The Alexandria Spokeswomen lean — and bike — in


(Ben Claassen III/For Express)

No one wants to feel like a stereotype. So Jennifer Hovis, 37, is pretty uncomfortable with the fact that when she’s riding her bike — which is practically every day — she’s just one blowout away from turning into a damsel in distress.

“I’m one of those people that instead of carrying what would help with a flat, I have my credit card and phone so I can be rescued,” the Alexandria resident says. The reason Hovis has never learned how to fix a tire herself? She’s been too intimidated to take a maintenance class at a bike shop.

These shops aren’t purposely cultivating a vibe that’s off-putting to women, Hovis says, but that’s the result of employing male-dominated staffs and carrying products designed mostly for dudes.

And that’s the issue the Alexandria Spokeswomen, a group founded last fall, will address with their first “Women on a Roll” ride this Sunday: The trip, which starts at 10 a.m. in Jones Point Park, includes visits to five Alexandria bike shops.

Hovis, who serves on the group’s leadership committee, explains that the event isn’t a protest. It’s a chance for dialogue. Every shop knows the riders are coming. The goal is to share ideas that will make women feel welcome — and then spend more money, so everybody wins.

In a letter the Alexandria Spokeswomen (alexandriaspokeswomen.wordpress.com) wrote to the shops, they laid out their wish list. They’re asking for periodic women-only rides and classes, gear that’s suited specifically to female cyclists and greater recognition of the fact that women are an important force in their industry.

(According to an August 2013 report by the League of American Bicyclists, 60 percent of bicycle owners age 17-28 are women. Another finding: From 2003 to 2012, the number of women and girls participating in bicycling rose 20 percent.)

Shops have gotten better about outreach to women in recent years, says Gwen Toops, 27, who considers herself a “casual but dedicated cyclist.” It’s still hard, however, to shake the feeling that she’s not being taken seriously by store staffers. Too many times, even when she’s done her research, she says, “they’ve talked down to me, with the assumption that I don’t know anything.”

After Sunday’s ride, the shops and the riders should know a lot more about each other. And participants will know more about biking in Alexandria in general, Hovis says. The route will double as a tour of trails, bike lanes and other roads that are useful for cyclists.

“And it’s a no-drop ride,” Hovis says. “That means no one gets left behind.” That’s a good lesson for the bike shops to remember, too.

Family Whee!

The annual — and free! — “ABCs of Family Biking” (Sat., 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; 215 G St. NE) gives parents the chance to try trailers, cargo bikes and other equipment, and learn more about riding safely with kids. For details, visitkidicalmassdc.blogspot.com.

Read previous DC Rider columns:

The road worrier: How I’m getting over my fear of driving

Ben Ross’ ‘Dead End’ chronicles the fall of suburban sprawl

A new water taxi service takes visitors to the National Mall (and cherry blossoms)

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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