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Meet our New Women Bike Manager
It's hard to believe that it was less than two years ago that the League launched Women Bike, the first national advocacy program aimed specifically at closing the gender gap in bicycling. In that time, the interest and support for the initiative has been overwhelming and we're excited to advance the conversation even further by hiring a dedicated, full-time staff member. Meet Liz Jones, our new Women Bike Manager.
What's your bike story? How did you get into biking?
In college, parking on my tiny campus was a hassle so I bought a hot pink beach cruiser at the flea market and rode to class. Keep in mind, I went to school in a little mountain town, so, while I may have looked cool biking to class (downhill), I often would have to hop off and push it on the way home (uphill). Shortly after college, I moved to Savannah, GA where my pink bike was perfectly designed for the flat coastal city. Again, I biked to work because parking downtown was inconvenient and costly. Savannah was also the first place I ever lived with bike lanes — at the time there were two. So in my mind, that meant, of course, you're supposed to bike here!
After a year or so in Savannah it became my primary mode of transportation and, anytime I moved to a new city, biking was part of the adventure of getting to know the community. A lot of my work life has required me to move to areas where I didn't know anyone, so biking has always enabled me to be self-reliant during that time when I was just starting out and acquiring friends. I also hate wasting time competing for things, so circling a parking lot searching for a space creates a lot of anxiety for me. Biking is my way of saying no to things in our society I don't want to buy into.
How has bicycling improved your life?
First and foremost, it's connected me to really smart, fun people. My life is improved vastly by the relationships I make through biking. Second, I'm more confident to make more authentic choices in all areas of my life because of my experience biking. I'm more apt to question people when they tell me something is too dangerous or too difficult, because that's what everyone says about biking and I really haven't found that to be true. Sure, there have been challenges and failures along the way, but nothing that felt insurmountable or deterred me from wanting to get back on my bike.
On a professional level, you did some amazing work bringing different communities together during your time with Outward Bound in Omaha. Tell us a bit about that experience and how you see it relating to Women Bike.
I was really fortunate to get the opportunity through my work in starting Outward Bound Omaha to ask: how can high-quality experiential activities improve the lives of youth? In bringing Outward Bound to an urban area, we had to examine all the ways outdoor education had been successful and unsuccessful at serving diverse populations. I worked with incredibly talented educators who challenged me to become well versed in the issues of social justice that our students faced. I recognized that understanding the social justice issues that impacted our programs would allow me to be the best advocate for our students. Much like cycling, the outdoors is often seen as a leisure activity reserved only for the most privileged. But those who participate know that incorporating these activities into your life can be transformative. And I believe that we should work to ensure as many people as possible have the opportunity to access them.
To me, the work of Women Bike is a continuation of that dialogue. What are we doing to ensure as many women who would like to have access to bicycling? A lot of women cite fear as their biggest barrier to entering the sport. Fear of getting hurt, fear of looking foolish. These are a lot of the same reasons I saw students opt out or shy away from outdoor experiences. Teaching people how to quiet the fear, and push beyond what they think is possible has been my life's work. I'm incredibly humbled and excited to explore how these concepts relate to women and biking.
How have you been engaged in bike advocacy?
While I've been riding a bike for a long time, I'm relatively new to bike advocacy. I was most active while living in Columbia, South Carolina. I moved there right as the city was beginning work on its bike/ped master plan. In my role at the University of South Carolina, I oversaw the bike shop and folks got to know me as the lady that biked to work, so I was invited to be part of some of those conversations. I assisted the local BPAC with some strategic planning, and became active at local cycling events. At the University, I also noticed a lack of discussion around bikes, but also recognized how strong bike policy and infrastructure could be a solution to growth and transportation issues the campus was facing. I took it upon myself to initiate some conversations and bring people together. I'm looking forward to watching those conversations continue and potentially supporting them while in my new role with the League.
We often still see a disconnect between the recreation and transportation cycling communities. As the Director of Outdoor Recreation at the University of South Carolina and an avid bike commuter, how do you see Women Bike building bridging and creating space for us to advance the movement together?
I think the first step is to acknowledge the role recreational cyclists have played in advancing bike advocacy to its current state. I think much like feminism, bike advocacy can be looked at in waves. One of the hallmarks of success is that those new to the movement take for granted some of the privileges afforded to them as a result of past work. I see that happening now when you ask a seasoned recreational road cyclist what their needs are, versus a new transportation cyclists. Some of the needs overlap, but the general paradigm they operate from can be at times vastly different. For me, while the bulk of my cycling is for transportation, I still like to bike for fun and fitness. I mountain bike on occasion, and am interested in getting into cyclocross — which would have never happened were it not for the confidence I've gained through commuting.
Women Bike is about inviting women to participate in an activity that empowers them, and making sure women's voices are part of a larger bike advocacy conversation. Some women will feel empowered by a sense of self-reliance while commuting, while others will feel empowered while competing in a race, or riding technical single track. My job is to advocate for more women to feel that biking — however they choose to do it — is for them. I think in the same way feminism is undermined when women start cutting down other women, our ability to have a strong voice in bike advocacy conversations that will effect our quality of life is undermined with we start citing our differences based on what kind of bike we ride, rather than drawing on our collective experience as women on two wheels.
What excites you most about coming into this new role as the Women Bike Manager?
I think the fact that there is a job out there called Women Bike Manager is pretty darn exciting. The fact that I get to show up and do that work: mind-blowing exciting! I'm excited to meet and learn from other women who have been doing this work for a while without an official title. I'm excited to be a megaphone for the great work that is already happening, and helping to connect others so that we can see that work replicated and magnified across the nation.
What's your favorite bike memory?
Riding down a big hill on my way home from work in Columbia, SC. It was winter, and it was really dark, and I was the only one on the road — and I remember thinking "This would probably scare somebody, but to me its just really really fun!"