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10 Tips: Engaging Women in Bike Ed

From our “Women on a Roll” report, we’ve learned that confidence is a key factor to getting more women on bikes.  On our webcast this week, we heard from four leading League Cycling Instructors who shared some tips on building women’s confidence through inclusive education. 

Our four panelists included:

  • Lesly Jones, Black Women Bike DC
  • Jennifer Laurita, leading LCI coach
  • Maria Sipin, Women on Bikes SoCal
  • Claire Stoscheck, Cycles for Change

During the wide-ranging conversation, we discussed how to change perceptions and entice women to become bike educators and students, as well as best practices for the classroom. Watch the full 40-minute video or read the panelists top tips — and favorite memories — below.


1.  Change people’s expectations:  In many cases, women (and men) may have false assumptions about bike education — both the content and the community

Jen: “People are often surprised, not only by those who teach the class, but what they get out of it.”

Maria: “People walk into class thinking it’s going to be a competitive atmosphere and it’s all about the bike that you roll in on and how you dress — but like Jen said, people are really surprised how much they get out of it. They also get a more well-rounded view of bike culture from how diverse the classroom looks to them. They may have thought it would be one type of profile or one type of cyclist.” 

Claire: “It’s this perception that keeps people from going to those classes.” 

2.  Keep it social: Entice women to attend by making it more than a classroom (or parking lot) experience

Maria: “I’ve also seen a demand in people wanting bicycle education in more social settings and really mixing it up. Not just expecting to get a dry curriculum and incorporating it with more venues, like going out to eat or visit a historical landmark.” 

Lesly: “I teach classes through [WABA] but one of the things i’m more passionate about is seeing more women of color on bikes. so with our black women bike DC group, not only do we do monthly rides, we do education — we have an upcoming seminar on riding in the winter, riding at night, we obviously support bike to work day… being on the road in rush hour — so those are things we try to do to respond to the requests we get around cycling and combining it with some type of group ride.”

3. Make your classes open and welcoming spaces

Maria: “It’s all about making them feel welcome and being open and transparent in your marketing materials and being clear about expectations and learning objectives about the class so they aren’t thrown into this arena where they might feel uncomfortable. Create a space for an open discussion and to remove any competitive aspects from biking… and be warm and welcoming overall.” 

Claire: “I think a lot of women are interested in learning to ride a bike for the first time… We’ve taught probably over 60 people to ride a bike this summer and some of them have become the most amazing bike advocates. One woman learned to ride in April and is already riding around with her child in a trailer now in September… So I agree it’s about creating a safe space that’s about supporting each other.”

4. There are benefits to an all-woman setting: In November 2012, the first all-female LCI seminar took place in Long Beach, Calif., and, nationwide, women’s-specific, women-taught classes are in demand and on the rise.

Jen: “An all-female class sometimes removes obstacles to learning. People have to become somewhat vulnerable in our classes in order to learn… and sometimes in an all-female environment that’s just easier.”

Maria: “I thought it was a nice perk to have a female teaching the class and have an all-female cohort to be part of the seminar.  What excited me about that was that the pressure was off and I knew I could ask my instructor all kinda of questions — event he most embarassing ones.  You just felt more comfortable.  It’s like going to the doctor’s office and there’;s a rason why we sometimes choose a medical provider who can relate with us because you can get all sorts of embarassing questions out and yo ucan ask her about anything. and to us, having an all-female group, was important because we really could have all these serious conversations and we could tell jokes between some of the sections and we were just really open and I think that really enhuanced the learning experience so much.”

Lesly: “The more women LCIs out there, the more of us teaching, I think the better it is for learning. “

5. Cater to moms: Remember that women often have additional considerations than their male cycling counterparts.

Claire: “With our bike library, our approach to education is first give people access to the equipment, s we lend bikes to folks from various low-income communities. When they take a safe cycling class, they’re able to get access to bikes and trailers.” Cycles for Change also makes sure to offer childcare and healthy snacks at its classes.

6. Shorter classes are more accessible: Especially for women, with work and household responsibilities, time is of the essence.

Claire: “Our ‘train to trainers’ course is like the LCI training, except it’s condensed into two hours and on a specific topic. I know that sounds impossible, but a lot of the communities we’re working with are working poor. They don’t have a lot of time have; they have millions of responsibilities and it’s really important to respect people’s time and situations. We’re hoping to build capacity in those communities that we’re lending bikes to to have trainers in their communities with their language and in their cultural context.”

7. Offer courses/materials in different languages: Reach out to new audiences in culturally competant ways

Claire: “Promote training in different languages and from different cultures. I think traditionally it’s been the spandex, recreational, white male teaching LCI classes… We offer other classes with translation into Spanish.” 

Jen: “I’m getting more and more requests for materials in so many different languages. I’ve seen educators creating networks that say, I know someone who can translate into Chinese, into Spanish. That’s one trend I’ve definitely noticed.”

8. Maintain and nurture your relationships with your students… and fellow bike educators

Maria: “For me, I always start out by sharing my experiences and tell them that if I can do it anybody can. I try to make myself available and establish a relationship after the class, too.” 

Jen: “Every time you do a class you build a little something… People need to know there’s the next level, whether it’s just to try that class again or move on to the next tier — like going on a road ride. I tell my students at the end of my classes: ‘I’m yours forever. Send me an email, a year later, three years later, whatever, ask me to do your community event.’ Women, I think, tend build a lot more networks and continually access that. We juggle a lot of things at once and whoever can help us to juggle better we’ll rely on.  I’ll help somebody, somebody will help me.”

Lesly: “I’ve definitely gone from the class setting to helping my students get from point A to point B. [Education] is an ongoing process — it’s about making yourself available. I’m the same way [as Jen]: Any student that’s ridden with me, we can ride again.” 

9. Mechanics knowledge is key: Confidence also includes basic wrenching skills

Claire: “It’s important to be self-sufficient on your bike — if you’re great at riding a bike, but as soon as you get a flat tire and you depend on a on a man to fix it that’s not good for your autonomy and self sufficiency. Many shops have been doing, for many years now, women and trans nights, where it’s a safe space. Even more than the realm of riding a bike, the world of fixing a bike is very male dominated.” 

Jen: “I know that’s one of the major pluses of the womens-only scenario. Sometimes a man’s tendency is to rescue. Even in a class where you can have a teaching moment, it might be a man stepping forward and a woman stepping back. So the women’s classes are good to way to say, ‘We’re all here together, whether you have the background knowledge or not.’ That’s power. Get out here there riding, and, if you get a flat, you can fix it yourself and get home.” 

Maria: “Learning how to change a flat is a game-changer for sure.”

10. Learning your way around a bike shop is important, too

Maria: “I think confidence really starts when you start thinking about biking or when you’re picking your bike. Sometimes you’re afraid you’re going to pick the wrong bike and show up somewhere and people are going to be looking at you because your bike isn’t appropriate for the ride. So getting that initial support helps so much for increasing confidence.” 

Each of our panelists also shared a favorite memory from one of their classes.

Jen: “I recently did a learn to ride class and a 13-year-old boy was in the class whose parents did not tell him he was coming — they tricked him into coming. During the class, this boy was so self conscious — the tears were there. The father helped wrench all day and came to me and said, ‘Can you help him? He’s struggling.’ When I got him to ride, the father starts crying, this big, 250-pound, Italian guy.My son said to me I’ll never learn to ride; I’m too different,’ he told me. So the father’s crying. The mother’s crying. We became family that day.” 

Lesly: “A young lady came to a three-hour learn to ride class, and at hour two minutes she looks up and says, ‘I can’t believe it’s taking me this long to learn how to ride.’ I said, ‘How old are you?’ She said, ’26.’ I said it’s taken you 26 years, why are you complaining about 2 hours and 15 minutes?’ And she said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re right,’ and she left with a big smile on her face.” 

Maria“One of my highlights is getting compliments from people who really appreciate the sensitivity toward gender identity and different economic backgrounds or introducing products that are pretty cost efficient or not difficult to access. I try very hard to create  a curriculum that is inclusive of different people and different experiences and that really motivates me in how I teach classes and how I use my language around different people.”

Claire: “One story that stands out in my mind is about this woman, Ruth, who I helped teach with some other colleagues in Ecuador. She’s middle aged, wasn’t in the best of shape — obese — and had been told all her life that it’s too late for her, bikes are for kids, bikes are for boys, definitely not for middle aged women who aren’t fit. She heard that message her whole life. Finally, she gets an invitation from one of the other women in the classs. We had 8 sessions to graduate, two months to graduate, two hours a week. It actually took her four months, so it took her twice as long. But, let me tell you, once she finally learned she took off. She started commuting to work every day on the very busy streets of Quito. She lost a lot of weight and she couldn’t stop talking about how free it made her feel. Finally, she felt independent, and, to her, a bicycle meant freedom and that’s just so beautiful to me. I think biking can bring a lot of freedom to women who face sexual harassment when they take public transportation or walking, but on a bicycle you can just zip away and not deal with it. so that story of freedom really resonated with me.” 

Click here to learn more about the League’s Smart Cycling program — and find an LCI seminar or class in your area!

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