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Sierra Daily

May 30, 2013

Biking: Not Just for White Guys With Tattoos

ACT_01Cycling is starting to happen. Bike commuting is up 47% nationwide between 2000 and 2011--and the largest increases are being seen among women, youth, and people of color. "The New Majority, Pedaling Towards Equity," a new report by the League of American Bicyclists and the Sierra Club, lays out how the fastest growth in percent of all trips by bike is among African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Hispanics--and how cycling numbers could be even higher with better cycling infrastructure, safe places to store bicycles, and riding clubs like Red, Bike, and Green or Black Women Bike. Allyson Criner Brown is on the leadership team of the latter; Sierra interviewed her for our upcoming issue--Paul Rauber

"People just lose their minds when they see a black woman on a bicycle. You should see the looks of shock. The message that's out there is that it's unusual to be a black woman biking in D.C., that biking's not for us. That's not true.

"Our mission is to get black women on bicycles. We aren't going to get you to the point of high skill, but we want to get you on a bike. Last year we had a woman who was in her 60s who lived in one of D.C.'s underserved neighborhoods where you don't see much bike infrastructure. She hadn't been on a bike in 40 years. She rented one from Capital Bikeshare, and her face was glowing afterward. We always have women who come out and say, 'I'm so glad that I found you. I'm so glad that you exist.'

"I came back to biking as an adult. I didn't know what kind of bike I should get, how to lock it up, how to be safe. Who do you ask? A bike shop can be intimidating. Look at who works there -- people wearing bike-chain bracelets and with bike tattoos. Is that the person you want to be asking for advice if you're a beginner?

"And there's another type of interaction: I can walk into a bike shop and nobody will say anything to me until I'm about to walk out the door, even if I'm looking at high-level gear. At Black Women Bike, people can feel comfortable asking questions. One of the things we talk about is what shops will give you good service.

"I ride on a nice piece of '70s red steel named Starburst. I've done three triathlons, but I started as a commuter, and I mostly use it to commute, which takes about 14 minutes. I work in education, and when I tell the teachers I work with that I rode my bike to school, they say, 'What?' I tell them there are hundreds of us, and we all ride our bicycles."
--interview by Jake Abrahamson

Photo: Benjamin Tankersley

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