By Melinda Tuhus
Monday, March 19, 2012
U.S. women take only one-quarter of the country's bike trips and one reason for that, surveyed women say, is aversion to riding alongside motorists. Road danger is considered a big brake on women's enthusiasm for cycling.
The Girls' Bike Club is one of many programs supported by West Town Bikes, a nonprofit youth advocacy.
Before becoming a staff member at West Town Bikes, Castillo was an intern with the organization. Through that connection, she helped organize the Girls Bike Club.
Shacora Hawkins, 15, went through an apprenticeship at the bike shop, volunteers there now and calls herself "a founding mother" of the girls' bike club. "What I love to do for bike club is recruit," she says. "I have my own dance group, so everybody who's a part of my dance group is a part of girls' bike club. I try to make them come every Wednesday, right after school."
She says if her friends aren't interested in cycling, she lures them in with the promise of earning community-involvement credit hours toward high school graduation, something many schools require.
Castillo says they're recruiting for a girls-only workshop in bike mechanics and repair, so they can feel safe and not intimidated by a bunch of guys. "Let's face it; when there's one girl in a workshop full of guys, how would you feel? Intimidated."
Hawkins says the workshop will help boost girls' confidence by knowing more about their bikes so they can make repairs on their own and feel knowledgeable going into a male-dominated bike shop. And both young women say cycling itself is a big self-esteem booster, even allaying fears of crime and concern for their physical safety.
Before she was a volunteer at West Town, "I would ride my bike but just in my neighborhood, like to the store and back," Hawkins says. "But when I started working at West Town and riding in groups, I got more confidence to ride anywhere I wanted."
Castillo says her mom didn't want her to bike at night, but now she rides day or night, feeling safer biking than walking. "I can make a quick getaway," she joked.
The girls' bike club has adopted a call-and-response for their group. "How do you ride your bike?" they shout. "Like a girl!" they answer.
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Melinda Tuhus is an independent journalist based in New Haven, Conn.
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