The joy of the ride

CycloFemme celebrates women on wheels

From left: Krista Stockman, Felicity Stockman, Vicki Eber, Jade Kelsey
From left: Felicity Stockman, Krista Stockman

The Fort Wayne cycling community has grown with downtown development, the Zagster bike share and bike lane installations. More commuters are seen riding around town and groups are getting together to explore downtown on beautiful, sunny days. Folks are beginning to explore the joys of cycling, even if they don’t own a bike. It’s becoming easier and more readily available for anyone to hop on a bike and ride, whether it’s around the neighborhood, downtown, on the trail or for a long distance on the open country roads.

Jade Kelsey, president of Bicycle Friendly Fort Wayne, fell in love with cycling after years of running, having joined a community of female runners. After a few years of running, she knew she liked it, but didn’t love it. She did love her bike and found the same feeling of being on the greenway could be accomplished on two wheels, and riding caused less pain on her body. She began riding alongside her runner friends on their long-distance runs, even encouraging those friends to ride with her on other days.

There is a synergistic relationship between the cycling and running community. Bike ambassadors are leading out 5Ks and marathons, and runners are enjoying cycling as another form of exercise or simply commuting to work.

I have loved riding since well before I could touch my tiny feet to pedals. I loved the fresh country air blowing over my face as I rode in a seat on the back of my mom’s Schwinn Road Cruiser. I rode often as a kid, though many destinations were all-day bike excursions with friends.

As an adult, I didn’t pick my bike back up with dedication until I moved to West Central in 2005. I bought a cherry-red beach cruiser and rode where I could. Downtown was still developing.

I gradually broke myself in riding on the streets downtown, with a road bike now my mode of transport, but felt there should be more safety and advocacy for cycling. I loved the peace and serenity our greenway paths offered, but sometimes taking to the streets makes for a faster route. This is where Jade connected me to some local ladies of the cycling community, who then connected me to Bicycle Friendly Fort Wayne. Little did Jade and I know we would be heading up this advocacy group and within a year help collaborate with some incredible cycling events and groups.

Jade had found an essay contest on the Girl, Bike, Love website. She said, “It was simple enough. Tell us your story, tell us your bike life.” She took her opportunity to put her love of bikes into 500 words. “I talked about advocacy and education. I talked about how much fun bikes are and how they helped me explore my corner of the world.” She was one of 12 women who won the contest. “One day, a very large box was delivered to my door. I checked my email and bingo! I was a winner! Girl Bike Love named me an Ambassador for Women’s Cycling.”

She won a road bike from GT Bicycles (which she aptly named Winnie) along with a cycling kit from Girl, Bike, Love. Kits include shorts, a jersey and gloves.

“The other contest winners are strong, influential and leaders in their communities,” Jade said. “I am grateful and humbled to be counted among them, and I think about our shared connection every time I ride my winner bike.”

Jade has made many connections to different cycling organizations in our city and has traveled to Indianapolis to learn more about bicycle infrastructure and laws that other cities implement. She said all of her rides with her winner bike make her think about the shared connection with the other women who are now ambassadors. “That bike takes me to work, meetings, coffee shops and yoga. We zip along the paths through the marsh and down country roads. That bike is freedom for me; freedom to explore, freedom to go as far and to wherever I choose.”

Winnie has taken her 600 miles away for an intensive weekend education seminar to become a Certified League Cycling Instructor through the League of American Bicyclists. Most recently, she traveled to Washington, D.C. for the National Bike Summit, also put on by the League of American Bicyclists. She said she cannot wait to share all the knowledge she gained from her trip this year. Winnie came along for the ride, all the way to D.C.

Before all of those wonderful excursions with Winnie, Jade was to first participate in a local CycloFemme Ride, as recommended by Girl, Bike, Love. As she was researching where she could participate in a local ride, she noticed the closest event was in Muncie. She thought: We should bring this event to Fort Wayne.

She presented the idea to the Bicycle Friendly Fort Wayne committee, and all agreed this was a positive event to bring to the city, and 2016 was Fort Wayne’s first participation in a CycloFemme Ride.

“I don’t think many people had even heard of it before,” Jade said. “But they trusted us, and they saw the importance of supporting women on bikes. They didn’t even know they were fulfilling the CycloFemme pledge, which pushes us to be a part of the movement. To drive the change we want to see. Riding together gives us confidence to try something new, and to step out outside of our comfort zones.”

There were about a dozen riders for the inaugural CycloFemme ride last year, a positive turnout considering how quickly the idea came about. Jade and the Bicycle Friendly Fort Wayne group had to put things together in three weeks’ time, with people having already likely made Mother’s Day plans.

It was quickly picked up as a Kickstart event, a month-long celebration of bikes, music and art in the community. There are events throughout the month of May, which is National Bike Month. Kickstart encourages all ages and abilities to ride, and to do so safely. Parkview Health is a sponsor of Kickstart and will be at many events offering discounted helmets for the entire family. Safety is important and required on all group rides affiliated with Kickstart, including Fort 4 Fitness Spring Cycle and CycloFemme.

CycloFemme is gradually gaining momentum, as Bicycle Friendly Fort Wayne joins forces with Mona Will of 3 Rivers Velo Sport. Both women have found great passion for riding because they see a need for more female cyclists in our community. Mona says, “It’s a lot better than 10 years ago, but we want to see more women of all ages and body types out on a bike riding.”

Encouraging young cyclists to ride with etiquette on the road will hopefully lead to safer, avid cyclists as adults. It is the hope of this small committee of women that we can encourage mothers, daughters and entire families to come out and ride together – to uplift, encourage and support one another no matter how far each rider goes. Every ride counts.

The joy of the ride is what got all three of us on our bikes. For Jade, it is the experience of surroundings. “You see your world in a totally different way. When you drive, you’re in a shell, but on your bike you can access the crevices of the city in a way you can’t access in a vehicle.”

Mona recalls the freedom her bike brought her as a child. “I learned at a young age that being on my bike meant a sense of freedom. My parents would let me go to my friends’ houses on my bike.” She says those rides would allow her just enough freedom, the kind a kid wants.

Both women attest to the overall heightened awareness and vulnerability riding a bike can create. You’re out in the open. You can experience silence, sound, the elements of nature and spatial awareness of the world around you. I couldn’t agree more.

As many companies implement more workplace wellness programs and incentives, riding your bike can be a wonderful and inexpensive form of exercise to include in your wellness regimen. Cycling can greatly improve your muscle tone, cardiovascular health, mental health and overall well-being. Riding your bike can help to clear your mind as well as release those mood-boosting endorphins, a great way to relieve stress.

It’s also a money-saver (on gas) if you become a daily commuter. I was filling up my gas tank less than once a month when I was commuting regularly in the summertime, including getting groceries.

Cycling is a way to connect with other people – through short rides in one of our beautiful parks with your friends and family or a long-distance ride out into the country with a group of more seasoned riders like 3 Rivers Velo Sport. There is a sense of camaraderie out on the road or trail. No matter if you are a novice rider or seasoned, we are all a community supporting one another.

The key components to a successful ride, as Bicycle Friendly Fort Wayne’s motto states, are: “Be visible. Be predictable. Be friendly.” In other words, be safe – wear reflective clothing or a bright mesh vest along with your helmet. Learn the hand signals to help vehicles and pedestrians know where you are headed as well as take ownership of the road in a friendly manner. Share the trails and call out to pedestrians and runners that you are passing on the left, so they know you are coming. We are all trying to get to a destination. Everyone can arrive safely with this motto.

CycloFemme is a global event hosted annually on Mother’s Day. It’s held to honor and celebrate women cyclists who have paved the way for present and future female riders. Though it celebrates and highlights women cyclists, it is not a female-only ride. Anyone who wishes to celebrate the women in their lives is welcome to join in on the ride. This year’s event will have three distances as well as the option to take a few laps around the park if you don’t wish to ride any of the farther distances or have smaller children riding along. There is a 7-mile ride from Rockhill to the Towpath at Eagle marsh, a 15-17 mile ride to the Aboite Township Firehouse or you can opt to ride the 42 miles round trip to Roanoke and back. There will be stops to use the restroom and get a drink of water.

3 Rivers Velo Sport is supporting the water stops at Aboite Township Firehouse as well as provide bike ambassadors along the ride to ensure safety for all riders. Participating downtown businesses are providing a discount to riders with a CycloFemme wristband, given out the day of the ride, and there will be someone available to help do bike checks before the ride.

CycloFemme and the other Kickstart events going on in May were cultivated for the joy of getting on your bike and riding as a community. There’s no need for a fancy bike; just get out and enjoy the ride.

CycloFemme Fort Wayne 2017

WHO:
This is a multigenerational, family-friendly event. Men, women and children of all ages are welcome. Helmets are required for the ride.

WHAT:
Varying distances are available for novices as well as seasoned riders. This is a free event to celebrate women in cycling together. There will be a special treat for riders, pit stops along the longer distances for restroom and water refills, and discounts offered at participating downtown businesses with your CycloFemme wristband.

WHEN/WHERE:
May 14 at Rockhill Park. Arrive as early as 1 p.m. for sign-in and tire checks. The ride begins at 2 p.m.

HOW:
Look for event details at www.bffw.org/cyclofemme-info or find Bicycle Friendly Fort Wayne on Facebook.

First appeared in the April 2017 issue of She.

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