June 5, 2015
A couple of years ago, Monica Garrison rediscovered her love of biking while riding the trails of Pittsburgh with her two kids in tow. But she noticed something odd: She was almost always the only African-American woman out there on a bike.
So she decided to start an online community, Black Girls Do Bike, to connect with other African-American riders across the country. Garrison immediately found an audience, but she quickly learned people also wanted to connect in person. So members of the group formed local chapters so women could ride together.
“You pay no dues to join. You simply show up and ride,” Garrison says. “And the goal is to have at least one monthly ride that’s, like, no woman left behind.”
Women of all ages and skill levels ride together, from experienced cyclists to what Garrison calls the "bike curious"—people who aren’t riding their bikes regularly but are looking for an opportunity to hop on a bike seat. Garrison says Black Girls Do Bike welcomes women of “all shades” to ride with them, but the group specifies black women in its name because that demographic is underrepresented in the cycling community. She hopes getting more black women riding will have a snowball effect.
“If you don’t see African-American women riding around in your neighborhood, the thought may never cross your mind that, ‘Hey, I could hop on my bike and go to the grocery store.’ Because people don’t seem to do it,” Garrison says.
Garrison says the high rates of diabetes and heart disease in the African-American community is another reason to focus on African-American women. She also says that women are often caretakers and need to take better care of themselves to care for the people they love. That time and attention to family, sometimes combined with juggling a job or career, could also explain why more black women don’t participate in cycling. Garrison also says some women or minorities may not feel comfortable walking into male-staffed bike shops that are stocked with clothes and gear that aren’t made with them in mind.
But Garrison is encouraged by those in the cycling community who have reached out to her to host Black Girls Do Bike events. To attract more diversity in cycling or other outdoor activities, Garrison says people should share their own joy and enthusiasm for the sport. But she says it’s also critical to listen to the needs of a more diverse audience.
“The goal would be [asking] ‘Okay, what is your experience, how is it unique? How is it different from mine?’ And then engaging in those conversations to figure out how you can actually help, instead of preaching,” Garrison says.
There are now Black Girls Do Bike chapters in 43 U.S. cities. She’s also heard from riders in Germany and West Africa who are interested in starting international chapters.
Garrison says she has a “pinch myself” moment every time she thinks about how the movement has grown. She feels a sense of fulfillment when she hears stories of women who are buying a bike for the first time, or jumping on bikes that have been sitting unused in garages for years. She says when these women become regulars on group rides, and support other women in turn, she knows her idea is working.
Garrison would like to organize a national Black Girls Do Bike event. But until then, she has a personal goal: She’s mapped out a cycling route which includes all of the murals she’d like to see and photograph in Pittsburgh. She says the scenery is a lot better from a bike.