I love to ride my bike whether it’s running the regular errands of life or putting in miles getting ready for a trip. For years every time I road my bicycle, short distance or long, I switched my shoes, put on my black Lycra shorts, and donned my day-glo jacket before taking off. Last year after I was sold bike shoes that looked and felt like aliens that ultimately I could not abide, I switched to regular ol’ platform pedals while I looked for bike shoes that I could wear.
That was the beginning of the end. I stopped “clicking in” to ride the mile to the produce stand. I started wearing a merino wool skirt and Mary-janes on rides across town to a regular meeting. I looked for fun clothes to ride and wear to dinner parties. The less I used special clothes to ride my bike, the more I felt the bike was just an extension of my life. The joy of riding my bike around town hit a new high as we entered our 5th year of living car-free.
Then I read a little blurb in a newsletter from Atlanta, Georgia and discovered they were doing something to bring women together and show how fun, stylish, easy it can be to ride a bike:
Mark your calendars for a girls night out with a twist! We’ll glide down Atlanta’s signature street, Peachtree, for a night on the town without the hassle of figuring out who will drive, where to park, and how to avoid the traffic. Wear your finest so we can demonstrate just how easy it can be (should be!) to ride a bike in Atlanta. Our goal is to turn a few heads and shift people’s thinking about a) WHO rides bikes (it’s not just men) and b) WHERE people ride bikes (biking intown can be a safe and practical way of getting around).
That little tidbit was the spark that lead me to call together 3 friends, invited them to meet me for “Lycra-free” dinner we arrive at by bicycle. We met for dinner at Cafe Presse – natural meeting place with a car-size bike rack outside the door – and we too called it a “Heels on Wheels” night out. If gals from Atlanta could do it, certainly there is room in a bicycle-city like Seattle to expand the definition and expectations of riding a bike.
Since then, the guest list has expanded to 40+ women friends who have shown an interest in shedding that “I am a cyclist” look and just ride a bike like you were going out for dinner. Each month women bike to different locations, daisy-chain our bikes together outside, and enjoy a dinner sharing food and swapping stories. Women who have never pedaled beyond their neighborhood are making their way downtown or even across town, and women who have logged thousands of miles and worn out many pairs of Lycra shorts are showing up in dinner-party style.
Over the summer of Heels on Wheels meet-ups, Wheelies, as we fondly call ourselves, have purchased new bicycles, new gear and new clothes. We’ve found restaurants that welcome a dozen bicycle parked outside. We discuss the dearth of stylish, let alone serviceable rain gear, as well as tips for how best to keep our skirts down in a breeze.
The bicycle industry should know that women talk about sales people not really listening or respecting how we like to use our bikes, nor do they often address and how poorly many bikes fit our bodes and our lives. We are looking for better ways to carry our bags, books and groceries. We want cool clothes that ride well and look “normal” when we step off the bike. Women who ride bikes are clearly untapped marketing potential.
Women who ride bikes are also untapped advocacy potential. I’ve introduced friends to bike paths and lanes and hopefully unleashed their desire for more safe amenities for cyclists. If you’ve been riding a bike and feel fine “taking your lane” in traffic, take a novice rider for a spin and you’ll see the world from the perspective of the masses of potential bike riders. The number of sport-cyclists who enjoy the workout of a hard ride, or even the commute cyclist who rides to work every day is a drop in the bucket compared to the potential ocean of women and men who could just ride their bike to get around town. Tap into that ocean and there is the potential to change the image of bicycles as a specialized vehicle for athletes into bikes – and bicycle resources – for everyone.
Woman needing some encouragement should know too that skirts turn heads! I’ve received more waves, acts of kindnesses, thumbs up, and positive encouragement riding around the streets of Seattle in my pink skirt than I ever felt in my black shorts. The world is a friendlier place when drivers take notice and give a little extra room.
Perhaps the whole experience can be summed up in a note I received from a friend after our last get-together. “Thanks for inspiring me to ride my bike, Kat! You rode with me, you allowed me to go slow, and you pointed out the benefits of wearing a skirt. …I’m ready to be a Bike Rider in Seattle.”
Start your own Heels on Wheels group and invite your friends to join you pedaling to a night out on the town.