You Go Girl! (On a Bike...) by Julie Soller

I recently had the good fortune to see "The Freedom Machine," two SFBC members' ironic and amazing history of cycling and the women's movement. The show was presented in October as part of the Forum on Women and the Bicycle, organized by Pedal Power, a nonprofit community group for at-risk youth.

The show's presenters are Tracey Iglehart, an SFBC member and American Cyclery employee, and Nancy Botkin, an SFBC staff member. Their "Freedom Machine" slideshow illustrates how the bicycling craze of the 1890s really got the women's liberation movement rolling. In the 1880s, 100 bikes were sold yearly. By the mid-1890s, millions were sold, and hundreds of bicycling clubs sprouted all over the country. The growth of cycling impacted millions of women who abandoned their corsets and heavy petticoats to straddle the freedom and fun offered by the new machine.

Bicycling can still transform women's lives today. In an informal session, forum participants discussed how the self-reliance and self-esteem that come from cycling counteract the deleterious effects of modern-day unattainable beauty ideals and "the frailty myth," the belief that women are inherently weak. Counter-messages are especially important for young women and girls, who are targeted by advertisers at younger and younger ages to find fault with their bodies and rely on appearances instead of skills for their power.

We know cycling is good for women, but we also see fewer women out there riding than men. Beyond the rarefied atmosphere of the San Francisco Bay Area, cycling in the U.S. is not so much considered a form of transportation as a sport—a masculine sport.

From her research, Tracey found that once girls reach adolescence, many feel they shouldn't do what the boys do - and that often means sports and physical activities. At the same time, researchers are finding that engaging in sports at an early age is highly beneficial. Kids who play in sports tend to have better grades, better self-esteem, and less self-destructive behavior.

Victor Veysey knows firsthand that getting kids involved in cycling can have a powerful effect on their self-worth. Victor manages the Bike Hut at Pier 40, a job-training and mentorship program for at-risk youth funded by Pedal Power. Most of the kids at the Bike Hut are male. Victor sees a need to "establish a separate space" for girls to learn about cycling and bike mechanics. He also desperately wants women volunteers to take the girls for rides. Strong women role models are the best way to directly improve the involvement of girls in cycling.

Bicycle commuter Dianna Waggoner makes it a point to reach out to women on her way to work at the Presidio Trust. She arrives in the morning dressed in her jacket and skirt, glowing after a 22-minute commute. The former bike racer invites women "to play" on their bikes on their lunch hour. She teaches tricks of pro riding such as finding the most comfortable gear for climbing (hint: it's individual) and when to pedal while braking. She finds women are still fearful of the speed and mechanics of their own bicycles. In her own way, she's spreading know-how and confidence to other women riders.

Whether you're a commuter or a recreational rider, consider the girls and women in your life and how you can involve them more in cycling.

To lead a ride for at-risk boys or girls, contact Victor Veysey at the Bike Hut, (415) 543-4335 or Pedal Power at (415) 561-6578.