“There are a lot of preconceptions about what a feminine cyclist is, what she can and can't do, and how she integrates into the larger cycling community,” said Heather Nugen, avid cyclist and co-founder of Femme Fridays, when asked about women’s roles in Detroit’s bike culture. She was fed up with being “bro’d” out of group rides, and it’s easy to see why. Myths like “women don’t bike” and “men are the face of bicycling advocacy in their communities” make it seem like there’s no room for women among the bike lanes (10 Myths About Women and Bicycling). Luckily, thanks to a dedicated tribe of female riders in Detroit, women are ensured to have a spot, and voice, among the bike culture.
Heather and co-founder Kendra Colbert created Femme Fridays, a “safe, inclusive, weekly ride for women from all walks of life, ages and religions, including anyone who identifies as cis, trans or queer, those who are experienced riders and those who are just learning,” with a goal of getting all women, regardless of skill level, comfortable with biking.
The weekly rides are about 10-15 miles long, and thanks to the no drop policy, no one will be left behind. The women staffed and led rides are male friendly, but male attendees must be invited by a woman. Sounds pretty great, right?
Mode Shift “e-sat” (digital form of sat?) down with Heather to discuss Femme Fridays, women’s roles in Detroit’s bike community, and getting bro’d.
Mode Shift: Tell us more about Femme Fridays, why were they created?
Nugen: We started Femme Friday in response to all the male-led and organized rides in the city. Women often go on these rides, but almost never get to spearhead them (with a few notable exceptions, and we are largely not talking about corporate rides). There aren't any weekly women's rides in Detroit, and the only other organized femme-focused organization/ride is Fender Bender, who have the monthly full-moon rides, which are great, and which we join up with when they match our ride schedule. We wanted something more regular though, to give more folks a chance at participation and to plug into a larger supportive community.
Mode Shift: What type of response have you received from the community?
Nugen: A really positive one! All our riders love the ride and there's a lot of support. If there is any nay-saying going on, I haven't heard it.
Mode Shift: What are some challenges women + the biking community face in Detroit?
Nugen: Like most places, biking is considered a masculine sport and activity. There are a lot of preconceptions about what a feminine cyclist is, what she can and can't do, and how she integrates into the larger cycling community. Women are often shut out of ride-leadership and ride-support positions, decision making, and things like that, because there's this belief that they are less experienced and less capable overall as cyclists. Which is, quite frankly, completely untrue.
Mode Shift: How are women shaping the bicycle movement in Detroit?
Nugen: Well, the ladies who own the Wheelhouse and run Tour de Troit are a great example of how capable femme-folks are at organizing and leading cycling and cycling-businesses. One of the first bike shops to open in Downtown Detroit is owned by a woman, and I think that says a lot about how integral we are to the movement. We are the movement, as much as anyone else can claim to be.
Mode Shift: What was the inspiration behind Femme Fridays?
Nugen: I don't go on a lot of group rides because getting “bro'ed” out is a common experience for me when I'm on them. I often feel I have to defend my right to be seen as a legitimate cyclist, and that's actually not very enjoyable for me. I think Kendra felt similarly, and was tired of hearing a lot of negative feedback about her ride ideas, mostly from dudes, and so we decided to start our own ride so we could create a space where we could be safe and comfortable, and hopefully extend that invitation to other folks in the cycling community who often get overlooked or left out.
Mode Shift: How can people get involved?
Nugen: Come to Cass Park to attend a ride! Sign up to sweep a ride (or two). Let us know if you want to guest-lead a ride! We ask that men come on the invitation of a femme-person, and that they leave the ride support and leadership to us.
Interested in joining a Friday ride? The group meets at Grand Circus Park at 6:30 p.m., and riders will take off at 7:00 p.m. You can also connect with them on Facebook herefacebook.com/events/311556368969026/?ref=22