As part of the new LGRAB, every Tuesday we will profile an inspiring everyday cyclist – a weekly series called “Roll Models.”
This week’s Roll Model is Karen from She Rides a Bike. In 2008, Karen began bicycling for transportation in Flagstaff, Arizona and now blogs about her move toward a simpler and more satisfying lifestyle.
Describe your bicycling style in three words. In 3 words, my bicycling style would be responsible, assertive and well-organized. I wish I could say stylish but it’s more of an aspiration. [ed: way stylish!]
How long have you been riding a bike? I’ve been a committed transportation cyclist for 4 years.
How does bicycling fit into and shape your life? I’ve worked bicycling into most aspects of my life. If I can’t get someplace on my bike (with the exception of necessary air travel) I start questioning whether or not it’s even someplace I need to go. I still use a car from time to time but I’m more deliberate about when, where and why. I think bicycling has inspired me to reassess my relationship with “stuff” and motivated me to pursue simpler living that places value on experiences over possessions. I still like nice things but prefer quality over quantity.
What inspires you to keep bicycling? I’m inspired to keep bicycling by the way I feel (and sometimes don’t feel) when I’m pedaling. I love the feeling of strength, liberation, and openness that I experience moving in space. Bicycling is something I can do so why would I stop? Why give up my power? I’m also inspired by the other women cycling bloggers that I follow and their choice to also do something that is still a bit outside the mainstream.
As women, we are often rewarded for accommodating the expectations of the larger culture regardless of whether or not doing so is in our best interests. I love seeing women (and men for that matter) challenging expectations that serve no other purpose than to perpetuate a not always helpful status quo.
In your experience, does the general bicycling world – shops, outreach, group rides, etc. – feel welcoming for you as a woman? I think that I’ve been pretty lucky that the LBS in Flagstaff are super helpful and supportive of women cyclists regardless of what kind of cycling they do. A few of them sponsor clinics on bike maintenance and offer group rides. Flagstaff has a great urban trail system and many bike lanes so I can get around almost anywhere by bike. Flagstaff Bicycling Organization does a whole week of Bike to Work Week activities, as well as trail repair days and safety clinics. Women cyclists are viewed as important. The downtown bars and restaurants have also welcomed Tweed Rides since they bring people downtown who will spend money without taking up parking.
What is your take on the “gender gap” in cycling, including media attention on how to get more women to bicycle? I don’t see that big a gender gap in Flagstaff. It’s an outdoorsy community so women are doing all sorts of activities once considered daring. If there is a gap it might be more between moms and not-moms. I’m not a mom so I have considerable time and freedom that moms don’t necessarily have since I don’t have to worry about balancing a work schedule and a child schedule. Moms might have more safety concerns than I have. Flagstaff is bike friendly but some of its residents and visitors view the road as meant for cars and trucks only. Few cities enjoy the kind of bike culture as Portland.
I see an ongoing debate in the media about the cycle chic movement that strikes me as rather odd. There’s nothing prurient, in my opinion, about the cycle chic movement. I like to look nice at all times, including when I’m on my bike. As a new cyclist I appreciated cycle chic blogs that showed me how it was done. I’m 49 and have no desire to be confused as a bike-riding Hooters girl, and I don’t think cycle chic promotes that anyway. I just want to dress to please myself. If I had to wear gender neutral, asexual bike apparel or lycra, I wouldn’t have given bike commuting a shot.
If you could magically change one thing to improve bicycling in your city, what would it be? I think bicycling is still viewed by the movers and shakers as a recreational activity not as a serious transportation option. The town motto seems to be “Poverty with a view.” People joke about it but the high cost of car ownership is not funny. We sold one car and started bike commuting to help economize and it’s made a big difference in making ends meet and being able to save for retirement. Flag is small enough for bike commuting to be a very workable option for most residents but some still view investments in bike paths and other bike infrastructure as frivilous. Luckily, the bike community is pretty vocal.
Do you feel optimistic about the future of bicycling? I’m not by nature an optimist but I think the cycle chic movement has mainstreamed transportation cycling just a little bit. Framing bikes as sexy and fashionable might be the honey that makes the bitter medicine of changing how we get around go down a little easier. Ten years ago nobody could have told me I would be biking to work or the doctor or my hair stylist! It was a decision I made out of necessity. Nationally, times are changing. I think the days of mega houses and cars for every member of the household are coming an end. And that’s not such a bad thing.
Any advice for people, especially women, who want to start cycling? Give yourself permission to start slow and learn. Being a newbie at anything requires a learning curve and a period of clumsiness. With time, it all becomes second nature. Visit plenty of bikes shops, ride lots of bikes, and check out all the biking blogs out there because they are packed with experiences, ideas, images and real people who can give you lots of wisdom. Whatever your barrier to bike riding, someone has come up with a way to overcome it.
Final words? I just appreciate being asked to particiapate in this post. I think most bloggers do so because they have something in their lives that they want to share. I’m always amazed when I meet someone who tells me I helped motivate them to try bike commuting but if I hadn’t stumbled upon LGRAB and other lady-biker oriented blogs, I wouldn’t have had the courage to get started myself.
Thanks so much to Karen for sharing her story and insight with us! So many good points!