The Cycling Community Can Do Better

(psst..before you read this, have you read my disclaimers?)

I’ve been biking and talking bikes with others for a few years now. I’ve met some great people (like my #bikeschool family!) who I consider to be my good friends, even if it’s just online. Thanks to this blog and twitter, I feel immersed in a friendly and welcoming community.

Well. Most of the time…

(Not Enough) Representation

According to the Women on a Roll report, women only accounted for 24% of all U.S. bike trips, whereas the rates are remarkably higher in the Netherlands and Germany (55% and 49%, respectively)? And, women lead only 13% of the top 15 largest American bike brands; 89% of bike shop owners are men and, there is only 1 woman board member on the National Bicycle Dealers Association.

So, not only are women underrepresented on the bike, but we also don’t see as many women in leadership roles as compared to men. However, this isn’t even the main reason why I often don’t feel welcome in this community. 

(Too Many) Microaggressions 

I hear about or personally experience gender microaggressions (click the word ‘microaggressions’ for an intro to this term) every single day within the  context of bikes. Like, being told in both overt and subtle ways that I should be appreciative that women were thrown a bone, rather than getting a full 7-course meal (like men do).

Like, being told directly or reading passive aggressive comments made by others about how responses to sexist and degrading jokes about women’s bodies & bikes are “overreactions.” 

And, being told something along the lines of “Sure, there might be problems in cycling regarding women, but it’s up to women to solve it. It’s their responsibility.”

Also, hearing messages that this is just how things are, that’s the way it is, boys will be boys.

Or, participating a local online forum where women who shared their experiences of sexism in cycling (after being specifically asked to share them) received responses from men about how those experiences probably weren’t actually due to sexism. And, hey, men sometimes have bad experiences too! Why aren’t we talking about men?!

Not to mention walking into a bike shop and seeing that 90% of the employees are men, and that women have about a third of the product selection that men do. 

Or, that time I was biking with Jason and a guy who was going really slow let Jason (cis man) pass easily…but then turned around, saw me (cis woman), then amped up his pedaling and even started swerving around so that I couldn’t pass him. 

The list goes on, and unfortunately gender microaggressions extend beyond the cycling context too:

Like, seeing the men I follow on twitter use derogatory names to refer to women. (Even though they will also fiercely engage in a battle about the importance of language and how we should say “person on a bike” instead of “cyclist.”)

Or, when I tweet something about gendered-violence (e.g., sexual assault) and receive victim-blaming comments in return (Even though they are quick to complain about all the victim-blaming comments people make towards cyclists who are killed). 

Or, when I say something about experiencing everyday sexism (e.g., a microaggression, see above), and then guys send me manifesto-like harassing private messages about how angry I made them feel.

And the list keeps growing: Bike people are microaggressing all over the place! 

I’m not just talking about cis-white-het-rich-men perpetrating gender microaggressions. It’s more complicated and intersectional than that. Microaggressions can be made by anyone from a privileged group against a person in the corresponding marginalized group.  

For example, we have a huge problem with racial microaggressions. White people are overrepresented in the positive media about bikes, whether its in magazines, coverage of racing, posters in bike shops, and so on. 

There are also intersecting racial and income-based/classist microaggressions, such as described in this tumblr post.

Or, when a white man posted pictures in an online forum of a bike that was possibly stolen. His evidence that it might have been stolen? A Latino guy had an expensive bike. Seriously.

And, when other women say that just because *they* didn’t experience the exact same thing as another woman then it isn’t a “real” problem, or that because *they* didn’t interpret it as a microaggression, then neither should that other woman. Even though each are in a different social location (e.g., a white woman telling this to a woman of color). 

And, we have tons of problems with fat shaming in cycling committed by thin people. If you don’t have a slim body (and pretty face), you will likely be openly mocked, harassed, and insulted. Or, plain ol’ ignored by the “cycle chic” world. 

Speaking of cycle chic, what a great example of a “check off the boxes” approach to committing microaggressions. The claim is that the “beautiful” or “stylish” people are photographed. Yeah…but guess who that usually ends up being…? (I’m not necessarily talking about people who just want to dress stylishly on a bike, I am talking about something very specific here, and I refer you to this excellent post by Elly Blue for the full details). 

(A Lot of) Denial 

Everyone perpetrates microaggressions. Yes, that includes me. Yes, this includes you. Microaggressions are not just something that “bad people” do. It’s not reserved to “racists” or “sexists” or “homophobes.” I’m sorry, don’t hate me, please don’t kill the messenger. The reality is that we live in a society where certain groups have unearned privilege at the expense of other groups. It’s a societal-level, systemic problem. We are all raised in this unfair system, and microaggressions are the cogs that keep the oppression machine running

Everyone commits them even if they don’t want to. Microaggressions are intentional or unintentional (Sue, et al., 2007). By unintentional, that means subconsciously. That means, you didn’t even think about what you were doing (e.g., you thought you were just taking photographs of “pretty people” on bikes, but as it turns out you mostly took pictures of skinny white women). It means all kinds of things, but most importantly, it means that the less you are aware of them, the more likely you are to perpetrate them. Your good intentions do not protect you from committing a microaggression. 

The cycling community is full of good people with fabulous intentions (see my disclaimers post). People who advocate for cyclists’ rights and who believe in equality. Unfortunately, these same people are also being microaggressive, denying it, and continuing their microaggressive behavior. So, I want to be clear about the point I am trying to make here:

The problem is not that we have evil cyclists with bad intentions in the community. It’s not even the individual microaggressions themselves (per se). The problem is that microaggressions are pervasive, and the problem is that when someone points out “heyyy, that thing you just did/said? Not cool” the person becomes defensive, retaliatory, vengeful, and hostile

It’s like when you’re riding your bike and a motorist blows a stop sign and almost hits you. In one scenario, you shout to them, and they look surprised and wave apologetically. Okay, just a mistake. Fine. In another, they verbally assault you and threaten your life for being in their way. Yes, the near-accident was bad, but it’s the reaction from the driver that really leaves you feeling hated and unwanted on the roads. 

“But, I get it. See, I have a pass!”

And here is where it gets interesting. Cyclists are also a marginalized group, at least in the United States. Compared to motorists, cyclists (and pedestrians), have much less support and access to resources for things like road space, safety, and infrastructure. Not to mention the seemingly constant reminder that drivers who kill cyclists (and pedestrians) are rarely held accountable for their deadly actions. 

Unfortunately, some perceive this to mean that they get a “free pass” or, worse, even more right to take advantage of their privilege when it comes to other issues (like, say, sexism). Some of the most frustrating interactions come from people who claim to “understand” what it is like to experience discrimination or harassment from cycling experiences…only to then use their so-called understanding as a justification for committing a microaggression.

I have a hard time understanding how the shared experience of being a marginalized group member (as a cyclist/person who bikes) either hinders or has no impact on supportive, empathic responses to fellow cyclists in discussions about other forms of marginalization.

MicroaggressionsInCycling_EchoRivera300



We Can Do Better 

So that’s it. My thoughts and interpretations based on personal experiences and conversations with others. I do not speak for others who have been marginalized by the bike community, nor will I try. They can speak for themselves, and they have spoken (been speaking) for themselves (here’s one example that a blogger sent me). Plus, the League of American Bicyclists has the bike equity initiative. The problem isn’t that people aren’t talking about it. The problem is that not enough people are listening or getting better. 

Consider the purpose of this post as adding one more voice advocating for more equity in cycling. I hope others will join, and I hope that others will continue to share their experiences of marginalization within the bike community.  Maybe we could do a cycling-specific version of a microaggressions project? (click here for one example)  If anyone is interested in doing a project/research project, I’m game

But most importantly, I hope that more people listen, and learn, and do better in the future. 

Bye for now
~ peace ~ love ~ dogs ~ bikes ~ coffee ~

Final Note: All comments are moderated and I have a comment policy. Read it before you comment. 

 

~ * Don’t forget to check out my store!

 

34 thoughts on “The Cycling Community Can Do Better

  1. Just when I thought you couldn’t go up a peg in my opinion, you go up 2 what a post. The only thing I might argue based solely on your own stats, is the fact that since there are more men cyclists that may account for less a of women’s selection in the stores (not saying it’s a good thing)

    Nice work continuing to raise awareness lady! Keep it coming, by the way! if this is a true sample of your writing skills (and I know it is) your dissertation will rock!

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    • Hey Tony! Thanks for the kind words :) Yes, I very much like writing and I think it often comes through when I write a post like this. Regarding the stats, your argument might hold up under a hypothesis that demand –> products. Sometimes, maybe. In this case, I don’t think so though. All I seem to hear about is women demanding more products–it’s really hard to talk to women who bike without hearing it. An example off the top of my head is Levi’s — when they first released their commuting jeans and it was for MEN only, a lot of people were quiet angry about it. Also, the stat I provided is about how many women RODE their bike, not how many women OWN a bike. Just as, if not more, likely that a lot of women buy a bike and then don’t ride as much as they’d like as they learn more and more how few products they have available to them. Besides, I also think it’s more about commercials and being told/convinced we *need* a product that influences sales. How did pet rocks become so popular? Surely it wasn’t because there was an initial demand. It was marketing genius.

      Still, thanks again for the kind words :D

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      • You know the best part of meeting and interacting with you is the fact we can have a discussion. I know many people who would have considered my response an attack on the whole premise as opposed to point worth discussing.

        You honestly listened, considered and countered very well! With ideas I hadn’t thought of. Hell I didn’t know levis had commuter pants, but I am looking into them!!

        I very much appreciate your passion and the fact that you back that passion with facts. Not many out there do so!

        And, as an aside, Iam sorry today I am old enough to remember when the pet rock was the thing to own!

        Stick to your guns lady, I am with you!

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      • Haha! Well of course!

        Although, if I may, suggest that you check out REI’s line before Levi’s. REI, unlike Levi’s, has had a women’s line for some time and are MUCH better about providing a better balance of products.

        Did you have a pet rock? C’mon on. Spill it.

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    • Thanks so much for reblogging my post. Yes, it is quite long and I had to keep shortening it! It’s such a complicated issue that’s it’s really hard for someone like to write about it without going “No, wait, now I have to talk about THIS! But that means I also need to add THAT.”
      :D

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      • Yeah! And it’s so much bigger than just the biking community. It’s people everywhere just being aware of our actions and living intentionally. But also biking, we have a lot to make up for to show the world that not all cyclists are the same, and we don’t ALL hate cars. Just the bad drivers.

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  2. Thank you for this post! Trying to discuss microaggressions in society is no easy feat. I think you really make good points about how the cycling community can be more inclusive. More power to you! Honestly, the better we can be the more people we can get on the road!

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    • Thanks :D and thanks for all your encouragement beforehand too. It IS difficult to talk about, and easy to be discouraged from doing so. And, exactly. If we get better, then more people will want to bike and KEEP biking!

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  3. I’m seeing a lot more female representation in bicycle advocacy here in California. The executive directors of the bicycle coalitions representing the three biggest cities in the Bay Area are all female (San Francisco, East Bay and Silicon Vally Bicycle Coalitions) and women were well-represented at the recent California Bike Summit both as speakers and as participants. The organizers went so far as to invite ordinary citizens (like me) to speak.

    I wish I could say the same for the North American bicycle industry. While there are some notable exceptions (as in Giant’s US General Manager) women are severely under-represented at all levels. It’s no wonder to me that the products I like best do not come from within the mainstream bike industry: my PUBLIC bike, my Dutch-made bike bags and my Vespertine reflective belt. The bro culture has a way of seeping into the products.

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    • Sweet! Glad to hear that women are well represented in the areas you mentioned. I’m curious, what about other aspects of their identity? What about women of color, or women with disabilities, etc? How well is the representation across multiple identities?

      And, oh yes, “bro culture” — I like that. That is very much how it feels. Thanks for commenting!

      Like

      • Among the speakers there were several women of Latino heritage and at least one African American woman. But I wasn’t paying much attention.

        The African American woman’s presentation was related to an African American bike club so her race stood out more. One of the Latino woman presented her work in a low income, immigrant neighborhood of LA. She appeared to be no older than 23, and I believe grew up in the neighborhood.

        I didn’t notice anyone with visible disabilities speaking but once again I wasn’t looking for it. I also know there are many people with disabilities like rheumatoid arthritis that are not obvious.

        I would say that the organizers worked hard to have diversity. But since this is California, a minority-majority state, it really shouldn’t be *that* hard, eh?

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  4. Well written and educational. I learned something and will try to use what I learned, hopefully I will remember to do so! Kudos!

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    • haha, thanks! :D

      Oh yes, I certainly don’t doubt that you have experience micro aggressions. I am also 100% confident you have committed any. Not saying I can think of an example of it, it’s just that it’d be impossible for that not to be the case. It’s part of our culture. Like a hidden undercurrent. It’s not something to hate yourself for, or beat yourself up for, though. It just means we are all human, we make mistakes but we can also learn from them and do better.
      :D

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  5. Please call me out on my microaggressions! I don’t know what they are, but I want to stop them.

    I acknowledge I’m not always empathetic about -isms in cycling. When a shop, bike manufacturer, bike clothing brand, or group excludes me, I go somewhere that includes me. I suppose I’m privileged to have a lot of great options nearby and to have the self-confidence to see it as a problem with THEM, not with me. When I read about, say, a woman who wanted to bicycle but had a bad experience at a shop and gave up, I wonder, why didn’t she go to another shop? Is this a microaggression on my part?

    I also see -only shops, events and rides as exclusionary whether it’s only the privileged group or only the underrepresented group that’s allowed. I learned that separate is not equal. Is there any research to suggest that -only is helpful?

    I feel like the bike is where we can all go for equity. The bike doesn’t care about gender or race or whether the weight’s fat or muscle or cargo. I feel like we should all just be able to hop on and ride, but then I hear a story about a microaggression or a full-on aggression, and I’m like, “They said WHAT to you?!”

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    • Thanks for the great post and comments! I have some thoughts though not any research on the -only question. I’ve found that sometime setting up exclusionary spaces can be important in helping marginalized groups develop a sense of community and safety. We started a women’s-centered DIY bike repair night at a collective where I volunteered, and for awhile made it women-only (framing women as self-defined). This helped us to develop a sense of community and empowerment around fixing bikes as women in a male-dominated space. We later shifted the space to include anyone who felt less-than-comfortable in bike fixery. Along with cis-women, we also saw some trans or queer-identified individuals join us. We had some very real and delicate discussions in this space about what it means to make a “safer space” during our time and in regular shop space. The general non-inclusion of men did create some tension in the short term, but then led to really productive dialogue about what changes needed to happen to the dominant shop culture in order to include those traditionally marginalized. Having a space that was ours was crucial to articulating what we needed.

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      • Thanks for coming by and commenting! How did you find this post? Are you on twitter or anything? I don’t think I’m following you…or maybe I just haven’t realized I am?

        Anyway, I couldn’t agree with you more and I’m glad you shared that example! I honestly don’t even know what to say beyond that :D

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    • Hey there! okay so I finally have a chance to respond. Sarah commented today and I agree with what she said, so I +1 that.

      Honestly, saying “Please call me out on my microaggressions” and “I want to stop them” is probably THE best comment I’ve ever received when talking to people about them (and this extends beyond my blog post). That really is the perfect reaction to have when first learning about them. We all do them, but we can learn and we don’t have to if we don’t want to.

      The wikipedia page about microaggressions is actually quite good. I don’t usually recommend it as a resource for things like this, but specifically for microaggressions I do. So, I’d recommend that as a starting place.

      But your comment points to the fact that my post is very abstract. I did this on purpose because I had to introduce this topic somehow and keep it short. I couldn’t get too specific or detailed this time. But, I am already planning on at least one (but maybe more) posts that are concrete guides for people. SPECIFICALLY, how to “do better” as I say in my post. Your questions, to me, seem like that’s what you’re asking–for those specifics.

      I don’t know if going to a bike shop that includes you is necessarily privilege. It could be, if it’s an example of class privilege (as in, you have the money to go to a more expensive shop because it is more inclusive). I mean, nothing is ever one thing. So, you going to another shop because you don’t like one that excludes you is a combination of all sorts of things, like your personality, income, location, options, time you have available, etc. Same thing goes for why a woman wouldn’t go to another shop. Many reasons. It could be an example of a micro aggression (wondering why she didn’t go to another shop), but it could also not be. Not really sure (and I don’t want to appoint myself as the microaggression judge). There might not even be a shop that is more inclusive–for example, the issue might be that she’s a woman of color and every bike shop employs only white people. She might know it’s not about *her*, but still–what is she to do? Or, maybe a woman has had to deal with SO MANY other microaggressions in her life that her first experience at a shop tells her cycling is going to be no different, no better, so she gives up. Who knows.

      As for the -only type things, I will point to Sarah’s comment as I agree 100%. Oppressed groups have to cope with and fight against oppression in a variety of ways. One such way is to form a community that gives them a safe space to talk about their experiences and be validated that their experiences are real, and that it’s horrible what happened, etc. And, it can be a great space to plan and initiate action, and so forth. As I noted in my personal microaggression example, the forum I participated in (on Chainlink) was started by a guy asking specifically “hey women, tell us about annoying stuff that happens because you’re a woman.” Well, what happened? Some men jumped in and started attacking. So, rather than it being a productive discussion or place for women to vent and build connections with others who experienced the same sexist crap, men tried to dominate, attack, dismiss, and invalidate. And it’s not just men, I’ve seen this happen A LOT with white women attacking Women of Color on twitter, etc. When the people with privilege become uncomfortable, it’s important to challenge them and make them reflect on it. Because, really, getting upset means that a more comprehensive understanding of privilege and systems of oppression is really needed.

      Agreed. The bike doesn’t care about anything :D haha. Unfortunately, a lot of people do. In larger society, and cycling as a group is not immune to it.

      And “They said WHAT to you?! That’s such bullshit!” is a great response to hearing about a microaggression. Validating. A bad response? “I’m sure it’s not because of your race/gender/etc, don’t take it so personally.”
      :D thanks for commenting and being so thoughtful about all this!!!

      Like

  6. Echo, I must admit I just ignore a-holes and snobs in the cycling world. Yea, sure I’ve never had a bike with dropped down handlebars. But I don’t anyone telling me that with 23 years of car-free, cycling lifestyle that my competence in cycling is less than theirs based on the fact that I’ve never raced, owned a carbon bike, etc.

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    • Yup, I never got sucked into the cliques. I still don’t like the behavior though, and I know that it discourages others to either not even ride their bike or to stop riding. So, even though it might not impact MY behavior, I see how it affects others. Plus, if it’s rude and exclusive behavior, then I really want to do what I can and voice my thoughts to try and get that to stop.

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      • I think actually making cycling infrastructure more widespread in a city helps even out the playing field and changing some people’s attitudes.

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  7. Pingback: Cyclelicious » Dust off your fenders Bay Area

  8. “People who advocate for cyclists’ rights and who believe in equality. Unfortunately, these same people are also being microaggressive, denying it, and continuing their microaggressive behavior.”

    As someone who fits that advocacy description (cyclists’ rights and equality), yet is also a skinny straight white middle-aged male who is nonetheless open to reminders that other perspectives exist, I’d be interested in hearing more about this. It’s too easy for those of us in some of the majority cultures I belong to, even while being a road minority as a transportational bicyclist, to not notice the implication to others of what we are doing or saying.

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  9. Some of the solutions working on these problems in Minneapolis include:

    Grease Rag is a female and trans cycling group that teaches mechanical skill and urban cycling.

    Cycles for Change has a bicycle library that gives free bikes to low income families, along with free repair, mechanical classes, and (I think) accessories like helmets and lights.

    The Major Taylor Bicycling Club is an African-American bike club. I honestly don’t know a ton about them, but I see them at events and they seem to do great work.

    Just wanted to plug some awesome people in my city. :)

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  10. Hi Echo! Excellent post! I especially appreciate your candid thoughts on how bicyclists as already marginalized people (on the streets) do not use that experience to understand other people’s marginalization (including within the bike movement). I get really angry when cyclists make fun of “shitty” bikes. There is an obvious class-based aggression there and it is hard to talk through with those cyclists.

    I also am a bit troubled by the sentiment that we are responsible for calling out other people’s microaggressions b/c people don’t know what they are. There is a line of thought (in critical race, gender, class circles) that YOU are responsible for learning about them and watching what you say//how you behave. For example, I don’t assume people of color are going to call me out when I am being racist. That is on me to figure out. Marginalized groups of people do not have time and energy to call people out all the time–they have more important work to do. What helps the most, I think, is listening to other people’s experiences as their actual experiences and thinking through whether what you say/do reflects any negative experiences people share.

    Thanks again for the post. It is hard to write about this stuff!

    Like

    • Hi Melody! Thanks for your comment :)

      I’m not sure who you meant by “you” specifically in your comment, but it seems you mean people with privilege?

      If so, I agree completely with what you said, and have said it more times than I can count. The people with privilege need to educate themselves to do better, and use their privilege to educate others within their own group. As in, I think it’s the responsibility of people with privilege to call out microaggressions made by people from the same privileged group. (In addition to checking themselves, of course).

      I can see why you mentioned it though because I don’t specifically say that in this particular post.

      Also, I was trying to explain why I don’t feel welcome and pointing out the microaggressions I’ve seen or experienced. I agree I shouldn’t have had to, but I also feel the draw to make it easier for others to learn about it. So this was an intro 101 post. A call for people to pay attention. This is my way of using my race and class privilege to reach out to others and try to get them to learn more about this.

      I’m working on posts for people with privilege to do better, as I say so many times in this post. An actual guide this time. and you can bet that the #1 thing I’ll be saying is that people need to teach themselves. It’s not the responsibility of the marginalized group to do so.

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  12. Pingback: But Elly…you’re talking about ME! | echo in the city

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