Monday, March 25, 2013

Women Bike (Your City Here)

Yesterday we held our first Women Bike Chicago women's bike conference. Our conference yesterday was plenty of work but well worth it. It was also incredibly fun, building fellowship and encouraging new women riders.  Find great pictures of the day on our Women Bike Chicago group blog.

My last post about getting the summit up and organized had helpful information to get started. I hope that post and this one can be a useful springboard for you to create your own women's bike gathering of any size in your own community.  If women riders are the key to creating more riders we need each other to turn the wheels. The best place to start them turning is together in our own backyards.

The genesis of our day was the community we already have as women transportation cyclists here in our city.  Chicago has an online cycling forum called the Chainlink that connects cyclists across the city. There are over nine thousand members. Also, we have robust Kidical Mass, Critical Mass and Critical Lass rides going monthly. We also benefit from a strong community of long term tenacious women cycling advocates ready to help out with younger women riders eager to make change.

You may have less of this going on in your corner so you would rearrange your women's event to encourage what you see missing for women around you.  Your community will probably be very different from ours and your organizers will find their own purposes and develop the special things that will drive your presentations and activites. We started small but mighty and the Women Bike Chicago conference took on a life of its own.  If we can do it so can you!

Feel free to steal what might work from our day below as you build your own.  For more inspiration, our organization has also found a wealth of information from the Washington Area Bicycle Association's Women and Bikes initiatives.

Activities and Presentations to take away from Women Bike Chicago

The Bike Testing/Woman Mechanic/ Skills Corral

We did not want our day to be only about visiting with women that know and see each other all the time and who are strong riders already. We wanted to use the power of our fellowship to help other Chicago women ride.  Our location this year seemed small enough to reach each of our attendees personally and allowed us to have a safe calm outdoor space for women to try out bikes we all brought to let other women try out. Attendees could check them all out and see what felt comfortable to ride. We called it the bike corral. Each of us brought one or two different kinds of bikes — step throughs, cruisers, old Schwinns, kid carrying set-ups etc.  Like a bike test potluck.

Women mechanics from both West Town Bikes and the Cal Sag youth bike club shared basic maintenance advice at the corral too. Alta Bike Share brought one of the prototype bikes for Chicago's soon-to-be bike share and let us all ride it around.

Lastly we had certified cycling instructors on hand to help teach basic bicycling and city specific riding skills. Most women stuck to the testing and mechanics though.

Ride Buddies and Quieter Route Maps
Indoors, we had a registration table, coffee, two presentation rooms and a kids' area. In our hall between the registration table and the coffee, Julie hung maps of the city and brought colored dots coded to each area to stick onto attendee name tags. The colors let any woman know which other attendees ride in her area and facilitated an ersatz ride buddy meet-up at the conference. The dots got snapped up immediately and plenty of women found potential ride buddies.  Some women dotted their tags with a mix of colors since so many of us ride throughout the city.

The maps were also marked with less trafficked alternate routes to busy streets. This way attendees could find a quieter commute if they wanted one. Attendees wrote on the map where they wanted a less car trafficked ride and others highlighted their favorite quieter streets on the map.

Our Unique Presentations
The three national women's bike forums we researched had their own unique presentations. As we wanted to reach out beyond the existing cycling community, our forum reflected the idea that many of those coming to our day might need a fresh look at what the rest of us are used to doing every day already. We organized seating so questions were easy to ask, since we imagined they would be a big part of how the presentations worked.

Here is a list of our presentations:

Getting Back Out on the Bike at Any Age
Our keynote was given by Lisa — an amazing Chcago rider who spoke about her own experience returning to riding last year after decades off her bike. She made clear that every women in the room could too, if she could!  Our attendance really reflected Lisa's experience. The majority of our attendees were women from age 55 to 80 who wanted to get back out and ride for transportation. 

Practical Advice for Using Your Bike To Commute In Chicago
This presentation included using the bike not only on the streets but as a multi-modal tool with trains and buses. Given by Anne, a total expert who is also funny and compassionate.

Dressing for Comfort and Work Realities
Nuts and bolts advice for dressing for the work commute with comfort and work practicality from Julie and Cynthia, who are professional women well-versed in riding to work in all kinds of unfriendly weather and serious traffic.

Women Owned Bike Shop Owners Demystify the Bike Shop Visit for Women
Shop owner Justyna answered questions and gave advice for getting the most out of a bike shop visit including clues to knowing if a shop is friendly to women.

A Family Biking Sit Down
A roundtable with bike moms visiting with other wanting-to-bike moms to answer practical questions. Kids climbing all over were included.

Good luck creating your own Women's Bike gathering in your own town or city.  Reach out to me here at Chicargobike or to us all at Women Bike Chicago if you think we might be able to provide any encouragement or information from our own experience. Happy planning!

1 comment:

  1. The women who attended were the highlight of the day! From new moms to grandmothers, they were enthusiastic and asked such good questions. Watch out world: women on bicycles are taking to the streets, to the paths, and to the trails.


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