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.

Nele’s Cargo Bike

Last week my friend, and Lady Power polo teammate, Nele Dittmar from Halle, Germany sent me a link to an article about a cargo bike she recently designed and helped construct. And it is BEAUTIFUL. (The article is in German, but if you open it in Chrome you can translate it).

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This bike it pretty damn cool, and a totally new design. It’s neither front nor rear loading, but keeps the weight of the cargo between the two wheels. It’s built for a specific types of cargo, and meant for a city environment where storage space is limited. It’s the first cargo bike I’ve seen in a while that I feel like I could keep in a city apartment (the fact that I live on the 3rd floor and have to carry my bikes up and down 3 flights of stairs is the only thing that keeps me from buying a cargo bike – but with this bike it seems manageable).

This frame has all sorts of awesome design features: Continue reading “Nele’s Cargo Bike”

Babes in Bikeland 8: The Bike Revolution is Happening

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.

Geez I love this lady.
Geez I love this lady.

Continue reading “Babes in Bikeland 8: The Bike Revolution is Happening”

D2R2

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Warning on a downhill.

This last weekend I rode the D2R2 with my parents – a gravel ride out in Western Mass, infamous for being one of the hilliest rides in New England. Here are a few things I learned:

1. Biking up endless, gravel hills is WAY more fun than I thought it would be. Seriously. I had a blast. The route was beautiful, the people were great, and the beer was delicious.

2. Charles of ARTCRANK was right that gravel is way more tiring for your arms than you would think. I expected my legs to be exhausted, but at the end of the day my legs felt fine but my arms were wicked tired.

3. I’m stronger than I thought I was. I’ve been pretty nervous about this ride all summer, and so I’ve been putting in miles whenever I could and going out of my way to climb hills on normally flat routes – and the crazy thing is – I think it paid off. Right now my legs feel like they could eat hills for breakfast. I’m proud of myself for how I rode, and I feel good right now. Strange how training can do that…

4. If I thought I loved my Space Horse (my bike) before this ride, I love it even more now. I made a few adjustments in the last few weeks that made a huge difference, and I think I’m finally perfecting the fit. I put on a different crankset, and a third stem, and I think I’m dialing in the fit. Geez, I really love that bike.

5. My parents are cooler than me. But I already knew that.

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