What do you do if you are an African-American woman, love to ride your bike, but don’t have anyone to ride with?
If you are Christina Outlay, a University of Wisconsin-Whitewater professor, you start a Black Girls Do Bike chapter, or BGDB, in Madison.
A Chicago native, Outlay, 42, moved to Madison with her husband and children in 2012 to take a job at the UW-Whitewater as a professor of information technology. She had taken up bicycling in 2002 in Chicago when gas prices were high to save money on her commute to work. She loved it and brought that passion to Madison.
There was only one problem. She didn’t have anyone to ride with who looked like her. She started the Madison chapter of BGDB in December 2014 to remedy that.
“I’m a black woman who wanted to ride, but I didn’t want the cycling community to be yet another environment where I’m always or usually the only black person,” she tells Madison365. “I deal with that isolation in many of my other spaces already. So, while I wanted to ride more and get the benefits of riding, I also wanted to get more black women out there to ride, too.”
That was easier said than done because she didn’t even know another black woman who biked. So, she asked her friend, Sarrut Ouk, a Cambodian, to help.
“I asked her because I knew she rode her bike a lot, and she’s cool as hell overall and I love her,” she laughs
Sarrut agreed and BGDB Madison was born.
“My motives were both selfless and selfish. My mission is to get people to enter spaces they normally wouldn’t,” Outlay explained. “Black women are noticeably few and far between in cycling – whether it’s for recreation, fitness, commuting, or competition. I wanted more black women to learn how to ride bikes, and to experience the physical and psychological benefits that come from cycling. I also want us to be visible and set examples for our children.” Outlay and her husband have have three children ages 11, 12 and 23.
Her youngest daughter and son were in the Brazen Dropouts junior cycling team last year. Her son is now on the Sun Prairie youth mountain biking team.
Black Girls Do Bike is a national organization founded in Philadelphia by Monica Garrison in 2013. What started as a Facebook page, has grown into a network of 70 local area chapters that are led by chapter leaders called “Sheroes.” BGDB’s primary mission is to grow and support a community of women of color who share a passion for cycling. In the area, there are chapters in Madison, Milwaukee and Rockford, Illinois. The Milwaukee and Madison groups will join together for their first joint ride on August 12.
The Madison group has evolved since its inception.
In 2015, Outlay and Ouk offered theme rides like a Bike and Brunch or Bike and Brew. Attendance was minimal.
In 2016, she and Ouk scheduled a regular weekly ride on Wednesday evenings and some group outings at other events like the Bike for Boys and Girls Club fundraising event.
“We got better attendance in 2016 and the Facebook group grew con-siderably, but attendance was still sporadic and it was difficult to plan rides to fit all ability levels when we didn’t know who would actually show up. We put a lot of work into planning the routes and rides, and quite frankly, we were getting frustrated, ” explained Outlay.
For 2017, they are trying something different. Since Madison is rich with women’s cycling groups like the Bell Joy Ride and Spoke Haven and has many group cycling events, they are focusing on joining existing rides.
“It’s less work for us, we still get to recruit and support our BGDB ladies on rides, and we also get to support other groups,” Outlay said. “Plus, we can actually integrate black women into the broader cycling community, rather than sticking only within our own subcommunity. But, by going together as a group, no one has to feel like the ‘only one.’”
Upcoming BGDB rides include the Bike for Boys and Girls Club on July 15, Pedal and Party with a Purpose in Pardeeville on July 22 and the Door County Century on September 10.
Joining BGDB is easy. Just go to their Facebook group and join. There are no fees and no formal membership process. Any woman who is interested can request to join the Facebook group.
“Just recognize that it’s a space that’s focused on providing a welcoming environment for black women, women of color, and all women — in that order. Anyone who joins should be supportive and dedicated to attracting and supporting more women of color in cycling,” Outlay said.
Currently, the group has 181 members on Facebook, of which 10 percent are active. Outlay said that participation has grown in two years and she hopes it continues. “Our core group of very active members are Black, Asian, and Latina, in almost equal number. Members include everyone from stay-at-home moms to entrepreneurs and executives, and range in age from 20-somethings to older, much older,” Outlay smiles.
Outlay encourages women to risk trying something different.
“Some women are scared and intimidated to join. I know how that feels,” she said. “There are some (bike) groups that are very fast or experienced and women are afraid that they will not keep up. We are actively trying to not be like that. We want to encourage women to come out and try it.”
Outlay remembers her beginning days and the questions she asked.
“Coming from a hybrid bike, I didn’t know how to shift gears on a road bike and had to ask,” she says. “Now I’m new to mountain bike gears. Many BGDB members have similar questions.”
To learn, the whole group asked about gear shifting at the Bell Joy Ride clinic on May 7.
“Everyone learned together,” Outlay says.
“The group is a safe place to learn and ask questions and make mistakes,” she adds.
And you don’t even need a bike. Recently, member Jennifer Natera saved up and bought her first bike at the Trek’s Ladies Night Out event in April. The group supported her effort and stood beside her the whole way, even helping to negotiate the purchase.
“Biking is already a space where you stand out, then on top of that, you might have a different body type and you may not have the ‘right’ gear or bike or no bike at all,” Outlay says. “But, we shouldn’t let what we think we don’t have stop us. There’s a perceived barrier when you are new to a sport like cycling that we need to address.”
Outlay wants Black Girls Do Bike to help break down these barriers and unleash the joy and health benefits to women of color in Madison. To join, go to the BGDB Facebook page or contact Outlay at email@example.com.
Black Girls really DO Bike in Madison.