Through my events planning work in San Diego and on the east coast I have had the opportunity to witness greater inclusion of community voices in planning efforts around pedestrian and biking safety. I have noticed more women riding their bikes on the streets of San Diego as well as an increase in community members (including youths) participating in the planning process for more walkable and bikeable neighborhoods. The promotion of cycling and the creation of strategies for greater ease in riding on city streets appears to be paying off.
Women’s History Month offers a context in which the advancement of women in cycling can be recognized and celebrated. I had the opportunity to speak with Sarai Snyder, the founder of CycloFemme, which is a worldwide cycling movement whose mission honors the past, celebrates the present and empowers the future of women in cycling.
SB: What is your impression of the growing number of female cyclists in communities throughout the nation?
Sarai Snyder: This momentum has been building for a long time and it is very exciting to see it finally taking real root. But being closely involved in the cycling industry, advocacy, and media, we are surrounded by it everyday and it is easy to think we've come further than we have. Women in cycling is a current topic of conversation, but this is just the beginning. We still have a long way to go.
SB: What are you most excited about regarding the biking industry?
Sarai Snyder: There are a lot of changes taking place. We are heading into an exciting time but when you boil it down, for me personally, it's still just about riding bikes. I love testing new bikes and gear. I think right now I'm most excited about electronic shifting. It's been around for a while but it is really just now becoming more readily available. It may seem simple, but this has major potential for women. Most of us have smaller, less powerful hands, the road bike shifting systems of the past haven't been very friendly to us. Now, it can be as easy as pushing a button!
SB: Bike riders as a group have become more diverse and we have noticed more commuters, female riders and casual riders. How are these riders impacting the biking industry?
Sarai Snyder: It's exciting to see more riders on any level, but these groups have the greatest potential for affecting change in our communities. That is why the growth is so inspiring. These riders are raising expectations for the industry but it's pretty slow moving. The cycling industry has always focused on technology. Now we are asking for better marketing, more education, and better product design that enables a successful cycling lifestyle. We are asking for better solutions to bigger problems. It's not about faster, lighter, better anymore. I see more innovative new companies popping up in an effort to address these issues but a lot of older, established companies are still narrowly fixed on the competitive rider.
I see more women trying new things and pushing themselves just a little harder. The start lines at women's races are growing and more women are taking on the role of mentoring newer riders. It's just plain awesome. Cycling is an amazing tool for taking us out our comfort zones and finding success. That is where empowerment comes from, through cycling we gain confidence to push the limits in other aspects of life.
SB: Tell us about Cyclofemme and the movement you created. Where is it headed? What do you hope to accomplish?
Sarai Snyder: CycloFemme is a global celebration of women on bikes. We chose Mother's Day (in the U.S.) as the day when we would all come together and ride. CycloFemme was originally announced to the masses on March 2nd, 2012. The message struck a cord and by May 13, 2012 we had 164 rides registered in 14 countries. The momentum has continued to grow exponentially. In 2013, we had 229 rides in 31 countries and we have created a pledge to "inspire one more woman to ride a bike."
The best part about CycloFemme is not in the numbers but in the spirit and camaraderie that has come of it. The goal is ultimately to encourage more women to ride, to join the tribe. We see women as leaders and change makers in their communities. If we want to see cycling adopted on a much larger scale, we must engage more women.
SB: Where can people get involved in Cyclofemme and what is its mission?
Sarai Snyder: The mission of CycloFemme is TO HONOR THE PAST and the emancipation of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, for the freedom to choose and the chance to wear pants. TO CELEBRATE THE PRESENT and the riders who keep it rolling, bringing women's racing to the forefront, pushing the limits, breaking down barriers and sharing the love of the bike with everyone along the way. TO EMPOWER THE FUTURE of women in cycling and the opportunity for positive social change. Teach women to ride and they will change the world.
The best way to get involved is to plan a ride or join in on one on May 11, 2014. Rides can be registered on Cyclofemme.com and the pledge is also available to download and sign. Spread the word, invite a friend!
SB: What is the long-term goal of Cyclofemme?
Sarai Snyder: My goal is to find a way to bring cycling to the women who need it most. That could be women who need the bike for transportation, for economic development or for personal empowerment. However, at some point we all fit in to one of these categories. So, I guess that just means that we have a lot of opportunity for impact.
SB: I’ve written about biking from the standpoint of a commuter. This perspective, to me, is quite different from a mountain biker or competitive rider. Riding my bike to get around town -- especially in San Diego, CA, has encouraged me to notice so many community needs (such as bike racks, designated lanes and overall safety). Do you think more attention needs to be placed on the levels of riding and the different things that a rider might require, depending on how they are using the bike?
Sarai Snyder: I think the greatest deficiency in cycling is education. Like I mentioned before, generally speaking, we all have the same challenges. We might choose slightly different solutions, a mountain biker may choose a hydration pack over a water bottle because it is more convenient for drinking while dodging trees. A road rider will likely want lighter, grippier tires while a commuter is looking for greater flat protection. Personal preference also plays a big role.
The bike shops have the best opportunity to provide that education. Even local conditions play a role in decision making. Climate, road and trail conditions, concerns about visibility and distance are all factors in choosing the best gear. Bike shops are the go-to for learning about the community and getting involved in local advocacy issues. The best thing that any cyclist can do is find a bike shop that will take the time to share their knowledge and in turn support their business. A good personal relationship with your bike shop is invaluable.
SB: What are your thoughts on city biking (sharing the road with motorists versus designated bike lanes)?
Sarai Snyder: Living in Boulder, Colorado, we have a lot of both and I love every bit of it. Different infrastructure is appropriate for different places and roads, both have the benefits. Designated paths are really great for people who aren't comfortable riding in traffic, they can be super efficient too if they have integrated overpasses and underpasses as well. But, they can also get congested, more user groups are filling them up, taking away some of the efficiency. In some instances they also steer riders away from local businesses. I really believe that a good urban model incorporates both.
SB: Regarding the National Women’s Cycling Forum that occurred in 2013 -- what do you think was accomplished?
Sarai Snyder: Time will tell. It was a great opportunity for the leaders in the women's cycling movement to come together, building our community, sharing resources and inspirations. It was a leap forward and a real encouragement to see the momentum gaining steam. I also enjoyed seeing which cycling companies and organizations were represented, showing a commitment to national cycling issues.
SB: In terms of regional and nationwide advocacy, what do you feel are some of the most pressing issues involving city cycling? And trail/offroad riding?
Sarai Snyder: Funding is always the big issue with urban cycling and trail access for off road users. To get the most up to date information on the issues it is best to visit www.bikeleague.org or www.IMBA.com. The greatest need is for more cyclists to get involved in pushing for better infrastructure. Each of us have a voice and it is important to use it!
SB: There is room for growth in clothing and transitional wear for female cyclists. What shifts do you feel need to occur (in designs, materials and what needs adjustment?)
Sarai Snyder: Women like to make smart purchases on quality, functional, versatile gear. But we also want to look good doing it. I feel there is a great need for women's clothing that works both on and off the bike. Many of us make a point to live close to where we work making technical, cycling specific gear less important. What we need is more technical "lifestyle" wear with style. I realize that is a lot to ask. I'd love to see more collaborations between fashion and cycling brands.
Please register for the international CycloFemme movement by visiting the website at www.cyclofemme.com.