Women's cycling picking up steam in Iowa City

Women's only rides and repair clinics are helping remove barriers for women, some say,

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IOWA CITY — Women’s cycling in Iowa City is gaining momentum, cycling advocates say, and they point to a wide range of female-only biking activities as part of the reason.

One of the women leading the charge is Andrea Cohen, who works at World of Bikes in Iowa City. Cohen, who said she is one of only a handful of female employees across several bike shops in the area, wants to expand the female cycling scene by creating a welcoming environment for all levels of riders and a network where women can learn from each other.

“We really want to build a community of women who are confident and maybe can start some of their own rides,” Cohen said.

Cohen and Jamie Isherwood, who also works at World of Bikes, lead monthly bike repair clinics and rides through World of Bikes. The next fix-a-flat clinic is 5 to 7 p.m. July 6. The next women’s leisure ride is to North Liberty, leaving from the bike shop parking lot at 9 a.m. July 13.

“We make it more of a fun social event with food and drinks,” Cohen said “It is something where you walk in and you are not feeling like you are going to a class. You come to hang out but get to learn, too.”

It’s a similar feeling on the bike rides, she said. They travel at a leisurely pace, they don’t leave people behind, and they stop to socialize.

Cohen and Isherwood also started an active online women’s cycling community through Meetup.com called Iowa City Area — Women on Wheels, which has helped in building the network.

On the website, some of the 47 members discuss barriers to cycling such as being new to the area or preferring not to ride alone. Others haven’t ridden since childhood and want a support system while they get up to speed. Some said they feel uncomfortable walking into bike shops because they don’t know the terminology to ask for what they need.

“It’s something a lot of women have been looking for,” Cohen said of the community. “We’ve been hearing that for years.”

Cohen and Isherwood’s efforts are just a portion of the options catering to women.

A women’s bike ride leaves at 5:45 p.m. from Geoff’s Bike and Ski in Iowa City on Mondays for leisure riders and a race-paced ride every Wednesday. A gravel road ride leaves at 5:45 p.m. from Max Effect Cycling & Fitness Studio in Iowa City in the fall. The Iowa City Bike Library offers bike repair nights for women from 5 to 7 p.m. on the first and third Monday each month.

Increased ridership is leading to exponential growth in a monthly women’s racing series called Chamois Time Race Series, said Cara Hamann, another local women’s cycling advocate.

Hamann belongs to the Iowa City Cycling Club and helped start the Women’s Cycling Initiative, which organizes several rides and the racing series.

“Each year we have grown,” Hamann said. “The first year, we had three people show up on rides, and now we commonly have a dozen or more. The races are becoming really popular, too.”

Hamann said the different options have helped.

“I know a lot of the women who ride with us now were interested in riding and rode a little but not as much as they wanted or rode by themselves,” Hamann said. “They didn’t have a set group to ride with. This has been created out of need for a community of women’s cyclists.”

And, she said people can see the efforts paying off by the number of women out on the roads.

“Anecdotally, we see a lot more women on bikes then we used to,” she said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@sourcemedia.net

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