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Tammy McLemore from Black Girls Do Bike Twin Cities discusses the role of women in cycling advocacy.
“Women cyclists, we want to be recognized and respected just as equally as the guys. You know, we’re there too,” said Tammy McLemore, one of three founders of Black Girls Do Bike (BGDB) Twin Cities and a sometime member of the Major Taylor Cycling Club. “Sometimes, it doesn’t bother me but then it does a little bit, I feel like everything is geared towards the male, the guys … So having that discussion and making sure that our needs are recognized as well.”
The discussion in question will be taking place at the upcoming National Brotherhood of Cyclists (NBC) Conference, held from July 15-18, 2015 in Minneapolis, MN. McLemore will be joining a number of prominent women and men cyclists from around the country to discuss the future of cycling advocacy. This year’s conference, themed “Equity in Motion,” aims to bring together the organizations and individuals using cycling to elevate communities of color, women, and youth. McLemore and four other women will be leading the discussion “Perspective: Voices of Women with Initiative.”
While McLemore has earned her stripes as a woman with initiative in cycling advocacy, it’s a fairly recent role for her. Four years ago, she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Realizing she had to change the way she thought about her health and her habits, McLemore attended a diabetes expo in the Twin Cities to gain a better understanding of her new condition. It was there she met a woman who invited her to sign up for the Twin Cities Tour de Cure, a 7-mile bike ride to raise money for diabetes awareness. Not having been on a bike in years but armed with a newfound determination to take her health seriously, McLemore signed up. She took her daughter’s old bicycle down to a shop to get fixed up, and started training. Before long, she was hooked. One Tour de Cure led McLemore to sign up for the biking portion of a relay triathalon, the success of which led her to join the Twin Cities Bicycling Club (TCBC), and eventually the Major Taylor bicycling club.
While McLemore still rides with the TCBC, she is more passionate about the Black Girls Do Bike and the Major Taylor clubs because they reach women and communities of color, encouraging and supporting ridership in those communities. “It’s still a male-dominated activity,” she said, “But I’m noticing in the last few years that you are starting to see more women and then women of color. It’s coming along but I still think it’s slow.”
Asked about the biggest barriers facing women of color who are considering getting into cycling, McLemore explained that the issues are complex. “I’d probably break it into two pieces,” she said. “For me, I had to look at barriers that I may have created for myself and analyze them and figure out a positive way to get into cycling. Such as, you know, finding the hairstyle that works for me when it comes to my activities … But I think with breaking into cycling the main barrier is how society might treat you.” Women, and African-American women in particular, still face considerable societal stigma in the cycling world. The perception of cycling as an activity for mostly upper-income white men leaves many women of color feeling like they may be at worst, outright discriminated against, and at best, simply ignored.
While doing outreach and planning for the upcoming NBC conference a few months ago, McLemore and two other advocates, Pamela Moore and Darcia Durham, decided to to launch the Twin Cities chapter of Black Girls Do Bike. The group rides twice a month, and their aim is to teach women – African-American women particularly although anyone is welcome – about cycling, cycling safety, and health, and to encourage more women to ride by providing a supportive, non-intimidating environment to get started in.
McLemore will be bringing many of the insights she’s garnered over the years cycling and her work in BGDB to the discussion at the upcoming NBC conference. She is trying to change the perceptions of women in the cycling community, relating a story of when she met a man in the bike lane who told her she was attractive therefore she shouldn’t need to know how to change a tyre. “But I do, maybe I’ll help change your flat or someone else’s. We’re not just there for eye candy, we’re there and we can learn and we deserve the same respect that guys do.” Going beyond perceptions, she also wants to highlight the unique circumstances of women cyclists as well. “I know for me as a woman, if I’m cycling late at night, and I’m going through an isolated area, I’m more concerned about my safety. Whereas a guy, he might not think anything of it.”
McLemore will be joining Pamela Moore from Transit for Livable Communities, Elly Blue, author of Bikenomics, Khusaba Seka from Cycles for Change, and Stephanie Weir from St. Paul Women on Bikes for the “Voices of Women with Initiative” discussion on July 16, 2015. “Yes we are all cyclists, but there is a difference for women,” she said, explaining that the discussion has one critical aim. “Just to recognize that we’re there too and we want to be respected and have the same opportunities as the guys.”