On Course to Make Cycling an Easy Ride for Black Women
December 28, 2020
Allyson McCalla wants you to know that you don’t need a spandex jersey and fancy shoes to ride a bike.
“If you have a bike and you have a helmet, we can make it work,” she said. “You can ride in jeans, you can ride in shorts, swishy pants, sweatsuits, spandex … you can ride in anything.”
The director of community outreach for the Newport, R.I-based nonprofit Bike Newport is on a mission to make bicycling accessible for everyone, but particularly for women of color.
“Since I’ve been biking — and I was biking probably about 15 to 20 miles a day — I didn’t see any people of color at all, let alone women of color,” McCalla said. “We’re really underrepresented.”
To change that, and to create a strong community of Black and Brown women cyclists, McCalla is starting a Newport chapter of the international organization Black Girls Do Bike (BGDB).
BGDB was founded in 2013 by Monica Garrison as a Facebook page where Black women could share their love of cycling. It grew, and eventually a woman in Florida asked Garrison if she could use BGDB as the name for a cycling group she was forming.
From then on, other BGDB groups started popping up around the country. Today, there more than 100 chapters in the United States and in the United Kingdom.
The goal: “Growing and supporting a community of women of color who share a passion for cycling.”
McCalla first heard about BGDB when she attended a League of American Bicyclists conference in March 2019 in Alexandria, Va. She heard Garrison speak about the underrepresentation of Black woman cycling that McCalla was seeing during her own rides.
“It interested me because I’m a woman of color who just doesn’t see many other women of color cycling,” McCalla said. “I was interested to see that there were other women of color cycling out there, and what also caught my attention was Monica’s passion for bicycling and trying to get other women of color motivated to do it.”
For many women of color, bicycling can be intimidating not only due to perhaps having to learn to ride a bike, but also because of the public conception of who rides.
“I think you when hear about a bicycle group, you might think about middle-age White dudes, you might think about people geared up with their helmets and spandex and water bottles and brand-new beautiful bikes,” McCalla said. “So that’s what I also want to bring awareness to, that no, it’s not that, it’s not always that.”
In fact, the truth of who is cycling is more complex and diverse than the population often depicted in cycling advertisements.
Between 2001 and 2009, there was a 90 percent positive change in the number of Black cyclists in the United States. The number of bicycling Hispanics increased 30 percent, and Asians on two wheels went up 60 percent. White people had the least increase in bicycle ridership, with a 20 percent positive change.
Although many people of color do bike, bicycling activism and infrastructure is often targeted to the white side of town. A Rutgers University survey found that more than half of the people of color surveyed didn’t have confidence that their governments would add safe cycling infrastructure to their communities if they requested it.
McCalla hopes that through the Newport chapter of BDGB she can raise awareness that Black female cyclists do exist and also give them the confidence to ride.
“I’d like to have workshops about how to ride a bike in a group setting or alone, using hand signals, learning how to ride with motor vehicles, learning how to ride on very narrow streets,” she said. “Here in Newport, we don’t have a bike path, but we have roads that you share with cars. I’d also like to have a workshop on something like fixing a flat tire; taking the tire off the wheel, looking for the hole that might be inside there, patching it up and putting it back on … that in itself is empowering.”
For Monique Peoples-Graham, a Newport resident and member of the newly formed Bike Newport chapter of BGDB, the thought of having a close-knit group of women of color to bike with is exciting.
“Just having a group out there that look like me, that love to bike, and who want to raise awareness for other women, to let them know that there is a group out there, there’s a tribe of Black women bikers who are out there … it’s awesome,” she said.