Safety meeting: women from Trek, Specialized set aside competition in the name of advocacy

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On March 30, representatives from Specialized and Trek will join former professional cyclist Tim Johnson and close to 30 of his friends and fellow cycling industry folk to ride hundreds of miles, across three states, to visit some of the least bike-friendly communities in the U.S. The goal? To spread awareness about safe roads and raise funds for bike advocacy work.

Instead of visiting Amsterdam, Copenhagen or other famous bike-cities, Johnson is going to the communities where bike infrastructure and road safety is needed the most.

Now in its sixth year, the four-day tour is taking on a new and perhaps its most diverse route yet, traveling for from Asheville, NC  to Atlanta, GA. Along the way the riding will range from scenic country roads to uncomfortable traffic-laden city streets.

This advocacy effort, called Ride on Atlanta,  is physically challenging and time demanding, the roads are going to be uncomfortable and participants are required to raise at least $5,000 USD for PeopleforBikes. As such it comes perhaps a little surprise that there are but a handful of women among the 30 participants –a representation not unlike the people you might see commuting by bike in most American cities.

While the gender gap in cycling in general isn’t as large as one might think (45 million women versus 59 million men), only 5% of women in the US who bike do so for transportation. Why? Because it’s not perceived as safe.

So Trek’s Women’s Marketing Manager, Emily Bremer, and Specialized’s Advocacy Manager, Lucy August-Perna, decided to put their brand competition aside and join forces to raise awareness and funds for bike infrastructure. They were two of the three women represented on Johnson’s ride last year, and after the experience they knew they had to come back and do more.

“This year, I wanted to make people aware that our participation is bigger than our brands individually,” said Bremer. “It’s about two women coming together to advocate for safer streets.”

Bremer said that last year’s event was an eye-opening experience and she was eager to join again this year.

“I learned about People for Bikes and bike advocacy when I started working at Trek. We are heavily invested in them as an organization and they do a lot here [in the Midwest] and guinenly care about making bicycling better for everyone,” said Bremer. “But for me personally, it was doing the ride last year. It was really intimidating and at times, a bit sketchy. But it was so well organized and it was clear from the beginning what the bigger picture initiative was from the beginning.”

“Bike infrastructure is a huge deal for me,” continued Bremer, who’s fortunate to live in the very bike-friendly city of Madison, WI. “I’m prepared to be confronted with the lack of infrastructure as the ride heads down toward Atlanta this year.”

August-Perna had a similar experience on her first tour.

“[Last year’s ride] was the hardest, most challenging physical thing I have ever done,” said August-Perna. “But it showed me on a personal level that I could do way more than I ever though I could do. The support and encouragement from the group was above and beyond my expectations. It was a totally incredible bonding experience. And we were all out there –at times, in grueling pain –for the same reason: to raise awareness.”

The crew on the Ride on Chicago tour in 2015
The crew on the Ride on Chicago tour in 2015

For people who already ride, it can be easy to forget what life was like before bikes became a part of it. We all know that bikes are good for the environment, our health,  our economy, our children and our overall well-being.  But for many Americans using a bike to get around town or to enjoy a spin in the neighbourhood isn’t an easy and accessible option. Roads are shared with busy car traffic, leaving little space for people to comfortably and safely ride.

This ride, August-Perna said, visits places that have either excelled in supporting and promoting bikes through safe bike infrastructure or those that need help.

“Knowing that our presence [and fundraising] can help ignite support for bicycling in those communities, that to me is really impactful, especially when we get to connect with local advocates and let them know what we are doing and doing it for them. I think that’s the coolest part about it,” she said.

For August-Perna herself, riding for errands and commuting to work takes commitment. She has a 35-mile commute to work with a big climb along the way. She uses this ride as inspiration to do the commute twice a week. While she feels safe enough riding into Morgan Hill, California, she said it was the Midwest that blew her away in terms of safe bicycle infrastructure.

“Last year I was blown away by Minneapolis and Madison. The Midwest really showed me what bike infrastructure can and should be,” she said. “Where we are going this year is not quite the same. The opposite in fact. But I am eager to see the other end. I mean we have all felt it. We have all been on a road that’s scary. Beyond the bike infrastructure, it’s the attitudes toward cyclists in areas where people aren’t as familiar with seeing people on bikes. So a lot of the work needed there comes down to cultural awareness.”

Like August-Perna, Bremer has a quite a long commute, riding 20 miles from downtown Madison to the Trek headquarters in Waterloo. Long commutes are not uncommon in and around many American urban centers yet too often, bike infrastructure is limited to downtown corridors.

“The beauty of this ride is the connection between the avid, lycra-clad cyclist and the everyday commuter. Often advocacy is focused on the transportation and commuter sector but it affects all of us. Connectivity shouldn’t stop at city borders. And we need to be thinking about how we connect cities through bike lanes,” said August-Perna. “If nothing else, people want the freedom of choice on how they get around and so people should have the option to bike safely if they want to.”

Be sure to follow Bremer and August-Perna on their four-day adventure starting March 30 on instagram @PeopleforBikes. Ella CyclingTips will also catch up with the women after the trip to see what they’ve learned.

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