It was just another summer day for Kala La Fortune Reed when an offhand comment planted the seed that would blossom into a movement.
La Fortune Reed—at the time, a 20-year-old student at Rutgers-Newark—was heading home from Newark’s West Side Park when an older gentleman called out a compliment.
“Keep on doing what you’re doing—you don’t see a lot of girls doing that,’” she recalls him saying. She was simply riding her bike, a habit she had only recently embraced as a meditation practice and to get a closer look at her city.
From that comment sprouted the idea for Girls on Bikes (GOB), an initiative to get friends together for rides around Newark to “make a statement” and help normalize bike riding for women. And they could look fashionable while doing it.
It wasn’t long before La Fortune Reed realized there were larger issues underlying why so few women, let alone young girls, were out riding their bikes.
Cost is one factor. Bikes can be expensive and are easily stolen. Perception is another. La Fortune Reed says there’s a stigma in the community against those who are unable to afford a car or public transportation. Finally, there are safety concerns. A lack of bike lanes contributes to keeping women off two wheels. In one survey, women also cited a lack of fellow female riders in their community, as well as the fear of looking “silly on a bike” as barriers to riding.
La Fortune Reed acknowledges all of these factors. “When I was riding my bike, my community members were kind of looking at me as an oddball,” she says. “It seems out of the loop; why is this girl riding her bike? It’s not safe. Is she from here? Who rides their bike anymore?”
To make an impact, La Fortune Reed teamed with friends and fellow Rutgers-Newark students Maseera Subhani and Jennifer Made. (La Fortune Reed and Made have since graduated; Subhani gets her degree this month.) The trio established GOB as a nonprofit with the mission of empowering women and young girls to participate in recreational activities. The goal: to transform participants’ lives and reshape the image of urban life in Newark.
Subhani handled the public relations and marketing, while Made developed a curriculum for youth workshops and after-school programs. They made fashion a part of the initiative, encouraging riders to wear whatever makes them happy, from a cycling jersey to a fur coat. Local nonprofits donated bicycles and safety equipment, and a slew of volunteers joined the effort.
The group’s first official workshop was held at Rutgers-Newark in April 2017. Since then, GOB has held dozens of events, from community bike rides exploring different areas of Newark to DIY helmet workshops and learn-to-ride sessions. Workshops emphasize the importance of exercise, but also focus on leadership, healthy eating, self-care and self-expression.
To date, GOB has partnered with six Newark schools, hosting more than 140 participants in youth workshops and after-school programs. They’ve also hosted more than 90 participants on monthly GOB rides and tours and have teamed with local nonprofits for various fundraisers and to raise awareness of community issues.
Heading into their second season, GOB’s leaders are looking forward to continuing to empower women and young girls across Newark and beyond.
“We want young girls to feel and know that they’re accepted by older women and girls of the same age,” Subhani says. “It is about sisterhood. Boys are always welcome, but [we’re] there to create a safe space for casual bike riding for women in an environment that wasn’t there before.”Click here to leave a comment