“Cotton chafes,” explained Casgren-Tindall, who advised not putting on anything beneath padded bike shorts, which led to an in-depth discussion of different styles of unmentionables.
That’s a topic that almost certainly wouldn’t have come up if there’d been any guys nearby. And that was precisely the point of this recent gabfest, tacked onto the end of a ride as part of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association’s new initiative, Women & Bicycles.
Although it officially launched in March, the program has been in the works over the past few years, as WABA and other bike advocates across the country have taken notice of the fact that women represent just 24 percent of cyclists.
No one had ever tried to do much about the disparity, says Carolyn Szczepanski, spokeswoman for the League of American Bicyclists, which is helping fund the effort. But no one knew what to do. “We’re not a homogenous group, and there’s no silver-bullet solution. It’s not like none of us gets helmet hair, and everything’s solved,” she says.
After a whole lot of forums, surveys and fundraising, WABA has come up with a plan based on the Mary Kay model. Ten women have been selected as “Roll Models.” Their job is to coax friends and acquaintances who haven’t been biking to attend a themed dinner party. Over beer and burritos, they’ll dive into a women’s bicycling workbook.
That’ll hopefully get the attendees geared up for Bike to Work Day on May 17, as well as a series of group rides and workshops planned throughout this spring, summer and fall, says WABA Outreach Coordinator Nelle Pierson, who jokingly calls this social networking strategy a “bike ponzi scheme.” Really, it’s a way to create a supportive environment and make getting on that saddle a smidge less scary.
The approach already appears to be working on 30-year-old Katie McHugh, who tagged along for Casgren-Tindall’s Rock Creek outing despite not having been on a bike for years. “This was a nice, friendly ride. No pressure,” said the Old Town resident, noting that she’d never have shown up if the event were co-ed.
On that Sunday, the route was a low-key eight-mile loop on a section of Beach Drive that’s closed to car traffic on weekends. Pierson plans to schedule all sorts of trips to get novice female cyclists out on Washington’s streets, and to pass along the info necessary to keep them going on their own.
“Getting on a bike requires all of these tidbits. You amass this knowledge of how to make it a part of your life,” Pierson says.
So during the Cherry Blossom Festival, as the group tooled around Hains Point, the focus was on how to position oneself on the road. For an upcoming multimodal ride, everyone will start off by taking their bikes on the Metro, and then they’ll practice how to put their bikes on the front of a bus.