Bike Talk: Empower Girls To Ride With Skills

08 June, 2017

On Saturday my cycle club, Westchester Cycle Club, hosted the Girl Scouts Bike Rodeo, a program created to teach bike safety and skills to girls, and, hopefully, to generate some excitement about bicycling for fun, fitness or just getting around. When I first got the call about volunteering for the event I quickly agreed to, empowering girls with skills at home is my personal grassroots mission to get more girls on bikes. So naturally, I enthusiastically agreed.

Bicycles have the unique ability to act as both a metaphor and a means for moving young girls and women forward. Riding a bicycle can build independence, expand one’s world, increase positive body image, improve health and increase one’s connection to her environment. In addition, bicycles provide a way of expanding a girls' environment, literally and metaphorically opening up their worlds as a means to allowing them to take themselves wherever they want to go.
On the day of the rodeo, thirty girls attended, ranging from kindergarteners to tweens. The girls rotated though several stations, starting with the required "Helmet Check" “Bike Safety Check” and “Rules of the “Road”.  From there, they were free to choose from additional stations.  The stations included a lesson on turning, scanning the roads, signaling and making a turn when safe to do so. They also did a snail race at the end to help them learn how to control their bikes and speed. About a handful of girls gave up their training wheels while some where learning how to ride for the first time. After the training course, the girls put their new skills together and enjoyed a 7 mile ride on the local rails trail to finish off the day.

I have always believed that to empower a girl, you have to develop her skills. Building skills in girls strengthens self-esteem and independence, allowing girls to develop new abilities and confidence to contribute as leaders in their communities. While girls may benefit greatly from empowerment programs, a bicycle skills program can address development and skill capabilities. Combining empowerment and bike skills, girls can learn about positive body image, healthy habits, their environment, social engagement, and problem solving.

Skills girls can learn about bike mechanics or safety also helps contribute to knowledge development and confidence in handling a problem. Girls who can fix their own bikes will feel empowered to solve problems in their lives as they will have developed the skills to keep riding over months and years to adulthood. In a program to develop bike skills for girls, we open a space where they can openly ask questions about bicycle maintenance and issues they may be facing about insecurities, aspirations, and body development.

Bicycle skill programs are powerful tools in promoting competence, confidence, and connection in girls. While there are many women's cycling empowerment advocacy groups and clubs, there is a gap between connecting young girls in cycling. I hope that by sharing my knowledge and experience in my volunteer work that I can inspire and foster a movement in women's cycling to get more girls on bikes with a few suggestions...
Girls tend to be much more positive and supportive of each other. They are much more receptive to suggestions and instructions from their female peers and need to feel that it's a "girls only club". Having a female teacher, ride leader, or peer to help teach can help them learn by example and allow the girls to talk about things related to their abilities comfortably. By having a girls-only session, teaching skills by a female leaders or peers influences their ability and boosts their confidence when they have someone to look up to. Bring in the local high school girls who ride good or a local pro who can lead them on a ride and talk to them. Embracing girl talk on our bikes is what we do best.

Building skills in girls requires education. In a bike skills program we can teach basic bike maintenance, basic riding skills, safety and road skills. Starting off easy for them to put their skills to practice to a few challenges along the way. Challenging them is important but it's more crucial that they build their confidence to take them to the next level. It's amazing to see how quickly their excitement and skills develop when they have a peer demonstrating to them.

Have Fun
And keep it fun. Girls draw energy and pleasure from the success of the group. Us this energy to keep the atmosphere light and fun to attract more girls to join. Encourage them to go wild, climb hills, stunts, or balance their bike. Let girls be girls while celebrating their smallest successes with cookies, bike bells, or a certificate of course completion at the end. Other ways to have fun in educating them is by organizing a few races where they can show off their new founds skills and confidence, obviously with some prizes in the end.
Special thanks to the Girl Scouts of Hudson Valley, our club partners and sponsors. A true team effort on the part of Westchester Cycle Club, the Girls Scouts Bike Rodeo program achieved it’s mission.  The girls had a great time and left with information and skills that will empower them to become safe and happy members of the cycling community, and who knows, maybe even future racers!  

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