D.C. bicyclists’ group holds Bridesmaid Dress Ride in effort to add more female members

Participants in the Washington Area Bicyclists Association’s Women & Bicycles Bridesmaid Dress Ride wore prom dresses, party frocks and even an evening gown. But one thing was missing from Saturday’s event: bridesmaids’ dresses.

Of the eight young women who arrived at the suitably heroic meeting point, the Joan of Arc statue in Meridian Hill Park, none said she was sporting an actual bridesmaid dress (although a ninth rider, who cycled up just before the caravan departed, might have been wearing one). Sara Pruzin came closest, in what she called a “guestbook dress” from “a really conservative Southern Baptist wedding.”

“I’ve never had a bridesmaid dress. I’ve only been to one wedding,” said Nelle Pierson, the WABA outreach coordinator who organized the event. Other riders said they had disposed of theirs, or had one that just wasn’t warm enough for a bike ride on the sunny but blustery late October day.

The idea for the outing came from WABA’s membership coordinator, Lolly Walsh. “In Pittsburgh, when she was working for their bike advocacy organization, they had done this same ride and it was hugely successful,” Pierson said. “Everyone loved it, men and women. Lots of dresses on the streets of Pittsburgh.”

The idea was to get some use out of a dress — or “obnoxious wedding-wear,” as WABA’s announcement put it — that most women wear only once. And, perhaps, get a little revenge for having been required to buy it in the first place.

Partipants in the Bridesmaid Dress Ride: Megan Jones, left, Sara Pruzin, Juliana Brint, Stefanie Winzeler, Nelle Pierson, Cameron Hartofelis, Bronwen Rice. (Mark Jenkins)

“Unfortunately, the weather may be a little more chilly than we’d like. But it just shows our skill at accessorizing and adapting. Bicyclists are good at those skills,” Pierson said.

Participants registered on the Women & Bicycles Facebook page for the two-wheeled foodie tour, which Pierson planned to lead to Union Market and Eastern Market, and then Adams Morgan for drinks. “Twenty people signed up, so I figured we’d get about five,” she said.

The WABA program is designed “to get women who aren’t regular commuters, or regular cyclists, to use their bikes more,” said Alex Baca, communications coordinator. “But it’s also totally open to women who are frequent riders. It’s just really another way to get people on bikes and interested in bikes.”

The Bridesmaid Dress Ride was also integrated into WABA’s fall membership drive, which added about 300 new recruits to the group of about 5,000 members.

WABA’s staff decided to focus on women after a bike-count survey showed that only 24 percent of D.C. cyclists are women. Pierson said that number might be a little low, but “I think it totally depends on where you’re at, and what type of women you’re talking about. On my commute, I see so many young urban professionals, who appear white, and they make up the majority of female riders. But if you’re out on the trails, mostly men. If you’re out later in the evenings, as people are getting off their restaurant shifts, mostly men.

“The hope is to build a base of women and then to continuously grow and expand the types of women who are out on bikes,” she said. “We’re thinking about mothers, women of color and women of all socioeconomic status.”

Asked whether that’s representative of WABA’s current membership, Pierson said, “It’s certainly not, no.”

The Women & Bicycles program includes “10 official roll models — r-o-l-l, with the pun intended — who are mentors. Their job is to get their friends out on bikes, and be the trusted bike mentor,” she said.

When not encouraging women cyclists to pull unflattering dresses from the back of their closets, WABA has recently ordered a supply of cycling caps. “Everyone who bought a cycling cap had to guarantee they’d get one more woman out on a bike in the next month,” Pierson said.

“We’re really putting the pressure on people to take responsibility to be the bike evangelists in their circle,” she said, as Stefanie Winzeler, in a green-and-gold outfit, pedaled past Joan of Arc to join the group.

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