they may not have otherwise been able to travel to, and helping them even on the low you know, deepest levels of like nutrition and coaching and things like that. So, all those things are supported by donations
for the racing team. This is a USA cycling partnership. Is that correct?
Yeah, so USA cycling, we partner with them late 2020. And just the vast amount of resources and and know how that they have, we’re going to be able to draw on that, to help develop our team. And, and I, in all honesty, I don’t have a lot of experience with cycling racing. So they’re, they’re certainly going to help me fill in the gaps where, where I lack lack knowledge to get the team off the ground and support them.
And this would be a, like professional road racing like a domestic team? Not quite,
I mean, in my vision for the team, it’s it’s maybe a little unorthodox. So essentially, we want to handpick some athletes from around the country. So they won’t, you know, these will be individual ladies who are athletes who may already be competing or may have dreams to compete. And so collectively, they’re going to represent black girls do bike in the race circuit, but they could be road racers, they could be BMX racer, they can be mountain racers were not discriminating based on the type or the niche of cycling that they fall within. And we also pop probably will support a couple child athletes who are, you know, aging into a point where they can race competitively? I think that would be great as well.
Yeah, that’s awesome. Um, so most of the I think that, correct me if I’m wrong, but most of the black girls do bike events and meet group rides are road cycling, but you just mentioned mountain biking and BMX. Is there ever any thought of having events in those different types of disciplines as well?
Yeah, I mean, I think I think all Cycling is great. I’m open to everything we do have, I will say, most certainly, the lion’s share of our demographic are women who ride road bikes. However, our goal has always been to encourage any type of cycling and, and a lot of time, it depends on where you are in the country. Like I know, our Denver, Colorado chapter has held my mountain bike clinics. And some of our even two of our heroes there are avid mountain biker. So it really just depends on the terrain that you live in and what your expertise is as a Shiro but we’re always kind of trying to connect with all those different types of cycling at any given time.
on your website, I noticed that it said you’re partnered with little Bellas, what does that look like?
Yeah, that’s a great example. Yeah, I’ve been a fan a little bellas for a really long time. And we just myself and the founder Sabir, we connected last year, just kind of talk through like what our missions were, we realize that we’re both really big fans of each other’s organizations. We thought, you know, there’s got to be a way that there’s got to be some synergies here for us to connect. And mainly it’s, you know, any, any area of expertise that I have, that she has, we can share those resources with each other, but also little Bella’s. Basically, they help young girls to, to connect to the outdoors through mountain biking. So all the women in our organization, they have children, they have grandchildren. And so we thought it would be a great way to kind of suggest that they check out little Bella’s to make the connection with their, the young women, the young girls in their lives. And then ultimately, as as the girls aged out of little Bella’s they can certainly join black girls do bike or obviously their mothers and their relatives who would be great for our program. So it’s kind of a symbiotic relationship where we we just want to see each other succeed. And we’re open to anything that can accomplish that.
Yeah, we love little Bella’s to I had Sabir on the podcast last year. Yeah. So for anybody listening who is not familiar with that organization, I’d highly recommend checking it out and or going back and listening to that podcast episode because it great organization. Yeah, they’re amazing. Yeah. And so on our website, we actually have a list of all of the different women’s cycling clubs and group rides around the country. And it’s really amazing that black girls do bike is as big as it is. I don’t think there’s any other women’s cycling organization that’s as big. Why do you think it’s been so popular and Ben so attractive to women?
Um, a couple of things. I think I think that our approach is kind of no nonsense we we strive not to be non intimidating. So we’re we’re very friendly to beginner riders. And then and then we beyond that we have a culture of giving back. So, you know, if you become a member of black girls do bike, you know nothing about cycling or very little. And you, you make progress and you you learn all these things, then we, we hope that you don’t take that knowledge and leave, we want you to stick around, and we call it each one, teach one. So take that knowledge and help another woman to progress and become comfortable with cycling. And then also just the fact that we’re a great network, we’re growing to a great network of ladies who are who we’re not only connecting on a personal level, so there’s fellowship involved, you show up for a ride, you feel welcomed, no matter what bike you’re riding, no matter what clothes you wear. That that’s, that’s very comforting, because that’s, that’s what intimidates a lot of people from starting to cycle or from joining a ride by some other club or some bike shop that they’re not familiar with. So I think that we’re just, I think the fact that we are not intimidating to approach helps. And then once you become a part of the organization, you realize that really, it is really all about the sisterhood and helping one another. And that’s encouraging.
So for those of us in areas where there is not a black girls do bike currently, like I’m in Boise, Idaho, for instance, and there is not, what can we do in our group rides and our women’s cycling organizations to make sure that we’re being welcoming and inclusive to women of color? Are there any, I guess, best practices you can share? Or that you’ve seen in other organizations?
Yeah, I mean, it’s always important to, like, I get the question a lot, how do we get more women of color on our rides? And I? Maybe it’s oversimplifying, but I think it comes down to meeting them where they are. So you know, where are you advertising your rides? Or if you’re, if your organization, or your advertisements, or the things you share on social media, don’t have women of color, then that might unintentionally give off the message that, that they’re not welcome on the ride. So they may not even make the leap to show up? Or ask the question. So so I think that’s important. As they say, it’s cliche now, but representation is important. So if you see yourself reflected, then you know that you’re welcome. So I think that’s a huge part of it. And I always go back to you know, the treat people how you want to be treated type of thing. And so when someone does show up, just make them feel as welcome as possible, and encourage them to, you know, invite their friends and to come back and, and to share in in the bike ride again, with you.
Aside from representation, and not seen women of color in cycling, what do you think, are some of the other biggest obstacles to getting women of color on bicycles?
Yeah, I think I guess it depends on the type of cycling you’re talking about. So, you know, if if people of color are generally concentrated in more urban areas, then it might not occur to them to venture out to, you know, where they would be able to access trails for mountain biking, or they may not have the resources to, to enter that realm, whether it be the price of a quality mountain bike, or just, you know, finding a location to ride. But specifically, I would say, obviously, there are socio economic factors. I think beyond that, though, just like most women, things certain situation can be intimidating. You know, walking into a bike shop that you’re not familiar with, could be intimidating. If you never learned to ride a bike as a child, and then you’re now you want to attempt to, you know, learn something new at a later stage in life. That can be intimidating fear of falling and injuring yourself. Fear of showing up to a ride, as we talked about where there are people you don’t know, could also be intimidating. A lot of women of color now wear their hair in natural hairstyles, which the beauty of it is that you know, our hair can change from day to day and week to week. And it can vary in size and shape and color. But that also presents a challenge when you’re selecting a helmet and so Oftentimes we struggle with trying to find the helmet that fits properly, so that we are not only look great, but are also safe at the same time. And so you know, some people, that’s one of the questions that we answer on black girls do bike a lot, you know, how do I navigate that. But that’s something that’s unique to women of color. And so yeah, it can be a challenge, but it can certainly be overcome.
So you mentioned the helmet situation, what’s a great helmet that you recommend?
I always like to say, really, any helmet can work if you can manage to, you know, tie down your hair, and, and that may take an extra accessory to literally, you know, wrap it and tie it down so that you can fit the helmet so that it’s hitting, hitting your brow, right at the right place. There are certain brands whose helmets tend to be roomier, like Bern, I think is one of them. So those are, those are great. And I also think a really good tip is to purchase multiple helmets, unfortunately, so that if your hair is, you know, if you’ve got it out, let’s say in an afro one day, and the next day, you have it down in, in braids, you that’s going to change how much room you need in your helmet. And therefore you may need a medium and a large to match to the hairstyle you’re wearing for the day.
You’re also on the board of directors for bike Pittsburgh, and I have got to admit I’ve never been cycling in Pittsburgh, what is the infrastructure there like?
Yeah, I mean, Bike Pittsburgh is an amazing org, they’re going to be celebrating their 20 year anniversary next year. And so I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and my most of my life, there was little to no infrastructure here for cycling. So cycling was not something I even thought of on the streets, we have a really good trail system. But bike Pittsburgh has done a lot of work to create interconnected bike lanes. And they’ve they’ve changed over the years. And so we have a really great growing network of cycling lanes here. But the challenge in Pittsburgh, since you said you’d never been is that we are a very mountainous silly city, we have a lot of Hill. So Cycling is not for the faint of heart. If you you know plan to navigate the city by bike, if you like you can’t go a mile without it without running into a decent sized hill. So e-bikes are really popular here. In fact, we’re in the process of over hauling our bike share system, and we’re going to be incorporating e-bikes into the new system. So I’m really excited about that. Yeah.
Do you have an e-bike? I do? I do. Oh, great. I just recently got one I guess in the fall, cargo e-cargo bike. And it’s completely changed my life. I’ve always tried to bike a lot for transportation, but it was easy to be lazy. And with the E-bike, there’s really no excuse.
It’s true. Yeah, I am. I’ve own three e-bikes. I keep buying new ones as the technology improves. I’m curious about the cargo bikes. I’ve ridden those. I think they’re really cool. I’ve not owned one yet. But yeah, the E-bikes really open up a whole world of possibilities. And sometimes they get a bad rap. But but they’re not for the lazy they’re there for people who can’t otherwise bike again. Conventionally. I think it’s great for folks with disabilities who you know, need the extra push. It kind of opens up their world. And then for you know, for everyone else, it certainly it takes a typical bike ride and it takes it to another level because you can go further and longer and you don’t have to worry about you know, going out too far and getting tired and not having the oomph to come back. It’s really amazing. I love my e-bike.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s the future. I hope eventually we all have E-bikes.
Yeah, I mean, imagine that, you know, people who aren’t cycling for all the reasons in their lives. I think the E-bike solves most of them most of those problems. So now that now the challenge is to get those people on E-bikes and let them let them try
100% one of the reasons I really like it, too, is that I use it for riding my son around he’s eight and he can ride his own bike, but he can’t ride it like super long distances on his own. Yeah, yeah. You mentioned you have kids too. How old are your children?
I do my my daughter is 13 and my son is 10. Okay, yeah,
they love bikes, too?
They do. I mean, they’re still they’re still at the point where riding their bike with me is like really exciting. And they, I mean, we’ve been doing we’ve been riding together for years now. But yeah, they still enjoy it. And I was just talking to my daughter cuz she’s getting into skateboarding. So I’m like, Don’t Don’t forget about the bike, because now she’s completely obsessed with skateboarding and yeah, tricks and, but I still want, you know, that little part of myself that still wants her to ride with me. So. Yeah,
yeah. 100% my son also really likes the scootering. Yeah, yeah, that’s cool. Um, so let’s talk a little bit just about the last year, you know, there’s been a lot of awareness, I think, in the last year of just the lack of diversity in the cycling industry, and an attempt maybe by some companies to be more inclusive. Do you think any of that conversation and those attempts in the last year have actually created any kind of meaningful change?
Oh, I think so. The short answer is yes. Okay. I think, clearly, we have a long way to go. I think a lot of people are, let’s say, I won’t say real changes happen until the folks that the that are being hired in the bike industry, the diversity there is really changed, because we have people from different diverse backgrounds at the table at the decision making table. That’s when you see real substance sitive change, right. So, so So I do think there have been a lot of like, you know, everyone made these major announcements of where they were going to be shifting money and, and ideas to support communities of color. And I will say that we’ve had some really good partners that were kind of supporting us even before 2020 and 2020 was a kind of a seismic shift and everything. But, but but I sat down and had conversations with a number of entities prior to 2020. And they, you know, they expressed the passion to want to see change. And, and in any, any way that black girls would like to fit into that vision was great, but also even ways outside of black girls do bike that that that we could help change the cycling community. But I think I think a lot of change, a lot of progress has been made. And certainly we have a long way to go.
Yeah, yeah. Are there are there any specific organizations or companies that you think are doing a good job?
Yeah, I think I’m trying to think of we’ve had so many people reach out to us in the last few years. I, we partnered with Trek specifically, two years ago. And their their goal always was to kind of highlight the work that we do. And, and we appreciate that, and then they got even more intense within, in making suggestions and changes and allocating money. In 2020. USA cycling had also reached out to us prior to 2020. And we were in talks with them to see how they could diversify their staff and also, you know, the way that they approach athletes and, and competitive cycling. I also have to give a shout out to Liv. I think Liv has done a really excellent job. And I you know, I couldn’t mention this, have this conversation without mentioning the work that they’ve done. So yeah, those are those are some highlights in my mind.
That’s interesting. They, I mean, obviously trek is a partner of yours, but do you feel like they’re doing a good job, because they have received a lot of criticism, I think in this last year, especially with their support of the police departments.
Yeah, I think I think from the outside looking in, I understand the criticism that they receive. But at the same time, they’ve been extremely valuable partners to us. And they’ve, you know, they’ve they’ve made the the appropriate moves to affect change. And as I said, we’re not there yet. But I think without those large players, at least acknowledging that the change needs to happen and reaching out to the right people to to help with it. It won’t get done. So yeah, so I definitely support Trek in their efforts. But realize that there are lots of other companies who are doing a great job, even a better job in some situations to make change happen.
On a more personal level for you personally, how has it been working in the bike industry and daily With these sponsors, when they are like it is a very male dominated industry as well as a very white industry. What has your experience been?
Honestly, I’ve had a really positive experience. I realized though that can be a little bit biased because I am the leader of black girls do bike and I’m the face of black girls do bike. So that, you know, typically, the red carpet is rolled out. And And usually, you know, I’m, I’m dealing with a female representative representative of the company when I’m, when I’m dealing with things. So like I said, it’s strategic, it’s, it’s definitely How should I say? I definitely I have had a really good experience overall, I haven’t, I can’t even tell you a really negative experience that I’ve had. So that that’s the good news. But like I said, I think that I think I get a little bit better treatment because of what I represent. So I’m not I’m not really ready to say that, you know, everything is great, just based on my experience.
And so I’ve got three final questions for you. But first, where can women who are listening find out more about Black Girls Do Bike and where can they connect with you online?
Yeah, the so our website is blackgirlsdobike.org. And there you can learn about all the work that we do, and find locations near you where you can ride with us and support us. And we also have a YouTube channel that we’ve been working on over the last 16 months or so, to get some content up there just some general inspirational content to just give put a, you know, put a voice to the face of Black Girls Do Bike and the women who are, who are in our organization. And then finally, if you want to connect or reach out to me, you can certainly do that at firstname.lastname@example.org and happy to answer any questions you have or connect you to a local part of our organization.
Awesome. And I will also include in the show notes, links to all of those places. So first question is what bike or bikes Do you ride?
I have, let’s see, let me go through so I have a Trek gravel bike, called the checkpoint, which is my my pride and joy. extremely comfortable, extremely capable, very versatile bike. I also have my e-bike which we mentioned. It’s a it’s called the baby maker. Don’t Don’t give me a hard time. poor choice of name but awesome, awesome bike. It’s super light weighs like 33 pounds or something crazy. is really stealth and it’s like a hot pink so you can’t miss it going down the road. And those are my two bikes I actually I sold my third bike so those I’m down to two bikes now.
What is the best place you’ve ever ridden your bike? Whoo
Unknown Speaker 33:26
I’m a sucker for the the oceans so anytime my family travels to the beach. And I’m I’m able to ride either on the boardwalk or just a lot along Ocean Drive. And, you know, fill the the wind coming in from the the ocean. That’s, that’s the best for me. So any beach vacation where I get to ride my bike is my favorite place to ride.
Yes, I agree. Last question is what is your favorite thing about riding your bicycle.
Cycling for me is a mental exercise more than anything. So the best part about riding my bike is really being able to zone out and turn off. You know all the things running through my mind. And it’s it’s healing in a lot of ways. Because it allows me to think through things. It allows me to get away from my phone in my laptop, and I can put the worry of you know, what’s that next email gonna say? aside for, you know, 30 minutes an hour, two hours. So yeah, the best part of cycling is to step away from life and just kind of relax.
I love it.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai