Black Girls Do Bike: Q & A with Monica Garrison

Black Girls Do Bike founder Monica Garrison on new Penn Avenue bike lanes in the center of Pittsburgh’s theater district. Photographer: Chancelor Humphrey

BikePGH honors Black History Month

Q & A with Monica Garrison

Monica Garrison is the founder of a growing organization called Black Girls Do Bike. (She is also our newest board member!)  What started as a simple idea to connect lady cyclists has turned into a movement with more than 60 inclusive riding groups all over the country.  Black Girls Do Bike is creating lady leaders in the bicycling movement, introducing new riders to the joy of cycling and filling a void in the larger cycling community.

How did you start cycling?

As a child, I spent my summer breaks climbing fruit trees and zipping around my east Pittsburgh neighborhood on my bike. My partner in crime was my older brother. I could never manage to keep up with my brother and his friends on their Huffys thrashing around town, but nothing kept me from trying. We could go anywhere we wanted as long as we stayed within moms boundaries of a five block radius and as long as we made it home before dark. 

I picked up cycling again briefly in my early twenties.  I was living on my own for the first time in the Greenfield neighborhood and working downtown.  I found an apartment near the bike trail and I commuted on that trail the better part of a year.  Cycling helped me find my center, it helped me escape from work stress, and helped me drop a few unwanted pounds.  It was my daily hour of zen.

In the spring of 2013 I found myself with a bad case of cabin fever. I longed for sunshine and the relief of spring. I had endured the drudgery of an entire winter season commuting by bus. I had packed on a few extra pounds and was just simply mentally low. Cycling seemed like a logical place to start my ascent out of this physical and mental fog. Additionally it seemed like a great activity to do with my kids.

Black Girls Do Bike at the organization’s first national meetup in Atlanta. Quick picture before taking off the for a recovery ride from Magnolia Hall in Piedmont Park. Photographer: CiCi Jones Photography

What inspired you to create Black Girls Do Bike?

The more I rode the more I realized that there weren’t many women who looked like me on bikes.  So I began to invite my friends out for rides. The response however was mixed.  I took to the internet to find other like minded women and created the Facebook page, “Black Girls Do Bike” and soon after a website by the same name. I simply wanted to create a safe comfortable space online where women and especially women of color could discuss or discover their passion for cycling. I wanted to let them know that they weren’t alone.

The community began to grow.  I found that many women of color around the county shared my feelings of not knowing where they belonged in the larger cycling community and wanting to share their passion for cycling with their friends and family. I wanted to push for women to consider adding cycling to their toolbox of things that help them live richer.

What’s does the future of BGDB hold?

BGDB’s growth has been less strategic and more organic. I rely on our community to tell me what things we should pursue and what direction we should head.  With that said we had a very successful first national meet up in Atlanta this past June so we hope to start planning our next national event. 

This May, to coincide with National Bike Month, we are planning a national virtual bike ride where everyone gets a beautiful 4-inch medal and BGBD swag for challenging themselves and completing miles on their bike. That same month we are hosting an rooftop after party for our ladies who complete the 5 Boro Bike Tour on May 7th. We also have great partners like REI so lots of great things are in the works.  

Black Girls Do Bike: Pittsburgh and members Of Pittsburgh Major Taylor Cycling Club before taking off on their “Light Up the Night” Ride during Bike Fest. Bike Fest is two weeks every year dedicated to biking activities and events. Photographer: Monica Garrison

How important has it been to encourage bike riding with the African American community?

I believe it is imperative to encourage everyone but especially those within the African American community to engage in all forms of physical activity walking, biking, hiking and cycling.  The hope is to help normalize these activities within the community. As compared to other groups the AA community suffers statistically higher rates of many preventable diseases like heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. The physical and mental benefits of cycling can be incredible! Working to identify and overcome barriers to entry is imperative in moving the needle in the right direction.

What are your goals as a new BikePGH board member?

I feel that as a proponent of cycling I would be remiss if I did not also make every effort to advocate for safe biking spaces like protected bike lanes. I have been inspired by what Bike PGH has accomplished in the last few years despite the challenges unique to our terrain and populations. I have seen amazing event execution, an uptick in the number of riders on city streets, positive influence on city planning and bike infrastructure projects and engagement with local government.

I hope to add a new voice and a unique voice to the discussion; a voice with experience engaging a female and minority population in the larger cycling community. And while we have come so very far there are constant reminders that we clearly have much further to go to advocate for safe streets for women and families. Bike PGH is in the best position to facilitate further change in our city and I hope to be a part of shaping the organization’s direction.

What was your first experience with BikePGH?

My first experience with BikePGH was at the 2013 Pedal PGH ride. I was fairly new to biking and something drew me to the largest organized bike ride the city had to offer, Pedal PGH.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I was impressed with how organized the event was and how welcoming the BikePGH crew and volunteers were.  I knew I wanted to support this organization.

Monica Garrison speaking at BikePGH’s 2nd Annual Women & Biking Forum. Photographer: Elizabeth Rose

What BikePGH events are you looking forward to in 2017?

I definitely want to get to as many women and biking events as I can whether it be the Spinnster’s monthly meet ups, bike maintenance classes, or the Women & Biking forum.  I am a big fan of OpenStreetsPGH and all of the excitement and possibilities that it brings to city neighborhoods. I’ve had a ton of fun volunteering for the Bike PGH Bike Valet at the Arts Festival and during Pirates baseball games. I can’t wait to do that more!

Tell us about your favorite hobbies other than biking? (We can see you’re a fantastic photographer!)

Thanks! I love spending time with family, live music, the arts, traveling and the outdoors.  Photography has been a passion of mine for a very long time and it allows me to explore and enjoy all of my favorite things.

Click here to learn more about Black Girls Do Bike


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