Shannon Galpin’s organization, Mountain2Mountain, empowers women in conflict zones by using the bicycles as the vehicle for social change.

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Riding on the plateau above the large Buddha niche in Bamiya, Afghanistan.

Riding on the plateau above the large Buddha niche in Bamiya, Afghanistan. Photo by Deni Bechard

“The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world.”

– Susan B. Anthony, American Civil Rights Leader 

Shannon Galpin went to Afghanistan in 2006 with one clear goal – empower women in conflict zones by teaching them how to ride a bike. It sounds simple enough, until you consider that there is a deep-seated cultural taboo against women and girls riding bikes in the country, and doing so not only subjects them to ridicule and harassment, but can endanger their lives.

“There are more women driving cars, entering politics, and joining the police force in Afghanistan, than riding bikes,” said Galpin. She founded Mountain2Mountain (M2M), her Colorado-based non-profit group, to change that. And she began in dramatic fashion when in 2009 she became the first woman to ride a mountain bike in Afghanistan. She returned in 2010 to cycle across the dangerous Panjshir Valley, a trip documented by Outside Magazine.

Shannon Galpin with Afghan students at Kabul girls school

Shannon Galpin with Afghan students at a Kabul girls school. Photo by Nick Heil

Galpin understands the risks that come with rebellion. “If you read about American women at the turn of the 20th century learning to ride bikes, you’ll discover the same kind of discrimination,” she said. “Women who rode were often considered immoral and promiscuous. Riding a bike became a rebellious act, a sign of independence, and a symbol for the women’s rights movement. I see these Afghan women today as pedaling a revolution in the same way as the American suffragettes.”

Galpin travels the world now raising awareness and support for the newly formed Afghan Women’s National Cycling Team, as well as M2M’s Strength in Numbers initiative, which sponsors a Global Solidarity Ride held in 14 countries.

“When you introduce biking as a form of transportation for women anywhere in the world, the rate of gender violence drops,” said Galpin. “The bicycle is literally a vehicle for social justice.”

Galpin and a film crew from Let Media are currently producing a feature-length documentary about the Mountain 2 Mountain project, entitled Afghan Cycles, which you can read more about and support here.

This article is part of our week-long coverage of global bike-based organizations changing the world two wheels at a time. Check out 10 Great Cycling Organizations to see more of their inspiring wok.

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