“We always enjoy biking in Madison. It’s a great biking city,” Tonieh Welland, founder of the Milwaukee chapter of Black Girls Do Bike, tells Madison365. “Madison is very different from Milwaukee as far of biking and part of the reason we love to come up here, beyond the hospitality and the scenery, is that it’s so much easier to ride. Everyone was amazed at how much easier and safer it was to get around. It was a shock to them, actually.”

On Saturday, Aug. 4, members of Black Girls Do Bike Milwaukee joined the Madison Chapter of Black Girls Do Bike for a ride around Madison lakes and a visit to the Madison Farmer’s Market.

“It’s pretty cool to have this activity to do,” Sarrut Ouk tells Madison365. “As a woman of color growing up in Madison you can sometimes feel like you are alone and doing things on your own. To have a group like this – that’s fun and social and where you get exercise and make friends – that’s something special. The support, the inspiration, and the empowerment are all really cool with a group like this.”

Ouk and her friend Christina Outlay, a University of Wisconsin-Whitewater professor, started the Black Girls Do Bike chapter in Madison a few years back. 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 second year that the Milwaukee BGDB group came to Madison during summer to bike with the Madison chapter.

“We chose Madison because the Milwaukee group was like, ‘Hey, you guys have amazing bike paths!” They wanted to come and check it out,” Ouk says. “Last year, we did a small route – the lake loop -and then the larger route which was the Capitol City loop. They were so impressed with our bike paths and our system that they were like, ‘Let’s do it again!’”

“That was a ridiculously hot day last year for our first bike ride together,” Welland adds, smiling. “This year was much better. We doubled our numbers from last year – we had 18 people riding this time who were split between two distances.”

Black Girls Do Bike Milwaukee leader Tonieh Welland (left) and Black Girls Do Bike Madison leader Sarrut Ouk
(Photo by Diane Schwartz)

Once again, one group biked on a 12-mile ride doing the lake loop and the other group did a longer 28-plus-mile ride doing the Capitol City loop.

“It’s biking, but it’s also about socializing and networking with each other and building up sisterhood and realizing that we have so much in common,” Ouk says. “We blast music while we’re riding around and while we’re pausing to wait for the rest of the group to catch up, we’re just dancing and having a lot of fun. It’s cool to get to know people this way.”

Welland says that biking in Madison this past weekend was a great experience for her Milwaukee Black Girls Do Bike group.

“It was so much fun,” she says. “But it was also very educational as we’re trying to push forward this idea of Milwaukee becoming a platinum-level city [for biking] and Black Girls Do Bike’s involvement in the Complete Streets Campaign this year.”

To make streets that are safer and easier for people of all ages and abilities, the City of Milwaukee is pursuing a Complete Streets policy and neighbors and community groups are organizing to help make it strong and equitable.

“We really just want to make streets in Milwaukee safer for people at all levels and all abilities – older, younger people, people with disabilities, cyclists, pedestrians alike,” Welland says. “Because we are always on the streets and paths, we thought that was a natural fit for our group.

“In Madison, you have these protected bike lanes, traffic circles, amazing signage and signals for bike crossing and diagonal bike crossings. It’s just like people’s minds are blown. You have lights on the bike trails and wider paths, too,” she adds. “It’s an opportunity to dream bigger for Milwaukee and to see what’s possible. The more people we can get out on our bikes – particularly women and people of color – the better. I think it makes a statement.”

As for the Milwaukee/Madison biking partnership, both Welland and Ouk would love to see it continue to grow.

“Next year, we want to keep growing and hopefully get more and more women out. We want to do it again next year at the same time of year and hopefully it’s even bigger,” Ouk says. “And, someday, we would love to be able to go to Milwaukee and show up the way that the Milwaukee group showed up here in Madison.”

“I’m very pleased with how our ride went. I’m thrilled to be with the people from Madison and in Madison,” Welland adds. “I would love to be able to come here more often.”

Get involved with the Milwaukee chapter of Black Girls Do Bike here and the Madison chapter here.