Madison is famous for being a great biking city and has some of the nation’s best bike trails. But too often those bike paths lack diversity. This past Saturday, Aug. 17, however, was a different story when members of Black Girls Do Bike Milwaukee joined the Madison Chapter of Black Girls Do Bike to explore the many bike trails of Madison and make visits to Africa Fest and the Madison Farmer’s Market.

“You could tell that it’s not a regular occurrence in Madison because we got so much attention out on the trails,” Cristina Outlay, co-founder of the Madison chapter of Black Girls Do Bike, tells Madison365. “There were cars riding by and kids waving to us. We were all in front of Machinery Row taking pictures. One woman’s son saw us and she said that her son was thrilled to see bikers out there looking like him. It’s something you don’t see much in Madison. It was an amazing time.

“We really stood out. For a while now, we’ve been trying to get women to come out and ride,” she adds. “We are definitely starting to reach more women. It’s really neat to see how it’s growing and how we’re able to bring more Madison women to meet with our Milwaukee sisters, as well.”

 Outlay, a University of Wisconsin-Whitewater professor, started the Black Girls Do Bike chapter in Madison four years ago with Sarrut Ouk. Black Girls Do Bike is a national organization founded in Philadelphia by Monica Garrison in 2013. They have nearly 100 local riding clubs across the country whose mission is to grow and support communities of women of color who share a passion for cycling.

This is the third year that the Milwaukee Black Girls Do Bike group came to Madison during summer to bike with the Madison chapter.

The Black Girls Who Bike National Meet-Up was held in Milwaukee earlier this summer in early June and that has increased the interest locally in cycling, Outlay says. Madison’s chapter started about four years ago.

“Black Girls Who Bike focus mostly on black women but also women of color overall … although we welcome all riders,” Outlay says. “We’re really starting to bring more women to ride. The weird thing about getting women involved is that it takes numbers to attract numbers. You’re stuck in a catch-22.

“This year, we were able to get more women out and that has been really encouraging,” she adds.

This is the third year that the Milwaukee Black Girls Do Bike group came to Madison during summer to bike with the Madison chapter.  “The Milwaukee chapter rents a bus to bring women down in order to ride with us,” Outlay says. “It’s something that we all look forward to.”

So far all of the annual meet-ups between Milwaukee and Madison Black Girls Do Bike have taken place in Madison because of their world-class reputation as a biking city with great trails.  On this particular Saturday, there were two routes that the women embarked on. The short route, which is about 15 miles, started at Machinery Row and went through the Capital City trail, Yahara Trail with stops at the Farmers’ Market on the Capitol Square and Africa Fest at McPike Park.

“The shorter route was slower paced, the women went at about 10-12 MPH. It was an easier route,” Outlay says. “The larger route continued on through Fitchburg and back around Cannonball [Path] and the [UW] Arboretum. That was a 32-mile route at a faster pace, about 16 MPH. It was much more hilly.”

Pat Wongkit takes a group selfie of women at Black Girls Do Bike.

The chapter leaders for Girls Who Bike are called “Sheroes” and they were split up between the two groups. The Sheroes lead and organize the event. Madison’s Sheroes are Outlay, Sarrut Ouk, Pat Wongkit and Dawn Crim

“With the Sheroes, there was a leader and a sweeper at the back of each group so nobody got left behind,” Outlay says. “They were also there to answer questions, explain the rules of the road, and fix bike issues as they happened along the way.”

Both groups met at the Farmers’ Market for lunch when they were all done.

“It was lots of fun. We really got to know each other and exchange contact information,” Outlay says. “It’s a lot of networking and togetherness and fellowship. It’s a fun day of hanging on with each other.

The annual event is very much about biking, but it’s also about sisterhood and bonding. 

 “It gives us a chance to see and hang out with each other which we don’t get except virtually. It gives us a chance to get together in a group and really bond,” Outlay says. “It’s an activity, in general, that brings us together and gives us a different feeling of togetherness than we might ordinarily feel in some of the other activities that we participate in.

“The event is really growing. I remember the first year we only had seven women who participated and six of them were from Milwaukee,” Outlay continues. “This year, we’ve grown to 18 and the only reason it wasn’t larger than that was because we had a number of people who were just out of town and had some other things going on that conflicted with the event.

“It is so much fun,” she adds. “We are a welcoming group. We’re always looking for more women to join.” 

Madison’s chapter of Black Girls Do Bike ride on most Saturdays and Sundays, often informally. Anyone interested can email me at gymratchris@gmail.com or join our facebook group Black Girls Do Bike: Madison.