When Friends on Bikes founders Molly Sugar and Gritchelle Fallesgon moved to Portland, Oregon, from larger, more diverse cities, they took a look at the cycling community, both on and off-road, and while they saw a vibrant, passionate cycling community, they didn’t see a whole lot of diversity. Because it can often be intimidating to join a community, Sugar and Fallesgon created a group to organize rides specifically for women of color, trans, and gender non-conforming people of color, to reduce the barrier of entry for non-represented people in the cycling scene and to show them the positive experiences cycling and bike camping can provide. Adventure Journal spoke with Sugar last week to find out a little more about her group’s welcome mission.

How does Friends on Bikes work to change the lack of representation you see in the cycling community?
The three pillars of FOB are community, awareness, and advocacy. We create community by hosting a variety of bike rides, workshops, and events to make a safer space for femme, trans, women, non-binary, and people of color. We raise awareness through social media in order to amplify voices that are not being heard in the cycling community. And we try to actively advocate by volunteering, donating, and working with allies who encourage progress in the cycling community.

What prompted the creation of FOB?
My friend Gritchelle Fallesgon and I started Friends on Bikes in March 2017. I met Gritchelle through Instagram when I first moved to Portland in August after I biked across America. We both were in the design community and loved riding bikes, so we quickly became friends. After I moved from Brooklyn, New York, it was hard not to notice the lack of diversity. Gritchelle felt the same after moving from San Francisco. We both talked about wanting to find more women of color to ride with and encourage more women of color to get into bike camping and adventure riding, but there wasn’t a group we could join in Portland – or anywhere else. So instead of waiting around to find this magical group, we decided to start Friends on Bikes ourselves.

So does FOB do road rides? Mountain bike rides? Little bit of both? What’s the biggest draw?
In the past two years we’ve organized over 25 rides and events. Social bike rides, bike camping trips, bike camping workshops, gravel rides, and volunteering at local bike events. All our trips and events are either free or donation based.

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Our bike camping trips are becoming our most popular rides and will be our primary focus in the next year. We’ve reached capacity for our annual bike camping trip for the past two years, and we continually get requests to host more trips and workshops. For many people who attend our bike camping trips, it’s typically their first time bike camping, and sometimes camping entirely. There are a lot of barriers to get into bike camping—not just the cost of bike and camp gear. A huge barrier is finding a community you’re comfortable camping and riding long distances with. We try to break down those barriers by providing workshops, donating gear, and creating a safer space where people can talk about race and identity.

Where do you see the biggest lack of diversity in the cycling community, especially with respect to femme, trans, women and non-binary people of color?
I think bikepacking has the biggest issue with diversity in the cycling community. Bikepacking can be highly intimidating and there are multiple layers that usually prevent people from bikepacking—the cost of biking and camping gear, experience riding off-pavement, access to trails, ability to take time off work, the list can go on. But adding other layers of race and gender can make it seem entirely unattainable for femme, trans, women and non-binary people of color. Personal safety is heightened when you are a person of color, no matter where you are, but especially in the backcountry. That’s why I think it is crucial for the cycling community to host more bikepacking trips specifically for people of color, femme, trans, women and non-binary people. It is much easier to get into bikepacking when you have a community rallying with you.

Have you seen a change toward more diversity in cycling over the years?
Overall I think there has been a positive shift in working towards more diversity within cycling and the outdoors, but there is still A LOT of work to be done. I also think the conversation on gender and race in the cycling community is still severely lacking. I’m the co-founder of WTF Bikexplorers, a nationwide ride series and summit for women, trans, femme, and non-binary people. For the most part, the support for WTF Bikexplorers has been overwhelmingly positive, but when I talk about Friends on Bikes I get a lot more pushback. Why is that? I think that people are more uncomfortable talking about race than they are gender in our society. I hope this changes, but until then I am going to do the work that is needed for FOB.

Any plans to expand FOB outside of Portland? Are there more in the works?
Currently, Friends on Bikes is only active in Portland and plans for expanding are on hold. This is due to the loss of Seattle chapter leader, SJ Brooks, this past May. SJ was fatally attacked by a cougar in Washington while bike camping with a friend. It was a tremendous loss both personally and for Friends on Bikes. In the past few months, the loss of SJ made me reflect a lot on FOB. The reason SJ became my friend and a FOB chapter leader was because they loved bike camping and wanted to ride with people that looked like them. Those two simple ideas were the same reasons why Gritchelle and I created FOB. I want to go back to that and make bike camping a priority for Friends on Bikes in 2019 and beyond. So with that said, Seattle and other chapters might be realized, but we will specifically be seeking ride leaders with the same passion for bike camping that SJ had.

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How can people from outside the femme, trans, women and non-binary people of color community help work to increase diversity?
Don’t ask femme, trans, women, and non-binary people of color to do the work for you. Actively make an effort to support F/T/W/N-B people of color by donating your time, money or resources to show that you are genuinely and intentionally care about these communities. If you ask for advice related to diversity and inclusion, you should pay for the work to give consultation. Do not expect to be taught or shown but actively participate.

And just because you have been called an ally, doesn’t mean you are one. Being an ally does not mean that you understand what it feels like to be oppressed. Be open to listening, other ideas and research about how to be a good ally. “Saying that you are an ally is much easier than being a good ally.”

Photos: Rie Sawada @charries_cafe