Scenes from the National Womens Bicycling Forum

Women's Cycling Forum 2013

The National Womens Bicycling Forum in Washington DC this week heralded “a new day,” one that’s bursting with energy and creative thinking to bring the joys and advantages of riding bicycles to a broader community and to engage more women at all levels of decision-making in industry, advocacy and policy.

With the theme “Women Mean Business,” the Forum, presented by the League of American Bicyclists, brought together 375 leaders and advocates from around North American to focus on getting more women on bikes and to celebrate the economic power and potential of the movement, one day before the opening of the annual National Bike Summit. It’s part of the League’s new National Women Bike campaign, the first coordinated effort to engage more women in cycling.

In opening remarks, Carolyn Szczepanski, director of communications, Women Bike, noted that previous stereotypes are dropping away. She cited “a new conception of bicycling that’s driving the cycling Renaissance around the country.”

National Womens Bicycling Forum velojoy instagram

Above: Scenes from the Forum via the @velojoy Instagram feed.

Nonetheless, challenges remain. Forum programming zeroed in on key topics, from advancing gender equity in the cycling industry  to creating a more welcoming bike shop environment and from inspiring community-based advocacy to promoting cycling events as a gateway to engage and empower women  The sum of it all provided thought-provoking grist for posts to come – notably about my personal interest in how cycling is marketed to women. But in the mean time, here are some quick snippets that reflect the flavor of this inspring event:

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NYC in the house

Of course I have start with a shout-out to the awesome cycling advocacy community of New York City, out in full force at the Forum. Gathered at the photo booth (top): representatives of WE Bike NYC, Recycle-A-Bicycle and the Youth Bike Summit, Transportation Alternatives, the Biking Public Project and Biketrain. Also present at the Forum: Bike New York and Citi Bike.

‘Tsunami of inclusion’

At a pre-Forum party to toast the launch of the new Women and Bicycles program of the Washington Area Bicycling Association, Elly Blue, the author and principal of Taking the Lane Media, referred to “a growing tsunami of inclusivity” in the world of cycling. It’s accelerated, she observed, by the women’s rights focus in this country on freedom and domain over the body  (“What better expression is there of that than riding a bicycle?”), as well as a groundswell of participation by women in cycling advocacy.

“Any time you have new people in a movement, it changes things,” Blue said. “The women in this room are the vanguard; dream big and believe in your power to change the world.”

What a difference a year makes

To put into perspective how far the movement to engage more women in cycling has come in just one year, a few numbers: Last year’s inaugural event in Washington consisted of a singe panel discussion. By contrast, this year’s full-day Forum comprised 32 speakers presenting 3 keynotes, 4 breakout sessions and 6 TED-style ignite sessions. In addition, the Women Bike Pop-Up Shop showcased cycling accessories and gear by a diverse group of women entrepreneurs.

National Womens Bicycling Forum instagram velojoy

Niche no more

In the breakout session entitled “Insight from the Industry: 3 Keys to Closing the Gender Gap,” Alysa Walk, general manager of Giant Bicycles, focused on industry perceptions of the women’s cycling market and stole the show with this: “The majority of suppliers see women as a specific segment. I tell them, women are not a niche. They’re 50 percent of the population. You’re probably married to one.”

Women really do mean business

The theme of the forum, “Women Mean Business,” highlighted the economic contribution and impact of women on the cycling world. Mirroring the “Bicycling Means Business” theme of the Bike Summit, the phrase is more than a metaphor for activism. Women represent a critical majority for the future the bicycle movement: 60 percent of bicycle owners aged 18- to 27-years-old are women. In 2012 alone, women reported that they planned to spend nearly $2 billion on bike products. Further, demographic shifts mean that a convergence of women, ethnic diversity and younger audiences may exert unprecedented power in the cycling marketplace.

This is not a test

A Forum highlight was the opening keynote by Georgina Terry, a pioneer in building women-specific frames, which included a conversation with Natalie Ramsland,  founder of Sweetpea Bicycles. Ramsland’s come-as-you-are perspective on lowering the barriers to attracting more women to bicycling struck a chord that resonated elsewhere in the forum. The message? Ride a bicycle for whatever reason suits you.

“When we are enjoying cycling the most we seem to be doing it together,” Ramsland said of the social aspect. She added: “We want people to do this at whatever level they want without it including some kind of a threshold.”

New York moment

NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, a keynote speaker on “Building a Women Bike Friendly City,” highlighted gains in infrastructure and other innovations that are broadening transportation options, improving street safety and building stronger communities for New Yorkers. On the imperative for more bike parking in NYC, she quipped, “If you stand still in some neighborhoods in Brooklyn, someone will lock a bike to you.” Williamsburg, we’re thinking.

There’s so much more, so stay tuned for upcoming posts inspired by the Forum!

Readers: Did you attend the Forum? Please share your perspectives or favorite moments in the comments section!


  • There were so many highlights! I’ll note just three here.

    I was charmed to hear the first conversation, between two women bike-builders, turn to the carbon versus steel debate (not least because . . . . steel!). Yes, women can get just as geeky about gear and materials as the guys.

    It was fantastic to see so many citizen advocates in attendance — people who paid their own way, unfunded by any organization or professional affiliation. That’s a sign of how strong women’s bike advocacy has become, and props to the League for organizing the women’s forum as a stand-alone day. That made it affordable for me — and I’m guessing many others — to attend.

    Last not least, I confess that it should not have taken a trip to DC to meet in person so many of the NYC advocates whose names and organizations I know. I had some great conversations and shared idea about building the movement and I look forward to having more of those conversations back here in NYC.

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