The cyclists on the blog have long been fans of Black Girls Do Bike. Founded in 2013, with more than 100 chapters across the US, BGDB has been “growing and supporting a community of women/girls of color who share a passion for cycling” and “proving that black girls bike for fun, function, fitness & freedom.” I reached out to the founder of Black Girls Do Bike Monica Garrison, pictured below, and was thrilled when she agreed to a blog interview.
Our bloggers are in awe of the work you’ve done with Black Girls Do Bike. Great numbers, great advocacy and joy! Also cool kit. What’s been the key, do you think to your success?
Well, thank you very much! It has been a tireless and rewarding adventure. I think the secret sauce has been consistently providing inspiration with the perfect combination joyful imagery and compelling storytelling. In addition, I feel that there was a void in the cycling community that we’ve filled. Our leaders have a self-sacrificing spirit and our rides are welcoming to all, but especially, inexperienced riders.
We were curious if the mission has evolved or grown since you started?
At the core, our mission and methods have remained the same. We want to grow and support a community of women of color who share a passion for cycling by creating safe spaces where ladies can ride together, skill share, and fellowship. As we have established ourself and gained strategic partners what has grown is our ambition to effect change. We’ve recently transitioned to a fiscally sponsored non-profit, as this will open funding doors that were previously closed to us. We now have more than 180 ladies around the world in our leadership ranks. Our network is far reaching and our leaders have seats at many decision making tables.
What’s the single best event you’ve held?
Our first national meetup in Atlanta 2016 holds a special place in my heart. I stepped out of my comfort zone to plan an event in a city some 700 miles away from me. I wasn’t sure if anyone would actually make the trip and show up. Our local chapter stepped up to lend support and lead a ride for attendees. We received overwhelming support from a number of vendors which allowed us to giveaway some amazing prizes. We raised thousands of dollars for a great cause. We all managed to survive the Atlanta heat and create some great memories.
Cycling can be a pretty divided sport with lots of different kinds of communities—roadies, commuters, mtb enthusiasts, gravel riders. How do you bridge that?
We realize that we cannot be all things to all people. It’s true, our audience skews toward road and trail cycling which is a great place to start. We realize, though, we cannot be all things to all people. Our intention is to be an entry point into the larger cycling community. We are giving women skills that can translate into any type of cycling they chose to pursue. When ladies get going with us they often figure out what type of cycling they enjoy and go from there. They can also meet other women who have similar cycling aspirations. We have cyclists within our membership that cover just about all niches. For instance, about a year ago, our Denver Colorado Chapter was invited to attend a Mountain Bike 101 clinic. Our ladies took on the challenge and really enjoyed it. We also partnered recently with LittleBellas.com a mentoring mountain bike camp for young girls to help expand the vision of what women and girls on bikes look like.
Have you encountered any resistance?
Not as much as you’d think. I mean we still get the occasional internet troll who comments one one of our uplifting posts spouting nonsense and calling us segregationists. And I get reports from your Sheroes (that’s what we call our lady leaders) that at some events they’ve dealt with some micro-aggressions from other cyclists. What I’ve found is that you either get it or you don’t. Objections usually come from people who don’t take the time to learn what it is we are all about or who are generally uncomfortable around topics of race. We’re not in the business of changing minds. I you think the cycling world thrives when it is more diverse, then we are here to be a part of that vision.
What’s a big long term dream/goal/stretch ambition? What next? Any talk of a Canadian chapter?
And our next goal is to create a non-traditional BGDB team of athletes around the country who we can help move through the ranks of competitive cycling. We also certainly want to continue to expand our reach. Our first international chapter was established in London in 2020 during the pandemic and we hope to add many more. We’ve had inquiries over the years to start Canadian chapters but none have materialized. That would be amazing!
What should the world know that the world seems to overlook about Black women and bikes?
Know that there are thousands of women of color riding bikes. There are some challenges, however, that are unique to women of color who want to incorporate cycling into their lives. Most of us did not have an example of a female cyclist in our lives to model cycling. We sometimes struggle with caring for our natural hair in it’s many sizes and shapes while trying to fit a helmet correctly for safety. Some scenarios that would be intimidating for a women can become even more intimidating when you enter them as a women of color. For instance, the first time you enter a male dominated bike shop, showing up solo for a new group ride, or even riding on the road as a person of color can unnerving.
I confess I love your t-shirts that say “I ride bikes. You ride bikes. We should hang out!” but I wasn’t sure, as a white woman cyclist, if I should buy one! Would that be supportive or appropriating?
That would be a a totally appropriate way to show your support. That shirt is an example of something we designed to be welcoming and with universal appeal in mind. It’s just a cool bike t-shirt for bike people that happens to be made by blackgirlsdobike.org. Honestly, though, women and men of all races wear our gear. It’s a great way to show your support.
I’ve done some research on early feminism and cycling and the stories of Black women on bikes are hard to find but they are there. Do you have a favourite?
My favorite would have to be the story of the five women who biked from NYC to DC in 1928. In the context of the times, I just can’t even imagine the bravery it must have taken to set out on such a long journey full of unknown dangers. And considering the bike tech of the times, those miles had to be hard off their bodies, but they did it anyway and most certainly had many stories to tell from their journey. They also took the train back to NYC after completing the ride. I am a big fan of bike travel by train so I thought that was pretty cool. https://myrootsmyblog.wordpress.com/2020/08/05/five-black-women-cycle-250-miles-in-1928/
Also, what’s your favourite place and route to ride? Do you have a dream ride in your sights?
Close to home my favorite place to ride is the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. It’s a beautiful quiet trail that shows off Pittsburgh’s riverfront and has access to business districts and some local attractions. Beyond that, I’ve got a dream to one day ride from Miami to the southernmost point of Key West by bike. I think that would be a breezy ride with spectacular views and a big payoff the end.