Kit Keller's passion for bicycling originally stems from her older brother Russell Keller being the captain of the winning team for the very first Little 500 at Indiana University in Bloomington in 1951, not long before she was born in 1954. As a girl growing up on a farm in Indiana however, her parents wouldn't allow her to ride her bike to school, they felt it was too dangerous.
Her professional career in bike advocacy began in 1990 when Linda Tracy invited her to apply to work on a Mountain Bikes on Public Lands project as a consultant for the Bicycle Federation of America. Kit won the project, and the handbook that resulted from it about this new "user group" was used in all 50 states.
Since that time she has worked on a myriad of groundbreaking national biking and walking advocacy projects including co-managing the logistics on the ISTEA conferences in 1992-1993, managing logistics for the Pro Walk Pro Bike Conference in Portland in 1994, and was the Executive Director of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals from 2006 to 2015. She is now retired and among her many projects she's an advisor on the Pedal Love Council.
Melissa Balmer: What was it like in the early days of bike advocacy for women? Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place only started tracking the male/female ration for the last conference in 2016 in Vancouver and it's now 50/50 - but it certainly wasn't that when I visited Chatanooga in 2010, or even in Long Beach was it?
Kit Keller: In 1990, which was my first Pro Bike conference, I recall very few women. Women may have made up 10% of the audience. At the Pro Bike 1992 conferences in Montreal, there was a meeting to discuss forming a professional organization that would become the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals. I do not recall any women in the room besides myself. When I asked about that, it seemed the gentlemen believed there were very few if any women in the field. Obviously, this condition changed rapidly.
MB: What are you excited about now for women in bike advocacy?
KK: In my experience, women have seen daily life and commuting somewhat differently than men. I remember a block party in Silver Spring, Maryland in 1992 where a neighbor chided me about even imagining she might like to commute by bike. "No way," she said, scoffing that she had to get her children ready for the day, drop them off at daycare and school, race to the dry cleaners and then after work pick up her kids and get to the grocery store before heading home to make dinner, get the kids in bed, and then do housework before collapsing after an exquisitely tiring day. I was biking to work in DC at the time. I think she despised me. Today we see women and men and families coast to coast in cities big and small who are doing all these things by bike and LOVING it.
Today, more people see pleasing possibilities and enjoy engaging empowerment. That's what peps me about the next generation of bicycle advocacy.
MB: What's missing? What are men in bike advocacy and even the bike industry not understanding about the power and opportunity of better engaging women in bike leadership?
KK: New, exciting designs and technologies are the ticket. Globally, electric bikes are revolutionizing the face of who bicycles where for what reason. North America is catching on, just as we copied the success of Paris' bikeshare transit system Vélib' won us over to try bikeshare. Today bikeshare is literally for everyone thanks to adaptive designs and winsome entrepreneurial spirits.
Of course products need to be lovely too because part of the magic of bicycling is seeing yourself outside having fun the moment you see the new bike or helmet or bag or lights or trailer. Boring bikes and super-athlete spinner bikes may have a niche, but most people in the marketplace won't buy them.
Everyone seems to like fashion on some level. Most people like to laugh. The cutting edge is enticing to some. How do we combine the power of every human spirit to share our love of bicycling with everyone? I love the five whys theory. Start there.
Learn more about Kit Keller here.