The first day of the 2014 National Bike Summit was dedicated to tackling issues faced by female cyclists. This women’s forum has continued to grow since its inception two years ago, swelling from 200 participants in 2012 to over double that number this year. The day opened with a series of TED style presentations led by powerful voices in the national and global cycling community. These women shared with us their own inspirational stories and reminded us how important the bicycle can be to broader social issues. One of the speakers, Shannon Galpin, touched on the legacy of the women’s rights movement and the role that such a seemingly simple machine has had in supporting it. She included the quote below from Susan B. Anthony to illustrate her point.
“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” — Susan B. Anthony (for more on this topic from our resident historian, Daniel Slusser, check out this post on women’s rights and the birth of the bicycle)
Shannon Galpin is no stranger to “trammeled” womanhood. A survivor of sexual assault herself, she started the Mountain2Mountain organization in Afghanistan to create education opportunities and fight for the rights of women in conflict areas. Afghanistan is consistently ranked the worst place in the world to be a woman, where among other things, it is illegal for women to ride bikes, horses or motorcycles. An avid cyclist herself, she became the first women to ever ride a mountain bike in the country and successfully used the mountain bike as a vehicle for social change. The thought of these women literally risking their lives to ride a bike makes you thankful for the freedoms that we do enjoy in the United States and reaffirms the social power of a machine we often take for granted.
In addition to Shannon, we heard from women throughout the forum who showed us that sometimes riding a bike means more than just that. Dorothy Nichols, of Shebeast, challenged female cyclists to, “Do something that scares you each day but also, just have fun.” Kristin Gavin, founder of Gearing Up, uses the bicycle in her program as, “an effective complement to treatment for anxiety and depression among women,” helping them overcome their afflictions. Kim Price, Senior Leader of Global Marketing for Specialized, assured us that we can “transform the world through cycling” and we have to say, after today we are inclined to believe her.
The speeches by these women, and the many more voices that we heard throughout the day, illustrated an important point; fighting for equality for cyclists can become a platform for broader conversations on ending discrimination and the more severe social inequalities that still run rampant in our world. It is only the first day of the Bike Summit and already we’ve seen how tremendous the influence of the Bicycle can be. We are excited for what day two holds in store.