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Category Archives: Women & Bikes

Cowgirls & LadyCats: A New Face for Bike Couriers

If you’ve you ever hopped on a bike after a rough work day and had your bad mood roll away, you’ve probably wondered: “If only I could get paid to ride my bike.” The good news is that you don’t have to be a pro racer to make a living on two wheels. You can coach or instruct like my friend Lorri. You can write about bicycling like my friend Elly. You can work in bike advocacy like my friends at SVBC and CalBike. Or you can work in the bike industry, either at a manufacturer or at your local bike shop like my dear husband did when I met him.

But the purest way to get paid to ride a bike is as a messenger, something I could never see myself doing. Bike messengers are thrill-seeking guys careening around the city on brakeless fixies, hopping curbs and running red lights. You know, like in Premium Rush. But now I have a friend Cain who has launched a new kind of bike delivery service earlier this month called Cowgirl Bike Couriers. They’re not your typical messengers.

Cowgirls 2Photo courtesy of Cowgirl Bike Couriers.

Like other bike courier services, the Cowgirls specialize in delivering legal documents, but that doesn’t stop them from delivering packages, flowers, groceries, and even medical supplies. But what makes Cowgirls stand out is their focus on recruiting women as couriers to help bridge the gender gap in American cycling.

I love their mission and the name Cowgirl, which reminds me of the strong women of Old West who had the daring and strength to ride hard and get sweaty in what’s seen as a man’s job. Cowgirls are ready for anything, and I think their new service is too. Ten women and men have been recruited, some key accounts have been signed, and the Cowgirls are riding from Milpitas to Los Gatos, from Santa Clara to East and South San Jose.

Cowgirls 1cropPhoto courtesy of Cowgirl Bike Couriers.

I’m not in the market to become a courier, but it’s fun to pretend. So when my friend Lorri asked me to race with her in an alley cat the Cowgirls hosted last month, I went for it. I wanted to support Cowgirls in their launch, and their LadyCat race was a fund-raiser for the Silicon Valley Roller Girls who lost their home rink at the last remaining roller skating rink in the South Bay. Besides, how could LadyFleur not race the LadyCat?

Lorri and I made a good team. I arrived early, giving me time to study the manifest and map out a route using my iPhone. Lorri rushed over from another event so she didn’t know the route, but she could read the map without pulling out reading glasses. That led to a couple of “who’s on first” conversations and an overshot checkpoint on Hamilton Ave that gave us the (dis)pleasure of crossing the Hwy 17 freeway interchange twice.

LadyCat Map

We survived, though, and 24 miles and two hours later we had hit all nine checkpoints and were sharing drinks and stories with the other racers. We were far from the first to come in, but not the last either. Best of all, we got to pretend to be bike couriers for a day, something I’ll surely never do in real life.

Have you ever been paid for riding a bike or working in a bike-affiliated job? If not, what job would you want?

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Posted by on October 9, 2014 in Around Town, Women & Bikes

 

What Tea Societies Can Do for Women & Bikes

Garden clubs, sewing circles, and bridge groups for socializing. Benevolent societies and church groups to assist the needy. Women’s leagues, committees, unions and movements for social change and political action. Women have a long history of gathering apart from their menfolk, whether it’s simply to carve their own space in the conversation or to have a stronger voice in the decision-making. And it’s just fun to do girly things, like promenade around town on our bikes and drink tea outdoors from fancy cups in summer hats.

Jacquie Katie Darcy

The thing about women’s groups is once they get started, they spread. My friend Katie heard of the Ladies Tea & Bike Social we held in Palo Alto last August and loved the idea. In February she pedaled trough a rainstorm and took a ferry and train to San Jose for our Wine, Women & Chocolate. By March she had jumped headfirst into organizing her own Ladies Tea for the “Critical Misses” up in Marin County. Through word of mouth, social media and the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, she had dozens women lined up and raring to roll.

I simply had to make the trip up there, even before I heard that mountain bike pioneer Jacquie Phelan would be attending. As founder of Women’s Mountain Bike & Tea Society (WOMBATS), Jacquie wouldn’t miss a bike and tea party in her own backyard. As always, she added color to the occasion in her own inimitable style.

Jacquie Phelan Ladies Tea

Jacquie may have been comfortable bombing down trails and racing dirt along with the likes of Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, Charlie Cunningham and other male mountain bike pioneers, but she founded the WOMBATS way back in 1987 because she wanted a place for women in this new and growing sport. Through WOMBATS, Jacquie taught skills clinics and camps to give women confidence to try something new, and hosted dirt rides that included tea stops. Only in Jacquie’s imagination would a Teacup Tango be a mountain biking party.

Why a tea society? As she explained to me as we rode together to the Marin Ladies Tea, “Guys have a way of taking over and I didn’t want that. I knew if it was a tea society they wouldn’t even want to join.” It worked.

Having organized and led women’s group rides and events, I understand that completely. As much as I enjoy riding with my husband and “the guys” sometimes, there’s something different about riding with women. The conversation changes, the tone changes, and for many women it means a relaxed environment where they can push themselves a little harder. If that sounds like an oxymoron to you, this post explains my point of view.

Bikes at Tea Party

The Marin Ladies Tea was all the success I expected. Women who were old friends arrived together, others who knew no one arrived alone. One woman had just returned home after months bike touring in South America. Another arrived for tea by wheelchair. You don’t need a bike to join a bike social that’s a tea party in a park.

After these events I often hear from women, “Oh, I wish we had a bike tea society here.” Here’s a secret: it’s not hard to host a bike tea party. First, find a park in a beautiful setting, map out a bike route on quiet streets or on a bike path, and pick a date when you know a few friends can join. Then send out an invitation to others through your local bike club or advocacy group, asking everyone to bring a tea cup and a snack or thermos of tea to share. Whether you end up with a group of four or forty, I promise it will be fun. Just ask Katie.

Have you ever hosted a bike ride or bike-specific event? Did it have a theme? How did it work out?

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Posted by on August 13, 2014 in Women & Bikes

 

You’re Invited: 2nd Annual Ladies Tea & Bike Social

You are cordially invited to our second annual Ladies Tea & Bike Social on Saturday the sixteenth of August, twenty-fourteen at eleven o’clock in the morning at the Elizabeth Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, California.

It’s back! Our garden party was such a success last year, we’re repeating it this year. What can you expect at a ladies tea and bike social? Twenty or so bicycle-loving ladies, gathered to share “laughter, stories, advice and new friends. Cucumber sandwiches, macaroons, cookies and fruit. Nicely hot tea poured from real tea pots into tea cups of all shapes, sizes and styles, just like the women.” That’s what I wrote after last year’s party.

Ladies Tea Table
We’ll host our garden party once again at the Elizabeth Gamble Gardens, where you can stroll the historic estate of the heir to the Proctor & Gamble fortune. Bequeathed to the city of Palo Alto with Elizabeth’s death in 1981, the impeccably maintained grounds include a cut flower garden, vegetable plots, fruit trees and a shade garden between the main house and the carriage and tea houses. Our ladies tea is timed to catch the dahlias and zinnias in bloom, apples ripening in the orchard and pumpkins in the vegetable garden. The weather will likely be warm in the sun, but comfortable under the old oak trees where we’ll have our tea.

We’ll bring the tea, we ask you to bring your favorite tea cup and cookies or a tea time snack to share. Hats and gloves are encouraged, but not required. What’s important is bringing a desire to meet other women who ride in our area to share stories, to swap advice and to relax with other women who have a passion for bikes.

Gamble Garden Gazebo

For those riding up from the south or arriving by Caltrain, I’ll also be leading a pre-party ride starting at Caltrain’s San Antonio Station in Mountain View at 10:25, timed for the arrivals of the #427 train from San Jose & #424 train from San Francisco. The route is about four flat miles one-way along low traffic, mostly shady residential streets. I’ll be pulling a trailer full of tea, teapots and tablecloths, so the pace will be city cruise easy.

Will you join us? Please RSVP here so we’ll know to bring enough tea for everyone, and don’t forget your tea cup or mug. I’d love to meet some of you ladies that I only know in the virtual world.

Ride to Palo Alto

Ladies Tea & Bike Social at the Elizabeth Gamble Garden
1431 Waverly Street, Palo Alto, California
Saturday, August 16, 2014, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm.
Space is limited, so RSVP is required.
Questions? Contact ladyfleur500 at gmail.com

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2014 in Around Town, Women & Bikes

 

How to Get Women to Race Dirt (And How Not To)

The Sea Otter Classic, the largest consumer bike festival in North America, is running this weekend down the coast at Laguna Seca raceway in Monterey. In addition to the large expo hosting over 450 vendors, there will be pro and amateur racing in almost every cycling discipline, from downhill mountain biking to BMX to criterium road racing to cyclocross, plus recreational events for all ages, including Gran Fondo endurance rides.

I won’t be one of the estimated 65,000 people headed down there. It’s partly because Sea Otter’s focus is on the sport side of cycling and my interest these days is more in the practical side of cycling: city and cargo cycling. But it’s more than that. I haven’t been back to Sea Otter since I stood on the podium there in 2008, which was long before I got into city cycling. It’s that my last experience there made me feel like Sea Otter isn’t really for people like me who love bikes but don’t fit into American cycling’s hardcore dude culture.

After Work Girlfriend Rides

Back in 2008 I was mountain biking regularly with the Dirt Divas, an informal group of experienced mountain bikers and road racers with a taste of dirt. Every Monday night during daylight saving time we did recovery pace after work spins, and every few weeks or so we did longer weekend rides on more challenging trails. Just as importantly, we were an online community of 200 dirt-loving women sprinkled throughout the Bay Area, offering support and advice for each other that was just as valuable as having women nearby to ride with.

With my friends from Dirt Divas and the support of the Velo Bella and Velo Girl race teams, I had raced several smaller races. We had even challenged ourselves with a 24 hour mountain bike relay on the trails at Laguna Seca. Those races were all fun, but didn’t bring out the crowds like Sea Otter. Where else can recreational riders race the same courses, on the same weekend as the pros?

The Sea Otter excitement started on the Diva email list in March: how hard it it? who’s racing this year? In no time we had set up carpools down to Laguna Seca to pre-ride the course a few weeks before the race. The course wasn’t particularly technical, but the hilly 20 mile course had proven challenging for some beginner fields, so they shortened the women’s, juniors, women’s single-speed and Clydesdale men’s (over 200 lbs) races to a nominal 10 miles. For some reason, they didn’t say it was actually over 13 miles.

Dirt Divas

The nine of us were a mix of experienced and brand new racers. A couple were new to Dirt Divas and had never ridden in an all-female group before. With only a printout from the web site for navigation, we fared well until the climbers out front missed a key turn and got lost. Afterward, it was laughing over burritos and lots of email banter: reporting trail conditions and answering questions from women who couldn’t make the pre-ride.

So when things went wrong at the race we had each other. After a good start on the paved track (picking the right wheel to draft is key) I hit the gravel in top five. I was behind my friend Holly as we picked up speed where the course descended. As we approached a left turn, I could tell Holly was aimed straight. I yelled “go left,” she did and we both hit the singletrack ahead of the main field, then up the ridge and down the long sandy descent.

On the long grind back up, my climber friend Lesley passed me and asked if I had missed the turn. That’s when I realized Holly wasn’t only one. There were many others confused about the turn, including my friend E who’s zooming downhill in this photo. Her boyfriend took the shot right after she went off course. Not easy to tell, is it?

Missed Turn

I was still grinding away uphill when I came to the turn where we lost the climbers on the pre-ride. I was moving slow enough to read the signs carefully: “XC Race 20 miles” and “MTB Tour 10 miles.” Even though I had raced the course the year before, studied the map, pre-ridden three weeks before and have the nickname “GPS Janet,” I wasn’t confident I should turn left to stay on the 10 mi XC race course. But I did, even though I could see racers going straight ahead of me, and knew that going straight would cut the course by at least a mile.

Lesley

When I finished the race they were already posting our race’s winning time at 41 minutes, an impossible time. Holly and I reported it to race officials, waited a while until it got cold and dark, then gave up and went to dinner. The next morning they posted results: I was 2nd, Holly 3rd, and Michelle 4th. On podium we didn’t recognize the winner and we didn’t see the two or three other women that I was pretty sure were ahead of me. (I found out much later that one missed the first turn and the true winner had lost her chip somewhere on the course.)

Sea Otter Podium

Back on online I shared my story and learned that three more of my Diva friends had missed the first turn and doubled back. A Velo Bella race team friend was spectating at the junction, saw the confusion and started calling out directions to racers. She confronted the course monitor about why he wasn’t doing it. He shrugged.

So I wrote my first letter of complaint ever to the race director. I let him know the impact on us as racers, but focused on what I wanted for next year: cones, course monitors, and accurately labeling the course as a 13 mile, not 10 mile course. After a long email exchange his response was that it’s the racers responsibility to stay on course and lessons were learned on both sides. He didn’t get that if that much of the field is confused, it’s the course, not the riders. And that beginners could use a little more, not less, consideration and support.

Sea Otter 2008 crop

I will agree that lessons were learned, indeed, but probably not what the race director expected:

  • Women often enter sport through men and they learn a lot from them. But there’s something special about riding with women: it’s empowering and challenging in a different way.
  • Until women ride with or race women, they don’t know really how how they stack up. Too many women who only ride with men think they’re slow when they’re not slow at all.
  • Having a social aspect makes many women more strongly engaged and loyal to the sport. Romantic relationships end, but bikes and bike friends stay.
  • If you want more new people racing, it takes group support. We hosted our own group pre-ride for women on our Dirt Diva email list. A pre-ride from the organizers with racing tips might encourage riders to try racing.
  • Community support is important both in person and online. The fewer women that ride in an geographic area, the more important online friendships are.
  • Women (especially beginner women) don’t expect to be the focus of an event. We don’t expect to race at prime time, we don’t expect our results to be listed first. But when things go wrong and we get an attitude, it’s feels deeper than “that guy is a jerk” it becomes “they don’t care about women or beginners.”
  • When you complain, adjust your argument for the personality of the official. When I advocated from the perspective of disoriented racers I got nothing. When I complained that riders might have placed ahead of me by cutting the course I got more sympathy. I needed to switch from chick talk to dude talk.

There was a silver lining to the story. One of the silent members on our Dirt Diva list was an employee of Sea Otter. She wasn’t part of the racing side, but she contacted the right people within the organization. They gave us a discount registration code for the next year’s race. That taught me my last lesson: complaining can pay off, even when you’re blown off at first. You may have allies you don’t know about that are listening.

I was touched and grateful. I know at least one woman used the discount to race the next year. Just not me.

IMG_5425

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2014 in Dirt Trails, Women & Bikes

 

Nothing Could Rain on Our Wine & Chocolate Parade

After four bone-dry winter months and declarations of the most severe drought in 500 years, a healthy rain storm blew in three days before the party. Before the drops even hit the ground the question came in: “Is the party still on?” “Yes,” I said, “Unless the governor declares a State of Emergency the party is on. And unless the weather service declares a Severe Weather Alert the ride is on too.” Or as Adina quipped, “Apocalypse cancels. Or in case of apocalypse the four horsemen will join our ride.”

The rain was heavy elsewhere around the bay, but in San Jose there was little more than a few sprinkles. No horsemen of the apocalypse joined our pre-party ride, unless they were in the back of the pack riding sweep.

Virginia Bike Share

Fifty women had RSVP’d for the party, but given the 60% chance of rain I only expected a dozen or so to show up at Diridon Station for the pre-ride to the party. I should have known better. After all, women who ride are built tough, whether it’s dealing with hostile traffic on their commutes or soldiering on through wind and fog on century rides. Especially when there are others along for moral support and tasty treats waiting at the end.

Bike Statue

The fortitude of women who ride doesn’t stop when they dismount. The party attracted women who seek change: better bike routes for themselves and their families, better bike parking at workplaces and shopping destinations, better support from law enforcement to keep our streets safe. That doesn’t come easy.

But when you get determined women together, great things happen. Candice and Carmen’s home runneth over with strong women in influential positions like: Sally Lieber, former California House Speaker pro tempore; Kim Walesh, Director of Economic Development for San Jose; Shiloh Ballard, Vice President of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group; and Ellen Barton, the new Alternative Transportation Coordinator for San Mateo County.

At the same time there were inspired leaders of grassroots efforts like Wendee Crofoot, co-founder of Great Streets Mountain View; and Adina Levin, co-founder of Friends of Caltrain and the Drive Less Challenge. Plus a half dozen staff and board members from the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, our event sponsor.

Garden Party

Who knows where a little networking over wine and chocolate will take us? I’m hoping very far, and by bike.

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Posted by on February 14, 2014 in Around Town, Women & Bikes

 

You’re Invited: Wine & Chocolate Ladies’ Bike Social

You are cordially invited to Women, Wine & Chocolate, a gathering for women who love bikes, on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 1:30 pm at 245 S 12th Street, in the historic Naglee Park district of San Jose, California.

“When will you do another ladies’ tea again?” That was the #1 question I got after our Ladies’ Tea & Bike Social last summer, both from those who attended and those who couldn’t make it. Well, it may still be too chilly for a garden tea party, but it’s the perfect time to celebrate our bike love with a little Valentine’s Day decadence. This one’s for the chocoholics, fruit and cheese lovers, and the ladies who aren’t teetotalers.

If you’re in the throes of a grand love affair with your bike and want to meet other women with that same fiery passion, pedal over to San Jose’s historic Naglee Park district on Sunday, February 9. There will be wine, chocolate, cheese and fruit, plus an afternoon of stories, laughter, and tips on gear and secret bike routes. And of course, a chance to show off our two-wheeled babies. You may want to bring your bike family photos.

Wine Women & Chocolate

If the weather is fine, we’ll be in Candice’ lovely garden. If not, we’ll cozy up around the fireplace and mingle in her turn-of-the-century home. So grab your favorite wine glass and something to share: chocolate, cheese or a bottle of wine or your preferred party drink. We’ll take care of the rest.

Those arriving by bike can join our pre-party ride crossing downtown San Jose on the new green lanes on San Fernando Street followed by a short tour through the historic homes of Naglee Park. Our route will be about four miles one way along lower-stress streets. Meet in front of San Jose Diridon Station at 1:00 pm. (Train arrivals: Caltrain local 12:51, baby bullet 1:03; VTA 902 NB 12:38, SB 12:59) We’ll roll shortly after the last train arrives.

Where: 245 South 12th Street, San Jose. A private home in the historic Naglee Park district. (map)
When: Sunday, February 9, 2014. 1:30-4:00 pm. Note that sunset won’t be until 5:40 pm that day.
Please bring: Your favorite wine glass, plus chocolate, cheese or bottle of wine or other drink to share.
RSVP: Please RSVP and indicate what you’ll be bringing through SVBC, our event sponsor .

Pre-Party Bike Ride: Meet at the San Jose Diridon Station at 1:00 PM for a four mile tour on lower-stress streets with no hills. A route will be posted here at least one week before the event.
Transit: Party location is well-served by VTA transit lines (22,23,72). Santa Clara Street is 2.5 blocks away.
Parking: Bike parking will be provided in the backyard or basement in case of rain. On-street car parking is available with no weekend restrictions.

Please RSVP so we can make sure we’re ready for what’s sure to be a fun group, and so we send you any last minute details about the party. We hope to see you there!

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2014 in Women & Bikes

 

From Far and Wide, Ladies Ride, Ride, Ride!

To anyone out there who still thinks bicycling is a just young man’s sport, guess again. Women loves bikes. Even “women of a certain age” whose parenting is more about waving goodbye to college-bound kids or sharing holiday recipes than changing diapers or back to school nights.

Sometimes all it takes to get them on the road is a little encouragement, like having a friend to ride with. Point them to a fun group ride and they’ll ride in like the cavalry.

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That was what I discovered (yet again) last weekend on a women’s ride hosted by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. I had heard the organizer Candice wasn’t really sure if she’d have four or 40 women show up. Since she recruited at least a half dozen helpers, her low estimate was too conservative. So was her high estimate. I counted 50 just before we divided into three groups and headed across downtown San Jose. Our destination: the old port town of Alviso, a 20 mile roundtrip via the Guadalupe River Trail.

I rolled out with a faster group of about a dozen led by Marnie, a charity ride junkie who spins a yarn as fast as she spins her wheels. We stopped for the lowdown on the sights along the way, from the “Hands” mural on the parking garage at San Jose Airport to the site of the Lupe the Mammoth fossil unearthed on the river a decade ago to the cannery and salt flats at Old Alviso.

The ride was a delightful spin on a lovely day filled with female camaraderie. But like many events, it was the after-party that made the news. Instead of taking us back to the fountain plaza where we started, Marnie led us straight to her house in Naglee Park where recovery drinks and food were waiting. For this demographic, that means wine, fruit and cheese. No one complained about the change in direction.

Relaxing on Patio

As we chatted over our recovery drinks, I learned more about the wide range of women in my group. Many were local to San Jose, but others had trekked in from the Peninsula and East Bay. Some were new to group rides, most had cut their teeth in women’s groups with names like Feather Pedals and Velo Girls.

A few, like me, were daily commuters, but most were strictly recreational riders, with a strong showing of the charity ride regulars. The most commonly cited reason for not running errands on their bikes? They couldn’t bear the idea of leaving their “babies” unattended.

Some came to the sport as a gentler alternative to running, others hadn’t really exercised in years before they started cycling. There was discussion over what being a “cyclist” meant. To one woman, a bike rider earns the title “cyclist” when she starts wearing cycling jerseys. Another was quick to say she didn’t consider herself a cyclist, despite the jersey on her back. She didn’t explain why before the conversation turned.

While most were old enough to have college-age kids, there were young’uns along for the ride and the fellowship which knows no age. A shared love of bikes is usually all it takes to bring women together.

Will you travel far to join a group ride? If so, what makes it worth going the extra distance?

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Posted by on October 15, 2013 in Backroads, Women & Bikes

 
 
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