Pittsburgher Monica Garrison founded Black Girls Do Bike to connect and support women of color who share a passion for cycling. As the campaign rapidly grew into a national movement, Monica realized the need for a Pittsburgh chapter to connect the community at a local level. With a Seed Award from The Sprout Fund, Black Girls Do Bike: Pittsburgh took off this spring and has been growing since. Monica sat down with The Sprout Fund to share the Black Girls Do Bike story and how the Pittsburgh chapter is getting involved in this year’s BikeFest.

Why and how did Black Girls Do Bike get started?
A couple summers ago I found myself rediscovering cycling and becoming completely addicted to that full-on feeling of freedom and euphoria that cycling fills you with. I was using cycling to spend more outdoor time with my little ones. As I rode around Pittsburgh it was quickly apparent how very few African American women were out there riding.

Cycling is awesome! Why aren’t more women of color riding bikes? It really was a question. Do black girls bike? Black Girls Do Bike (BGDB) was an attempt to find the answer. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if there was a place where ladies could connect with other ladies in their towns to ride, share some bike knowledge and post images of their rides to inspire female cyclists and aspiring cyclists all over the world? A place where no one was left out—road warriors, moms who ride with their kids, BMX racers, and everyone in between.

We strive to encourage all women to ride. All shades are welcome on BGDB rides. Our focus, however, is African American women and girls who are typically under-represented in the cycling community and who statistically have the highest rates of obesity in our country. If we encourage ladies to get moving and reap the physical and mental benefits of cycling and they, in turn, encourage their mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, and co-workers to do the same, then we are all better for it.

BGDB has grown very quickly. Did you see that coming?
Honestly, not at all. My original hope was to find a couple hundred like-minded ladies around the country and give them a place to talk shop and inspire one another. The truth is black girls do bike and with the help of social media we have been able to unite a passionate group of ladies. These women say, “Yes, I do bike and it’s nice to be acknowledged. And I would love to help empower other women and get them riding.”

What’s the story of the Pittsburgh chapter of BGDB?Monica Garrison (right) at OpenStreets Pittsburgh this past July.
Many people are surprised to learn that while the idea for BGDB was conceived here, Pittsburgh was not the founding chapter for the organization. It was always my desire to bring a chapter here, but I wanted to make sure that the timing was right, networks were in place, and we had proper funding to launch successfully.

The Seed Award from The Sprout Fund has been invaluable to BGDB: Pittsburgh. It allows us to venture into unfamiliar territory confidently, knowing that we have the financial backing to follow through on our promises. Sprout’s support frees us up to focus our energy on planning events that will truly benefit our ladies and to think creatively about new ways to engage our audience. Having this support from a trusted organization that is tied to so many other productive projects also gives us credibility in fundraising circles. Most importantly, with this help we have launched our group with a solid foundation that will lead to our continued growth.

What are your hopes for BGDB as a movement? And the Pittsburgh chapter in particular?
The movement thrives on inspiration. We hope to continue to encourage women to get on bikes and invite others along for the ride. We recently established a chapter in Antigua and we hope to continue to expand the movement to include international chapters. We are also working on plans to bring together thousands of empowered women at our first national ride and meet up in 2016.

Locally, we hope to continue to foster an environment where seasoned and new riders come together. We want to seek opportunities to volunteer and be a positive force in the local bike community. We are also striving to get more diverse voices involved in the discussions that lead to decisions on bike infrastructure in our city.

What is BikeFest and how is BGDB getting involved?
BikeFest is two weeks in August full of bike rides and bike related events. This year it runs from Friday, August 21st to Sunday, August 30th. It celebrates all things bike in the city of Pittsburgh and beyond!! BGDB: Pittsburgh is hosting a Light Up the Night Ride on Friday, August 28th starting at 7:30pm. We’ll also participate collectively in PedalPGH, the largest bike ride of the year, on Sunday, August 30th.

When I participated in PedalPGH for the first time 2 years ago, I had just started BGDB and I didn’t really know anyone in the Pittsburgh bike community. All I knew was it was the largest bike ride of the year and I wanted to be there. I took two things away from that experience. One, I learned how welcoming the Pittsburgh bike community really is. Two, I left determined to do something to help increase minority participation as I only spotted a handful of African Americans during the event and even fewer African American ladies riding.

Fast forward to this year. BGDB has become a nationally recognized organization and we have established an active BGDB: Pittsburgh chapter. To date we have almost thirty ladies signed up to join us for PedalPGH. We will even have a group of ladies traveling from our BGDB: Stafford, Virginia chapter to participate in the event with us. I have high hopes that we will make an impact and represent BGDB well.

If you’re interested in joining Black Girls Do Bike for their Light up the Night Ride on August 28th, you can RSVP here. If you’d like to ride with them at PedalPGH on August 30th, or you want to check out the Pittsburgh chapter (or one of the other forty-six chapters), visit blackgirlsdobike.com or facebook.com/blackgirlsdobike.