As Melissa Balmer (pictured) was launching Women on Bikes SoCal she had a quick realization. Despite living in one of the most densely inhabited areas of the U.S. she was smack dab in the middle of a particularly troubling void: In all of Southern California, there were fewer than 30 women who were League Cycling Instructors (LCIs).
Thanks to Balmer’s efforts and a group of diverse female leaders, that number jumped dramatically in just one weekend last month.
Across the nation, the League has more than 3,500 LCIs who deliver bicycle skills education to thousands of people who ride each year. But, as Balmer discovered, there was only a small handful of female LCIs in her area: South Los Angeles, East Los Angeles, the South Bay and greater Long Beach. So she raised funds to provide scholarships for a new and diverse group of women, from across the Los Angeles area, to become LCIs.
The first all-female LCI seminar, taught by stand-out trainer Jen Laurita, made history last month.
“Deciding to take on the goal of hosting the very first all-female LCI class was quite an adventure,” Balmer says. “I had absolutely no idea it had never been done before when the idea popped into my head. I’ve learned so much over the past year while pulling it together, raising the funds to make it happen, and drawing in the right scholarship candidates. I couldn’t be more proud of this very dynamic and diverse group who stuck in there to see it through. Jen Laurita, the lead instructor who dealt with hurricane Sandy right before coming out to teach this class, is a treasure. I can’t wait to see what this new group of female LCI’s will help make happen.”
Why did you want to become an LCI?
Elizabeth: I became an LCI because I love riding and enjoy sharing my bike passion. One of the ways I can continue to do this is through teaching bike education. I started teaching basic bike classes more than a year ago and since then have discovered that there are lots more people needing basic bike education. I want to do something about this, so I’ve started developing a bike program and will use my LCI training to help safely connect people to the benefits of biking.
Maria: I was inspired by the Women on Bikes SoCal movement to increase the number of women riding bikes. I connected with their mission to transform bike culture to be more inclusive and appealing to women. Becoming a League Cycling Instructor is an opportunity to work toward that goal and become a mentor to foster youth leadership in the long run.
How was the training and the trainer? What was the best part?
Elizabeth: The trainer was amazing! She was very engaging and held my attention for the long weekend. Watching the presentations was probably the best part because I got to see a variety of different teaching styles and some I could borrow for my classes.
Maria: The training was robust and demanding. I expected the majority of the training to focus on evaluating the LCI candidates’ ability to ride a bike and perform drills with perfection, but there is an even greater emphasis on how well each person can teach the Traffic Skills material. Presenting an engaging lesson and successfully teaching the material to the group was most challenging, but it was also the best part of the training. Receiving constructive criticism defined my strengths and identified opportunities for improvement. With that, I could adjust my teaching methods.
Do you think the all-female aspect changed the dynamic at all?
Elizabeth: I think having the all-female class did make the environment more comfortable for the class. We had less stress about not knowing as much as guys do about bikes. We had no “macho” anything all weekend and that probably made it easier for the ladies to ask questions and deliver their presentations.
Maria: The all-female training created a very social dynamic. Aside from the “girl talk” (gushing about our pets, partners, milestones, and hygiene advice), we had serious conversations about advocacy challenges and experiences with peers, cycling groups, and law enforcement. The training was better because many of us knew each other from participating in Women on Bikes SoCal activities. Our trainer Jenn Laurita was energetic, knowledgeable, social, and professional throughout the process. I admire her passion for teaching.
How do you intend to use your new certification/skills?
Elizabeth: I’m developing a bike program focused on bridging the biking gap for women & youth in underserved communities. I’ll be teaching classes in these communities, connecting people to bikes, so everyone can reap the benefits of riding.
Maria: My priority is to collaborate with other LCIs and coalitions to increase access to workshops, classes, and organized rides to people in my community. One of the challenges I had was finding a Traffic Skills 101 class closer to home. The classes available at the time were 40 miles away and offered once a month. This is an example of a barrier that could prevent people in my community from participating, and I’d like to help change that.
What would you say to other women who are considering becoming an LCI, but perhaps have some hesitation?
Elizabeth: Anyone who has a real passion to spread bike love, and can commit the time to the training, can become an LCI. You don’t have to be a tough guy to do it. Women make wonderful teachers and in order to encourage more women to bike, we need more women LCI’s to be examples.
Maria: Ask the League questions. Talk to other LCIs and get the inside scoop on expectations and time commitments. Convince a friend to become an LCI too. It’s a bonus to have a support system during this process. Commit to the idea of becoming an LCI especially if you love biking and could see yourself teaching it. You are half way there. The next step is preparing yourself physically and mentally.
Women on Bikes SoCal was able to host this LCI program as a full scholarship with the generous support from Bikeable Communities, the California Bicycle Coalition, the League of American Bicyclists’ Women Bike initiative, Building Healthy Communities Long Beach, Bike Long Beach, private donations, special events, and outreach support from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.
Do you want to become an LCI? Next month, in conjunction with our first-ever Coach Seminar, we’ll be offering LCI training at a significant discount! Sign up for the seminar January 24-25 in Houston, Texas, and become an LCI for just $200. Click here to register! Questions? Email Alissa@BikeLeague.org.
Carolyn SzczepanskiCarolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League's blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women's Bicycling Summit and launched the League's newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.