The Women BikeDC interview series rolls on with today’s feature of fellow Midwesterner turned Mid-Atlantic rider, Emma, who became a daily D.C.-area rider in 2011 and hasn’t stopped riding since.
After intensely researching various steel frames, Emma is currently in the process of building up a Velo Orange Campeur. Read on to learn more about her cycling story, as well as how she went about putting together her new Velo Orange (New Bike Day, always so exciting!).
What is one word or phrase that summarizes your bicycling experience?
Tell me about when you started riding.
I rode some during my childhood in Kansas City, Missouri. Not a very bike-friendly area, but my family would sometimes take our bikes to a local trail.
Fast forward to summer 2009. Due to health problems, I needed to start doing some sort of physical activity/exercise. I was doing a summer program in Madison, Wisconsin, and I had read about their bike trail along Lake Mendota. So I tuned up my bike and brought it with me. At the end of summer, it went in a bike box and was shipped out to Washington, D.C. I rode it for maybe two weeks before it was stolen.
It wasn’t until fall of 2011 that I got a replacement bicycle, a Globe Work II step through. I started biking about 8 miles to work, from downtown Silver Spring to Mass Ave (American University). Soon after, I bought a rack, fenders, panniers, and a powerful front light.
That spring, Nelle of WABA launched Women & Bicycles. I started going to events and other rides, and I’ve been addicted since!
How has riding a bicycle influenced your life?
It has improved my health and increased my happiness! What it has done for me is so huge it’s difficult to put into words.
What sorts of things do you do by bike?
I bike to work (now from H St, area to American University still), I bike to the grocery store, I take Capital Bikeshare to the metro when I need to take the metro, I bike to meet up with friends, I bike for fun, and I bike for the occasional long recreational ride.
What do you like about riding in the D.C. area?
All the trails, bike lanes, running into people I know almost every day, the biking community (particularly Women & Bicycles, but also the Bike Arlington/Washington Area Bike Forum [Freezing Saddles for LIFE!]).
What features do you think make a city bike-friendly?
- Bike lanes help people feel safer (especially protected bike lanes),
- People in cars who are used to looking out for bicycles,
- Off-street trails (i.e. Capital Crescent, Met Branch Trail),
- A great local advocacy organization,
- Bike share, and
- A local government that is willing to build bike infrastructure.
These all work together to help people on bikes feel safer, normalize biking (especially bike share, almost anyone can do that), and support people on bikes.
How could the D.C. area improve for cyclists?
I think there are two parts to this: more protected infrastructure and disincentivizing driving. They need to reduce street parking (to make more room for bike and pedestrian infrastructure) and really make it more convenient and affordable to use public transit/active transportation modes.
I understand that many people need cars (due to health issues, transporting kids, living extremely far from work), but are all the individuals with D.C. plates on Massachusetts Avenue every morning really necessary?
Increase gas taxes and parking to pay for better roads and support for all modes of transit, including driving, biking, walking, and metro. I think if driving were made inconvenient, many more people would look at bikes as a serious option.
Something easier the city could do right now is time traffic signals on roads with bike lanes to bike-speed. The city also needs to change contributory negligence and pass legislation to protect all vulnerable road users.
What do you think prevents more women from riding?
The expectation that women will transport the children to and from daycare/school/activities, the expectation that they need to wear makeup and have their hair done a certain way, and the expectation that they:
- Can’t bike in work clothes; and
- Can’t keep their work clothes looking professional (i.e. not wrinkly) if they packed them.
- Fear of traffic collisions is another one.
How does it feel to be a woman who rides in an area where women are less than 26% of the riding population?
The only time I really notice this is in bike shops, or when I’m shoaled. It is usually guys who shoal me, and most bike shops are dude-dominated.
I do a lot of my riding with women and spend a ton of time on the Women & Bikes Facebook page, so it seems like there is never a shortage when I want to ride.
I also try to get women from Women & Bikes more involved in the larger cycling community. For example, I did Freezing Saddles (informal winter riding competition through the Bike Arlington Forum) for the first time in 2014 (my first year biking to work in all weather), and there were hardly any women (maybe 20 in our group of 100). This year I promoted it on the Facebook page and we had 50+ women in our group of almost 140!
What are the issues you deal with as a woman cyclist, or is it something you think about?
I think the biggest thing I deal with is people (e.g. coworkers, people driving cars, some men on bicycles) thinking I’m not competent at bicycling.
One of my coworkers said, “What if you lose your balance while you’re on the street?” Or, sometimes when I’m on the Capital Crescent or Georgetown Branch Trail, some MAMIL (Middle-Aged Man in Lycra) busts ass to pass me (without calling the pass), then I tail him the rest of the time we’re both on the trail because he is not any faster than me.
Just because I’m a woman, possibly in a dress or any outfit other than a full-on kit, on a heavy, loaded-down hybrid doesn’t mean I’m slow!
What suggestions do you have for employers who want to be bike-friendly?
Showers, lockers, private indoor bike storage (or covered garage). Increase the subsidy beyond the $20 bike commuter check that the federal government currently allows.
I have a friend who gets reimbursed for the actual bicycle he buys, helmet, lock, and lights. I think that would get a lot more people riding.
What are you most afraid of when it comes to riding a bike?
I am most afraid of losing a friend in a bike/car collision. I feel like every week on the group a new member has been hit.
Let’s talk about your bikes!
I have a Globe Work 1 step-through. This bike has gotten me to and from work for 3+ years, taken me on a casual almost-metric-century, carried way too many groceries, and even got me to the airport a couple of times. It is super-dependable, super-comfortable, and durable! I’ve fallen a couple of times with it (nothing too serious), it and seems mostly indestructible. I love that it is a basic transportation bike that I can ride in a skirt/dress if I want to.
I had a road bike from Phoenix Bikes, the frame a Tirreno 2.0 (I think) with some fancier wheels and components. It was a tad too large on me with a long reach. I did ride my first (well, only, so far) century on it, as well as a metric century and various other fun rides, but I’m parting with it (and parting it out, really) to build up my new touring bike!
This new bike is the Velo Orange Campeur. I did have to buy some new parts that I couldn’t get from the road bike, and now all I’m waiting on is the stem. I don’t have a lot to say about this bike, because I haven’t been able to ride it yet! It will take me on more adventures, like more camping trips and this summer’s RAGBRAI.
How did you decide on the Velo Orange Campeur and how did you go about building it up?
Well, I narrowed down what I wanted–a steel frame touring (well, I was debating between touring and more rando-style) bike. I lusted after and researched online the Campeur, the Soma Randonneur and Saga, the Surly Long Haul Trucker, All-City Space Horse, and the Jamis Aurora.
I was debating between a complete bike and a frame, and whether to part out the road bike I had to build up a frame, or if I should just keep the road bike and buy a complete bike.
I went to a shop and tested the All-City Space Horse. I was IN LOVE. I then tested the Surly Long-Haul Trucker (meh), and declined to test the Aurora that day.
I also was going to meet with someone from the Washington Area Bike Forum to test his Soma Saga, but it didn’t work out. Then, at a shop they were discouraging me from getting a Soma bike because right now they are very difficult to obtain due to low or no inventory.
That week, Liz S. and I had already planned to ride out to Annapolis and see if Velo Orange had any bikes built up in my size. Then, we saw they were having a warehouse sale the next day!
We ended up driving out to do a test ride (the weather was still yuck). I tried the Camargue (a similar bike) and a too-small Campeur. These were both nice to ride.
During the car ride back, I debated internally. I went with the Campeur because:
- I wanted to just buy a frame.
- I could get it the next day ON SALE.
- I’ve seen a few Space Horses around, but no Velo Orange bikes.
- It was much more in line with my budget ($1,000-ish total for frame + new components vs $1,500).
- More carrying capacity!!!.
We returned the next day. I bought the frame and some components that I knew I needed.
The following week, I went to meet with Handy Bikes D.C. with my new frame, components, and the road bike I was parting out. We looked at what I had, what we could take from the road bike, and what I would need to order.
As for components, I took as much as possible from the road bike, including the cassette, saddle, handlebars and brake levers (wow, it doesn’t sound like a lot when I type it).
I needed new brakes, new seat post, new bottom bracket, a new stem (which I am now waiting on!) and some other stuff that I don’t remember.
Bikes need a lot more parts than I thought, but I’m making it under my budget including the cost for my mechanic to build it (Handy Bikes D.C. is awesome, still local, and affordable).
I will say, lastly, that I’m slightly concerned because I didn’t get to test ride the exact bike, but I did ride similar bikes. Still, if it doesn’t work out, I can sell it to someone who it will work for.
What bike accessories do you consider must-haves?
Helmet (although I do believe it is a personal choice whether or not to wear one–two out of the three+ times I’ve fallen I’ve hit my head, but I’m pretty clumsy), lock, and lights are essential.
Fenders, rack, panniers are great if you are commuting or doing any errand-running.
What’s one of the best adventures you’ve ever had on a bike?
So many!!! Hard to pick one, since so many rides can feel like an adventure. A few weekends ago I went bike camping on the C&O trail.
A friend and I packed up our stuff, headed out about 30 miles, and came back the next day. We camped at Horsepen Branch campsite in her two-person tent, made hot dogs and s’mores on her camp stove and enjoyed the fresh air.
Bikes, camping, and s’mores– it’s hard to argue this combination. Good luck with your new bicycle and upcoming summer riding plans. Many thanks, Emma, for talking all things bikes and BikeDC with us today.