Tag Archives: women cyclists

Roll Models: Sara of Full Hands

Every Tuesday we will profile an inspiring everyday cyclist—a weekly series called “Roll Models.”  

This week’s Roll Model is Sara Armstrong of Full Hands. Dottie and I have been following Sara’s blog since we first started writing our own, and her spirited accounts of life on two wheels with her husband and three sons in New Haven, Connecticut, are entertaining and inspiring. The Armstrongs are such dedicated cargo bike enthusiasts that they’ve even designed their own cargo-bike themed T-shirts (my favorite slogan: think inside the baks), and they recently participated in the Five Boro Bike Ride in New York City. Read on for Sara’s story in her own words.

Collecting the Christmas tree by bike

Describe your bicycling style in three words.
Style? Hard to describe anything about me as “style” as I am all about comfort, practicality and ease. Oh, that’s three words! Mama of three are my other three essential bike riding descriptors.

How long have you been riding a bike?
Outside of my suburban childhood bike jaunts, I did not ride much as adult until February 2009 when our first cargo bike, a Dutch bakfiets, joined our family. For the past three+ years, we have been committed family bicyclists and our bicycle stable has grown to include other cargo bikes: an Xtracycle Radish and a Yuba Mundo.

How does bicycling fit into and/or shape your life?
We ride. That’s just how we get around. Bicycling has enriched my family’s life immensely. On the practical side, it has allowed us to remain a one-car family. On the unexpected-benefits side, bicycling has made us much more in-touch, involved and aware community members. When out on our bikes, we notice so much more than we did when we were always in the car. We engage with more people, some of whom we likely would not have had much contact with if we were not bicycling throughout our city. We can stop easily when something catches our eye, investigate what suddenly interests us, and never need to worry about parking! Bicycling is fun and freeing.

At the Five Boro ride


What inspires you to keep bicycling?
Much of the time, it is just as easy to bicycle locally than to drive, often more so. One point of inspiration is certainly my children. I like that they see bicycling as a valid, and even normal, form of transportation. Perhaps they will not grow up to be bicycle commuters themselves, but they will always know that a bike can take you where you need to go.

In your experience, does the general bicycling world—shops, outreach, group rides, etc.—feel welcoming for you as a woman?
I feel extremely lucky as the bicycling world here in New Haven has been very welcoming. Our local bike advocacy group, Elm City Cycling, has a number of very active women. Our local bike shop has a female bike mechanic. In fact this shop, The Devil’s Gear, has been incredible cheerleaders and champions of our family bicycling adventures. Even though I still cannot always talk the ‘technical’ bikey stuff, the folks there have treated me with respect and helped out whenever I needed it. And truthfully, our local bike shop is one of the few stores that it is easy to go into with three boys with me! The Devil’s Gear people put up with my guys’ high energy, innumerable questions, and unquenchable desire to test out every bike horn, numerous times. However, the truth is that I don’t attend Elm City Cycling meetings or most monthly Critical Mass Rides, but not because I don’t feel welcome as a woman. The timing of these events just does not work out with my life as a parent of younger children.

What is your take on the “gender gap” in cycling, including media attention on how to get more women to bicycle?
I honestly am not sure what to make of the gender gap. I do know a number of women who as mothers are responsible for much of their kids’ transport, getting them to school, activities, birthday parties, etc. Many of them cannot even begin to imagine that is doable by bike. Cargo bikes have allowed my family to do many of these same things, but I have three children and if my husband were not willing to be out there hauling the boys by bike too, and I had to be solely responsible for getting my sons to all the places they need to be, we would be in the car. Of course, this is more of a parenting issue than solely a gender one. Fathers who take on much of the activity/school running would face the same car vs. bike dilemma, especially with multiple children.

Biking to the first day of school

I hesitate to make any sort of statement about perceived dangers of bicycling and risk aversion and linking that to one gender or the other. My mom was an incredibly tough woman (seven children in 10 years!) and my five sisters are extremely strong and brave. I have, however, heard from multiple female friends that they would be more apt to bike commute if our city had bicycling infrastructure that made them feel more comfortable out there on their bikes instead of having to ride always on the streets with car traffic. I have no doubt though that there are men who feel the same.

If you could magically change one thing to improve bicycling in your city, what would it be?
While I am thankful for my city’s investment in painting sharrows on many local roads, I must admit that I do lust after those protected bike lanes that are in some other cities. Then I would feel more comfortable with my older sons riding for transportation, not just for recreation. My nine-year-olds are quite capable bicyclists, but our city’s infrastructure does not allow them to ride themselves easily to school as our route takes us right through downtown. We have been working on street riding on the weekends when the car traffic is lighter, but during the week we are still mostly hauling them on our cargo bikes.

And while I know this question asks for just “one thing,” I must mention that I would also magically like to change many drivers’ attitudes about driving a car. I would love to see all drivers recognize what a big deal it is to drive a car—that it is a primary activity that requires vigilance and concentration, not a secondary activity to talking on the phone, texting, doing one’s hair, whatever. This would improve all of our lives: drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists alike. And to be clear, I, too, drive a car, so I try to live up to this standard.

Do you feel optimistic about the future of bicycling?
I do feel quite optimistic about the future of bicycling. In the past three years since we became family bike commuters, we’ve seen quite a noticeable increase in bike riding in New Haven and a very active family bicycling community grow on the Internet. The more of us out riding, I know it prompts others to think, “Hey, maybe I could do that, too.” We are no longer the nutty family out there on our cargo bikes (OK, maybe we still are) as there is a real cargo bike presence in town here. Sure, some folks still react in amazement and ask tons of questions when they see us hauling our kids on these cool bikes, but now we get hear more of, “Hey, nice Xtracycle!” or “Wow, you have a Yuba!”

Bicycle towing


Any advice for people, especially women, who want to start cycling?
Two basics for me: Find a bicycling buddy and start small.

When figuring out riding, reach out to another bicyclist. Perhaps you can go for a ride together before you strike out on your own or before you add kids to the mix if you are a family bicyclist. Maybe this bikey friend can help plan a good route to get to the library that doesn’t take you on streets too busy with auto traffic. Ask to try out another’s cargo bike. Ride together to camp or school drop-off.  Even if you cannot find a cyclist right down the street, go ahead and reach out to others via the web. When we first started family bike commuting, the folks we met through the Internet were invaluable. We asked their advice and looked to them for inspiration. We have found fellow bike folks, both local and virtual, to be extremely generous and open to our many questions.

To quote from the U.S. Secretary of Transportation’s blog, Fast Lanes,

“High gas prices are hitting American families in their wallets and pockets pretty hard these days.  But did you know that more than 40 percent of urban trips in the United States are less than two miles, yet 90 percent of those short trip are taken by car?”

Go ahead and plan to take a bike ride once a week to start. Think about one of those less-than-two-mile trips when you normally might take a car. Find a route on streets where you are comfortable riding. The more you are out there on your bike, the more you’ll feel comfortable doing on your bike. Likewise, the more bicyclists out there on the road, the safer it is for all.  So take that one trip to start. Make sure your gear is in good working order and you have all those provisions you need, kids’ snacks, sippy cups, etc. including a U-Lock (really, make this a part of your investment).  However, it doesn’t matter how long you ride for or how far you go, just give it a try.

Final words?
Just have fun! While many can point to the numerous benefits—financial, health-wise, environmental, etc.—of bicycling, when I am out there on my bike, I am often just having fun. Riding is a joyous experience.

{ Thanks Sara! For more on biking as a family of five, check out Full Hands. }

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July Women-who-bike Brunch

July’s women-who-bike brunch in Chicago on Sunday was a lovely little affair.  (I believe most of our ladies were resting up after the annual overnight L.A.T.E. Ride.)  We set up a picnic on the banks of a river just off a recreational bike path.  Everyone brought a little something to share and there were lots of fresh berries, homemade pastries, and refreshing spiked drinks.


The weather was a bit hot and there was a flat tire at the end, but nothing that the ladies could not handle.

It was so lovely to meet new people and to see familiar faces!

Are you in Chicago and interested in joining us?  Email me at LGRAB [at] letsgorideabike.com.  All women-who-bike (or are-considering-biking) are welcome!

More events coming up:

  • Women-who-bike Happy Hour: July 20, 6:00, Blue Line Lounge
  • Tour de Fat: This Saturday, July 16, Palmer Square
  • Seersucker Social: This Sunday, July 17, 1:00, Streetside Bar
  • Critical Lass: Thursday, July 21, 6 pm, Polish Triangle

Hope to see you there!

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Big biking weekend in Nashville

Two bike events are happening in Nashville this weekend that you should know about.

First of all, New Belgium is bringing the Tour de Fat here for the first time on Saturday, July 9. The event benefits Walk/Bike Nashville and Soundforest, and Kermit Allegra and I will be marshals, so come on out. You totally want to see my costume (OK, I haven’t planned it yet, but that just means it will be even MORE awesomely random, right?). Things get started around 9 and the 5-mile, leisurely ride kicks off at 10. Kegs are tapped at 11.

Then on Sunday, July 10, I’m planning a bicycle brunch. If you ride your bike in Nashville, or if you want to start riding your bike in Nashville, come on out and meet others who do! We’re meeting at ChaChah on Belmont Blvd at 10:30.

Will you be at either event? Both? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

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June’s Women-who-bike Picnic Brunch!

Sun, women, bikes, brunch, sangria, fresh mown grass = a perfect Sunday morning.  This month’s women-who-bike brunch was a picnic on the lakefront, with everyone bringing a dish to share – and boy were there some delicious baked goods!  Although Chicago has scores of great brunch restaurants, the picnic was so much better than being cooped up indoors.  After about 8 months of cold, Chicagoans know how to enjoy the summer!

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves now.













Thank you, awesome women, for choosing to spend your Sunday morning with the group!
As always, women in the Chicago area who would like to join the brunch (or one of the happy hours – next one on Monday, June 13) should email me at LGRAB@letsgorideabike.com.
Hope to see you there!  :)
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March’s women-who-bike brunch

March’s women-who-bike brunch was small and cozy, thanks to some last minute location scheduling on my part, but at least having fewer people made it much easier to carry on a conversation. I had a great time hanging out with some of my favorite cycling mamas and a recent transplant to Chicago from Austin.

The scene: Wishbone

Lauren and Mimosa!

Jennifer and Ash

Me and Betty

Ash and her Madsen

The next brunch on April 3rd is already set to be another big one. If you’re in the Chicago area and are interested in attending, email me at LGRAB@letsgorideabike.com for the location details. The brunch is always the first Sunday of the month, so put it on your calendar. :)

In other news, I left my bike at home yesterday because the forecast called for thunderstorms and severe hail. Guess what? No thunder, no hail. I was tricked into taking the L train! Boo.

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February’s women-who-bike brunch

The women-who-bike brunch continues to grow each month, to my great delight. The fourth official brunch last Sunday was the biggest yet, with 20 women attending. This was after 6 people sent their condolences due to the inches of fresh falling snow that greeted us in the morning.  Quite a few of us, including me, opted for public transportation due to the weather, but the important part was gathering together and talking with cool women, no matter how we traveled on that particular day.

By the time sunny spring rolls around, we’re going to change things up and start having pot luck picnics. We’ll have to: no restaurant will be able to contain us!

The brunch location: Ann Sather

Our table of 20

Martha and Chicargo Bike

Elizabeth

Danielle and Megan

Famous Ann Sather Cinnamon Rolls

After interesting, intelligent, silly and fun conversation and many huge cinnamon rolls, it was time to unlock our bikes, talk some more and eventually disperse until next month.

Megan unlocks her bike

More talking

Sara and Danielle (the latter 9 months pregnant and riding her Christiana Trike!)

Ready for the ride

Megan, Suzanne and Catherine

Megan, Suzanne and Catherine stay cozy

Janet and her Oma

I wore my "new" vintage horse dress

Some of us stopped by Women and Children First bookstore afterward, where I bought Lionel Shriver’s The Female of the Species (half way through – so good!).

Women and Children First independent bookstore

I’m eagerly looking forward to the next brunch already.  We’ll have to meet up for a happy hour in the meantime.  :)

The End

The next women-who-bike brunch will take place on Sunday, March 6.  If you would like to be on the email list for the time and location, please email me at LGRAB [at] letsgorideabike [dot] com.  The more the merrier!

I also created a group on The Chainlink so we can more easily communicate among each other and continue spreading the word.

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January’s women-who-bike brunch

My third women-who-bike brunch was the biggest yet, with nearly 20 women gathering together on a freezing Sunday morning to enjoy each other’s company and $3 mimosas. I love these brunches for the opportunity to sit down and have great conversations with so many smart, fun women. Next we’ll expand to happy hours, in the spring we’ll start some group rides and from there we’ll take over the world.

What an awesome group! I tried to get everyone’s photo, but did not quite succeed. Here are some cool blogs that were represented: Ding Ding Let’s Ride, This Little Bike of Mine, Bike Fancy, Two Pitties in the City (cutest dogs ever), Po Campo, and Chicargo Bike. If I indadvertedly left anyone’s blog out, feel free to leave a comment to say hi and link to your stuffs. :)

As always, if you’re interested in attending our next brunch on the first Sunday of February, email me at LGRAB [at] letsgorideabike [dot] com.

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Out of My Way, Boys!

What follows is a glimpse at the mindset of a female bike commuter. I assume I’m not the only one who has these thoughts and impulses. :)

I am not a competitive person, more happy when everyone is a winner. As the weather warms and I see all the – mostly male – cyclists jockeying for position in the bike lanes, I feel a combination of amusement and annoyance. Opting out of the commute-as-race mentality is one reason I love riding my Dutch bike.

That said, sometimes my ego kicks in when I ride Betty Foy and I end up pushing myself a lil’ more than usual. There is a correlation between this phenomenon and listening to Lady Gaga on my iPod.*

I’m not delusional regarding the limits of my skillz and my petite steel mixte, but I can ride pretty fast. On my Betty Foy, I pass the majority of cyclists on the lakefront path, except for those serious guys and gals in jerseys, especially in the spring when most are emerging from hibernation. (On the streets I usually take it easier due to all the traffic.)

Anyone who rides at least 10 miles a day, every day, all year is bound to get pretty good at it.

Today was one of those ego days.

On the lakefront path this morning, I saw in my rear view mirror a lycra commuter gaining on me. I decided to kick it up a notch, thinking he would eventually pass, but at least I would show that I’m not such an easy mark. To my surprise, the distance between us grew and soon he was far behind.

On the streets this evening, I had to deal with guys all up in my space, trying to crowd me out at lights. You know what I’m talking about – riders stopping next to me and creeping ahead before the light turns green. This behavior pushes my competitive button for two reasons. First, crowding me at an intersection is unsafe when I’m trying to maintain my line between moving traffic and parked cars. Second, the stereotypical attitude – based solely on my gender and appearance – that I am an obstacle to be overtaken irks me. Not so fast, boys! Methinks you should get out of my way. Yeah, I’ve got a pink helmet, basket, skirt, heels. And…? Sure enough, I soon left those guys behind.

Most of the time I’m happy to let others expend energy on this kind of stuff while I la la lalala along, taking in the scenery, especially while riding my Oma.  But sometimes I can’t help asserting myself.  It’s kinda fun!  I even start daydreaming about racing on a Sweetpea Little Black Dress wearing lycra, but really I’m very risk averse.  Plus, those hardcore women would kick my ass ;)

{And now, random scenes from my Chicago day. Note the very special Dottie fuel: gourmet cupcakes!}


*When riding in the streets, I sometimes listen to music, only in my right ear and at a very low volume. I’ve assessed the risk and determined it safe for my situation. Plus, it does wonders for my sanity and general cheeriness.

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More Gender Gap Analysis from the Media

The press lately has been fascinated with women on bikes. Reading these articles brings us a mixture of pleasure, optimism, frustration and annoyance. While mainstream acknowledgment of transportation bicycling is positive, the coverage regarding women has been shallow. Back in June the New York Times and Treehugger published articles that focus on women’s appearance and risk aversion – flaccid analyses that Trisha took head on in Mind the Gender Gap. Our female readers made their thoughts known loud and clear, which I highlighted in Women’s Voices.

My sister and nephew

My sister and nephew

Now Scientific American has jumped into the discussion with its article, “How to Get More Bicyclists on the Road: To boost urban bicycling, figure out what women want.” While there is the typical assertion that women are more risk averse than men, based on “studies across disciplines,”  there is also an interesting note that even within the same city, women’s cycling rates shoot up when one counts riders on protected paths.

Continue reading

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Mind the Gender Gap

Dottie and I make no secret of the fact that the number one mission of our blog is to show that city cycling can be a part of any woman’s everyday life—no special equipment or clothing, or even a special type of bike required (though after a few months of riding, you’ll probably want one — or two!). Over the past six months, we’ve talked about our own obstacles to commuting and given our personal experiences as examples of how women might fit cycling into their lives.

Lately the media has been obsessed with women on bikes—or, more accurately, the women who are NOT on bikes. Apparently, we
Picture 3need more women cyclists to pretty up the place. Why aren’t they riding?!? Is it the helmet head? Are women too scared to share the road with cars? Maybe they are afraid to sweat? The latest to join the discussion is the New York Times’ City Room blog. The article presents research from a professor at Rutgers that says men commute by bike at 3 times the frequency of women, and the percentage is even worse in New York City. Having never cycled in NYC myself, I can’t say whether his description of riding its streets as “like going into battle” is accurate. And I certainly don’t want to discount concerns about safety and fashion, which were issues for me when starting out and two things Dottie and I are trying to help others overcome.

What annoys me is that none of the articles I’ve read on this topic lately go any deeper into why those things present serious obstacles for women but not men, even though men have the same concerns (no one wants to show up for work disheveled and stinky after all). Why bother, when it’s so obvious that men are just much less self-absorbed and a million times braver? It couldn’t be that there are higher expectations for women’s appearances in the workplace, or that the burden of transporting children or household errands like grocery shopping more often falls to them—the first reasons that came to my mind. These are not insurmountable, of course (just ask these cycling superparents, both moms and dads, or the other stylish women bike commuters we know), but they require some thought, negotiation and planning that your average male might not have to overcome in his quest to bicycle commute.

But instead of giving weight to these concerns, or looking into others, these articles stay on the surface. Women are dismissed as frivolous and their absence is mourned not because of the missed opportunity to allow them to discover an activity that can improve their quality of life, but because their presence would improve the scenery. As a girl who likes to look good on her bike, I can’t argue with that statement, but I can argue with it being the number one reason we should get women on bikes—sorry, Treehugger.

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