Girls Bike Club, a youth group and after school program at West Town Bikes in Humboldt Park, is gearing up for an expanded role at the Youth Bike Summit in New York City on February 14.
Girls Bike Club has about six core members and meets every Wednesday to organize upcoming bike rides or garden days, hang out, and, for months preceding the summit, plan their involvement.
Having seen the successful Heels on Wheels Fashion Show at the Logan Share last month, I met with Girls Bike Club and one of the volunteer adult facilitators, Sara Laurino, at West Town Bikes to learn more about what they’re up to.
Ulana Coutts, who will be going to the Youth Bike Summit for the first time this year, said the group “focuses on getting girls on bikes, to make it easier for women and girls to be part of the bike community, and to do bike maintenance ourselves.” Marissa Macias added that it’s a “female youth council, to figure out our role as young females.”
Girls Bike Club is the first female-focused youth program in the country, which distinguished its members at previous Youth Bike Summits (this year will be the third of four attended by Girls Bike Club members). The Youth Bike Summit is “a place to convene similar bike organizations across the country and discuss youth and bike issues,” Macias explained. Last year Girls Bike Club gave a presentation on “why it’s important to have a girls bike club and what it means to have a girls bike club.” Macias said they discussed how Girls Bike Club started, how each of them got involved, and what it’s meant for members.
“It was awesome,” she related, because the other attendees were excited to know how Girls Bike Club was working out. “Hopefully it inspired people to pay attention to [girls in] youth and bikes,” she added.
Coutts said it’s important to have a girls bike club to “just have a place to not feel intimidated by people who already go to bike shops” and “be okay with not knowing how to [fix bikes].” Macias added that the bike shop is “not just a dude place” and Girls Bike Club ensures that there’s never just one girl in the shop. She said that it’s also been an opportunity to learn about bike-related career options. Carmelita Sams, who recently passed away due to cancer, was a role model in this area for Girls Bike Club members.
Marissa described Girls Bike Club’s involvement at past Youth Bike Summits as “attendees” and “participants,” but this time they’ll be “in a more facilitative role.” The girls will co-host a “maker space” with boys in Bike Club, where they’ll teach attendees how to make jewelry out of bike parts, screen print T-shirts, and show off their cycling cap sewing patterns. Girls Bike Club will also be running a fashion show during the summit, where attendees can show off their clothes and bike gear.
Last month’s Heels on Wheels was a dry run for the next fashion show. “We were models and at Youth Bike Summit we’re the hosts,” Laurino explained. The girls agreed that this year’s show had better production quality than last year’s.
In addition to being good practice, Heels on Wheels was also a fundraiser to cover the costs of traveling to the Youth Bike Summit. The group raised money from tickets, a silent auction, and a raffle, but despite focusing on online sales this year, they raised less than last year. West Town Bikes is accepting donations with “Girls Bike Club” in the memo.