When Lake Barrington resident Hasna Osman cycles through the rolling hills around her home, she usually does it with a group of women (and a few men) organized by the Barrington Bike Club.
“I used to ride in college and I love the outdoors,” Osman says. “But then I got married, had kids—life got in the way.” But now her kids are 15, 14 and 7, and she’s started biking again. “It combines my love of the outdoors with great exercise.”
Osman’s not alone in her return to biking. If you’ve ever been on Sheridan Road on a Sunday, you’ve seen the growing groups of bikers—some 30 and 40 strong—whizzing by. Most are men, but if you look closely, you’ll see smaller, friendlier groups that are all women. Not only are they exercising, they’re also laughing and talking as they spin down the road.
“On our weekend rides, we often stop at Starbucks or Panera for a break,” says Kris Koenig Morel of Evanston. Morel leads the women’s rides sponsored by Higher Gear in Wilmette. “The level of fun is important to get women involved, but then they learn that if they push, they really get something out of it.”
Kris notes that there’s a big difference between leisurely riding with the kids and biking to increase your fitness. That’s where a group can teach and motivate—you don’t want to get left behind, so you’re going to pedal faster than if you’re on a bike trail alone.
Bill Moss, who owns Alberto’s in Highland Park, also sponsors women-only riding groups that start at his store. He thinks that women just starting out can be intimidated by large groups of mostly men.
“We also have women’s clinics that we’ve been running the last seven years,” he says. “We teach women the basic bike maintenance, bike handling and etiquette for riding on the road.”
Morel points out that it’s also safer for women to bike in a group. On a recent ride, Morel and the other group leader, Chris Wynn, pointed out potholes and yelled when intersections were clear. They also waved and said hi to drivers who gave the group wide berth. Their friendliness keeps the group safe and also increases good will with local drivers.
And that cooperative spirit continues in the groups. “The better bikers are all very friendly and eager to help,” Osman says. “They’re very willing to share their expertise.”
While women didn’t invent the bike groups that cycle around the suburbs every weekend, they have transformed them. A little laughing, a few waves and still lots of fast spinning and exercise—a fitness and fun combination.