| Pittsburgh City Paper

Black-led Community Spotlight: Black Girls Do Bike brings women together around cycling

click to enlarge Black Girls Do Bike founder Monica Garrison on Penn Avenue bike lanes in the center of Pittsburgh's theater district. - PHOTO: CHANCELOR HUMPHREY
Photo: Chancelor Humphrey
Black Girls Do Bike founder Monica Garrison on Penn Avenue bike lanes in the center of Pittsburgh's theater district.
Pittsburgh is increasingly becoming a more bike-friendly city. With the construction of bike lanes and more programs and initiatives being brought forth for cyclists, the city continues to make progress in becoming a safer place for cyclists to ride. And Black Girls Do Bike, the brain child of founder Monica Garrison, has been doing that work since 2015.

Described as a “community of women of color with a passion for cycling,” Black Girls Do Bike originated in Pittsburgh and has since grown to a national program with nearly 100 chapters in cities across the U.S.

Garrison says she grew up biking around the Steel City.


“Cycling has always been a part of my life,” she tells Pittsburgh City Paper over email. “As a kid, it was one of my favorite activities. Riding my bike was my first real taste of freedom and adventure. My big brother and I spent summers riding around our neighborhood picking up friends along the way. Later in life, I rode my bike as a city commuter from my first apartment to my job in Downtown Pittsburgh. This helped me to save gas money and get me to work stress-free.”

After taking a long hiatus from riding, she says she picked up her bike again in 2013 as a way to manage her mental and physical health. Riding served as a stress reliever, and a way for her to connect with her children. She says that despite the joy she found in riding, there were very few riders in the city that looked like her. That was the genesis of Black Girls Do Bike; after looking for a community at city events and even on the internet, Garrison decided to take matters into her own hands.

The title of the group suggests that, while there is a perception that Black girls don’t bike, and Garrison says while there is some truth to that, there is a large community of Black girls and women who are riding bikes. Black Girls Do Bike boasts 25,000 members, so there is obviously a community of Black cyclists, but the stereotype still persists.

“As a community, Black people in the U.S. are statistically less active than other races and more likely to suffer from preventable diseases caused by poor diet and inactivity,” says Garrison. “There is also the perception that people of color riding bikes are doing it out of necessity and not for recreation or health reasons. This, I think, stems from the wealth gap we have in this country.”


She adds that growing up, there were no professional women of color cyclists for her to look up to and admire. “If you don’t see women who look like you using bikes for recreation, as alternative transportation, or racing professionally, you also might not consider it,” she says.

Garrison also points out one very important factor: good bikes are expensive. The bikes she could afford as a kid were heavy, cumbersome, and often in need of repair.

She also stresses the specific barriers for Black women in cycling. She says there are unique considerations, like not learning to ride because of lack of access to a bike, not being able to find a helmet to fit thick, natural, curly hair, or feeling unsafe because drivers are less likely to respect a Brown body on a bike.

“I think perception plays a large role in the limits we set on ourselves,” Garrison explains. “You may never have learned to ride and fear beginning this process as an adult. Maybe your neighborhood lacks proper infrastructure to make riding from your front door to work an option. Street riding can already be intimidating and even more so for a female cyclist.”

Garrison also talks about the landscape of Pittsburgh biking.
click to enlarge Members of Black Girls Do Bike showing their new custom kits. - PHOTO: MONICA GARRISON
Photo: Monica Garrison
Members of Black Girls Do Bike showing their new custom kits.
“I am a Pittsburgh native, so I’ve seen the metamorphosis of this town over the past 20 years. We have special terrain here that makes selling the idea of universal cycling a challenge. We have definitely come a long way as a bike city thanks to the work of BikePGH to dream up, help create, and document a connected bike lane ecosystem,'' she says. “We have a healthy bike community thanks to our many friendly bike shops, and our unique bike events like the Dirty Dozen, the Underwear Ride, Open Streets, and the Frigid Bitch Alley Cat.”


As far as the next steps for Black Girls Do Bike, Garrison says she wants the group to continue to grow and expand into different cities. They are also partnering with USA Cycling to create a Black Girls Do Bike race team. And while the group continues to grow and expand its programming, the central goal remains the same.

“Women of color often have the weight of the world on their shoulders,” says Garrison. “They are the backbone of their families and often beacons in their communities. I wanted to demystify cycling for these women and gift them a tool that could help them live richer healthier lives.”

Black Girls Do Bike Pittsburgh
blackgirlsdobike.com
facebook.com/groups/BlackGirlsDoBikePittsburgh

This community feature is made possible by the financial support of Peoples, an Essential Utilities Company

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