I meet Leyla at the McGarry Bowen office in Chelsea where she works as a content producer. When she arrives, she is much taller than me in her white heels, but I feel we level out as she greets me with a hug. She gives me a quick tour on the way to her desk where she throws her keys and her purse before we dip out to the balcony to talk. She points out the hammocks at the far end of the balcony, telling me that when she first started working here, she would lay on one after work, only to be told by a coworker that they actually belonged to the office next door. It's easy to imagine Leyla lying in a hammock on the beach, a string of shells around her neck, the bleached bottom half of her hair lifted by the wind, a bicycle leaning up against a palm tree. But as she speaks of her projects and her travels in her tone of calm certainty, I begin to see her swiftly projected over a whole slideshow of places and settings – never lounging in a hammock, but somehow in action: exploring, shooting photos, making friends, riding her bike.


The Woman

My full name is Leyla Tatiana Rosario. I'm from the Bronx of New York City, and I am an only child. My father was a musician; he played in many bands back in the 70s. We're very big salsa fans. Music has always been in my household growing up. My mom's also an artist by nature, and art is very important to us. The other things that I'm really passionate about are making really awesome video content and telling new stories and meeting new people and traveling.

The Producer 

For the past three years, I've been developing a treatment for a travel show. I'm the host of the show, and I go around the world capturing stories of real people who are celebrating love through matrimony in traditional and nontraditional and unconventional ways. We all celebrate love but we do it differently, and I want to be able to see how a city defines love – how people define love. It's not a cooking show; it's about the human connection, and it's about the key thing that we all feel, which is love. But how we do that through matrimony is what makes us different.

The Ride Leader

I found out about CycloFemme two years ago, and two years ago is when I decided to organize a beginner's women's ride by myself. It was a very small ride, about 11 miles, and I was so nervous because I was thinking, oh my God, the responsibility of having a group of women following me is huge, and I've never done it before, and here I am doing it alone! It turned out to be a wonderful success, and I met new people and made new friends. Then this year was the second year, and I led it with a friend of mine, Lovelisa Dizon, and through Zen Bikes and with CycloFemme, we were able to organize a 35 mile ride. We had 18 riders of all levels – no rider left behind. It was a wonderful experience, and I can't wait to do the next one. It encourages me.

The Ride

Leyla's colleague, director Christian Jackson, learned from her about CycloFemme and the ride she was leading. He took an interest in the story, and they decided it would be fun to document the ride. According to Leyla, "He and Chris (cinematographer) were like flies on the wall, out of our way, had their own car, and we're documenting us as much as possible." Once it was recorded, another of Leyla's friends volunteered to edit it. "It's all labor of love," she says.


“One of the reasons why I love bike riding is because it’s my release, my form of therapy, my way to kind of clear my mind, and just get out and not be dependent on anybody else.”

Cycling = freedom. It's knowing that I am the human vehicle. That it's my own body that's pushing me forward. That I'm driving myself to the future, so to speak, on this beautiful piece of engineering and mechanics. On this beautiful bike. 

Early rides with the girls. I love long distance rides, and I would say I like riding to Nyack. Long distance rides are my favorite rides, especially with people that I am so close and comfortable with, you know, my girls. I love getting together with them early in the morning, and then just going on a long distance ride. That to me is just the best. 

It's a social thing. I've met so many people along the way who I probably wouldn't have met under different circumstances. And because I and that group of people have one thing in common which is cycling, I have been able to form these bonds with people that I think I will have friendships with for many, many years to come. It also breaks me out of my shell, challenges me, and educates me too. We're all learning from each other. We all have a special skill. It's like being the Avengers; everyone has their own super power, and you come and you bring that to the table.

Starting small. Honestly, what made me feel like I could be a leader when I first did it was reading the information on CycloFemme. The marketing, the images, the public contribution with content, seeing content of different rides happening all throughout the world; that just motivated me to think, well I could do this! It doesn't have to be something really big; my first one can just be something small, and we'll see how it goes, and see how many people show up. So what encouraged me to become a CycloFemme leader two years ago was coming across the website and reading the information. That empowered me, and motivated me, and challenged me to say, "I can do this." 

Getting over the bridge. There was a rider who didn't feel comfortable crossing the Brooklyn Bridge; she was having a panic attack. I helped her get through that mental block, and she passed me! She went across the bridge both ways. The second time when we were on our way home, she didn't even need any more motivation. Her motivation was us riding together. That just reminded me, this is big. This is important. Now she's still riding; she's part of the group! She rides with us, and she's challenging herself, so that's great. 

The after party? Yes! We love our parties. We threw an after party, and Zen Bikes, who was very instrumental and so helpful in supporting us and helping us use their space as the foundation and meeting point for us to have our women's ride, were nice enough to say, we'll keep our store open for you guys to have a celebratory party for all the riders who rode with you that day to be able to just eat and be merry! 

Riding in NYC. What's special about New York is that you have all types of riders. You see all types of bikes. So many different personalities, and styles, and you know, groups. The other thing is one time I was crossing the George Washington Bridge, and I wasn't feeling too well, and I stopped just for a minute, and I had a handful of riders say, "Are you ok? Are you ok?" And I feel like that says a lot about New Yorkers. People look out for each other, they really do, and that's what makes it special to me.

“CyloFemme? Empowering. Global. Community. Love. Exploration. The journey.”

Follow Leyla on Twitter @icapturerapture or Instagram @loveley

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Knowing the facts alone about Lisa's life, it's hard not to feel a tinge of inadequacy. We're introduced by email and she says she won't be able to talk on the phone because she caught a cold after running a 50K and lost her voice. Alright, 50K, I thought- it sounds daunting but it's not exactly a marathon. Later, while reading through her blog, I found that she recently earned the title of Marathon Maniac. I didn't know what that meant, but I had to assume it was something crazy. As she explains, "The requirement to be a Maniac is three marathons completed within 90 days, we would be doing it in 70 days, plus I would have a trail 25K in the middle and a 50K six weeks after marathon #3." You have to think that for people who achieve such superhuman feats, a marathon is as simple as drawing another tally on the wall. However, Lisa would be the last person to minimize the mental and physical roadblocks that show up in every race- and more broadly, in every life challenge- no matter how many she's pushed through before. In her blog, alongside accounts of races and outdoor adventures runs her personal inner narrative – feelings about her daughter leaving for college, examinations of what she perceives are her own inadequacies. Sure, it's no secret that everybody doubts themselves, but we have to be thankful for those eloquent enough and willing to share those feelings so the rest of us know we're not alone.

The Woman 

If you had asked my 20-year-old self, I’d say “I’m nothing special.” If you asked my 30-year-old self you’d probably get “I wish I was something special.” Now, in my 40’s, I’ve discovered that it has always been the people I choose to surround myself with that make me, me. I choose to insulate myself with people who challenge me and who encourage the people around them. I find these people are often advocates for a better world, and by world I mean even if it’s a fifty foot radius around them at the moment, they choose to make that space better. I have excellent friend picking skills. 

The Microbiologist 

I work for the Food and Drug Administration in a research capacity, focusing on foodborne pathogens. I hate to say that I tell my daughter that “having it all” is a lie. I love my family, I love my career, and I love playing outside. Sometimes one identity takes precedence over the others and focus has to shift in order to do the job at hand properly. Balancing those shifts is difficult, but each aspect of life can be rewarding and fulfilling. 

The Ride Leader 

A good ride requires a really good support team. After doing everything the first year, from trying to plan the route and not doing a great job of it considering the disparity of riding abilities (lesson learned) to making an entire picnic lunch for 30+  people, I learned that people want to help, want to get involved, and I need to let them. 

The 2012 CF cyclists brought a wide variety of bikes along for the ride.  Comfort bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes…
Some of the participants rode tall bikes that they welded themselves.
"Cyclobonding"
De Ann sporting the cool tat.
Riders find shade at the picnic.
Two years later, over 50 female cyclists show up for the 2014 CF ride.
One of the three road groups (along with a couple of manbassadors) near the Big Dam Bridge.
The mountain bike group on Pfeifer Loop.
Dianne sporting a real (and fresh) Cyclofemme Tattoo.
Post ride rest, bonding and energizing.
Our youngest manbassador showing off his tattoo.

 

“Cycling has always been about the heart for me.
Not about the conditioning of my heart, but the emotion.”

With friends or with family.

Some of my fondest memories of childhood are racing banana seat Schwinns around the dirt tracks that my friends and I built in the undeveloped land around our subdivision. Then as an adult, I re-engaged with cycling as a way to be active and spend time with my husband. 

Arkansas Outside. 

The first stimulus for Arkansas Outside was that we could never look at one website to find all the cool outdoor events. We had to look at running sites which were often separated by region, and road runs and trail runs were rarely on the same site. Same for cycling: road cycling and mountain biking were covered on separate sites, and often not advertised well on the web at all. And try to find paddling info, good luck. We decided there should be a place for schizophrenic outdoor freaks like us to go for information on all the stuff we love about the Natural State. 

Away from the sausage-fest.

When I saw the idea for CycloFemme, I immediately thought of my friends who were always lamenting the fact that the bike clubs were sausage-fests. What a great way to get a lot of women together who might not know each other and needed to find other women with whom to connect? I had no clue what to expect. Our first CycloFemme ride in 2012 was, in my eyes, disorganized. I had no idea that twenty-four women, spanning three generations, on everything from townies to high end road bikes would show up. We had logistical issues but learned a lot from that first year.

Vital connections.

I am thrilled that the Arkansas Heels on Wheels group has gained so much traction in the last two years and even more thankful that two women who are spearheading not only AHOW, but are also active on the board of our local cycling advocacy group, met at CycloFemme 2013. 

Homemade tall bikes?

My friends the Signorelli and Vine families have the tall bikes. You can imagine, these are adventurous folks and they are also crack unicyclists and paddlers. Aly, Crash, and Monkey all rode their welded tall bikes on our first CycloFemme ride on the Arkansas River Trail in 2012. Part of the reasoning behind that first ride was to just have a good time and do a little PR for cycling on mother’s day. We knew a lot of families would be out on the trail that day and wanted to be able to wave and chat and show people that it’s not just about racing. It’s about the joy and freedom of two wheels, no matter what those two wheels look like. 

Learning from past rides.

The rides have changed in that 1) we have more riders. We’ve gone from 24 or so in year one to so many I lost count after 60 in year three. I couldn’t count them, they wouldn’t stay still. The first year we just had one ride, all on pavement, and it was hard to keep everyone together. The second year we planned for road rides and mountain bike rides. In year three we actually had 4 rides, beginner, intermediate and advanced road rides and one mountain bike ride. We tried to plan each ride with mileage that would allow everyone to reconvene for refreshments and socializing about an hour after starting. It has worked out pretty well with having a leader and a sweep for each ride.

Heart, not heart rate.

Cycling has always been about the heart for me. Not about the conditioning of my heart, but the emotion. It’s something I started out sharing with the family I’m related to and became something I share with my friends because they are the family I’ve chosen. 

A purpose for everyone.

Depending on where in the world one lives and what economic advantages one has or does not have, the bicycle could mean anything from a means to gain access to health services, to building a business, or a way to affect the environment by choosing an alternative to the automobile. When women in developing countries have transportation, it blows open the windows of trade for them. When women use bicycles as alternative transportation, children see the value in building infrastructure that is not car-centric. They also learn to see their neighborhoods in a way no child in a car seat will. When mothers are active and healthy, children are active and healthy. These all sound like huge goals, but it happens. On a smaller scale, all those things are true in my community. 

“Life is riddled with danger
but that shouldn't stop us from living.”

Between our correspondences, Lisa was faced with the terrible tragedy of the death of her friend, Laura Woolridge, in a bicycle accident while pre-riding a race course. Laura was a huge cycling advocate. Her impact on her community was so great that on the Sunday following her death, local cyclists gathered for a memorial ride in her name. The gap now felt by her community is a reminder of how powerful an influence one woman can have on the world around her. 

Laura Wooldridge  12/15/74 – 7/19/14

Wife, mother, friend, cyclist, advocate. I should not count myself as a fellow, as I feel shadowed by the enormity of her influence. I can’t count how many times, especially in the past weeks, women and men have said things like, “I know she was a CAT 1 racer and I was a beginner but she never made me feel like it was a burden to ride with me. She made me feel like a peer. She is why I’m racing today.” 

As her friend and occasional riding companion, I will forever miss the ways in which she tried to make me see the world differently. She never failed to see the beauty in the world and it radiated out of her. My fear is that Central Arkansas CycloFemme will never be the same without her. My prayer is that her legacy continues, inspiring men and women to ride, to take others under their wing and help them along, to smile often, to laugh loudly, and to Live Like Laura. 

Moving past fear.

There is danger in walking across the street, driving a car, taking a trip on an airplane, in playing soccer or softball. There is risk in being inactive, big risk. Life is riddled with danger but that shouldn't stop us from living. Like many other sports, wearing the proper gear, working up from one skill level to the next, and being aware of our surroundings at all times helps reduce the risk. For me, the fear of not doing is bigger than the fear of doing.

“Why should women cycle?
Empowerment. Freedom. Health. Conservation. Friendship.”

Check out Lisa's blog Frenetic Fitness and follow her on Twitter @FreneticFitLisa or @mullis_lisa.

When I get Kim on the phone, I can hear the voices of her son and husband teetering in the background. They are in the middle of a big family road trip, a winding-down for Kim after completing the manuscript of her book – a narrative nonfiction account of the biggest tornado outbreak in the history of recorded weather. As soon as the book was turned in, she, her husband Eddie, and their six year old son strapped their bikes to their car and hit the road in search of some good off-road biking and to visit some friends and family. As she speaks to me, they are on their way from Durango to Santa Fe after visiting Shonny Vanlandingham, big-name mountain biker and triathlete and the family's close friend. While Kim sounds a bit frazzled after her busy day, I sense that I'm speaking to the woman in her ideal state: on the move, exploring a new place, packed tightly with her husband and son and the family bikes, a finished book and a long day of riding lying in her trail. 

The Woman

So my classic story is that within my first eight times on a mountain bike, I was on the Slickrock Trail in Moab in clipless pedals, bleeding and crying. It was a little rough. I was just too stubborn to quit, but I was definitely not good at all when I started, I just refused to give up.

The Writer

I recently found a letter I wrote to myself in high school where the teacher asks you to write, what do you want to be doing in 10 years? And I wrote, I'm going to be the editor of a science magazine! And I found it, and I was an editor at a major magazine. And then I quit my job because I wasn't writing enough. I was sitting in a lot of meetings and assigning and editing, which was great, but I just wanted to write. I love telling stories, and I love making sentences.

The Ride Leader

I actually recruited a friend of mine to lead it because part of my thing is, I don't feel like I'm always the expert, I like to sort of round up the sister riders and round up the expert, and put them together. Vero Vanblaere is an artist who started doing this Le Tour de Ham ride. It's on a weeknight after work each week, and it's just like a 10 mile joy ride downtown that's grown to around 80 people. So I thought maybe I'll get Vero to lead it, because I don't know this route, I don't ride this route, I don't consider myself an expert on riding in the city of Birmingham. So I let her lead it, and I just sort of organized the event and got everyone there. We made it a skirt ride, so everyone wore skirts! I think one woman brought her adult son and was like, "Is it ok if I bring him?" And I said, "Yes – he can't half wheel us though!"

The Ride

MC3 members Jennifer Talley (who learned MTB skills at an MC3 clinic ), Ellen Hamilton (awesome PT who loves DH more than climbing) and Kim head out for a pre-CycloFemme training ride at Oak Mountain State Park.
 MC3 Vice-President Maaike Everts (L) and Secretary Lora McIntosh (R) joined the "skirt ride" theme of MC3's 2014 CycloFemme ride, a girls-only version of Le Tour de Ham, a popular weekly coed ride through downtown Birmingham.
Kim's mother, Joyce goes on her very first road ride at the age of 73 during their 2014 CycloFemme ride, a perfect Mother's Day celebration with her daughter. Joyce learned how to mountain bike at 69 at an MC3 skills clinic.
MC3 VP Maaike Everts cruised in front of the new Birmingham Barons baseball park in downtown Birmingham, which is undergoing a revitalization with breweries, parks, baseball, and more.
Participants in MC3's 2014 Cyclofemme "skirt ride" pose in front of the Naked Art Gallery, owned by ride leader Veronica "Vero" Vanblaere, a local artist, gallerista, and co-header of Le Tour de Ham. The ladies were treated to a post-ride happy hour of wine and hors d'oeuvres at Naked Art, which donated 10% of the evening's art sales to benefit MC3.

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