By Esther Meroño
Utah had the pleasure this April of hosting women’s cycling advocate Sarai Snyder, founder of the website Girl Bike Love (girlbikelove.com) and the worldwide CycloFemme ride (cyclofemme.com). As one of the speakers at the 2014 Utah Bike Summit on April 25, she treated the audience with a presentation titled “The Power of the Pedal.” Snyder’s message focused on the empowering force behind the perfect machine, a benefit of cycling often lost among the green initiatives and asphalt advocates.
Over the past few years, Snyder has become a strong voice in the bicycle community, especially on behalf of women, who often go underrepresented in the various branches of cycling, including product development and marketing. The impetus to create Girl Bike Love in 2010 came from a place of observation working for a bike shop in Boulder, Colorado. “I ran a bike shop for about four years and I just kind of recognized that, not only did I want to share my knowledge with women all over the place, but also, I really wanted to help bike shops. I really wanted to be a resource to help them make that connection with female cyclists,” says Snyder.
Girl Bike Love, “the hub and soul of women’s cycling,” is a beautiful resource for female cyclists of all types—from casual urban commuters to Lycra-clad roadies. Why is a gender-specific website like this needed for cycling? Well, first and foremost, it sheds all of the intimidation that permeates the male-dominated activity. Segments like “Tool Tuesday” feature a weekly post that describes a bike tool and breaks down what it is and what it can be used for, without making you feel stupid, or creepily reaching around to “fix that for you.” There are “Girl Gear” reviews, “How To” tutorials for finding the right bicycle, and perhaps most importantly, stories about cycling written by women. “I feel like in advocacy a lot of times, we get so busy thinking about safety and infrastructure and funding and working with the government to get the resources that we need, but sometimes we forget that getting more people involved is one of the main things that’s going to help us in getting those things that we need, and the way we get more people involved is in telling better stories,” says Snyder. The stories range from a day-by-day recap of seven women riding the RaphaTOC, to an article on how a Rwandan woman’s future turns dramatically when she’s given a bike. It’s an inspiring amalgamation of how the bicycle generates positive change in the lives of women across the globe.
In 2012, Snyder took the power behind her website from the ‘Net to the streets through the annual CycloFemme ride, bringing women together to share in the joy of cycling, appropriately held on Mother’s Day every year. For 2014, as of this article being written, there are 172 CycloFemme rides registered in 149 cities, across 40 U.S. states (including Utah) and 19 countries. Participants take a pledge before venturing out, which reads (in English, Spanish and Chinese, currently), “I [name], swear to invest my energy, strength, and passion to inspire one more woman to ride a bike. I believe in the power of the pedal for positive social change; for building a healthier, happier, smarter world. I pledge to be an ambassador of the bicycle; to honor the past; celebrate the present; empower the future of women in cycling. I promise to start the revolution; to live the change I want to see; to rally another to ride with me.” It’s a pledge that challenges everyone who signs it to become a bicycle advocate. Snyder says, “I believe that female cyclists are generally created in groups of two or more … so I guess the pledge was encouraging that a little more, and using the social skills that we have and saying, ‘This really can make a difference. This isn’t just you wanting to bring your friend along, this is making a difference in the world.’”
Snyder is very much of the belief that with the empowerment that the bicycle produces, comes a responsibility to share—something she’s acted on by becoming a leader and a voice for women in cycling. “I think a lot of women don’t quite figure it out for a while. You can’t always be like, ‘Well, this is going to change your life.’ It’s usually a gentle message, because people are afraid to change their lives—empowerment’s kind of scary because it means that you have to do something,” says Snyder. “I never really intended to be a leader … My passion inspired me to be where I am and to say the things that I say and to do the things that I do, but it’s not that I have the skills to be a leader. While I’m trying to share this message and work with other people and build this community, at the same time I have to teach myself these leadership skills, like public speaking—it’s scary! But it’s just something you have to do once you get put in this place. For me, I’ve been empowered by the bicycle to be a leader, to develop those skills and to be a voice.”
Her advice for organizers and community leaders who want to reach out to women is to keep things simple. “The important thing to remember is, as women, our gender is a very small part of who we are, so trying to create an event for all women related to riding bicycles, that makes it really hard because we’re not all the same—some of us have different interests,” says Snyder. “Remember that we’re cyclists, too, and that there’s going to be different types of rides that bring women together. I think that promoting the community aspect of it is really important, and making sure you give women a chance to connect on the ride, or after the ride or before the ride. It takes time, too—you have to be committed to it. Once that community starts to develop, it’ll flourish on its own.”
Utah currently has three rides registered in Magna, Provo and Salt Lake City, details for which can be found in the calendar section of this issue and at cyclofemme.com. All cyclists are welcome to join. Join the conversation at girlbikelove.com.