Santa Cruz, CA: Spotlight on Female Bike Advocates

Amelia Conlen the Director of People Powered of Santa Cruz County.

Amelia Conlen the Director of People Powered of Santa Cruz County.

Amelia Conlen

Santa Cruz, California is home to not only some of the best mountain biking trails and beaches, but also a large number of women bicycle advocates. I’ve been involved with the bicycle community here since last fall, and it seems that just about every other bicycle advocate I know in this coastal city is a woman who supports others to join her in exploring life by bike, whether for transportation, recreation, or exercise.

Recently I connected with seven of these women to learn how they fell in pedal love and how they encourage others to join them. Today I'll share the first two of these dedicated and passionate women with you.

Amelia Conlen is the Director of People Power of Santa Cruz County. She studied urban planning in Seattle, where she “learned about the profound impact the physical environment has on people's lives.” The cities she’s lived in, such as Portland, Seattle, and the Dutch city of Groningen (perhaps the most bike friendly city in the world with three times as many bikes as cars), have inspired her to support better conditions for people on bikes. “These cities are doing it,” Amelia says. “I loved being passed in the bike lane by middle-aged men in business suits, or moms with three kids – it really shows that biking is for everyone.”

MO: When did you begin riding a bike regularly?

AC: I started commuting in college in Seattle – I lived close to school and biking was easier and cheaper than driving. I'll never go back.

MO: When did you become an advocate for the bike, and why?

AC: When I studied urban planning and learned about the profound impact the physical environment has on people's lives. There are so many benefits to biking – building community, improved environment, safer streets, social justice, health. It seemed like a powerful change that was easy to realize.

MO: What do you do /say to encourage others to bike who may be hesitant or don't see themselves as a bicyclist.

AC: Find a bike buddy. You'll have a million questions – but there's a good answer for all of them, and once you get started, biking is easy. Making friends with an employee at a local shop is also a good way to get started

MO: What are the barriers you most often hear about facing women in the bike riding/commuting world?

AC: I think inertia is the biggest cause of people not biking – change is hard. But women face particular challenges in a bike culture that has traditionally been dominated by spandex or thrill-seeking bike messengers. Our infrastructure is challenging, incomplete and often dangerous for people on bikes, and its no wonder that women with families to feed feel uncomfortable using it. As we build better infrastructure (complete networks of safe, separated facilities) I think we'll see more and more women on bikes.

Maura Noel

Maura Noel, President of the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club, also cites cities like Boulder and Portland for inspiration. “Both cities' staff folks say it takes years to create these safe alternatives, but don' t give up!” Maura says. Through her work, Maura has encouraged more families and women to ride with the SCCC. She gives “kudos to Ecology Action for their tireless efforts on multi- modal paths in Santa Cruz county.” 

MO: When did you begin riding a bike regularly?

MN: About eight years ago, in my early 40's.

MO: When did you become an advocate for the bike, and why?

MN: In 2009 I started volunteering with the city staff for the Amgen Tour of CA. Partnering with city staff, other volunteers and local bike clubs to bring such a high profile biking event to Santa Cruz opened my eyes to the number of riders, not just racers, who commute or recreate on their bikes.  Then last fall I attended the Northern California Bicycle Coalition in Oakland and saw what other cities around the country are doing and it made me even more excited to see alternative paths for bike and pedestrians in Santa Cruz.

MO: Who or what inspired you to bike advocacy?

MN: Cities like Oregon and Boulder have been hugely inspiring when I've visited there.  Both cities' staff folks say it takes years to create these safe alternatives but don' t give up!  And kudos to Ecology Action for their tireless efforts on multi-modal paths in Santa Cruz county.

MO: What do you do /say to encourage others to bike who may be hesitant or don't see themselves as an athletic cyclist?

MN: As an assistant coach for Team in Training we urge folks to start small.  Do a short ride at Wilder Ranch.  Grab a backpack and do a grocery run on your bike.  Take your kids to the pump track. Test out different forms of cycling to see which is easiest to add to your life. People always remark on how little effort it takes!

MO: What are the barriers you most often hear about or see facing women in the bike riding/commuting world?

MN: I'd say two things: 1) The cost of getting into riding is sometimes daunting. I can't stress enough that you do not need to drop a lot of money to start.  Entry level bikes and basic safe gear are not outrageously expensive. (that comes later for some folks). Once you know what size bike fits you, go to craigslist and search away (maybe enlist the aid of a riding friend to go check out the bikes). 

2) Finding more women to bike with!  We love riding with our men but they like to ride faster than most of us. There's a group starting out in Scotts Valley on Sundays at Scotts Valley CycleSport the third Sunday of the month and a handful of us ride during the week. Riding with women is not as "competitive" as riding with guys - and I enjoy riding with the guys!  It's just a different vibe and I urge women to come join me on a ride.

Coming next! Elise Ehrheart of Ecology Action + More!

About Melissa Ott

Melissa Ott is an undergraduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz studying English Literature. She has been actively involved with the sustainability community on campus since 2011, and her passion for bicycle advocacy has really been rolling since fall 2012. In high school, Melissa served on the City of Pleasanton's Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and she recalls being the only girl at the bike racks at that time. In her current advocacy work, Melissa strives to empower women, young people, and all members of her community to discover the magic of bike riding--not only to reduce carbon emissions, but also to increase happiness, health, and engagement with one's community. Melissa also writes a blog called Green Gal and contributes to a collaborative student blog called Engaging Sustainable Transportation Solutions.