ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH IN TRANSPORT
BLACK GIRLS DO BIKE
Is it possible to create a safe and prominent space for women of colour who share a passion for cycling? The community of Black Girls Do Bike (BGDB) not only believes it, but also takes action and makes it happen. In this interview, Alessia Giorgiutti talks with Monica Garrison about the genesis of BGDB, how bikes can change women’s lives, and what decision-makers and local authorities can do to make cycling safer and more accessible to all
Caption: BGDB Cleveland Shero, Diana H., taking a few track laps (@devahd) © Monica Garrison
1. Black Girls Do Bike – how would you describe the community to someone who has never heard of it?
Monica Garrison (MG): BGDB is an organization that has taken on the task of growing and supporting a community of women of colour who share a passion for cycling. We are working to accomplish this using a network of enthusiastic ladies around the world. We coordinate group rides, educational clinics and encourage ladies to connect to the larger cycling community.
Black Girls Do Bike Founder Monica Garrison spreading the word at Pittsburgh's largest annual bike event, Pedal PGH © Andre Garrison
2. As the founder of the community, do you remember how and why it came to be? Was there a specific moment or was it more of a slow realisation, a build-up of awareness?
MG: After a long harsh winter season in 2013, I began riding more consistently, with a goal of losing weight and managing my mental health. I had the time of my life, and I was reaping the benefits of riding regularly. I thought that more women could benefit from discovering this thing that was helping me cope. That was the genesis. Our growth over the next few years was fast, yet methodical. As ladies became aware of our existence, word spread, and we blazed through setting up chapters in almost every major city in the US.
3. How did you get into cycling and what is the thing you like about it the most?
Monica Garrison cycling with her two children in front of the Pittsburgh skyline © Samone Riddle
MG: Cycling has sort of weaved its way in and out of my life through the years. Riding my bike was one of my favourite activities as a kid. I commuted by bike in my early twenties. I rode for recreation alongside my children. What I appreciate the most about cycling is its power to help me detach from technology and stress. When I ride, I unplug in a way that heals me.
4. If you had to pin-point the barriers that black female riders experience in relation to cycling and the urban environment, what are the most pressing ones?
MG: From my experience, I think safety is at the top of the list. Ladies want properly connected infrastructure that allows them to move freely around town. We want to feel safe traversing trails as the sun goes down. Beyond that, we as lady riders have increased apprehension around riding alongside traffic. Women fear the lack of respect some drivers may have for the female body and even less respect for brown bodies on bikes.
Black Girls Do Bike Pittsburgh during their Bike Share Party © Samone Riddle
5. The community of BGDB is growing exponentially and reaching us in Europe, too – look at London’s example! Do you have hopes and plans to reach more black communities in Europe? And how can someone join and/or support the community?
MG: My belief is that the black diaspora is connected by the common thread of shared life experiences. I think that the mission of Black Girls Do Bike speaks to all of us, no matter where we are and connecting through cycling allows us to share our experiences and build community. I do hope that we will continue to expand into Europe and beyond. To join, visit our website’s dedicated page to find a group near you. If you are interested in creating a BGDB chapter in your town or university, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, we hope that you will spread the word about BGDB, purchase some swag from our shop or by simply donating to help further our mission.
Black Girls Do Bike… in London
New data from POLIS member Transport for London’ latest research “Cycling potential in London's diverse communities (2021)” shows that people cycling in London are more diverse (and representative) than ever.
6. Privilege and cycling: we know their relation is not a myth, but how can we educate and be educated about it?
MG: Privilege is the prerogative to ignore a problem because it does not affect you personally. I think the only real way to learn is to become a student of the experiences of others. There are books in these subjects and tons of personal experiences to listen to. Seek out that which does not naturally find you.
7. If you could talk to local authorities and decision-makers working on mobility and the urban space, what would you like to tell them?
MG: If your urban plan or bike business does not account for all riders then your plan is deficient. We need to speak to those who will be most negatively affected by our decisions. When women, folks with disabilities, people of colour are part of the planning and decision-making process, the result can be holistic, fulfilling the needs, expectations, and desires of entire communities.
8. What do you think is the impact of Black Girls Do Bike and what is your vision for the community in the upcoming five to 10 years?
MG: BGDB is the launching pad for so many ladies to enter the larger cycling community and that will have positive consequences. Ultimately growing this community results in creating safe spaces for ladies of colour to explore and bond together. Hopefully we are setting expectations for the next generation of riders.
Black Girls Do Bike at the organization's first national meetup in Atlanta © CiCi Jones Photography
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