Meet Sabat Ismail

(photo courtesy of Sabat Ismail)

Meet Sabat Ismail. She’s from Toronto, Canada — and let’s not get hung up on rules here about who’s allowed to be included in the “You Go, Girl!” series featuring women across the USA making it more welcoming to ride bikes just because she’s from beyond our borders. I’m featuring Sabat for two reasons: (1) I ask everyone I interview to suggest someone else and Deltrece Daniels recommended Sabat*; (2) Sabat’s physical existence in public space as a bike rider and bike mechanic; her advocacy efforts as a core team member with Transportation Equity Toronto and co-founder of BIKEPOC; and her career pursuits as an urban planning student at York University all center the question of who gets access to space and why. So today, Sabat gets access right here. She told me:

“People of color don’t have the liberty to believe that bikes are inherently freeing because there are so many ways systemically that work against that. I am always engaged in the ongoing process of decolonizing my mind, and I believe in the bicycle’s ability to create space for radical reimagining.”

A first-generation Canadian whose parents are refugees from Ethiopia, Sabat straddles numerous intersectionalities and is intrigued by how they play out in public space. She notices how the treatment she receives varies based on how she presents herself, and how the built environment specifically in the racially-diverse Toronto suburbs does or does not receive the funding and support to meet the transportation needs of its residents. Particularly concerned that urban planning has been a tool of a lot of harm, she questions how she will fit into that career field and if she will be able to find a job that doesn’t require perpetuating that harm.

And yet she keeps showing up, speaking out, and taking things into her own hands. She learned this hands-on approach early. As the recipient of her brother’s hand-me-down department-store bikes and finally her own cheap bike when she was sixteen, Sabat got tired of a local bike mechanic continually telling her that her bike was no good since she did not have the financial resources to upgrade. Plus, as a sufferer of chronic pain, she realized how much a good bike fit does actually matter. Sabat soon discovered a DIY bike shop named Bike Pirates where she could build her own bike to precisely meet her needs. She has now built six.

Recently turning to art during this global pandemic as a means of expression and to celebrate Black joy, Sabat will soon use the opportunity of her Master’s thesis to showcase and center, once again, those whom she sees as not only marginalized but actually not even imagined in our future. She will be doing a storytelling series of graphic design portraits titled “In Movement” that features Black women, girls, femmes, and gender-non-conforming people engaged in movement in multi-faceted ways that are both explicit and otherwise, depicted in a manner that recognizes nuances and beauty in movement.

Sabat is all in for the ride. Although sometimes perhaps fatigued, like all of us, with the pace of change, she told me:

“My parents think I’ll grow out of riding bikes, that it’s a lower-status thing. But we don’t live where we can move around our suburban community on a bike with dignity yet and where cycling can be a viable option.”

Follow Sabat on Twitter @Sabatintay as she shares her art and articles on cycling equality and mobility justice. And let’s join her in putting a new future in motion.

(graphic design portrait created by Sabat Ismail)

* They met at a youth biking summit in New York City


Tap in every day in August for my “You Go, Girl” series showcasing 31 Women in 31 Days who are making it more welcoming to ride bikes in the USA. If interested, you may enjoy my book, Traveling at the Speed of Bike. All proceeds from the sale of my book help more women and girls ride bikes.


The complete series:

1. Meet Alison Dewey

2. Meet Courtney Cobbs

3. Meet Paige Metzger

4. Meet Courtney Williams

5. Meet Robyn Elliott

6. Meet Vivian Ortiz

7. Meet Amanda Clay

8. Meet Deltrece Daniels

9. Meet Nadya Dhadiala

10. Meet Irene Lutts

11. Meet Sabat Ismail

12. Meet Timberley Jones

13. Meet Melissa Balmer

14. Meet Jenn Dice

15. Meet Shanequa Gay

16. Meet Jackie Marchand

17 -26. Meet 10 Women Who Wrote Bike Books I Love

27. Meet Maria Borowik

28. Meet Megan Ramey

29. Meet Annette Nesse

30. Meet Aly Nicklas

31. Meet . . . Yourself