With Black Girls Do Bike NYC, Courtney Williams helps over 900 women get rolling.
When did you get into cycling?
As a kid. I’m from the Midwest and bicycling is a kid thing to do in the Midwest so I did that. After I moved to New York, I looked out the window one day and realized there was a bicycle lane in front of my house, so I ran out to the Brooklyn Flea and I bought a too-small, very heavy ten-speed that I did my first tour on.
Which was your first?
I rode the Tour de Bronx in 2011. I did not have fancy clothes. I had on mad layers of cotton. I was not as prepared as I would be today, but you still reflect back on that and think, look what I’ve done.
Still riding that too-small, very heavy ten-speed?
I have three bikes now: my performance bike, which is a Liv Invite 2 Touring Bike; a Univega 12-speed that I stripped and repainted, that’s my lock-up bike; and a very pretty sky blue cruiser from Critical Cycles that I specifically bought to wear dresses with.
Tell us about your organization.
Black Girls Do Bike is a movement that is imagined and empowered by dozens of ladies around the United States, and a couple abroad, who are trying to get more black women and girls cycling. Every chapter is different. Some of them have long rides, some of them have short rides, but they all do at least one all-levels women-only ride a month.
Have you seen a lot of women through their first ride?
Their first group ride or their first time getting up that awful hill in Prospect Park, yes, but the first that’s really big for me is the first time a woman leads a ride. It’s like witnessing a graduation. Once a woman leads her first ride successfully, wherever she goes, she can keep the momentum of being a black woman role model on a bike going.
What are the barriers that keep women of color from riding a bike?
I feel like a lot of what happens is women in general think they’re less capable than they really are, they want to take all of these unnecessary steps when they’re already capable of going a far distance or organizing a ride. For women of color, it’s the same with people of color in general. The bicycle scene is dominated by non-people of color. It’s important for any group of people who are traditionally overlooked to organize a space for themselves, even when they’re “technically allowed” in the mainstream, because more than likely the space that they create for themselves is going to be free of the biases, prejudices and micro-aggressions that turn excluded people away from participating in dominant group activities.
What do you think of the charge that bike lanes are a harbinger of gentrification?
I don’t think that input should be regarded as some kind of mythos that the cultural attitude of people of color is illogical skepticism, because it’s not. There’s definitely a pathology to the displacement of people of color in their spaces and it usually does start with one road that is built for people outside of that community to travel through. When generations of people live in a community that never receives funding for bike lanes or any infrastructural investment, and suddenly something positive pops up, people equate the positive investment with the other shoe about to drop. If a bike lane is really about access and promoting health, then those citizens who live there need that all the time.
What’s next for you?
The big reveal! This fall, I’m directing my educational and strategic energies into my own bike advocacy consulting venture called The Brown Bike Girl. I’ll be creating free resources to help others start bike programs for people of color, sharing my experience and organizing with people for free. I’ll also be available to create programming for institutions that do outreach in neighborhoods of color — anything I can do to support more neighborhoods of color making their own programs and rides for themselves.