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Wheelwomen Switchboard: Connecting a Revolution

This National Bike Month, we’re asking, “With so many reasons to ride, what’s yours?” We’re listening to and highlighting your reasons here, and we’re also  looking at the people, places and policies answering that question from our Winter magazine. This, written by Liz Cornish Jones, looks at the connecting power of the Wheelwomen Switchboard.

Elly Blue is accustomed to generating big ideas.

Author of Bikenomics and owner of Elly Blue Publishing, Blue is frequently starting conversations about women and bicycling. In February 2014, she created a tool that has enabled women across the world to start and contribute to conversations of their own.

The Wheelwomen Switchboard now boasts more than 600 users and 400 posts. The Switchboard platform was started by Mara Zepeda and Sean Lerner as a networking tool to connect students and alumna at Reed College. Blue, a Reed alumni, was interested in using Switchboard to create a way to connect a local women’s bicycling network in Portland, Oregon. But it quickly grew into a worldwide platform.

“I think one of the best things about the Switchboard, and the thing that makes it work, is its simplicity,” Blue said. “You have two kinds of posts: Asks and Offers. It’s fairly self-explanatory and there are minimal instructions. It’s been really great to see how people make use of it and figure out how it works for them. I expected that people would use it for job hunts and hiring, for selling bikes and trading gear, and couchsurfing type stuff — and there’s plenty of that going around. It’s cool also to see reporters using it to find story sources, folks looking for travel advice, promoting their companies and doing market research, and everything in between.“

To get a user’s take on the Wheelwomen Switchboard, I did what I usually do when I have a question that requires the input of other women in the cycling movement: I posted an “Ask” to the Switchboard.

“I’ve connected with some amazing women who are doing incredibly impressive things in their communities, on both large and small scales,” said user Julie B. “The Switchboard has inadvertently, perhaps, supported me to figure out what and how I might contribute to the larger bicycling community (and to celebrate what I already have contributed).” It was the aligned values of Blue and Switchboard founders that has made this online community so successful.

“One thing I love about working with Switchboard, the company, is that they do not have the dollar signs in their eyes that so many web startup companies do,” Blue said. “They talk a lot about succeeding on a human scale, rather than in a bubble. A similar value is what keeps me invested in the bicycle transportation movement, and it’s yet another reason the connection feels right.”