“I became one with the biking culture,” said Angela Ford, discussing her personal cycling renaissance during the keynote speech at Women on Wheels, a conference hosted last Saturday in Pilsen by the group Women Bike Chicago. “This is what I’m gonna live,” she decided eight years ago.
The summit was the second annual “day of discussion and dialog” organized by Women Bike Chicago, an opportunity for women to share cycling stories and tips. The group’s goal is to encourage more women to ride in a city where 70 percent of people who bike to work are male, according to the 2010 Census. Attendees included veteran and newbie cyclists, ranging from seven to 67 years old.
Angela, who owns a real estate management firm specializing in environmentally friendly practices, said she gave up biking when she got her driver’s license at age 16. She got back into biking 18 years later when her son needed to learn to ride for a school outing. Since then, she’s gotten involved with promoting cycling to her peers as a strategy for maintaining health and wellness. “Let’s not let fear or all these other excuses take us away from it,” she told the audience. “I’m telling my girlfriends, ‘Ride with me once.’”
The conference included group sessions on bike commuting, visiting bike shops, planning routes, cycling with kids, “bike safety, comfort, and style,” and more. It also featured a corral where attendees could try out hybrid, road, touring and cargo bikes, and a Divvy representative was on hand to explain the bike-share program and offer test rides of the blue bikes. You could try your hand at loading a bike on a CTA bus rack, and learn basic bike maintenance skills like fixing a flat.
Anne Alt and Veronica Joyner hosted the session on commuting. They discussed how combining cycling with bus and rail can extend your travel range, explained how to use the bus racks, and noted that CTA and Metra staff are sometimes willing to help with carrying bikes on and off their vehicles.
The leaders of the ride-planning seminar shared several low-stress routes throughout the city. The session then split into groups to discuss two different routes. One group talked about the Bloomingdale Trail, an elevated greenway that’s currently under construction on the Northwest Side. The other focused on a “sweets and treats” itinerary that got all the participants excited about summer and ice cream.
Angela and Marlene Paez led a thought-provoking group session called Biking and Culture. Participants compared U.S. bike culture compared to that of other countries and discussed how American cycling is perceived elsewhere in the world. They also discussed the merits of helmets and cycling attire, and the representation of women in ads for bike products.
The session on safety, comfort and style was especially entertaining. Presenters Julie Hochstadter, owner of The Chainlink social networking site, and Ding Ding Let’s Ride blogger Samantha Arnold explained the different bicycle types. They also talked about outfitting your steed with useful accessories like racks, fenders, and lights, using their own bikes as examples, and gave tips on how to dress for cycling. For example, wearing bike shorts under your street clothes can make your ride more comfortable.
First-time attendee and beginning bike commuter Arada Saratana thought Women on Wheels was “interesting, informative and fun.” She especially enjoyed the session on visiting bike shops, which included tips on what to watch out for when shopping for gear or ordering repairs, maintenance, and upgrades to your cycle.
Arada said she got into urban cycling after she recently moved back to town and noticed many more bike riders on the streets than before. “I got jealous,” she said. “I liked biking and wanted another way to get exercise, but I was hesitant to ride in the city.” After a boyfriend encouraged her, she decided to buy a bike. “It was easier to ride than I thought. It can be pretty awesome.”
At the end of the event, organizers Lisa Curcio and Susan Levin shared an exciting new venture, Women Bike Chicago’s mentoring program. Inspired by Chicago Bike Buddies, a volunteer group that offers free commuter coaching services, the WBC program will focus on female riders, pairing up novices with experienced cycists who will offer guidance on navigating the streets. If you are interested in getting involved, email WBC at wbikechi[at]gmail.com.