On Sunday evening, despite the chest cold that will not end, I happily biked my way down towards the water in downtown Oakland to join up with the world-wide coordinated CycloFemme ride. For several glorious hours, I took part in a social group ride shared with a couple dozen women (and one intrepid man) through the streets of Oakland. Some people brought music on small speakers, so we had musical accompaniment as we ‘bike-strolled’ down the streets, waving to passers by, calling out ‘happy mother’s day’ to folks waiting outside of restaurants, and braked for pedestrians.
Our ‘party stop’ was the Oakland Rose Gardens, which are beautiful and expansive with reflecting pools and fountains. Hidden up a side street, they are not widely known or visited, and those people who haunt it on their walks or jogs were delightfully surprised to see a crew of women ride up on bikes to share chocolate and champagne, and to take posed photos of ourselves and our bikes.
We changed our route mid-ride, since it was getting too cold to ride out near the water again, and rode around Lake Merritt once before catching a sunset as a group (with more champagne). The ride was short and sweet, taking so long only because we meandered slowly, enjoying one another’s company and our surroundings in favor of riding hard just because we could.
If nothing else, the CycloFemme ride was an opportunity to come together as women who ride bikes. Of course, elements of women’s empowerment and education were key to this movement in which we were all taking part, but even if political motivation is stripped away, we were still a group, diverse in age, ethnicity, ability, and experience, who made people stop and look at a large group of cyclists who were nearly all women. Even riding in that group, I realized I have never done a larger ride whose demographics were heavily comprised of women. We are always the minority. But not last Sunday – we were out in wigs, skirts, hoodies, hoochie shorts, make up, dresses, full kit, pearls, tattoos, heels, and tanktops, rolling however we wanted to roll.
There is a safety in numbers, but there is a different sort of safety in numbers of women. For my own political reasons, it is very different for a man to step in on my behalf and diffuse a situation than it is for a woman to do the same, just as it is different for people to find me unapproachable because I am with a man or group of men than if I am with a group of women. Several people stood at a distance during our stops, unsure if they could or should approach a laughing, vibrant, bunch of celebrating women. Was it our number or near singularity of gender? Was it the general rule of ‘stranger danger’ that we grow up accepting as total truth? It’s hard to say. Maybe we were more annoying than we thought. But in the end, I would take a day in a rose garden and on a bike with a group of women over many, many other things.
The CycloFemme rides are catalogued on their website via Instagram feed, and in a flickr pool which can be found here.
Congratulations and Thanks are in order to all the folks who rode and represented CycloFemme, and to its organizers and ride leaders. As their website says, ‘this is only the beginning’. See you next time!