By Dave Iltis — Monica Garrison founded Black Girls Do Bike (BGDB) in 2013. It has since grown to include over 100 chapters on the United States and United Kingdom with over 180 Sheroes (leaders) and approximately 30000 members. She’s also an artist and we are featuring her bike art this month in Cycling West. We caught up with her recently.
Cycling West: Tell us about Black Girls Do Bike. What type of riding do they do? What types of activities around cycling do chapters have?
Monica Garrison: Black Girls Do Bike (BGDB) is a national organization with chapters across the United States that is dedicated to promoting cycling as a means of transportation, fitness, and empowerment for women of color. The types of riding that BGDB members do vary depending on their personal interests, goals, and local terrain. Some members ride for fitness, participating in road or mountain bike races or endurance rides. Others ride for transportation, commute to work or run errands by bike. There are also members who ride for leisure, exploring scenic routes or local trails with friends.
In addition to organized rides and cycling events, BGDB chapters have a wide variety of activities and resources for members. Many chapters offer group rides of varying distances and skill levels, as well as clinics on topics such as bike maintenance, nutrition, and safety. Members also have access to online resources and forums for discussing cycling-related topics and connecting with other riders.
CW: How did you get into bicycling as a kid and later in life?
MG: During summer breaks from school, riding a bike was a beloved activity. I was always trying to keep up with my brother and his friends on their bikes. It gave me the real sense of freedom that I was seeking. Riding was very much a social activity.
Later in life, I relied on my bike as a way to commute to work. I was blessed with a trail that practically started at my front door and landed at my job downtown. I stopped riding for a time and picked up the bike again in the spring of 2013.
CW: Tell us the story of how you founded Black Girls Do Bike. What was your motivation?
MG: My motivation to start BGDB was born out of a rough patch in my life where I found myself struggling with both physical and mental health issues. Riding my bike turned on the proverbial light bulb for me. It helped me to regain my health and rediscover the joy and freedom that comes with cycling. It was also a great way for me to spend more time with my kids.
As I started riding regularly again, I noticed that there were not many women who looked like me on the road. I realized that I wanted to find more like-minded lady riders and create a supportive community for women of color who love cycling. So, I took to the internet to see if there were any national organizations that encouraged women of color to ride, but I found nothing on a national scale.
That’s when I decided to start Black Girls Do Bike. I wanted to create a space for women of color to come together and share their love of cycling, and to help inspire more women to take up the sport. I never imagined that it would grow into the amazing community it is today, with more than 100 chapters across the country. But I am incredibly proud of what we have accomplished, and I am more motivated than ever to continue to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in cycling.
CW: There are over 100 chapters of BGDB. What is the impact that BGDB has had on the Black community?
MG: I’d like to think that Black Girls Do Bike has had a significant impact on the Black community, inspiring more women of color to take up cycling and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sport. By providing a supportive and empowering community, BGDB has helped to break down barriers and challenge stereotypes, making cycling more accessible and inclusive for women of color. Through their local chapters and national events, BGDB has also helped to increase awareness about the benefits of cycling, such as improved physical health, mental well-being, and sustainable transportation. Overall, BGDB has been instrumental in promoting positive change in the Black community, empowering women to take control of their health and well-being, and inspiring a new generation of cyclists.
CW: What are the goals of BGDB and how does it work to provide a place for women of color?
MG: Our primary goals are to empower women of color to embrace cycling, promote diversity and inclusion in the sport, and create a supportive and empowering community of cyclists. We believe that cycling is more than just a hobby – it’s a way of life. We strive to provide a safe and welcoming space for women of color to come together. We hope to inspire more women to take up the sport and experience its many benefits. To achieve our goals, BGDB works to provide a range of resources and support to women of color who are interested in cycling. By creating a place for women of color to come together, share their experiences, and support each other, we hope to build a more inclusive and diverse cycling community and inspire positive change in the world.
CW: Tell us about your love for cycling and the impact BGDB has had on your life. What do you hope to share with the world?
MG: My love for cycling has grown each year as I meet women who are benefitting from adding cycling to their lives. BGDB has been transformative in my life. I’ve met lifelong friends and been invited to tables with change makers. As a natural introvert, spearheading this movement has made me stretch in uncomfortable ways and taught me many lessons about myself. I’ve accomplished things I never thought I could. I’ve gained an outlet to express myself creatively and help others at the same time, which is very fulfilling.
I hope to inspire more women of color to take up cycling, break down barriers and stereotypes, and contribute to a more sustainable and equitable world. Ultimately, I believe that by sharing our love of cycling and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sport, we can inspire positive change and create a better future for all.
CW: We are featuring your digital art in this issue. Tell us more about your art, the subject matter, and your career in photography and art.
MG: As you can imagine diversifying cycling and uplifting women of color are a big part of my life. A lot of my art explores these themes. I try to create images that reflect the equitable future I envision and at the same time, help make women feel good about who they are. I utilize, photography, videography and now even machine learning or AI technology to bring my ideas to life. I learned photography early in life and had some brilliant mentors. I’ve worked as a photographer for many years, honing my skills. I can shoot just about anything, but I especially enjoy shooting portraits and fashion, as I love finding creative ways to showcase the human face and form.
CW: If someone wants to form a chapter of BGDB or join a group, how do they go about doing that?
MG: If someone wants to form a chapter of Black Girls Do Bike, they can visit the BGDB website and follow the instructions for starting a new chapter. The process includes going through a review process with the BGDB national team to ensure that the chapter aligns with the organization’s mission and values. Once approved, the new chapter will have access to a range of resources and support from BGDB, including training materials, networking opportunities, and exclusive discounts.
If someone wants to join an existing chapter, they can search for a local chapter on the BGDB website and follow the appropriate link to join. However, joining a BGDB chapter is a great way to connect with other women of color who share a passion for cycling, build your skills and confidence on the bike, and contribute to a positive and inclusive cycling community.
CW: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
MG: I’d just like to thank all of the members, allies, and supporters who have helped us work toward our mission. Celebrating our 10-year anniversary this year has made me reflect on not only how far we’ve come, but how far we still have to go.
To find out more about Black Girls Do Bike, visit: blackgirlsdobike.org.
To learn more about Monica’s art and photography, visit: monicagodfrey.com and see the feature in this issue.