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How A Minority Biking Group Raises The Profile Of Cycling
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How A Minority Biking Group Raises The Profile Of Cycling
How A Minority Biking Group Raises The Profile Of Cycling
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Flip open any cycling magazine and you'll see photos of a lot of wiry white men. But the reality of who is cycling these days is changing. Surveys suggest that more people of color are biking, both for fitness and for transportation.

Lauren Ober has this story about a group of black women here in Washington, D.C., who are trying to build a community around biking.

LAUREN OBER, BYLINE: It's a muggy Saturday morning and Karen Key is standing outside of the D.C. Armory with a group of about 20 women as they meet for a bike ride and engage in a bit of shoptalk about their bikes. Key's bike is the Barcalounger of cycles. There's a cushy saddle, a bag for snacks and an upright geometry that makes it easy to get on and off. This bike even has a name.

KAREN KEY: Her name is Pegasus.

(LAUGHTER)

KEY: I just looked at it, and I said that's a Pegasus.

OBER: Key has brought Pegasus out for a ride sponsored by Black Women Bike D.C. She's pumped for today's ride and not just because it means getting in some quality miles.

KEY: When I go out riding with other groups, I very seldom see other black women. I'm usually the only one.

OBER: That feeling of invisibility is partly what led Veronica O. Davis to start this group two years ago. She remembers riding to meet a friend and pedaling past a housing project in Southeast D.C.

VERONICA O. DAVIS: This little black girl starts screaming: Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, there's a black lady on a bike. And at first, I was confused, like, what? Why is she so excited? But then I thought about it and I'm like, you know, I'm probably the first cyclist she saw that looked like her.

OBER: She tweeted about that random event, and that in turn led to a Facebook group. Now, nearly 1,000 women have joined.

DAVIS: People joined again with the message of I thought I was the only one, or, hey, I've been thinking about biking, but I didn't have anyone to bike with, or I've been thinking about getting a bike. And now, you all have given me the motivation to go get a bike.

OBER: Minority cycling groups like Davis' are springing up all over the country. A recent report by the League of American Bicyclists cites people of color as the fastest growing segment of the cycling population. Part of the group's mission is to make cycling more accessible. That means addressing big issues like street safety as well as more personal ones like how to prevent helmet hair. Davis says that's the number one question she gets.

DAVIS: The secret to biking and having good hair is you need a satin scarf. It cannot be any other type of scarf. For a lot of black women, we sleep in satin scarves, so many of us have years of practice with the satin scarf.

OBER: No one here seems deterred by the potential of helmet hair for today's 10-mile ride.

DAVIS: So we want to thank you all for coming out today. We have a no drop rule, so we will leave no woman behind. So we want everyone to have fun today. Yay.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

DAVIS: All right. There we go.

OBER: There are all types of female cyclists here, from middle-aged moms on fat-tire cruisers to twentysomethings on sleek road bikes. Today's ride goes through Anacostia, a part of the city that Davis says is key to the group's mission. It likes to show off trails in historically black neighborhoods and expose residents there to a critical mass of black cyclists. As the women ride here, they get smiles and even a few high-fives from folks walking along the trail. Cyclist Mariah Craven says for her, that's the best part.

MARIAH CRAVEN: When people see us, they get excited and enthusiastic. They give us encouragement. They wave at us. It really makes a difference.

OBER: That's the group's ultimate goal: to show people that lots of black women do ride bicycles. If they achieve it, maybe next time Davis or any of the other members roll past that little girl outside the housing project, seeing them won't be a surprise. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Ober.

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