Imagine a crowd of young women and girls riding through your Newark street, in style.
I met the Girls on Bikes crew on a Newark First Friday. They had yellow bicycles, green bicycles, pink bicycles with the baskets in the front. They had helmets too tight for Afro-girls and almost right for the loose curls. They showed up ready to pedal their brown girl joy through the Newark streets all the way from Military to Weequahic Park.
The girls had an extra bike just for me. And so we rode off into the sun, rode past the brick buildings, the brothas selling incense and oils off Market Street, the wind caressed our faces, and we were in love with the nature, the Newark, the freedom of riding on a bike. Our society wanted girls to stay in the house, and so Kala, a graduate from RU-N, created the organization Girls on Bikes:
We are at the Lincoln Park Festival with Girls on Bikes. Can you tell us what is happening here today?
“Hi, my name is Kala, but my friends call me Kalala. We are here providing bicycles for kids during the music festival. And what we will doing is providing the bikes so they can ride while their parents are out having fun. We are also teaching kids who don’t know how to ride without training wheels to ride bicycles. And we will be showing them nifty bicycles tools, such as how to fix a flat tired.”
What is the mission of Girls on Bikes?
It’s a stylish initiative to encourage young women in urban communities, like Newark, to participate in more recreational activities. Those recreational activities include cycling, skateboarding, swimming. Anything where they can go outside and have fun.”
Why bicycling? How does bicycling make you feel?
“Well, personally. I think bicycling is a great tool to use for meditation. I definitely use it as a transit option so that I can explore my city more and actually see what my people are going through since it allows me to move at a slower movement. We realized when you are riding a bike with a group with people, you always look behind you to make sure that the folks behind you are good. Therefore, you are able to build a relationship and connection with those who you are riding with."
"While I’m riding, I get to move at a slower pace therefore, I am allowed to see my community more because I am paying more attention to my surroundings: places where I’m going, who’s coming behind me, etc. I get to see the abandoned houses, all the land that is not being used, I get to see people who are in terrible conditions, looking at people’s faces more closely and realizing that maybe they are going through something, struggling, or very tired. Also, I get to see people very happy, sitting on their stoops outside, having fun with their friends and family, and therefore, riding by smiling, saying hello, being more welcoming. Being in the community rather than just living there… It’s definitely a way to connect more with my city.”
“My name is Maseera. I’m the public relations officer so I basically handle all of our artists that deal with us whether they’re DJs or graphic artists and I do the production of our events to make sure it all comes together. I love riding bikes because it’s therapeuetic to me and it’s my main port of transportation. It gets your blood flowing so it helps you not be stagnant, even if you’re having a long day… once I jump on my bike, it just feels like I have this adrenaline rush and it’s rejuvinating to my soul just feeling the air and being outside. Living in the city for the past five years, you don’t really get that that often so when you can breathe in the prana, you enjoy it.”
“Hi, my name is Jenn. I am community and youth outreach so I basically manager all of the community-based events we have.”
Now that you’ve been introduced, we’re gonna take a ride with Girls on Bikes to learn about some challenges women cyclists face. I began by asking them, why make a woman’s organization?
Maseera: “Women just aren’t appreciated in the cycling community. Women cyclists, there is not a safe space for them. We create that safe space for casual riding so people know that they are known and people see that they are present.”
Kala: "I think that being young, we just naturally face challenges. But also being females as well. Often times we are underestimated. At times, people want us to do things a certain way or want us to act a certain way or dress a certain way or look a certain way. People trying to conform us into something that they want us to be rather than us being our true selves. And with Girls on Bikes, that’s definitely something that we strive to do. So yes, we are on bikes working with women, youth, and Newark public schools, but also we never forget who are true selves are. We definitely are able to make more a personal connection by having all of our characteristics and bringing that into an organization, and that really makes us because we are able to relate to other women as well. Therefore, causing us to build this space where they face no challenges in the Girls on Bikes space. This space is made for them.”
Jenn: "We wanted to seperate ourselves from that crowd and tell girls that it’s cool and it’s okay to be on a bike. We all have the same issues, we all go through menstrual cycles, we all have nice hair or different type of hair textures, and we still are on a bike.”
Maseera: So usually you see guys riding bikes all the time but you don’t really see girls because they’re trained and kinda told to stay in the house and do more “girly” things and not really be on the streets, but bike riding should be a universal thing because it’s exercise and it’s therapy and it’s empowering because you are steering your own life.”
In 2016, Kala found that there weren’t enough girls in her community participating in outdoor recreational activities. By finding Girls on Bikes, these young women were able to curate safe spaces for girls of color to discuss the social and political obstacles they face in their communities around exercise. Today, Girls on Bikes has 6 partnerships with Newark schools, 90 participants a month in bike rides and tours, and 142 participants in their youth and after-school programs.
Click above to hear Mariah Matthews feature about Girls on Bikes.