OP-ED: Where Are the Female Cyclists? Long Beach Should Take a Stand

WomenBike

Photo by Susan Slade.

Where are the women?

Where are the like-minded Long Beach ladies who enjoy sweating out the built-up stress and stiff muscles of maintaining a full-time job? Where are the women who sit bent over their desks, scouring their textbook reading assignments quickly, if only for a chance to get out and ride for two hours of the forsaken night? Where are the women with families to nurture, children to tuck into bed and household obligations to conclude before they strap on their helmets and velcro their cycling shoes?

Even in the summer months, when Long Beach’s ocean breezes no longer pose the chilling threat of goose bumps and knee-knocking temperatures to ride in, the women are still nowhere to be found. The night blanketed streets of Long Beach are for so much more than your frustrating commute home from work or your buzzed drive to Chipotle from 2nd St. While women shape their rears in pilates classes at the Belmont Pier, take spin classes at 24 Hour Fitness or run the hamster mill at Gold’s Gym, panting underneath pale fluorescents and comparing their bodies to the tanner, “fitter” girl on the treadmill next to them, the women that do cycle after dark are thinking quite differently.

We’re thinking about having the necessary tools to repair a flat or make a mechanical adjustment so as to avoid being stranded on the side of the road. We’re thinking of the most efficient route from work to home. We’re thinking of how we can best protect ourselves if we’re verbally or physically assaulted by a driver or other type of passerby. We’re thinking of how to survive in an urban, traffic-ridden environment whether we’re simply commuting or venturing out on a group ride like Gfunk or Ladies Ride. We’re not thinking about gas money, car insurance or calling AAA to tow our exhausted automobiles. We are, however, thinking about how we’re going to fuel our bodies so we can keep pedaling.

At the end of the day, we attempt to rely on ourselves and only ourselves for the sake of our independence and our right to the road. Why is this not more of a thing, for lack of a better word, here in Long Beach?

My theories for this absence of estrogen involve the lack of media coverage for women’s cycling nationwide, the lack of night rides in the city that cater to female cyclists and the lack of city-wide support for enabling its women, and all citizens, to ride prepared for any circumstance. Long Beach does not lack an abundance of cycling enthusiasm; what it lacks is a serious attitude toward encouraging more women to ride independently of a support car.

Rarely can an “average” woman place herself in the shoes of a female Olympic cyclist, one of the only major female cycling series of events televised enthusiastically in the States. Young women do not see the lower, and more attainable, levels of women’s cycling being promoted, and therefore have no idea where to start, or even worse, have no idea that they can.

There are too many major events that go unnoticed because they can only be found online or discovered through word-of-mouth. The Giro Donne, now the 2014 Giro Rosa (the Women’s Tour of Italy) could only be followed through the race’s official Twitter account or through the cyclists’ and their team’s Twitter accounts, certain YouTube videos made by the participating teams and the Instagram hashtag #GiroRosa2014. The Giro Rosa is only permitted to last ten days, compared to the Tour de France’s three weeks.

On a lighter note, women's professional cycling is past its transitional point, so to speak, and is making serious headway by demanding an equal presence alongside typically male dominated cycling events, like the aforementioned Tour de France. Also by encouraging more media coverage of women's races completely separate from men's races, such as the Giro Rosa and Tour of Qatar, neither of which were televised in the states, women in the sport plan to generate as much hype and love for these events as the men currently have for theirs.

Inspiring moves within the upper echelons of the female professional cycling world, like the semi-victorious petition by Kathryn Bertine, Emma Pooley, Marianne Vos and Chrissie Wellington, all professional athletes, to get the Amaury Sports Organization and its president Christian Prudhomme to allow female professional cycling teams to race the Tour de France, are raising the bar for female cyclists and athletes everywhere to speak up for themselves.

The petition, signed by 94,307 supporters, persuaded ASO to give female professional cycling teams one race on the last day of the tour. While the women were not able to gain permission to race for the entire three week tour, the one-day circuit race is still a step forward for women’s cycling. La Course by Le Tour de France will take place before the men’s final stage, will finish on the Champs-Elysees and, if only for a day, will be captured by the same hundreds and thousands of television cameras and tourists’ point-and-shoots as the men finish.

The petition and its resulting victory is both a reflection and causation of the view that women’s cycling and women’s sports in general are just as exciting and important to watch as men’s events. It combats the disappointing fact that female professional athletes are often paid much less than their male counterparts due to lack of sponsorship and respect. While the fight up top becomes more and more apparent, smaller movements like S.W.A.T. (She Wolf Attack Team) team and “Bicycle Bitchen,” are the whispers that accompany the louder cries for change.

S.W.A.T., a Los Angeles-based womyn’s ride, has gained major momentum this year through the enthusiastic leadership of Susannah Lowber and the popularity of Wolfpack Hustle’s Civic Center Crit. Lowber has successfully hosted multiple all-inclusive educational events for women that have questions about criterium racing and want to learn how to be better cyclists from more experience female cyclists. Whether the attendees are going to race the Civic Center Crit or just ride down the street, S.W.A.T. also hosts a weekly Tuesday night ride that has brought out women from all over LA County.

I made the drive to S.W.A.T.’s first criterium clinic, featuring the instruction of Jo Celso, an advocate for women’s cycling, writer and professional cyclist and was not at all surprised that the majority of the time was spent on answering questions versus actively practicing riding the criterium-like course.

In my experience, women want to discuss their fears, worries and questions before embarking on the often dangerous journey that is racing, riding in traffic, or simply venturing out on their own for 15 or more miles. I am in full support of such a cautious mentality; getting the facts straight and your mind set to take action are important factors for feeling at ease on the bike.

LA’s Bicycle Kitchen, a nonprofit bicycle repair educational organization, hosts a weekly event entitled “Bicycle Bitchen” tailored to women who want to learn about bicycle repair and general maintenance without the added pressure of a domineering male presence. Long Beach is full of male-dominated group rides and bike shops, none of which are very appealing to the young women wanting to learn in a safe space, free of judgement and the fear of getting left behind.

While Long Beach has Bikeable Communities, a nonprofit organization that promotes safe cycling and better cycling infrastructure, and BikeLongBeach, a daytime events-orientated news source, the city has yet to practically enable its citizens to function by bicycle. Plenty of bike shops and bicycle facilities like City Grounds, The Bicycle Stand and Bikestation offer affordable repairs and maintenance, but what’s missing are the bicycle repair and maintenance classes, offered for next to no cost to the entire community.

Once there is a well-known safe space for women to go to for the necessary instruction, encouragement, support and healthy competition needed to facilitate athletic and empowered growth, more women will show up. Women want to race, women want to cycle through the city independently, women want to rely on themselves for support and, most importantly, women want to learn.

The city has yet to voice a real opinion on women’s cycling, however, Janae Noble's Beach Babe Bicycling Classic is one bright light shining amongst many filaments still waiting for power. The BBBC is an all female bike ride that promotes cycling as a way to build camaraderie, to be healthy and to have fun without the pressure of competition. Noble expects over 500 female participants in this year's BBBC.

Clearly, Long Beach has nothing to lose by encouraging more women to ride. Let’s establish a nonprofit educational program for all cyclists and set aside a class just for women, let’s encourage our local bike shops to promote and/or host these events and lets get the DLBA to televise La Course on Pine Ave.

Let’s celebrate the women who cycle and encourage the women that want to cycle, to wait no longer.



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