It was a simple exclamation from a young girl that set Veronica Davis’ wheels in motion to found one of the District of Columbia’s most vibrant female bike clubs. As she rode through her southeast Washington, D.C., neighborhood on a summer afternoon in 2011, she watched this girl tug her mother’s sleeve and yell, “Look, mommy! Look at that black lady on a bike!”
Davis tweeted about the experience and, on a whim, created the hashtag #blackwomenbike. The somewhat joking hashtag opened up a dialogue—first on social media channels, then in real life—with other black women in the D.C. region. Davis found that many of them were having similar experiences.
It was time and they were ready, she says, to bust the myth that black women don’t bike.
In 2011, Davis and two other women with whom she’d been dialoguing, Nse Ufot and Najeema Washington, founded Black Women Bike DC (in 2013, the organization became a sponsored project of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association). Davis says the group immediately filled a niche in the city. With a vision of encouraging bike riding for fun, health and wellness, and transportation, the group is different from most other biking groups, which focus largely on recreation. “We give women the tools they need to use a bike in any way they want,” Davis explains.
The project’s reach and impact are multifaceted. In addition to leading monthly rides, the group hosts workshops covering a range of topics, from how to pick out a bike that works for one’s needs to how to continue riding in the winter.
Nichole Noel, a member of the organization’s leadership council, says one of her favorite parts of Black Women Bike DC is having an accepting community of welcoming friends who serve as “incredible” resources. “There is always someone to answer questions for you,” she says. “We can share our experiences and expertise in different ways. ‘What do I do with my hair? What if I have dreadlocks? Where can I find an extra-large helmet?’ We’re constantly learning from each other.”
As Black Women Bike DC seeks to reach out to women across all parts of the city, members are exploring several new strategies. They intend to hold more events at locations where people aren’t yet comfortable riding, but which are close to Capital Bikeshare stations—so owning a bike isn’t a prerequisite for getting in the saddle. At the same time, the group will be shifting its focus to some of D.C.’s predominantly black neighborhoods in wards 7 and 8, east of the Anacostia River.
When it comes to developing sufficient bike infrastructure in those neighborhoods, transforming citizens into advocates is paramount in Noel’s mind. “If we want [biking] infrastructure in wards 7 and 8, then we have to get more people riding and more people insisting on [this] infrastructure.”
As Black Women Bike DC pumps up its presence and reaches more people in the Southeast quadrant of the city, Noel expects the increased visibility will help generate even more support for the project’s mission.
And with that increased support—the opportunity to shift the dominant narrative of who bikes in the nation’s capital.
Keep up the good work, ladies!