Cycling festival challenges gender stereotypes

Haseena (above) “Being on my bike brings back teenage memories where cycling got me to work, travelled along canal side with my best friend. It was my form of independence before I started to drive. Got back into cycling after a long time and realised how much I missed the wind in my hijab, the burning sensation of muscle fatigue uphill and take good advantage of a free bike!”

A new series of events in Birmingham is tackling one of cyclings little discussed problems; representation. Only seven per cent of Londons cyclists are from ethnic minority groups, as against a 41 per cent non-white population with men completing nearly three times as many cycling journeys as women, and traveling more than four times as far. In a recent series of events between Thurs 15 to Wed 28 August, Babs on Bikescelebrated women - cis, trans or femmes and non-binary people and their passion for cycling, and aimed to encourage and inspire more people to get on their bike! 

Babs on Bikesis the brainchild of Alison Baskerville, a member of a womxn and non-binary collective ‘Powering the Matriarchy Together’ (PMT), who set up their own PMT festival, which, now in its 3rd year, has been challenging gender stereotypes by empowering womxn and non-binary people to learn new skills such as car and bicycle mechanics and self-defense.

In explaining why there was such a need for Babs on Bikes in Birmingham, Alison said:

I wanted to create a piece of work which expresses how diverse we are as a group of cyclists in that there are some of us who cycle round the park and others who aspire to be part of cycling clubs and compete. Cycling is so much more than just exercise and there is an element of freedom when riding a bike. Babs On Bikes is a platform to celebrate this and to also talk about and create positive actions to support us in our two wheeled adventures

Through the Impact Hub in Birmingham, Alison met Ayesha McGowan (@ayesuppose) and Jools Walker (@LadyVelo), two hugely influential and inspiration women in the cycling community. And following a group ride, Babs on Bikes was born. McGowan aims to be the first ever African-American pro female road racer and was chosen to front a SRAM product release campaign earlier this year. Walker is a cycling campaigner and author who writes about her experiences of cycling as a women of colour and is a tireless campaigner for driving more inclusion in the cycling community.

On meeting Ayesha and Jools, Alison said:

I was suddenly aware of the many challenges women face in accessing the more competitive side of cycling, especially women of colour as well as how Jools made us feel more open to how you dont need to be an athlete to enjoy your bike.

Although in its infancy, Alison and the collective have big plans for Babs on Bikes and are currently on the look out for a more permanent base in Birmingham. The hope is that the project will grow into a space to encourage the local community to cycle more and to encourage participation from underrepresented groups.

Speaking about the future of Babs on Bikes, Alison said:

This is just the start of an idea and a way to make more space for all women and non-binary folk to access cycling. We recognised early on when setting up Powering the Matriarchy Together that there are so many sections of society that are still misunderstood and cycling was one of the platforms to achieve a greater level of collaboration to explore and connect over what we may perceive as differences.

The festival which was held in the Art Rooms in Kings Heath is supporting the newly opened Birmingham branch of The Bike Project by acting as a drop off point for donations of bicycles to the charity. Expanding from their London base, the Birmingham branch of the project opened their doors in June this year, and has already refurbished and donated over 80 bikes to local refugees and asylum seekers. 

On learning about The Bike Project opening in Birmingham, Alison said:

There are so many old bikes lying about in peoples garages and I felt the use of a gallery should never just purely be to show art. In many ways it can operate as a community space which brings people together and made a perfect space for a pop up to donate bikes and put them back to good use. Everyone should have a chance to experience the health and emotional benefits of riding a bike.

Set up in 2014, the project quickly learned first-hand of the underrepresentation of women in applications for bikes. As a result they developed Pedal Power; free weekly women only cycling lessons aimed at those new to cycling or keen to improve their confidence. These lessons were tremendously successful not only in demand, with three locations across London now running weekly lessons, but also in the increase of women applying for bikes. The percentage of beneficiaries who were women rose from 12% to 28%.

Pedal Power started in Birmingham on Friday 23 August at the British Red Cross, Bradbury House, 7 Lowe Street, Camp Hill, Birmingham B12 0ER. For more information and to register, visit our Pedal Power page.

Written on: 20 Sep 2019 | Author: Jon Machen

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