By Drew Hansen (Photo/Drew Hansen)
Shortly after graduating from the University of Wisconsin in the spring of 2013, Jessica Shen relocated to Old Town Alexandria to start her career.
An avid cyclist, she sought trails and paths in her new city similar to those she regularly traversed in Madison, Wis.
The facilities she discovered, however, didn’t resemble the wide and well-manicured trails she rode in Wisconsin’s capital city.
“They do biking a little different there,” Shen said of Madison, which often is cited as one of country’s top cities for cycling. “When I got here, I wanted to find places to bike with friends. There really aren’t many places for that here.”
In the fall, Shen began connecting with other women riders seeking company. They soon formed Alexandria Spokeswomen, a group open to any woman interested in cycling who resides or regularly rides in the Port City.
Its first major effort — a group ride titled “Women on a Roll” — was held Sunday. Beginning and ending at Jones Point Park, the outing drew more than a dozen participants and made stops at city bike shops to inform merchants that women represent a growing and sometimes underserved market in cycling.
Shen and fellow group member Andrea Hamre said they feel shops sometimes have a hard time catering to women. Sometimes their questions about apparel and equipment aren’t adequately answered. Sometimes employees shrug them off.
Prior to the ride, the group sent letters to five stores requesting a better selection of women’s products, additional women-only events and greater awareness of women’s place in the market. The letter cited recent data from the League of American Bicyclists showing that 60 percent of all bicycle owners between the ages of 17 and 28 are women.
Christian Myers, cofounder of VeloCity Bicycle Cooperative in Del Ray, said he’s witnessed cycling’s increasing popularity among women. He said sometimes the bigger chains don’t go as far as they could in welcoming women.
“I let them know we don’t treat anyone any different than anyone else,” said Myers, whose shop hosted well-attended women’s nights and group rides in the past. “We’re not going to make you feel like an idiot if you don’t know how to use a tire pump.”
Myers handed out water and granola bars to the group when it reached his shop. One ride participant also got instructions on how to fix a mechanical issue with her bike.
Hamre believes the event was a nice step in broadening the perceptions of who rides bikes in Alexandria and who wants to shop at local cycling businesses. The ride also exposed several less-experienced riders to new routes and trails.
“It was very rewarding to ride with women who had never felt comfortable riding on streets before,” said Hamre, who regularly commutes on her bicycle between her home in Lynhaven and her classes at Virginia Tech’s Urban Affairs and Planning campus in Old Town. “This was the first opportunity they had to travel by bike through our city, so the ride also served as an opportunity to gain confidence and experience as a cyclist.”
The Alexandria Spokeswomen don’t plan to fall to the back of the peloton anytime soon; the group will be involved in Alexandria’s Bike to Work Day. The city will host pit stops between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. Friday, May 16 at Market Square, John Carlyle Square Park, 4825 Mark Center Drive in the West End and Nicholas Colasanto Park in Del Ray.
Shen said the Alexandria Spokeswomen are planning an end-of-day happy hour at Teaism in Old Town to coincide with Bike to Work Day.
“There really aren’t many Bike to Work Day events in the evening around the area,” said Shen, who is championing the post-ride beverage popular in Wisconsin.