It sounded like an old friends reunion, the gleeful hoots, silly dancing and free-flowing compliments mingling with the roar of tire pumps and backwards-spinning bike wheels.
But the group, who gathered along the Monon Trail on 86th Street on the first sunny, 60-degree Sunday in April, also included new friends: a nurse who had returned from traveling after two years of pandemic work; a brand new cyclist who, looking for new interests before her 30th birthday, recently bought her first bike at Walmart and was stopped by an enthusiastic stranger who told her about this cycling group.
“I love these socks, girl!” Angela Ewell, the nurse, told Jackie Elliott, a longtime fitness trainer, who was dressed head-to-toe in black and pink Black Girls Do Bike gear. Others nearby joined in the enthusiasm with cheers while Elliott modeled and laughed.
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“If you come with attitude and confidence, that’s swag!” said Ewell.
“Come on, that’s what we have today,” Elliott said.
Chyri McLain-Jackson gathered them for a photo behind a banner that identified the group: Black Girls Do Bike Indianapolis, a place for everyone, and especially black women, to ride for function, fitness, freedom and fun.
They’re all ages, from almost 30-year-old Lily Nelson to a triad of women in their 60s posing as the Riverside Riders — “just a bunch of golden girls who ride bikes,” laughed Pam Hardy.
After Elliott briefed the group on how to communicate about passing pedestrians, stopping or slowing down, and explained that riders would sweep the group to make sure no one was left behind, it was time for Black Girls Do Bikes’ first group ride of the season to start .
“We’re here, we’re Black Girls Do Bike, we’re Black Girl Magic,” Elliott told the group.
“Wheels up!” exclaimed McLain-Jackson, the chapter’s founder and “Shero.”
McLain-Jackson discovered her love for cycling in the late ’80s while training for her first triathlons, which were fundraisers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Of the three sports, she loved cycling the most – an activity that is easy on the joints and allows you to spend hours in nature.
“As I rode, I realized that in the groups I rode with, nobody really looked like me; there weren’t very many women, there weren’t many women of color,” she said.
Looking for groups to join, she found the national organization Black Girls Do Bike, founded in Pittsburgh in 2013 by Monica Garrison. McLain-Jackson approached Garrison with interest in starting a chapter in Indianapolis, which she did in 2014.
Membership growth was a slow trickle at first. A core group of four or five riders met regularly. When the pandemic struck, these group rides suddenly attracted 20, 30, sometimes 40 riders of all skill levels, riding all types of bikes.
McLain-Jackson had to appoint dispatchers in addition to himself; Last year she was officially certified as a licensed cycling instructor by the League of American Bicyclists.
The group includes all genders, races and ethnicities; but with a special focus on black and colored women. The outsized disparities Black women face in health outcomes, such as high blood pressure and diabetes rates, which are influenced by longstanding societal inequalities, are well documented. Some of the Women who have ridden in the group over the years have lost weight or stopped their blood pressure medication, McLain-Jackson said.
Racist ideals of beauty have also historically been a barrier to black women getting out and exercising, Elliott said. Prior to a shift toward wider societal acceptance of natural hair over the past decade, she said, many black women were getting perms, costly chemical treatments that altered the texture of their hair and could be ruined with too much sweat or helmets.
In this and many other senses, cycling is a form of freedom, said several group members. And the undaunted love for one another is pervasive in the cyclists’ cheers and cheers and words of encouragement, down every hill and nearly every mile.
“The sorority is what’s amazing about it,” Elliott said.
For Hardy, cycling is a time to be free from obligations and worries, free from cellphones, if only for a little while.
She started a small neighborhood riding group, Riverside Riders, at her longtime Riverside home in 2017 after the mother of a group member died. At the time, Hardy was her mother’s caretaker. Then Hardy’s mother died in November 2021.
“I call it a peace ride,” she said. “Cycling is more of a quiet thing, for me, for my mind, away from everything. I just feel better when I ride my bike.”
She keeps several bikes at home — bikes that someone else wanted to get rid of — so no one has an excuse not to race in a sport where cost can be a barrier.
Near the Carmel-Indianapolis border after the group took a break, Hardy reconnected to her phone to take a group selfie, moving the camera at different angles because she couldn’t see the screen without her glasses could see well.
“Keep chatting, Pam,” shouted Darrell Cline, husband of a longtime group member. “One of these 20 will be awesome!”
The group rides are not about setting personal records; They are social and supportive, with members helping new riders adjust their seat height and change gears.
Nelson learned almost all the basics of cycling in those two hours, her first ride ever — and says she’s comfortable with it.
When she found out how long it was – 10 miles – she did a little dance and said, “Oooh, I did all that today!”
Everyone cheered and rang the bike bell with her.
Contact IndyStar transportation reporter Kayla Dwyer at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @kayla_dwyer17.