For immigrant women, bikes make goals and dreams possible


“I received a bike last year and it was beautiful,” Mariana (who preferred we just use her first name) recalled. “I didn’t know how to ride before. But I was able to take my son to school. It also helped me lose seven pounds, and save time. Instead of walking somewhere in 45 minutes, I could ride my bike there in 15 minutes.”

Mariana was one of 17 women from the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization’s Mujeres en Accion y Poder who signed up to participate in the 2013 Community Partners Bike Library (CPBL) program, a free loaner bike program of Cycles for Change in St. Paul. During the June 4 orientation session at Powderhorn Park Recreation Building in Minneapolis, she got training and coaching on cycling safety and on proper techniques for locking a bike, fitting a helmet, and loading a bike onto a bus rack. Marianne Baum of CPBL explained that participants may take Learn to Ride, Basic Mechanics, and Riding in Traffic classes, as well as participating in group rides.

CPBL plans to partner with 19 community organizations to lend 275 bikes and 20-30 trailers this year. Partners include Project for Pride in Living, CLUES, Goodwill Easter Seals, and the Karen Organization of Minnesota.

Leadership programs are also a part of the project. Interested participants will have the opportunity to learn how to teach biking skills to other members of their communities.

Baum explained that one of the goals of the program is to increase bike ridership among communities of color and women. “It’s important for the environmental and social justice movements to blend together. We see less biking in communities of color…In many cultures biking is just not allowed. It’s taboo. With our partnering organizations we’re meeting a lot of women interested in learning to ride a bike for the first time…Having that piece of independence where they can just go and get what they need to do while getting some exercise. It also helps them deal with mental health issues and stress. They feel more confident and get physical health benefits.”

Baum cited the CPBL 2012 annual report in which 96 percent of participants had reported experiencing health benefits, and 77 percent had reported saving money using their CPBL bikes.

Silvia Perez, organizer of Mujeres en Accion y Poder, concurred that the CPBL Program offers multiple benefits, “I have seen that when participants have the opportunity to obtain a free loaned bike they improve their quality of life in various areas.” She explained that she encourages women in Mujeres en Accion y Poder to set and obtain goals.

When asked about her decision to participate in the CPBL for the first time, Maria (who also preferred we just use her first name) explained her goals, “I want to achieve goals for my physical health and for my family. I am going to be able to get out more, to travel more this year. This will be my first bike that I have always dreamed of. I will achieve my dream.”

Reporting for this article supported in part by Bush Foundation.