Carolyn Szczepanski – Communications Director
Source : BikeLeague
As Melissa Balmer (pictured) was launching Women on Bikes SoCal she had a quick realization. Despite living in one of the most densely inhabited areas of the U.S. she was smack dab in the middle of a particularly troubling void: In all of Southern California, there were fewer than 30 women who were League Cycling Instructors (LCIs).
Thanks to Balmer’s efforts and a group of diverse female leaders, that number jumped dramatically in just one weekend last month.
Across the nation, the League has more than 3,500 LCIs who deliver bicycle skills education to thousands of people who ride each year. But, as Balmer discovered, there was only a small handful of female LCIs in her area: South Los Angeles, East Los Angeles, the South Bay and greater Long Beach. So she raised funds toprovide scholarships for a new and diverse group of women, from across the Los Angeles area, to become LCIs.
The first all-female LCI seminar, taught by stand-out trainer Jen Laurita, made history last month.
“Deciding to take on the goal of hosting the very first all-female LCI class was quite an adventure,” Balmer says. “I had absolutely no idea it had never been done before when the idea popped into my head. I’ve learned so much over the past year while pulling it together, raising the funds to make it happen, and drawing in the right scholarship candidates. I couldn’t be more proud of this very dynamic and diverse group who stuck in there to see it through. Jen Laurita, the lead instructor who dealt with hurricane Sandy right before coming out to teach this class, is a treasure. I can’t wait to see what this new group of female LCI’s will help make happen.”
Why did you want to become an LCI?
Elizabeth: I became an LCI because I love riding and enjoy sharing my bike passion. One of the ways I can do continue to do this is through teaching bike education. I started teaching basic bike classes more than a year ago and since then have discovered that there are lots more people needing basic bike education. I want to do something about this, so I’ve started developing a bike program and will use my LCI training to help safely connect people to the benefits of biking.
Maria: I was inspired by the Women on Bikes SoCal movement to increase the number of women riding bikes. I connected with their mission to transform bike culture to be more inclusive and appealing to women. Becoming a League Cycling Instructor is an opportunity to work toward that goal and become a mentor to foster youth leadership in the long run.
How was the training and the trainer? What was the best part?
Elizabeth: The trainer was amazing! She was very engaging and held my attention for the long weekend. Watching the presentations was probably the best part because I got to see a variety of different teaching styles and some I could borrow for my classes.
Maria: The training was robust and demanding. I expected the majority of the training to focus on evaluating the LCI candidates’ ability to ride a bike and perform drills with perfection, but there is an even greater emphasis on how well each person can teach the Traffic Skills material. Presenting an engaging lesson and successfully teaching the material to the group was most challenging, but it was also the best part of the training. Receiving constructive criticism defined my strengths and identified opportunities for improvement. With that, I could adjust my teaching methods.
Do you think the all-female aspect changed the dynamic at all?
Elizabeth: I think having the all-female class did make the environment more comfortable for the class. We had less stress about not knowing as much as guys do about bikes. We had no macho anything all weekend and that probably made it easier for ladies to ask questions and deliver their presentations.
Maria: The all-female training created a very social dynamic. Aside from the “girl talk” (gushing about our pets, partners, milestones, and hygiene advice), we had serious conversations about advocacy challenges and experiences with peers, cycling groups, and law enforcement. The training was better because many of us knew each other from participating in Women on Bikes SoCal activities. Our trainer Jenn Laurita was energetic, knowledgeable, social, and professional throughout the process. I admire her passion for teaching.
How do you intend to use your new certification/skills?
Elizabeth: I’m developing a bike program focused on bridging the biking gap for women & youth in underserved communities. I’ll be teaching classes in these communities, connecting people to bikes, so everyone can reap the benefits of riding.
Maria: My priority is to collaborate with other LCIs and coalitions to increase access to workshops, classes, and organized rides to people in my community. One of the challenges I had was finding a Traffic Skills 101 class closer to home. The classes available at the time were 40 miles away and offered once a month. This is an example of a barrier that could prevent people in my community from participating, and I’d like to help change that.
What would you say to other women who are considering becoming an LCI, but perhaps have some hesitation?
Elizabeth: Anyone who has a real passion to spread bike love, and can commit the time to the training, can become an LCI. You don’t have to be a tough guy to do it. Women make wonderful teachers and in order to encourage more women to bike, we need more women LCI’s to be examples.
Maria: Ask the League questions. Talk to other LCIs and get the inside scoop on expectations and time commitments. Convince a friend to become an LCI too. It’s a bonus to have a support system during this process. Commit to the idea of becoming an LCI especially if you love biking and could see yourself teaching it. You are half way there. The next step is preparing yourself physically and mentally.
Women on Bikes SoCal was able to host this LCI program as a full scholarship with the generous support from Bikeable Communities, the California Bicycle Coalition, the League of American Bicyclists’ Women Bike initiative, Building Healthy Communities Long Beach, Bike Long Beach, private donations, special events, and outreach support from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.
Do you want to become an LCI? Next month, in conjunction with our first-ever Coach Seminar, we’ll be offering LCI training at a significant discount! Sign up for the seminar January 24-25 in Houston, Texas, and become an LCI for just $200.Click here to register! Questions? Email Alissa@BikeLeague.org.
John Greenfield is one of the ChainLinkers whose heart is in the right place. I admire his willingness to take on tough subjects like this one:
He writes in the opening paragraph of this ChainLink thread the following:
Bike sharing programs have great potential to broaden the demographics of cycling because they eliminate the need to purchase, store and maintain a bike, plus fear of theft. But so far in U.S. cities like Denver and Washington, D.C., bike share has been used largely by white, affluent, well-educated males. CDOT deputy commissioner Scott Kubly says he is committed to creating a bike share system here that serves all Chicagoans, including people of color and low-income individuals. He recently discussed some of his strategies to address this challenging issue:
When I first read his blog article that he cites in his thread I was tempted to respond, but negatively. I do so much negative stuff where the ChainLink is concerned that I thought it best to simply let his readership struggle with this topic on their own. Having taught Junior High School for a decade I am quite aware that most of the infantile minds on the ChainLink function at about the same level. And trying to lecture them about something is futile. They have to mull it over and give one another snarky comments (if they even bother) and sooner or later the lizards brains of a few will respond with something resembling an “Aha Moment”.
Bike Share systems prevail where they do precisely because they are set up to handle credit cards. In fact everything about a bike share system screams middle to upper middle class and that is precisely why placing one of these in a less than upscale neighborhood will probably end up badly.
You could make a go of it in a place like Hyde Park, presumably both whites and blacks there would find the service useful when doing day tours of the University of Chicago Campus. But if you plan to place one of these in a low income neighborhood you are definitely going to have to consider the following realities:
- People of color (in fact people of little means of any color) are sensitive to being perceived as having to use any mode of transportation less upscale than a public bus. Bicycles are definitely just that. If you are a young black male you simply cannot impress a would-be girlfriend with an offer to ride her on the rear rack of your rented bicycle. Now a car would be different. But a bicycle would be a “chump move”.
- Unless you understand the irony of class distinction in the United States you will forever be lost when it comes to trying to unravel the seeming unwillingness of poor blacks to embrace bicycle diversity. Take for instance the matter of dress codes. In white churches people often attend with no real social consequences in flip-flops and cutoffs. The idea being that comfort is the more important aspect of dress, when you are not worried about projecting an air of middle class respectability. In a black neighborhood when you attend church you wear hats that seem more fitting at Churchill Downs on race day at the Kentucky Derby. But my guess is that the tradition of Crowns is not something done without purpose. This tradition goes back nearly a hundred years or more to those days when women whose parents might have been slaves decided to at least dress like their former Slave Masters’ wives.
- Women are the key to changing the mind set of the males in the black community. Whenever Connie and I tour anywhere in the City of Chicago on a weekend were are constantly being met with glee and pleasant surprise by black women in their 50s and older. They always want to know about our bikes and give us a hearty whoop of approval and a “now that’s what I’m talking about” as we pass. If they stop us we readily tell them about the bikes we ride (Easy Racers Tour Easy recumbents).
- What attracts blacks to these bikes is without a doubt the front fairings we have mounted on them. We never ride without them and they are the first thing that people see. Whites (especially males in their 20s and 3os) are almost always dismissive of the fairings in specific and the bikes in general. I often get the snide sneering dismissive look along with a question like “Don’t those things slow you down?”. I most recently got this from an Active Transportation Alliance employ who self-identified at the Wicker Park Open Streets Festival this past summer. This is a clear and important cultural difference. White males are more likely to appreciate a fixie with no brakes and lights and a cool color coordinate look.
Women in the black community are more often the trendsetters when it comes to style. Get some older black women on recumbent bicycles, tricked out with front fairings and you have a recipe for bicycling as attractive to the black community as Crowns would ever be.
But the one factor that makes recumbents a drawback is their price. Renting bikes like these at a reasonable rate using something other than credit cards alone might be the answer. The credit card idea will “fly” in Hyde Park, but in poorer neighborhoods where the rule of thumb is to get your paycheck cashed on a Friday night they are a “bust”.
And if you can reach middle-aged women this way then their younger counterparts will follow. The same sorts of things no doubt are significant in the Hispanic community here in Chicago. Certainly for those who are undocumented bicycles have become a way of getting around without being hassled by the police.
Learning how to “read the tea leaves” is what will help in determining ahead of time whether something will fly on the South Side that works on the North Side of the city.
Renewing The ChainLink Minds
With few exceptions the worst participants in the ChainLink Forum are white males. They are arrogant, self-centered and as entitled in their own minds as they feel that motorists are in theirs. You can almost smell the last vestiges of their testosterone laden whining as you steer your browser in their direction. Get these knuckleheads to find some other venue for the preening selves and you have a chance to make the ChainLink Forum a place that can really shine. Until that time you will always have a toxic environment in which little other than snarky repartee between mental midgets is always on display.