So I get an email from a woman I don’t know a few weeks ago. Her name is Meghna; she is a young mom with two daughters; and she never learned how to ride a bike. She spent $140 a couple of years ago to take an REI class, where she was off on the side with an instructor while a group of children were with another instructor. She rode the bike briefly, but not really and never again.
I offer one free bike class a month to a woman or teen girl (although I taught seven weeks in a row this past fall to some girls in Clarkston, GA who stole my heart), thanks to proceeds from my book, Traveling at the Speed of Bike. Meghna hit the timing right because I was scheduling March when I received her email.
We met yesterday for about an hour and a half right before what can only be called a toad-strangler of a storm. And she now rides a bike. See for yourself in the little 14-second TikTok below, and hear her 4-second quote about how it feels:
As with all my new-to-bike-riding students, I told her to spend the next month or so practicing moving on a bike through time and space in a no-motor-vehicle location. Then, circle back to me for a second class to learn some additional skills about bike handling, hazard avoidance, route selection, rules of the road, how to reduce specific additional proven dangers to women and girls in public space, and other tips.
But here’s the cold hard truth that nags at me about bike education in the United States right now — once someone can actually ride a bike, my fellow League Cycling Instructors and I are mostly teaching how not to get killed by drivers of three-ton vehicles in our dangerous-by-design cities. There is no joy in that, and joy matters (and I’m doing everything within my power to keep it centered). (Here’s my hope.)
I’m now booking my free “Pedal Power with Pattie” in-person basic bike skills class for April. First dibs goes to a woman who is a mayor, city councilor, or county commissioner anywhere in Metro Atlanta who would like to be a role (roll!) model for her city or county during the upcoming National Bike Month* in May. Connect with me here.
Showing you can face a fear you may have about riding a bike and that you trust your city or county as a safe and accessible-for-all place to ride goes a long way to inspire others who are currently underrepresented in our public spaces.
If you, as a city or county leader, don’t feel safe riding a bike where you serve, I have two simple questions for you.
Let’s talk about ways you can help change that. You hold the power in your hands. Do not settle for the gutter of failed imagination. I don’t think you went into public service to maintain the deadly status quo or to greenwash your constituencies.
If we can dream it, we can live it. Meghna, Helena, Diana, the girls in Clarkston and all these other women and girls are depending on you. (Note: I design my free self-guided bike tours, as a PeopleForBikes Ambassador, with them in mind.)
If you are not a city/county leader and this post speaks to you, contact me anyway and the spot is yours, as I have no reason to believe any city/county leader will**.
FYI, here’s where my ghost bike would have gone if I hadn’t survived that hit-and-run this past July.
I pass the spot often where the memorial to my death would have been and wonder who will be the tipping point for actual NACTO-compliant change that creates safe-access-for-all.
As always, I continue to trust the journey.
*Here is when I rode in the sweep position on a Ride to Lunch with the Mayor during National Bike Month in 2019:
Here is what that mayor said afterwards:
**I received no replies from any mayors or county commissioners to this email introducing myself as Metro Atlanta Bicycle Mayor. I received no replies from any mayors from the six Bicycle Friendly Communities in Metro Atlanta to this email offering to promote their National Bike Month plans for free as inspiration to other cities. The reply I received to this email following week one of the pandemic requesting temporary pop-up safer access was a fast and firm no.
Clearly I failed in reaching these folks effectively, and in many other ways over the years because safe access does not exist. However, I am succeeding in other areas (and I do still have hope about riding with my congresswoman).
Lessons (the girls in Clarkston)
More than 200 People Now Have Basic Bike Skills Education (that’s now closer to 400)