I went into Babes In Bikeland 8 with one goal: to not flip over my handlebars. Which really wasn’t a very hard goal to set. The only other time I had participated in Babes in Bikeland, the largest WTF (women/trans/femme) alley-cat in the world started in Minneapolis (unverified claim, but I’m 99% sure is accurate), I broke the chain on my fixie and flipped over my handlebars in the first three blocks of the race. Afterward I slowly rode to a few stops and stopped by the after party, but left quickly because I felt pretty shaken up. So my goal of Babes being better than the last time was a pretty easy goal to achieve. I also had other goals: have fun, ride hard, finish all the stops, cheer for everyone I passed on the roads, but not flipping over my handlebars was pretty high on the list.
And let me tell you, it was beyond great. It’s hard to find the words to describe how wonderful, empowering, and rad Babes in Bikeland is.
One of my favorite things about Babes is that it isn’t just about the race – it’s a whole weekend of events. The night before there is a pre-ride, the morning of there is a brunch, then there is the race and the after party, and the next day Open Streets essentially acts as the Babes cool down.
The weekend kicked off Friday night with the Pre-Babes Wanderabout. My friend Low with a team of other rad folks have been organizing the Wanderabout for 3 years. Its a ride meant for new people who have never raced an alley-cat before and are looking for an introduction as to what to expect, want to meet some people so that they’ll see some familiar faces at the start line, and want to familiarize themselves with at least two stops of the race (the beginning and the end). I wanted to attend the Wanderabout because although I like to think of myself as a seasoned racer, I am always looking to attend events that are advertised as an inclusive environment for new cyclists, and I’m constantly trying to learn from these events as to how to bring this back to my own community. Anyways – the wanderabout was awesome. We casually rode for 10 miles, stopped by the beautiful Minnehaha Falls, and ended at SPOKES with beer and pizza. It sets off the Babes weekend on the perfect note saying that this is a race that is welcome to everyone and encouraging new folks to come out.
Then the big day arrived. Babes in Bikeland. It’s hard to describe what its like to see 400+ WTF riders converging in this one park, some dressed in crazy costumes, others in full kits with their game faces on, and everyone super pumped to be there. I wasn’t really sure what my race plan was as I arrived at registration. I hadn’t decided if I wanted to really race, ride casually, or somewhere in between. I didn’t have a ride partner, and I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted one. And then I saw her. My old co-worker Janne was in line for registration. And I thought ‘Perfect. She is the perfect ride partner.’ After hugs and such we agreed to ride together with the motto ‘fun before fast.’ We wanted to ride fast, but still use the time to chat, catch up, and, most importantly, have fun.
We lined up on the race line with over 400 other riders and waited as Kat welcomed people to the race and gave a brief introduction to Babes in Bikeland. The nerves of the crowd were palpable, but so was the excitement as Kat gave the final signal and Low blew the horn to signify the beginning of the race.
Janne and I rode about 26 miles to hit the 10 stops of the race. We did the south stops first and followed the conventional Minneapolis alley-cat wisdom ‘don’t cross the river more than twice.’ Each stop had a quick activity – pilates exercises, making a goal playing bike polo, flip-cup, a photo shoot with props, finding the hole in a tube, making a wish and throwing a penny in a fountain, playing rock, paper, scissor, shoot and more. We rode from stop to stop at a quick pace, but leisurely enough that we could chat about what was happening in our lives. We cheered for every other rider we saw on the road, and got a lot of ‘Yea Babes!’ and ringing bells in return. We stuck to our fun before fast motto, but still ended up riding pretty fast! We took 22nd and 23rd place, but most importantly we had a great time and there is no one else I would have rather ridden with.
Per usual the after-party was bumpin: lots of beer, great music and even better people. It was also one of the most respectful bike party spaces I’ve been part of. The organizers were really intentional about getting the word out about what safe space meant for Babes in Bikeland starting back in August. It set the tone for expectations of racers, volunteers and allies. The post that kicked off setting the attitude of Babes read:
I want to take a brief moment before this page gets cluttered to let you all know we are working to make Babes in Bikeland a safer space for everyone. I’m not proud to admit that we’ve had some issues in the past, but it is our goal moving forward to keep the energy positive and supportive for all of our women/trans*/femme (WTF) riders.
WTF identified people often don’t feel safe at bike events for a number of reasons. Why? Things like constant sexual advances; hearing homophobic or transphobic “jokes”; intimidating language like putting down ability or bike gear- these things can make bike events into a hostile and stressful place for some people. It’s not only the one bad apple, it’s the 30 people who each do one little thing, often without realizing it is making someone feel threatened.
We are trying to stop those little things from happening. So, when YOU are at this event, we ask that you don’t try to pick up WTFs, you don’t touch people without their enthusiastic consent, you don’t make homophobic or transphobic “jokes”, and you don’t use language that is grounded in hate or discrimination. We are all here to have a good time, so just be respectful of one another, it’s not that hard.
In summary, a safer space event is an event where the general theme of the night is
DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE
CELEBRATE YOUR WTF FRIENDS
BE NICE TO EACH OTHER
And all that work leading up to the race getting the word out about what safe space means at Babes paid off. The atmosphere of the race and the party was amazing. People were respectful. WTFs felt ownership over the space. People were nice to one another. It’s like the whole world should be that way!
It’s hard to describe why I find Babes in Bikeland so inspirational, and why it feels like the WTF bike revolution is really happening in Minneapolis. But really. If you’ve never experienced Babes first hand, take a minute to imagine it. Think about what it would be like to see 400+ WTF cyclists in your city, gathered in a park, anxiously awaiting a horn, and then all of them riding 25 miles around the streets of your city, going from stop to stop, biking at whatever pace is comfortable to them, and killing it. Think about what it would be like to go to a bike event after party where the MAJORITY of folks there are not cis-men. Going to a bike after-party where people aren’t judging what gear you have, but asking how much fun you had, what your favorite stop was, asking if it was your first time racing, and giving out tons of high fives and fist pumps. Imagine a prize ceremony where the costume categories, masters, and rookies are cheered at a deafening volume.
That is what the bike revolution looks like. And I hope that someday you all get the chance to experience what that is like wherever you are.
As for me, going to Babes in Bikeland this year (and NOT flipping over my handlebars) was just the inspiration and kick in the butt I needed to bring all those things that I feel about the WTF bike community in Minneapolis here to Boston. It’s time to get shit started and try to bring that bike revolution here. And it starts (at least for me) with Femmechanics.
A thousand thanks yous to the race organizers – Kat, Low, Jessica and Karyn (Karyn – I don’t know you but you are awesome!). Y’all are amazing. I hope that you feel proud of what you created this year. And thanks Janne for being the best babe a girl could ask for.
and you know that I’ll be there again next year!
Check out some of the AMAZING photos of the race/party/stops:
Bjorn’s pics of the whole thing (BEAUTIFUL)