The 2012 National Women’s Bicycling Summit

By Karen Brooks

Last Thursday, I went to the first of what will hopefully be a long line of National Women’s Bicycling Summits, hosted by the League of American Bicyclists in Long Beach, California. It was such a positive experience—just a few short hours that all who attended will remember and draw inspiration from for a long time.

The Summit was held right after the Pro Walk/Pro Bike conference, also in Long Beach, but seemed to draw a different crowd. I spoke to one participant of both events, Nern Ostendorf of Queen City Bike, who estimated that the Women’s Summit was about 80% new folks, and perhaps a more lively bunch than the mostly professional planners in attendance at PW/PB. (Not to disparage pro planners—we need them! But it’s a suit-and-tie kind of job.)
To start things off, Leah Missbach Day spoke about her work with World Bicycle Relief, the organization that she and her husband, F.K. Day, founded with the help of SRAM. Their initial mission was to aid Sri Lanka after the tsunami hit in 2004. Bicycles are an obvious solution to transport people and goods after a natural disaster. Since then, World Bicycle Relief has expanded its efforts to include distributing bikes to healthcare workers and students in Africa, especially female students. We heard some incredible stories of how girls have been able to finish out their education with the help of a bike, thus enriching not only their own lives, but the wellbeing of the whole community.
It was really tough to choose between the panels at each of the two break-out sessions that followed. I went to one called “Beyond Spandex, Toward Social Justice: Women Redefining the Movement,” on the topic of how to “erase stereotypes about bicyclists” and make absolutely everyone feel welcome to experience the joy of riding a bike. All the speakers were awesome, but the highlights for me were hearing about Kristin Gavin’s work helping women transition out of tough situations with Gearing Up, and learning the hand sign of the Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade. I’d love to come back to L.A. sometime and ride with these rad ladies.
Pictured from left to right: Elly Blue, Founder/Owner of Taking the Lane Media; Mia Kohout, Publisher of Momentum magazine; Yolanda Davis-Overstreet, Director of the movie Ride in Living Color; Susi Wunsch, Founder of Velojoy; and Maria Boustead, Founder/Owner of Po Campo.
The next session was a no-brainer for me: “Media and Marketing: Who’s Selling Cycling to Women?” My favorite part was Elly Blue of Taking The Lane explaining her Bike Test for bike media, events, organizations, and the like:
  1. Are women included?
  2. Are they playing an active role?
  3. If a guy were depicted in that role instead of a girl, would it look ridiculous?
Put the next issue of one of the more male-dominated bike magazines to the test—the results may be surprising. The examples we looked at didn’t get past #2.
After the panels, there was a fashion show at a beautifully Californian outdoor venue. Unfortunately, this was the one jarring note of the event—after hearing so many powerful messages of empowerment for women and girls, we were presented with a show that seemed to go for the typical shock-value sex appeal of runway fashion. Gold body paint and a bikini for riding a bike? Really? Especially when the guy models were in full-length pants and jackets (and actually riding, not walking)? I talked about it with other attendees afterward, both female and male, and we agreed that it was disappointing.
Nevertheless, we all had a great time and learned a lot. To keep the positive vibes going, the League has launched an initiative to equalize the rates at which women and men ride bikes for transportation, recreation, and fitness by the year 2025. I was also psyched to hear that our hometown of Pittsburgh has been chosen to host the next Pro Walk/Pro Bike in 2014. See you there!



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