By Elyse Samuels
In 2012, four women bicyclists banded together out of frustration over the lack of women in the biking community in Chicago. Through their initiative and passion they created Women Bike Chicago, an organization that supports women in their biking endeavors.
“We want female cyclists to feel like they have a voice,” said Elizabeth Adamczyk, Women Bike Chicago Chair. “That ‘by women for women’ adage still pertains. Whoever you are there’s a bike for you, and it can be just as unique as each individual person. That’s one of the fun parts of cycling: it’s not a one sized fits all mode of transportation.”
Although many people in the biking community agree with this idea of individuality, several women in the biking community say they don’t feel accepted in an activity that is predominantly male. Women Bike Chicago and other organizations such as the Stabettes, a women’s bike gang and West Town Bikes, a bike education and training center with programs specific to women and transgender people, work to break down existing barriers.
Women Bike Chicago collaborated with the Chicago Bicycle Coalition to host the annual Winter Bike Swap at Jak’s Tap in the West Loop this Saturday. The bike swap features several vendors, selling vintage bikes, old bike parts and bike equipment. Different bike organizations and non-profits shared their missions and information, promoting greater acceptance and openness.
Lauren Phillips, a social worker in the city and long-time biker at the swap, shared her thoughts on what it’s like to be a woman in the biking community in Chicago.
“I definitely think sexism happens in the bike industry and cycling communities,” Phillips said. “And it sort of marginalizes women and it marginalizes people who are gender nonconforming, people who don’t fit the mold, whatever that is.”
Still, Emily Greenberg, another attendee at the bike swap said she feels women are very supported in the Chicago cycling community. She added that opportunities for women are abundant, citing BFF Bikes, a shop focused on women’s bikes.
When asked if women have fewer opportunities in the bike community, Greenberg said, ““No not at all. There are a number of companies and stores that are women focused. They have [women’s] bike groups and cycling. I don’t feel any discrimination against women whatsoever.”
Phillips and Adamczyk disagree, pointing out several areas of potential growth for women in the cycling world.
“What happens when I walk into a bike shop,” Phillips said, “and people assume that I don’t know how to change a tire because of sex characteristics that they see. That makes my blood boil and that’s not cool.”
“What we’re trying to do is address specific concerns that men might not have to think about,” Adamczyk said. “Things like safety or comfort. We help remove the barriers that may have prevented [women] from taking the next step.”
West Town Bikes Media Outreach Coordinator Danni Limonez said she believes education in cycling must start with girls when they’re young. If they don’t know biking is an option, they may not discover that connection until later in life.
“I think that women in the cycling community are definitely present,” Limonez said. “I think that even more women could be involved I believe that cycling is for everybody. It’s just that women are still catching on to it.”
Women Bike Chicago believes their mission is so important not only to increase women’s involvement but to also provide a sense of empowerment. This begs the question: can biking be used as an empowering tool?
“For me it’s hugely empowering,” Phillips said. “I feel that when I’m on my bike- that sense of independence and feeling of being capable. It’s that feeling of being able to get from point A to point B on my own steam.”