Interview with: Editor/Women on Bikes SoCal Initiative Director – Melissa Balmer
  • Why did you decide to form the group?

Women On Bikes SoCal isn’t a traditional women’s cycling group per se, it’s partnering a focused type of bicycle advocacy with the internet as a 360 degree digital magazine.

  • How is membership decided?

Our membership is open to whoever would like to join, we have many different membership levels and no one will be kept out if they simply can’t afford it. We need elbow grease as much as any other type of donation.

  • How do you keep the group together? How are decisions made?

We are brand new so we really can’t answer this yet. But we feel that excellent and ongoing communications is key, as well as fun events that are enjoyable for all levels and interests of riding a bike (note I did not say “cyclist” – we will not be actively using that term on WoBSoCal. We’ve found it really rubs quite a number of people the wrong way.)

  • What projects have you done in the past?

The advocacy aspect of Women On Bikes SoCal was created by Andrea White-Kjoss originally in 2006. She won a grant from a local foundation to create bike safety training and bike scholarship program for local Long Beach women who were in need of transportation alternatives – at risk and low income women. It was a successful program that took place several times and she was looking for a way to bring it back again for 2012.

  • What projects are you looking forward to?

Both the advocacy side and the website magazine side have exciting things coming up. Our advocacy efforts for 2012 are focused in two parts. The first is to create 12 new League Certified female safety trainers for Southern California. There are only 20 right now, and only a few are in the greater Long Beach, South Bay, South Central LA and Orange County area. We want to host a training by the end of spring 2012. The 2nd part is that we want to bring back Andrea’s bike safety training and bike scholarship program for at risk and low income women and their families by the 4th quarter of 2012. But first we need to raise the money! On the purely fashion and fun side we are hosting a Cycle Chic “dress for the destination” urban bike fashion show in Sept of 2012 at the end of Pro Bike in honor of keynote speaker Mikael Colville Andersen originator of the Cycle Chic movement.

  • Can you introduce each member and what they bring to the group?
  • Just out of the gate we are a collaboration between myself – Melissa Balmer as editor and initiative director, and representative of our sponsor the bicycle advocacy organization Bikeable Communities for whom I handle membership and communications. My background is in fashion, creative writing, public relations and social media. I have lived car free in Long Beach since March 2007, and have done quite a bit of work for non profits.
  • Andrea White-Kjoss COO & President of Bikestation and Mobis Transportation Alternatives who is our business & advocate spokeswoman and a national leading female bicycle advocate.
  • Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal of Long Beach who has been at the forefront of moving Long Beach to bike friendliness and serves as our political adviser and spokeswoman.
  • April Economides of Green Octopus Consulting who handles Long Beach’s groundbreaking “Bike Friendly Business Districts” is our “Bikes Mean Business” columnist.
  • Kerri Zane our “Health by Bike” columnist is an Emmy award winning TV producer and now Healthy Living Ambassador for Single Moms.
  • Writer, author and mid century modern expert Jennifer Volland will host a mid century modern by bike architectural tour for us in spring.
  • And we are bringing on exciting new collaborators all of the time.

  • What makes you a bicycle organization and not (for example) a public policy advocacy group – or how it both?

While we are for equality in all types of transit we are right now focused on bringing the bicycle actively into the lives of more women.

  • What is your philosophy on bicycling?

That any type of riding a woman or girl wants to participate in (that doesn’t intentionally harm herself or others) is great, we have no agenda to tell you what kind of riding you should or should not be doing. Ride 7 days a week rain or shin? Fantastic! Ride only on the weekends on beach bike paths? That’s fine too.

  • What kind of cycling do members of the group participate in?

Our goal is to showcase 360 degrees of the way a bike can positively impact a woman’s life and we are attracting women from all different walks of life.

  • How are things different in Southern California?

We are disparate. We are spread out and encompass suburban sprawl at it’s farthest flung and older cities like Santa Monica, Pasadena and Long Beach that were built pre-auto on a grid that are often quite easily navigateable by bike.

  • What changes would you most like to see in cycling & everyday life?

We’d like to see helmets with real sun shade, and the bicycle industry focus even a quarter of the attention and interest on the needs of normal everyday female riders as they do on their road racers. Spend money and focused attention on us and watch us grow. We’d like to invite the lifestyle media into the mix and see the bicycle move from background prop to the focus on ongoing urban lifestyle journalism. The more riding a bike by women and girls of all kinds is shared the more it will grow. We can ride ourselves out of our diabetes and heart disease epidemics.

  • What are you doing to positively affect those changes?

We’re incredibly ambitious. We are only in beta mode right now, with a slow somewhat casual start. We are bringing the disciplined approached to this of fashion and marketing, planning quite far ahead and specifically engaging successful business women from a myriad of industries for their talent and fresh thinking.We want to revolutionize the bicycle advocacy world by bringing forward a very diverse but significant female voice and doubling the number of women riding bikes in Southern California by 2016.

  • What do you think are the obstacles to achieving them?

I think we’re fortunate to be in a great place. The bike advocacy world knows it needs new thinking, new ways to gather the number it needs for advocacy strength, to get things done, and to make the impact on our urban landscape and health needed. We have top bike advocate Charlie Gandy as our mentor and cheerleader making sure the national bike leadership knows what we’re up to – and in Sept 2012 Long Beach will host the Pro Walk/Pro Bike where we’ll have a significant presence. That said we know changing the minds of very car focused people is a long conversation…and fashion can be a sneaky way in to change the game.

  • Do you have any advice for other girls who want to form their own bike gang/organization?

Understand your strengths and weaknesses going in. You may be ready to set the world on fire, but even a simple pretty ‘Cycle Chic’ inspired website where you share your own personal stories of joy and challenges of riding a bike (and what you’re learning) will inspire others that they can do the same. Because of the ‘Cycle Chic’ blogs women’s bicycling blogs are now in the top 50 of bike blogs for the first time ever. We have some pioneering ideas for bicycle advocacy but we are clear that we are inspired and indebted to those who’ve shown us the way. This is a very exciting time to be a female bike advocate in the world to rub elbows with people like yourself.

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