Women’s Bike Programme – Nairobi

This is a post I originally wrote for Bikes Not Bombs.

Last year when visiting our partner Cycloville in Nairobi, Kenya, I hosted a workshop with women cyclists in Nairobi and asked the question “what are the barriers to women cycling?” According to a 2013 study, 96.9% of cyclists in Nairobi are men.  I often hear the same responses just about everywhere in the world: sexual harassment, lack of time, lack of money, domestic labor responsibilities, feeling unsafe, riding a bike is not considered ‘ladylike,’ and girls not learning to ride when they’re young. It is sadly comforting that women from most parts of the world face very similar barriers to cycling.

After this workshop, BNB partnered with Cycloville to pilot a Women’s Bike Programme (WBP), aimed to get more women on bikes. We decided to start with one of the simplest barriers to address: learning how to ride a bike. During a 3-month pilot in 2016, 110 girls and women in Mathare learned how to ride bikes through WBP. While I’m here visiting I asked Kiki, the Women’s Bike Program Coordinator, if we could arrange a bike ride with the new graduates from Learn-2-Ride. On Sunday, March 12th, 18 graduates and 4 instructors went to Karura Forest in Nairobi to go for a bike ride and to talk about the experience of learning to ride a bike.

It’s hard to describe the energy of nearly 20 twelve and thirteen year olds to go on a bike ride, especially when biking is something new and therefore a little bit scary but mostly just exciting. Add onto this energy that most of these girls don’t leave Mathare that often. As one of the largest slums in Nairobi, Mathare is both in the center of Nairobi and also a world apart. Girls might leave Mathare once a week to visit family, but most of their lives are spent within the borders of a small but populous slum. Karura Forest is only 4km away from Mathare, and visiting to go for a bike ride is an exciting excursion outside their normal routines.

After unloading bikes from the truck, we were off for a ride through the forest. It took less than 2 minutes for the first fall on a downhill, but even scrapped knees couldn’t dampen the riders enthusiasm. We rode up long hills and down long descents, as many girls learned that shifting your gears does really make a big difference. After an hour’s ride through the forest we ended with snacks of milk, bananas and donuts – the perfect combination!

We ended the day with small group discussions about cycling. To get us started I borrowed one of my favorite activities I learned in Adult Instructor Training (run by Youth Programs at BNB) where you line up teams to have people go head-to-head to be the first to touch the right tool on a tool board. I adapted the game to bike parts and we divided into 3 teams as girls raced to be the first to identify different bike parts. We started with easy things like seat, frame, and tire, and ended with rear hubs, stems, and derailleurs that sometimes even stumped instructors.

Last we sat around to talk about what it had been like to now know how to ride a bike (‘exciting,’ ‘fun,’ ‘hungry,’ ‘tiring,’) and why it’s important for women to ride bikes. As we were getting towards the end I asked if anyone had questions for me, and one girl raised her head and asked “do you lose your virginity when you ride a bike?” From the looks around the girl, it was clear that she was not the only one who was concerned about this. Kiki jumped in to emphatically say ‘No! You do not lose your virginity riding a bike. I ride my bike around town everyday, and not a day goes by that someone doesn’t tell me that I’m ‘ruining my goods.’ But I know that they are wrong and that it won’t stop me!’ Kiki’s conviction convinced the girls and they all looked relieved.

The same girl then turned to me said “I want to ride bikes like Kiki someday.”

Monday Inspiration

Idk what this has to do with Ikea, but listening to her talk about riding and feeling how a city breathes by riding the streets is definitely making me want to just walk out of my job right now and ride bikes.

2016: Mixed Emotions

It was a roller coaster year, starting with a lot of intense highs and really positive experiences and events, and ending with some real lows and feeling pretty lost.

Gravel grinding with my parents in Vermont.

Good things:

  • Went to Kenya and Tanzania and met a bunch of inspiring bike organizations, and hosted a women’s bike forum in Kenya which was successful and rad
  • Got a promotion at work to a fancy title with ‘director’ in it
  • Bought a condo
  • Entered a bunch of mountain bike races for the first time. Won some of them. Quit a race: a first for me. Had a lot of fun. Pushed myself. Got to spend a lot of time riding with friends and getting to know mountain biking trails in Massachusetts. Spent a weekend riding at Kingdom Trails.
Strategic Planning meeting with Cycloville in Kenya.
Selfie after winning my first ever mountain bike race, which was during a snow storm.

Not great things:

  • The World. A criminal, racist, misogynist, every other type of bigot President-Elect. I feel like its hard to talk about why 2016 was a tough year without pointing this out.
  • Stopped playing bike polo. I still have a lot of mixed emotions about this. Even if I play again at some point, I’m glad I took a break for a while.
  • Smashed my face and wrist in the Blue Hills, which was not only expensive , but I felt pretty rattled by the concussion for a while and couldn’t ride my bike for a couple months. Still can’t ride on trails.
  • Lost confidence in where I’m going in life and what I’m doing on this planet. I’ve felt really directionless the last few months, which is a scary thing to me because I’ve always been someone with a lot of direction and momentum moving towards something.
Smashed my face. And let me just say, this was a flattering photo of what my face looked like.

And on that note, I look towards 2017 hoping to build on the many good things about 2016, and to both be more comfortable with feeling a little lost, but also hope to feel a little less lost.

Babes Bike Boston This Weekend!

babessquareBabes Bike Boston is this weekend, and I am beyond excited! Last night the organizing team went to go test out the ride and race routes, and I can now personally guarantee that this will be awesome. As if you didn’t already know that!

We’re also hosting a Pre-Babes Casual Ride on Friday night. Come check it out!

My heart is full when I think about what it will look like to see Copley full of rad FTW folks lined up to ride this awesome event. I CAN’T WAIT.

The Never-Ending Summer Weekend

This last weekend I took 4-days off and had a glorious weekend of summer biking. The weekend was so much fun that I’ve been going through fun withdrawal, and was incredibly grumpy going into work on Tuesday. Although it felt like a never-ending weekend of fun, it did indeed end, but at least I took full advantage while it lasted.

The weather was great – and since this is New England that means that it was humid as hell, with occasional rolling showers. I began the weekend with the goal of doing 4 different types of biking in 4 days. And even though I don’t always consider city biking and polo as different kinds of biking (I just think of them as my daily routine), this time I’ll count it so that I can say I did 4 kinds – road, city, polo and mountain biking.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.39.10 PMFriday, I rode with 3 women down to Providence, Rhode Island, which is one of my absolute favorite rides. I honestly can’t remember the last time I went out on a long road ride with a group of all women. It was awesome! The day started with a flat 3 blocks from where we started, so we went back to our start point, patched the tube and hit the road again, to only get another flat 15 miles out. It was a bit of a rough start, but the ride couldn’t have been more fun. The route is beautiful, but my favorite part is always biking through the Diamond Hill Reservoir, which is just the right downhill grade to feel like you’re flying- plus you get to snap photos like this:


AND, just like magic, as we crossed from Massachusetts into Rhode Island, there was a DEL’S stand on the side of the road. Now, those of you not from Rhode Island will not understand the depths of my love for Del’s, but suffice to say – Del’s is the most delicious frozen lemonade in existence, and it is the perfect biking treat.

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Continue reading “The Never-Ending Summer Weekend”

Babes Bike Boston!

You might remember last year when I went out to Minnesota for Babes in Bikeland and came back singing it’s praises. Well, I couldn’t just sit back and not bring it to Boston – so I’m excited to announce that Femmechanics is organizing BABES BIKE BOSTON a FTW (femme/trans/women) alleycat ride and race. It’s going to be rad and I couldn’t be more excited to see the amazing energy of a bunch of FTW riders taking over the streets of Boston.

full page babes flyer

Calling People In Within Your Small Bike Community

I’m going to be real right now – I’m a bike feminist who spends a lot of time riding bikes with dudes. I do a lot of organizing in the FTW (femme/trans*/women) bike community, and I’m constantly trying to find more non-cis male riding partners (and I’m having a lot of success recently!). But I spend a lot of time riding, wrenching and talking shop with bike bros in a variety of circumstances – at polo, on the mountain, on the streets, in the shop, etc. I love them, have learned a lot from them, and generally feel respected and supported in those spaces.

And sometimes I don’t. And when that happens it feels like shit.

It all starts with this image (I’m not going to post it because I don’t really want it on my blog).

First, let me say that female nudity is not inherently objectifying. In fact, this is my fav bike feminist image of all time:

My personal favorite.

She’s got lazerz shooting out of her boobs! She looks fierce! She’s standing over a crazy, rad bike! It literally has FEMINISM written across the bottom! It says so much about what I love about biking, and why I feel empowered by biking.

But the image in question, the one that makes me mad, shows a woman in just about the most ridiculous situation ever – she’s bent over a downhill bike in a thong. Who would ever ride a downhill bike with no pants on? Have you ever eaten shit riding down a mountain? I have. It hurts. And if I hadn’t been wearing pants, pads and other protections it would have hurt even more. As I said earlier, it’s not nudity that bothers me, it’s when the nudity feels like it’s for male sexual pleasure, and doesn’t empower the object of the photo that bothers me. In full disclosure, I don’t know the history of this photo – who knows, she might (and I hope she is!) a bombass downhill mountain bike racer, who directed that photo and wanted it to look like that. That is totally her call. Because this rant isn’t (really) about this photo, it’s about the context of the photo. Continue reading “Calling People In Within Your Small Bike Community”