Photo: Monica Garrison/BGDB

Building a Better Bicycling Community

How nonprofit Black Girls Do Bike and its Shero leaders, like Pittsburgh’s Robin Woods, break barriers to grow their sport.

The name, Black Girls Do Bike, works like a rebuttal. It starts with two prevailing assumptions: Men ride bicycles more than women; and people of color, Black people in particular, don’t really ride bikes. And then it articulates a reply in action, not words: Women, Black women and women in general, will gather to bike. 

The momentum created from that action has been tremendous. It began in early 2013 with the launch of BGDB, as it is known, in Pittsburgh. Monica Garrison founded it with a simple goal: Get Black women on bicycles. Or, as its mission states, the nonprofit champions efforts “to introduce the joy of cycling to all women, but especially, women and girls of color.” BGDB does this by establishing comfort zones—places where, “lady cyclists can support, advise, organize rides and promote skill-sharing.” 

Create these safe-space opportunities, the thinking goes, and you can usher new riders past entry barriers, and help demystify what often seems like a gear-laden pursuit. The result is a net gain for the larger cycling community. And the numbers prove it. Since its inception nine years ago, BGDB has grown to more than 100 chapters in 38 states, plus Antigua and England—not to mention a substantial social-media following with well over 80,000 followers across Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. Through that growth, the organization has provided encouragement and support for thousands of women to access the myriad joys available through cycling. 

Photo: Jamila Maxey /BGDB

Inside the Org

Each BGDB chapter is led by a Shero. Think of Sheroes as part champion for cycling, and part local president. There are 180 Sheroes in BGDB. They are the women in each city responsible for building rides, encouraging participation, and leading efforts to teach women about everything from how to ride safely, to buying the right bike and getting it fit properly, to bicycle maintenance

Pittsburgh’s current Shero is Robin Woods. She’s been an avid cyclist for more than 20 years. In addition to leading BGDB Pittsburgh, Woods has completed multiple century rides (so named because they’re at least 100 miles long). She rides year-round, too (so long as it’s above 40 degrees, she says, and there’s no snow on the ground). As an extension of her work with BGDB, she also leads a weekly Women at Work ride. 

In order to do her work well, Woods became a licensed certified bicycling instructor. In that capacity, she says that her focus is “teaching women how to cycle.” In order to share her love of cycling, she sometimes works with the support of Public Lands to lead workshops that introduce women to cycling. 

 

Photo: Robin Woods

Life of a Shero 

What’s the fuel that keeps Woods inspired to lead the Pittsburgh chapter? It’s simple: using a bicycle to help “women find out what they are capable of doing.” She adds that there’s also an exploratory aspect for a lot of women, getting out and experiencing different parts of the city. “And when they put the work in,” Woods notes, “they get to see and learn what they're quite capable of doing.”

Woods owns three bicycles: a racing bike she got in 2012, a road bike she favors for long-distance rides, and a fitness bike she uses for teaching and training. Accordingly, she knows that one of the barriers that new cyclists face is how to buy the right bike. She also provides a service to help women buy bicycles, “because so many people don’t know the ins and outs of properly buying a bike.” If you don’t have the right bike, you're not going to be comfortable. “And if you’re not comfortable,” Woods adds. “you’re not going to ride; you're not going to enjoy your rides.”

When there isn’t a global pandemic affecting the organization’s ability to gather, BGDB holds a National Meetup. In 2018, it was in Washington, D.C. In 2019, the last in-person meetup, it was in Wisconsin. This year’s meetup is back in the city where BGDB began: Pittsburgh. 

Woods describes the days planned for this year’s National Meetup as nothing short of a true celebration: “Friday, we're having a pool party with live entertainment, and a female DJ," she says. "There’s a Shero appreciation luncheon on Saturday. I am leading a welcome ride on Saturday, the day prior to the Pedal Pittsburgh event also taking place here that same weekend (Sunday is the actual ride).”

Get Involved

For more info about Black Girls Do Bike, chapters near you, or starting a BGDB chapter in your city or state, check out blackgirlsdobike.org

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.

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