I was first introduced to cycling by my grandpa. He would hold onto my backpack while I wobbled down boardwalks of San Diego. I thought I was invincible. It was later in life that I found out about the backpack holding. It wasn't until I moved to Chicago that I started to consider myself a cyclist. I had always enjoyed riding but never really saw myself as the kind of person who would really commute, let alone work on my bike. My best friend was riding more and more and coordinating plans became increasingly difficult. So, without any intention of doing any serious riding, I went into a bike shop and picked out a Schwinn cruiser. Thankfully, I have a very patient best friend. I quickly fell in love with everything about riding in the city. Needless to say, I eventually upgraded to a more appropriate bike and I got my first fixed gear last year from State.
I use my bike for work and commuting. I deliver flowers for a local flower shop and I also just started working for SNAP courier. Aside from the occasional rest day, It's me and Josie all day everyday. I'm pretty stoked about it. Chicago is an incredible city to bike through. Every single neighborhood has a different feel to it. But It's downtown that really gets my blood pumping. There is a hum and rhythm to downtown Chicago. It keeps me sharp and present.p, like I'm living in my skin. And I have by far the best office views! I feel bad for people who only see the city from the train or their daily drive. The buildings and little cracks in the city are best explored, in my opinions, by bike. Same with winter. Being from Southern California, biking through "Chiberia" makes me feel like some sort of winter-warrior- goddess. The streets are mostly empty and it's just you, the bike, and the "feels like" -15 temp that's coming for your soul.
I have a LaFluer
fixed, single speed. One of my favorite things about this bike is the paint job and that there are a limited number of them. It's not terribly common which makes it easy to spot in the wild, super helpful if it ever gets stolen. #deathtobikethieves Recently someone with the same frame and a similar wheel set as mine started riding around where I work. All in one week I got about 5 texts asking me if my bike had been stolen and if they should sort this other guy out. I'm stoked that my friends can easily spot my bike and are looking out. No one was harmed.
I swapped out a few things on Josie. I have a Bianchi leopard print saddle because, duh. I also have the white Cinelli Pepper Riser bars on there along with a Soma front rack for work. I recently swapped in some hot pink iSSi clipless pedals. Up next will be a new crankset and bottom bracket, provided my wheels can stop getting stolen!
The cycling community is amazing in Chicago. Such a simple machine, bringing so many people together. You see one of your buddies out in the wild on a beautiful day and you meet eyes and it's like "I know, right?!!" In general, I feel very supported within the cycling community. Specifically, the bike messenger community. Even though it's predominantly male, I feel like the messengers here are some of the biggest feminists I know. Same with racing, there has been a lot of support here from both men and women for women's racing. I think there is a shift happening. Women who were once looked at as accessories to men's racing, are now being considered competitors in a very real way. Every once in awhile there is that feeling that you have to prove yourself a little more than a man; that being a women is something that has to be compensated for. A doorman will say something like "that's a lot to carry on a bike for a girl" and I politely remind him that weight doesn't distribute differently on bikes based on being male or female and then go on my way. The only real negative energy I sometime encounter is from angry motorists or random pedestrians who are yelling specifically sexual slurs. Don't get me wrong, my male counterparts get yelled at too. It's just never sexually oriented. If I cut someone off, then I am being a jerk. But I don't think a comment on my intelligence or how sexually active I am is justified. The men just don't get remarks like that thrown at them.
In spite of all that, cycling has given me so much. There was a time when an effort was made to keep women off bikes. Women were told that cycling would leave them infertile and give them a condition called "bike face", which would leave them unattractive and therefore undesirable to men. Riding a bike was such an act of rebellion and for me it still is. It represents freedom. Freedom to come and go, to sweat, work, race, and commute. Freedom to struggle and find myself on my terms. My bike has become an extension of me, as opposed to a machine I power.
This year at NACCC, the women got together and held the first meeting of the Women's Bike Messenger Association. When Chrome Industries posted that tasteless photo during NYC fashion week, many women spoke out alongside with the WBMA. It's 2015, the serious lack of representation coupled with the over sexualization of women in these large companies is unacceptable. In spite of all that though, I am filled with pride and hope seeing the women in this community organizing and taking a stand. My advice to other women cyclists would be this: talk to each other. Women have been conditioned to be enemies instead of allies, and it's terrible. We should be reaching out to each other with questions, concerns and stories without the fear and judgement that often comes from groups of women. I've started work on a documentary project, SheMess, about female messengers in Chicago and it's been incredibly powerful getting all these women all in one room talking. There is strength there. I am very lucky, I have a great group of cycling women who have been supportive and encouraging to me, but that kind of community takes work. We need to reach out to each other and be available to be reached out to. It's happening more and more, the sisterhood is growing!
Thanks for reading! Follow Ashley on Instagram: @ashmar.q