I am very excited to share this week’s Roll Model: Martha Williams of the fabulous blog Bike Fancy, showing “people looking good on bikes.” Martha, a professional photographer for Time Out Chicago magazine, has created a unique website that goes far beyond simply posting snapshots of bicyclists on the street. She flags each person down, introduces herself, makes an intentional portrait, and follows up with an email interview. There is no wonder how Martha earns the trust of strangers on the street: she is one of the sweetest and most welcoming people I know. If anyone can put you at ease while taking your picture to share on the internet, it’s Martha. She is also an experienced transportation bicyclist. Read on to learn more about Martha, biking fancy, and the importance of Vitamin D and divided bike lanes.
Describe your bicycling style in three words.
Surprisingly stylish schleper
How long have you been riding a bike?
Well, I’ve been riding a bike in Chicago over ten years. I learned to ride a bike in third grade, which was shamefully late for a suburban kid. Our neighbor (who was the same age) taught me and my twin sister when she found out we didn’t know how to ride. I have a big family and buying two bikes and teaching two kids to ride a bike was too much at the time. After that, we borrowed our older sisters bike, and then went straight to ten speeds, no kiddie bikes.
How does bicycling fit into and/or shape your life?
I’ve modified my job to be doable by bike. I commute most days, in all weather. I also ride my bike to most of my photo shoots for work. I feel much more efficient when I can ride. I can get from my office, to the North Loop, then Taylor St, and end in Wicker Park in half the time it would take to ride public transportation or drive.
What inspires you to keep bicycling?
I don’t know if it is mental, experiential, physiological, physical, or church-of-the-wheel-spiritual, but biking makes me indescribably happy. So the selfish pursuit of happiness is my inspiration. Also, less pollution, great light that changes everyday, not getting a Vitamin D deficiency, saving money to travel!
Tell us about Bike Fancy - how it came to be, your goals for the site, and what you’ve learned about the Chicago bicycling community through the process.
When I started Bike Fancy I was full-on in love with riding my bike in the city, and I wanted to find a way to share those feelings. At first I thought that I might write a first person account of riding in the city, but I realized there were people already doing that really well (Dottie and Trisha among others!), I’m not a great writer, and I am really not interested in my own perspective, at least not in a way that could sustain a blog. I was familiar with the Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog, and was completely obsessed with the Sartorialist. I had also photographed for Time Out Chicago’s public eye article (where I am a photo editor) on occasion. I realized that because I was riding around the city most days that I was uniquely positioned to document cyclists. I really wanted to address the cycling gender gap in a positive way, and show that anyone can ride a bike in the city. No need to be an athletic person, wear special clothes, or be a dude.
I have loved getting to know the Chicago bicycling community through this blog. I have met lots of interesting people, learned about inspiring organizations, and built lots of relationships. That said, I randomly stop strangers so that I can include people that don’t consider themselves part of the cycling community. In Amsterdam and Copenhagen there is no “bicycling community,” because everyone rides a bike. I love that in the span of a few weeks I could stop a brand new rider, an experienced rider from a local racing team, and everyone in between.
I have lots of goals for the site, but firstly I’d love to make a sleeker design for the site with a few more bells and whistles. Secondly, I feel constantly challenged to show a diverse range of women: age, race, neighborhood, body type, social group, etc. My goal is always to find a diverse range of fashionable women, but I’m only one person. Also, I love to travel, so photographing as many places as possible is up there.
In your experience, does the general bicycling world – shops, outreach, group rides, etc. – feel welcoming for you as a woman?
I think the general bicycling world feels very welcoming.
What is your take on the “gender gap” in cycling, including media attention on how to get more women to bicycle?
Well I think those statistics are a few years old and if they were done now you would see the gap narrowing. That said– I do see a lot more men out there, and I am looking! I think women, generally speaking, are more risk adverse and cycling in a city with limited infrastructure can be really terrifying. I think most people want a stress-free commute and getting buzzed by a giant truck, or left-hooked by someone talking on their cell phone is not “stress-free.”
If you could magically change one thing to improve bicycling in your city, what would it be?
Divided bike lanes! I ride State St. a lot and there is a perfect amount of space for a 2-way bike lane right down the middle of it. It could go all the way from 95th to North Ave, but I’d be happy with a lane from Roosevelt to Kinzie.
Do you feel optimistic about the future of bicycling?
For sure. I think it is a no-brainer, especially with rising gas prices, the obesity epidemic, and increased urbanization. Also, I’ll share a little secret— a lot of people find it addictive.
Any advice for people, especially women, who want to start cycling?
Start slow, know where you are going so you can feel confident and calm.
I think I wrote too much already : ) Okay I take that back. I am in the market for a new bike. Under $800, a fast lady frame, upright handlebars, a rack that matches the frame. I’m looking at the Linus but might just do a vintage custom build. Taking recommendations!
Thanks for sharing your perspective, Martha!
Visit Martha at Bike Fancy to see new portraits several times a week.