It all started in the spring of 2013, says Carina Liljengren, when a small, informal group of women wondered if there were other like-minded female riders out there looking to bike the mean streets of Tacoma together.
“There must be more of us,” they proclaimed.
“We saw a need for a safe and welcoming group in Tacoma that would encourage women to get on bikes,” Liljengren explains. “At our first event, we had about 20 people, and there was a palpable sense of enthusiasm.”
Thus, Tacoma’s popular women’s cycling club, VeloFemmes, was born. These days, the group boasts a long mailing list and more than a thousand followers on Facebook. A typical ride might include anywhere from three to 50 riders, and anyone who identifies as a woman is welcome to turn out. VeloFemmes draws from a varied pool of riders, from newbies to grizzled veterans, from purely social riders to competitive racers.
Membership is free and informal. As opposed to filling out a membership form or paying annual dues, members simply participate in the rides or events of their choosing. And each ride is insured now that VeloFemmes has joined the American League of Bicyclists.
“You get to meet a great group of Tacoma-area women and ride bikes with them,” Cindy Schaarschmidt says. “How cool is that?”
During the summer, when the days are long and daylight is plentiful, the group meets every Monday morning for a ride at Point Defiance Park. For those closer to downtown, VeloFemmes also meets at Wright Park on the first and third Wednesday of every month.
In addition to the regular rides, the group organizes special events like the annual Little Black Dress Ride, an easy ride that combines the fun of riding with the satisfaction of donating to a worthy cause. Last year, the group collected donations for Ladies First, “a school-based program dedicated to empowering young women.” On Saturday, Aug. 20, VeloFemmes and Ladies First will join forces at the second-annual Women+Girls Ride, an event open to “women and girls from the 253 community.” An easy ride, snacks and plenty of camaraderie await participants.
Fancy yourself a competitive rider? Plenty of VeloFemmes members race at high speeds and over long distances. Although the club has yet to form a racing team, its members compete in everything from cyclocross to the Seattle to Portland (STP). That said, you don’t need to be in great shape or harbor any competitive ambitions to participate in a VeloFemmes ride, whether a weekly ride or a special event. The club’s primary goal remains the same: to encourage more women to ride bicycles.
“The numbers still show that more men ride bikes,” explains Kristina Walker, “but anecdotally, we definitely see more women on the road, and we hear from women regularly that VeloFemmes was the reason they started biking or got back into biking.”
That inspiration – to hit the road for the first time or after a long layoff – is what VeloFemmes hopes to impart to women riders all over Tacoma.
“We mostly just want more women to experience the joy of riding a bicycle, be it for transportation or recreation, to race competitively or for socializing with friends,” Schaarschmidt says. “We also try to educate folks about bike safety, the rules of the road and riding in the rain. And we’d of course like to see more bike infrastructure in the Tacoma area so that streets become safer for cyclists.”
If you’re a woman and reticent to get on a bike, consider what’s holding you back. Are you intimidated by all the men on the roads? Don’t feel the desire to compete? Haven’t been on a bike in decades? Don’t know the first thing about a bicycle? Women just like you get together every week. They’re called the VeloFemmes.
“VeloFemmes is an inclusive group,” Walker insists. “We love all types of women on bikes, and we love new ideas. If you’re a woman who bikes and wants to see a particular type of ride or lead a group, let us know. If you’re a woman who wants to try biking, we’re here to support you. If you’re a woman who just wants to meet other women on bikes, join us!”
Matt Kite is an avid hiker and masters runner in Tacoma. Check out “3 Minute Hikes,” his hiking channel on YouTube.