The Road to Advocacy
In January 2014, six months out of grad school and settling into my new life in Philadelphia, I resolved that for the New Year, I would become less reliant on my car. I craved a healthier way to experience my own body, wanted more interaction with my new community, and wanted to make meaningful lifestyle commitments to the environment—which meant one thing: getting my butt on a bike!
My journey began. I set out on a borrowed cruiser-style comfort bike—a loaner from my mama-in-law—and took my first ride in Philly. I had no concept of routes or bike lanes and mimicked my normal drive, taking some of the most heavily-trafficked, least bike-friendly roads in Philly. Whoops! I arrived at work 3 miles later, with fogged glasses, covered in mud and drizzle, but smiling from ear-to-ear.
After lots of learning, and many, many miles, I found that not only was I accomplishing my New Year’s goals, I was gaining a clearer sense of myself. I took on more and more as my confidence grew. I changed up my route, I got my very own bike, a hunter green Surly Disc Trucker (that I named “Dita VonSurly”), I did a bike-packing trip, then another. I eventually graduated to pedal straps. This summer, I got my first road bike—a beautiful Fuji Roubaix. Three weeks after “learning” how to use clipless pedals, I completed my first metric century with the Women Bike PHL Ride 100 series.
I fell in love with cycling and the myriad possibilities it opened up for me—physically, mentally, emotionally, environmentally—and the more I rode, the more I noticed about my community. I learned firsthand some of the barriers to getting on a bike: how prohibitively costly this newfound pursuit could be, how much shared misunderstanding there was about navigating the city and its complex multi-modal transit infrastructure, and how biking my city oftentimes made me a moving target for street harassment. But I also discovered the resilience, growth, learning and joy I found by bike. I wanted more than anything for more people to experience this for themselves. I fell in love with advocacy because I had to; it’s part of the ride.
I translated this passion into my profession, joining the team at Gearing Up—a nonprofit serving women in recovery from abuse, addiction, and incarceration by pedal power— as West Philly Team Leader & Community Liaison. Gearing Up gives riders the opportunity to work on a team, pedaling not just for transportation, but for personal growth, earning their own bike after logging 150 miles. Women do this on Fuji and Breezer bikes, made possible by the generous support of Advanced Sports International (ASI), where the next leg of my cycling adventure landed me. I am now happy to say that I am ASI’s Advocacy Coordinator, a newly created position that codifies and expands this commitment to outreach, giving and meaningful dialogue on bicycling policy issues.
At ASI, we understand that advocacy and industry are not mutually exclusive. The success and survival of the bicycling industry is absolutely contingent upon making our communities safer places to bike and making bikes available to everyone no matter the barriers to access. We recognize and celebrate the bicycle as a tool not just for transit, recreation and fitness, but also for community engagement and empowerment. We are committed to designing and manufacturing incredible products and to making those products accessible to as wide a ridership as possible (including Pope Francis himself!).
Supporting the National Bike Summit and Women’s Forum is an integral part of this work. The Summit brings incredibly diverse voices from broad constituencies together, uniting the once-disparate experiences of cyclists from all genres and platforms and turning that shared conversation into meaningful action.
ASI is proud to continually support the LAB Summit because it means more access to and inclusion in the wide and wacky world of bikes—for everyone from industry professionals, commuters, environmentalists, policy-makers and urban planners, lawmakers, and even professional racers—unifying and amplifying our shared message.
Bicycling has changed my life, my perception of my own limitations and abilities and has altered forever my experience of my community. Cycling can change the world. As Advocacy Coordinator at ASI, I am establishing my cadence within the industry and with my community. It’s a privilege to be able to enjoy this ride with the League. See you in March!
About Advanced Sports International:
Advanced Sports International (ASI) is a privately-owned, American corporation headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. ASI formed in 1998 to purchase the Fuji bicycles brand and now owns six premium bicycle brands: Fuji, SE, Breezer, Kestrel, Phat, and Oval Concepts, which are sold through a network of authorized specialty bicycle retailers, worldwide.
Larkin holds an undergraduate degree from Bard College in Human Rights and Anthropology, and completed her MS in Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania School of Policy and Practice. When not riding her bike Larkin teaches power vinyasa yoga. She’s working on mastering the whole clipless thing.
Advanced Sports International is a sponsor of the 2016 National Bike Summit & Women’s Forum. To register for the Summit, click here.