14-Day Social Media Takeover starts with the Founders of Women's Cycling Day
Welcome to Day 1 of our Women on Bikes Bike Law takeover! For the next 14 days, we will be celebrating 15 of the most thoughtful, committed, smart, and compassionate women in the saddle, as our tribute to female cyclists everywhere.
Why Women on Bikes?
Because Women on Bikes is the future of the cycling movement. 60% of new bicycle owners in the US are women between the ages of 17-28. With over 50 million people on bikes in America, we can no longer ignore how significant the power and potential of women cyclists are in the context of growing North American ridership and rideshare, and how brave we are in the shops, and on the trails, roadways, and racecourses that have historically been dominated by our male counterparts (who we appreciate and support, but who have gotten more than their fair share of “atta boys,” even when there was a woman or team of them behind the scenes, holding things together, and making things happen.)
Women’s Cycling Day
Months ago while I (the Director of Bike Law) was speaking with Diane Jenks of The Outspoken Cyclist (another woman in the saddle and the bicycle industry who’s a force with which to be reckoned), it came to my attention that two other dynamic spokeswomen had come together to bring their brainchild to life: The Inaugural Women’s Cycling Day 2020. Considering how important the role that women have and continue to play in the safe, scalable growth of bicycling in the US (and around the world) really is, I was profoundly inspired, and all of us at Bike Law were instantly and unanimously committed to finding out how we could support and encourage Heather Mason and Lauren Hefferon in their endeavor.
So what is Women’s Cycling Day? And when is it? It’s the second weekend in October annually, and it’s an opportunity for women- ALL women- to gather, celebrate, learn, ride, encourage, elevate, pull, push, and work together both in the saddle and out to grow biking within every local community no matter where we live or how we ride. And Bike Law is honored to be a partner and sponsor of such an incredible celebration.
In biking, some things will always matter: Is it safe? Is it scalable? Is it accessible? Is it fun?
And some things that have always “mattered,” shouldn’t, and to Heather and Lauren, don’t: shape, size, color, creed, age, speed, frequency, surface . . . .
These two women decided that it was time to change the way women on bikes feel about themselves and, in turn, the way we feel about being leaders, advocates, and resources for everyone in the saddle regardless of those silly metrics that are too often used to define what it means to be a cyclist.
Imagine how much better the biking experience would be for a novice rider if she had access to a shop or mechanic that didn’t make her feel intimidated or stupid for asking questions or for not knowing how to change her own tires. What if she had a friend or neighbor that let her borrow one of her N+1s and invited her out for a slow roll around her neighborhood? Consider how much more likely it would be for young girls to ride if their friends and parents were cyclists, too. What would our cities’ infrastructure look and feel like if more female employees commuted by bike, and how much better would our schools be if our kids could bicycle there safely instead of sitting on a crowded bus or in stopped rush hour traffic? How would health insurance premiums change? What would the impact to our environment, economy, and overall quality of life be if 60% of “new” American cyclists could ride a bike in the safest, most practical, autonomous ways possible?
We could save the world by cycling.
Women’s Cycling Day is a Mission, not a Moment.
It’s the longevity and growth of women on bikes, and the future of what cycling can be if the WCD ethos of sharing, celebrating, and supporting replaces an imbalanced culture of judgmental, competitive, and divisive practices that treat people on bikes, especially women on bikes, like second class citizens.
Co-Founder Heather Mason was 3 years old in Niskayuna, NY, when her dad taught her how to ride a bike for the first time on the street in front of her house. She still lives in Niskayuna, NY, and has dedicated herself to figuring out ways to incorporate the bicycle into every part of her life, professionally and personally.
“Having a critical part in developing the Bianchi Women culture and cultivating many new and current riders in the sport, I have realized that riding with other women is encouraging; it is unlike riding with men. The pace is relaxed, and the environment allows us to open up and share. It’s a safe spot on wheels. I don’t think this happens in mixed gender rides…when women get with women, things are just different in a positive way.”
I asked Heather why she thinks women might be afraid to hop in the saddle for the first time. She answered, “Oh, I think it’s the same as trying anything new. Fear, self doubt. That is why it is so important that other female riders step up and create an introduction environment and act as a safe zone. You can fail, you can fall, you can go as slow as you like and it’s okay, but we know- you won’t fail, you won’t fall, and you will keep up.”
As a woman in an industry dominated by men, it can be difficult to find the right volume and audience with whom to share your voice. But Heather’s love and life-long relationship with the bike has been life-shaping. And by allowing its incorporation into every facet of hers, the outcome is not just the work she does with Bianchi, Bicycle Retailer, and now Women’s Cycling Day, but it’s the fullness and satisfaction she gets from doing something she loves that is also worthwhile. And that passion is contagious. One phone call with her later, I was hooked, looking forward to my next fix.
She said, “From racing to my profession, to stress relief, the bike has guided my path, even when I tried to go off course. I can tell if I miss a ride a few times; something is off, like an internal clock. Once I get back on my bike and ride, everything around me relaxes. I feel home. The bike is my home. Home is where your center- your peace- comes from. The bike is my peace. My desire to ride is not only dictated by my schedule, or need to sweat, but by my bike. Nothing comes between my bike and me. And nothing needs to join us. I love to ride solo, I love to push myself and take my bike up and over things that would leave some people questioning what I define as fun. I don’t need to add people or fancy items to spice up my relationship with my bike. Just the 2 of us..and lots of time.”
Yeah, I’ll ride with Heather. I’ll ride with her anywhere.
But two heads are always better than one and when Heather teamed up with Lauren Hefferon, something magical happened.
Both New England gals, Heather and Lauren share similar introductions to the bike. Lauren shared with me that she “learned how to ride in Shelton, CT. I do not recall when- only that I have alway loved to ride. It was in my blood. My first two-wheeler was a purple stingray little chick with curly cue handlebars and a huge sissy bar on the back. I thought I was pretty cool!”
Now a resident of Arlington, Massachusetts, Lauren lives by this mantra: “It [cycling] is the lifeline to my soul and gives me a purpose; through bicycling I can make a difference in the world.” She spends her time doing what she can to eradicate the frustrating and unfortunate belief that “in order to enjoy something we have to measure it– our speed, how far we go, the calories we burn, our heartbeat, etc.” She says, “ Measuring is not for everyone. Cycling can be enjoyed by simply being present with [our] environment, our bodies, and each other. As a tour guide and bicycle tour company owner, I deal with women all the time who are worried that they cannot keep up with others. My answer is always the same– go at your own pace, ride in a way that makes you happy. That is a message for life as well. What gets me on a bike is not knowing the calories I will burn, it’s craving the endorphins I will create.”
As one of the only women on a cycling team in Italy in 1983, Lauren was faced with all kinds of pressure, including the challenge from male cyclists (that thought she didn’t belong in the saddle beside the) to prove she was worthy to be part of the team. Of course she prevailed, but gender inequity in cycling has always existed and still does in ways that don’t accurately reflect the role women on bikes play in contemporary bicycling, both in and out of competitive sport.
When Lauren pitched her idea to Heather to create a safe cycling space for all women who ride or want to ride, she did so because she feels that “cycling is a source of joy, a way to discover ourselves! We need to make sure that there are ALL kinds of opportunities for women to bike. We need to work together to remove the stigma that women have to have a certain fitness level to bike. We need to create more opportunities to teach women to bicycle and the important safety skills that come along with it and stop focusing on the right speed. We need to role model all kinds of cycling styles. There is no simpler activity than cycling that touches so many needs and parts of the human spirit. Excitement. Freedom. Connection. Individualism. Adventure. Passion. A bike ride always reminds me how life should be–active, fun, flowing, energizing, educational, engaging, and connecting us with ourselves as well as the beautiful world around us! Cycling [should be] accessible to everyone of all ages, economies, and backgrounds.”
As a Bike Tour travel guide for Ciclismo Classico, Lauren uses her ‘job” as a vehicle for inclusion, education, personal development, and social change. When I asked her about her passion for bike travel, she said, “I personally think bicycle travel can really help remove the “fitness” obstacles [and stigma] that women may have about bicycling. Women who love to travel and explore can discover that bicycling is a great way to do this. As women use the bicycle more to travel, they discover the joy of bicycling at their own pace [and in surprising ways]. On a bicycle tour, we take all day to get from one place to another, and that leaves women with a different impression about cycling than if they are introduced to the bike by a fast pace cycling group that puts their head down to ride.”
WCD: What It Means to Me
If you’ve ever seen the photos I’ve shared of my garage, there’s a fleet of bicycles in it that soothe my soul in ways that chocolate, wine, and New York City pizza cannot. Even music, the second love of my life (after my family), falls short as my relationship with it is not reciprocal. It gives, but asks nothing of me in return. And when women like Heather and Lauren created Women’s Cycling Day, the premise for such an important community strengthening and confidence building celebration was one whose success is predicated upon a willingness to SHARE. To take what they know and love about the bike and exchange their wealth of knowledge and experiences for a chance to invite and include other women who might not be lucky enough to have forgotten how old they were the first time they got in the saddle.
“Sometimes it is hard to start, but one or two pedal strokes later it’s hard to stop.” Heather Mason, Co-Founder of Women’s Cycling Day.
I’m not sure how old I was the first time I rode a bike either, but I know that being part of this dynamic peloton of women on bikes guarantees that I’ll be riding for the rest of my life.