Shredding the Patriarchy: A Recap of the WTF Bikexplorers Summit

Words by Tenzin Namdol, Molly Sugar, Sarah Swallow, Jocelyn Gaudi Quarrell, Whitney Ford-Terry, and Mary Lytle, Founders of WTF Bikexplorers

Summit Photos by Gritchelle Fallesgon
Illustrations by Tessa Hulls
Ride Series Photos by Rie Sawada (Instagram + Website)

A few weeks ago one hundred cyclists from all over the country identifying as women, transgender, femme, and non-binary gathered in Whitefish, Montana for the first ever WTF Bikexplorers Summit. The Summit was organized to support, celebrate, and connect the community of W/T/F/N-B  who use their bicycles to explore and a collective effort for a movement away from patriarchy and toward a liberatory cycling culture.

“This Summit is about bikes, but it is not really about bikes.”  -Tessa Hulls

Why a WTF Bikexplorers Summit? – Tenzin Namdol

Over a hundred of us sat spellbound at the images and words Tessa Hulls weaved for their illuminating presentation of “History of WTFs in Adventure Travel.” Tessa laid out shimmering stories of women who had used the bicycle to transport themselves into many impressive roles: world record breakers, senators, pilots, competitive racers, etc during a time when women were expected to be obedient mothers, wives, and daughters. These women pushed and challenged their world to not only allow women on bicycles but demanded they be masters of their own destiny. They organized with each other in creating cycling clubs, wrote books about their adventures on bicycles, created manuals on how to ride, and changed the discourse of what was allowable for women at the time. The bicycle was heavily used as a vehicle of progress by first wave feminists in their effort for the right to vote.

Some of us in the audience saw bits of ourselves and our struggles looking back at us in these black and white images of women on bikes but some of us didn’t. There was no recorded history of Queer, Trans, Intersex, Black, Indigenous, People of Color (QTIBIPOC) stories that Hulls could dig up within the frame of bicycle adventuring. Tessa shared with us early on that there were narratives missing in her presentation and clarified that just because it wasn’t written down, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. This is why we were gathering. To learn from the past and move toward a future that includes all of us. As intersectional feminists, we are creating a culture to fill these gaps and continue the bad-assery present within the realm of WTF-powered adventure travel. Using the bicycle as a vehicle to push, challenge, and dismantle patriarchy but also to build power and community amongst ourselves because cycling needs us as much as we need cycling.

How it started – Molly Sugar

A year ago Whitney, Jocelyn and I went to Whitefish to ride bikes and play in the dirt to celebrate Whitney’s birthday. At that time we all worked in the cycling industry and were frustrated with the lack of representation for femme, trans, women and non-binary folks in the cycling community, especially for bikepacking. Not surprisingly, Sarah, Nam, and Whitney had the same conversation while riding in Baja earlier that year. One thing was clear – we all felt the same way, and we each knew that the only way to create the change we wanted to see, was to make it happen ourselves.

Serendipitously the six of us came together to form something that we could never have dreamed up ourselves. In October 2017 we connected over email and only two months later we launched WTF Bikexplorers. We spent every Monday together over video chat for almost a year, and some of us had not met in real life until the Summit. We made it work despite spotty wifi, nomadic lifestyles, full-time jobs, other full-time jobs and the loss of a close friend. None of this could have happened without the support of one another and the many other f/t/w and non-binary people who felt the same way we did when we rode our bikes and asked the question “what if?”.

Ride Series – Sarah Swallow

From the early planning stages, we knew we couldn’t just put on a kick-ass summer camp in the woods. As we know by now, the best way to learn from one another and grow our community is through riding bicycles and sharing a campfire. After all, it is in that adventurous environment where the fire was lit and the inspiration to create this summit first occurred.

We knew we needed to connect the community of women, trans, femme, and non-binary cyclists who use their bicycles to explore, while actually exploring by bike on a self-supported grassroots level. We did this by organizing five nationwide multi-day rides over challenging routes in Arizona, California, Oregon, Vermont and Montana. These rides were designed to get the conversation started for the summit, to learn from each other, to support one another, and to connect folks who otherwise would never meet. When we did this an amazing thing happened. An environment was created that facilitated growth, inspiration, support, joy, sustainability, and plain old fun.

We randomly met at start locations, shook off any early shyness and awkwardness by sharing creative snacks and playing a giggle-inducing game of hacky-sack. We went skinny dipping in lakes and enthusiastically enjoyed wildlife sightings. We watched our mechanically inclined cohorts successfully tackle tough fixes with pride, shared the burden of selecting ideal campsites, and supported each other’s needs within the group. For me, this experience was revolutionary and made me fall in love with bike touring all over again. It is in this environment of shared values and frustrations that revealed what I had been missing from bike touring, and damn, did it feel good.

Sessions – Jocelyn Gaudi Quarrell

We allowed the experience of planning and hosting rides across the country to inform what important topics and questions should be addressed once we all gathered at the Summit – WTF Bikexplorers had a lot to talk about and a lot of valuable things to say! Guided by our support and our celebrate and connect tenets, we scheduled nineteen unique sessions over the three-day event. From Route Making and Navigating to Anti-Oppression 101 and A User’s Guide to Public Lands to Do It Yourself Bikepacking Hacks, each session provided an opportunity to learn, share and grow into more confident Bikexplorers. There was also time for attendee proposed breakout sessions, which saw meaningful conversations hosted such as size inclusivity in the cycling community and how to manage long-term health conditions while bikepacking.

Among the many memorable moments in the Summit sessions, the most powerful came during the Queer/People of Color (QPOC) Panel held Saturday evening. Even now, with plenty of time to digest the experience, it’s difficult to put into words how grateful I am to have heard those voices and for their generosity and fortitude to share their perspective with the group. The sparkling dance party that followed was one that only could have happened after such a serious, vital event. A celebration of accepting the weight of our movement and knowing that it must be balanced with an equal part of joy and love of life.

Summit Culture – Whitney Ford-Terry

We learned a lot and cried maybe just as much. We challenged one another and broke ourselves open in an effort to collectively rebuild a better idea of who we were and what we wanted to do. We organized, plotted, and planned. But as Emma Goldman once put it, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” So we made sure to do a lot of that too. We danced, cracked jokes, swam in lakes and yea…we rode bikes too.

Our days at the Whitefish Bike Retreat were filled with snacks and shenanigans. From midday rides and hammock naps to deck beers and the occasional glitter-weave, there were plenty of ways to break up the day. Word had gotten out that, for a trade, one of our caterers would weave tinsel into your hair. Mary Ann Thomas, who’d just released a new chapbook about a recent bike tour through India, traded one of her books for a new ‘do that would make a Brony weep with joy. Friendship really IS magic.

After dinner the magic continued with impromptu collaborative haircuts, stick n’ poke tattoos, and casual breakout sessions over tea (or in some cases, tequila). Inspired by some of the imagery from Tessa’s talk, Serena broke out her tattoo supplies and gave a quick how-to for a few other artists who were eager to learn. I simultaneously gave a tattoo while receiving one from someone who’d never before worked with ink and needles, but we trusted each other. From intricately inked images of red clover to a headless cone dog and countless tattoos of sporks, many of us walked away with permanent reminders of our time in Montana.

On the last day of the summit, Jocelyn and Sarah organized a “Wildcat Bikepacking Odyssey of the Mind.” This competitive/non-competitive ally-cat inspired race tested teams on their ability to complete a variety of bikepacking challenges; lifting a loaded bike over a fence, digging a cathole, packing your bike blindfolded, and pumping up a fat bike tire with a hand pump. It was a hilarious display of the futilities, triumphs and challenges bikepacking provides and a great way to close out the summit. Oh, and the winner got a Danglebong (courtesy of our sponsor Danglebongs™).

The Impact – Mary Lytle

As a group, we formed a collective in creating a clear vision of a bikepacking community– we stepped away from the normative of patriarchy and celebrated a liberatory cycling culture. We used this space to agree on common language that would not uphold current power structures of patriarchy, heteronormativity, homophobia, transphobia, racism, ableism– or other various forms of oppression. We brought up the importance of expressing yourself with transparent intention. We went through the interweaving ways we can make space for people of color, immigrants, black, and indigenous people. We acknowledged the need for more body positivity and the need for it to be reflected in the media. We formulated expectations that should be discussed for any group ride. Expectations that set the pace, explain the route and designate a sweeper in order to create a safe environment where folks can relax and have fun.

This movement has a lot of development in its future. As we remember the summit and the ride series we are reminded of that space that we created. That space allowed for deeper conversations to make our community stronger and more accepting. We may not have that community in our local towns yet, or in the cycling industry but we have it in our hearts. This community exists and it hopes to be a safer space where we can have affirmation of our personal beliefs. We need to support, celebrate, and connect with one another and use the tools within our local communities to build up more representation. Without representation, there isn’t a narrative to feed culture and build power. We are here to change and make cycling history. Jocelyn, Molly, Nam, Whitney, Sarah and I are ready to keep the momentum rolling on this through more rides, scholarships, summits and other exciting projects down the line.

As mentioned earlier, cycling needs WTF Bikexplorers as much as we need cycling. Are you with us?

We would like to thank everyone who has supported WTF Bikexplorers in 2018, especially those who donated to the SJ Brooks Scholarship Fund, Specialized Bicycles, EVO, Revelate Designs, Swift Industries, Ride with GPS, Dr. Brew Kombucha, and Bike Works.

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Follow WTF Bikexplorers on Instagram.

  • Keith Reed

    Awesome event! Thanks for the report. The future looks bright. #bikemagic

  • endlessly rad.

  • Transit

    So glad to see this here.

  • spencer harding

    Just gonna say a real real big HELL YEAH. Congrats on making this a reality.

    • Cake Carrot

      i luv you, spencie poo.

  • Chris Valente

    This is so great to see. Also shout out to the woman in #18 who looks like she just pulled that camp chair off her bike and posted up on the side of the road. You are doing it right friend.

    • c_decarufel

      I totally did just pull that chair off my bike. I’m in my 40’s and I have PRIORITIES.

      • Chris Valente

        Amen to that! #promove!

      • Cake Carrot

        yesss! get it!

  • Kerry Nordstrom

    I’m honored to have met many and been inspired by many of these folx over the years. To see them come together and build something sustainable and with a focus on broad inclusivity is a powerful thing.

    • Cake Carrot

      it was indeed an incredible energy. there is so much gentle but strong, experienced and skilled but humble people present that gave a glimpse of what adventure cycling is going to become. it was one of the best things i have ever experienced. if you are a FTWnB (femme, trans, womxn, non binary) identified persxn, we’d love to have your light at the next one. xo

      • Kerry Nordstrom

        Thanks for the invite; happy to watch from afar and learn from y’all when I run into you at any other event!

  • Wow. This looked great. Goal for 2019. Attend a bike or canoe themed gathering.

  • Marley Blonsky

    So stoked to see this on here. Bout time the Radavist got a little less bro’y, if only for one post.

  • mark rothschild

    Every once and a while…I watch a Chic-Flick…1 for the Ladies

  • Justin Scoltock

    There are many great things about cycling but this might be one the best things happening currently. Many props to the folx involved!

  • Looks like an awesome event and it is a great report!!! Stoked to see it represented here!!!

    However, being a bike nerd and all, something seemed a bit off with the blue Kona in pics 29 and 32. It appears to be on backwards? Probably gives the bike some strange handling characteristics. And brake rotor placement? Obviously in no way important to the article or the overall message of this article, but it caught my eye as precarious.

    • John B.

      Flip the fork for a shorter wheel base and steeper rake. Perfect for Fat Bike Crit racing, the next big thing.

      • spencer harding
        • Damn! Miss that one! My bad, I apologize, was just curious.

          • While I can see your point – I didn’t even notice the fork until you pointed it out – I also see Spencer’s point. I don’t think you were being a troll or malicious but in this context it opens up the discussion. I think we all need to be able to discuss topics in a constructive manner, doing our best to put emotions aside and working together to form a language that makes everyone feel comfortable to engage. If you can’t ask a question – even out of curiousity – then it’s not possible to learn. We’re all getting there. It’s not an easy process but showing a legit concern to be a better person and increase knowledge is always welcomed. xoxo

          • Thanks for your perspective John, I totally agree. I was in no way trolling and it was merely an observation I was curious about, specifically regarding the mechanics of the build and not the preference/comfort of the rider. I did not mean to distract or detract from the intent of this article and apologize for any offense I inadvertently made.

          • Cake Carrot

            it’s interesting where this conversation went. Just as a point of information: that Kona was a rental from the WBR (Whitefish Bike Retreat). Many of the mechanics at the Summit, including the mechanic who is riding that bike, I’m sure noticed this but didn’t feel the need to point it out.

          • Sarah Swallow

            If you aren’t trying to take away from the message of this article and you know the reputation of the comments of this site, you know the event is already over and voicing your safety concern does not help the rider in any way, than why make the comment? It may have been unconscious, but that’s what ALL OF US need to work on… to be less unconscious and more *thoughtful*. This is just an example of a tough conversation we need to have in order to make this place a space we want to be a part of. Like Nam said, this was a rented bike. I imagine loads of people prior to the summit rented and rode that bike in the way it was built and rented to them.

          • WOW! I’m surprised how my supposed innocuous comment has generated so much backlash and regret that this is the case. I now feel completely uncomfortable and unwelcome to post comments on this site any longer. Before, I felt this was a safer place than most sites to post questions/comments and receive positive answers and critiques. I apologize again and will no longer post comments or questions to this site in the future.

          • Cake Carrot

            these comments are not directed at you personally, brrraaapp. many others felt the need to point out the fork as well. one of the things that i learned from the summit was that “safer spaces” don’t really exist for WTFers. positivity for the sake of positivity is hollow and doesn’t allow for learning or growth to happen- which is what this community seeks above all. i think it would be a shame to not take this as an opportunity to sit with discomfort and ask some questions on where and why that discomfort lives. again, Bart (commeter below) and Meatyurologist (commenter above) were also being addressed in these comments.

          • Don’t apologize. You did nothing wrong. You pointed out something unusual and asked about it. Spencer was the aggressor and made things weird, not you.

            We are all adults here so lets cut the shit:

            – the bike was a rental and was clearly maintained poorly without a final visual inspection from the shop renting it out. you guys should be attacking the SHOP that rented out that suicide machine.

        • meaty_urologist

          i don’t really think he was bike shaming, just noticed a fork mounted backwards that might lead to a safety/handling issue…

          • spencer harding

            well first, if there was a safety concern, there were multiple professional mechanics at the event. Im sure if there was a legitimate safety concern it would have been addressed.

            secondly, handling. That bike’s geometry was designed around a cis male body, another male person telling someone their bike handles incorrectly doesn’t help. The reason for this event is the need for more voices in the bike industry. You are not the person in that photo, you don’t know their body. Maybe switching the fork around makes it ride better for them.

            Voicing concern, while seemingly innocuous, over the safety and handling of the bike undermines the caliber of the mechanics present and the person riding the bike’s personal choice to make their bike work for them.

          • Adem Rudin

            In the interests of expanding my own knowledge, I’d be very curious to learn what sort of handling or fitment issues a backwards fork can address.

          • Thor

            Strange then, that Juliana bikes are identical to Santa Cruz except for the contact points. Last time I checked, men and women weren’t THAT different. There is wide variation in leg and torso length that has nothing to with gender. Bike fit is an individual thing that doesn’t have anything to do with what type of genitals you have. I think you are taking this PC thing a bit far. Would it be politically incorrect for a male rider to point out to a female rider that her front QR is dangling loose?

          • Cake Carrot

            this is not about being PC, it’s about very real issues WTFers deal within the industry and culture every single day. condescension and paternalism are major themes. it’s beyond genitals and pointing out things. you missed the point if you think “men and women aren’t THAT different” ask yourself: do you really want to make WTF riders you ride with or interact with uncomfortable? so why not listen to what those very people are saying in an effort to learn and grow yourself.

          • I think he was referring to contact points in bike design – a point Spencer brought up in response to the rider with the backwards fork – he’s not saying anything more than that.

        • dude, spencer. what? bike shaming? the fucking bike is assembled incorrectly. should we get KONA in here and see what their take is on it?

        • Brian Behrens

          I really was planning to refrain from posting as this seems like a hot topic and I generally avoid comment threads. But I noticed this too and timetobraap is being unfairly called out on this so I must say something in his support.

          The fact there were mechanics there is not the issue. The rental company that assembled the bike had mechanics as well and missed it. Besides, just because there are professional mechanics present doesn’t mean they are looking for work — they are probably out there to just ride bikes and not be mechanics.

          Geometry and handling aside that also means the rotational forces to the brake rotor are being applied opposite of the direction the brake rotor was designed for. It also means that the caliper mounts and bolts are being pulled away form the fork vs. the mount being pushed into the fork. Most, if not all, brake calipers are mounted on a bike so they push into the mounting surface or are perpendicular to the rotation when force is being applied. That way you are not relying on very fine M5 bold threads to take the forces of braking. Also pulling forces the bolt torque to increase momentarily with each brake application. All things to consider as usually the way force it applied is engineered into the parts. With brakes, especially on an adventure bike rig, that is a lot of force to manage!

          Next, wheel castor is far enough back that getting the rear of the bike to lift would be much easier potentially pitching the rider over the bars under heavy braking.

          Last, most off road tires are directional so there is a good chance that was off as well (though that sort of a ‘whatever’ thing).

          As a huge “no bike shaming” advocate as I am just happy that people are on them. The observation was valid and the rule of “no bike shaming” needs to be flexible when you are talking a potential safety issue and people should feel free to express concerns of safety no matter what. It would be tragic if injury occurred because a code of conduct caused someone else to not feel open enough to bring up an issue.

    • Ya Girl

      A quick holler from the person on the blue Kona to the man who now feels unsafe:

      Hello, from my corner of the internet to yours! I have got two answers to your question, the short one and the long one. I’m gonna lay the short one on you first. Here it goes:

      Yes, the fork was on backwards. The bike was a rental with a loose stem, and when I got it from the mechanic things got wonky and I ended up with the fork oriented the way it is in the pictures. I was FINE (thanks for asking, jeez) despite spending a good three days riding that shimmery blue deathtrap all over bee-yoo-tiful Montana. I rode that bike to a lake (which was lit) and I did fall once (on a climb) but emerged otherwise unscathed. Good eye, I guess?

      The second one is longer and I think will answer some of your other questions. It involves a (paraphrased) story, so buckle in:

      A couple of weeks ago, I was going to get my hair done while my partner (a cis man) drove me to my appointment. We happened upon some cyclists on a group ride. “God, I wish they
      would ride on the side of the road.” he said. I said “Sure.” He said, “You know there are places for them to ride, right?”. “The road is also open to cyclists.” I said. “They are
      vehicles with all of the rights to the roads that cars have.” He just kind of shrugged and said “Up the road there is this thing that’s like wide enough for them to ride in.” I watched in awe as this
      motherfucker then proceeded to describe bike lanes to me in a very ELI5 tone. I got mad huffy and he got mad huffy and eventually he got incredibly upset with me for being upset with him. I had to explain my emotions to him and after some time eventually convinced him to calm down. We went to the appointment and the day went on.

      Now, you may be thinking: “Oh, she’s upset because she rides bikes.” but you’re wrong.

      I was upset because I am a fucking transportation engineer with bike-ped focus. I spent time and money and blood and sweat and tears and even more money to learn how to expand my city’s protected bike lane offerings from being a piddling 300 feet.

      “Mainsplaining” is a much maligned term, but this anecdote represents what many WTF individuals experience every day.

      Was it an oversight? Sure. But it was an incredibly insensitive one.

      I am a long-time lurker on this site, so I know comments like yours are the norm. Context is key here. I can’t assume the intent of your comment. I don’t know you. I do know that this was an uplifting experience for many riders who are looking for a space in the cycling community. I don’t think this was the correct space for this comment.

      The people who rushed to my defense did so because they understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of comments like the ones my partner made on the way to my hair appointment.

      All in all, it sucks that such a beautiful event– where zero mechanical issues occurred– should be marred by this long ass thread where you diverted the attention to yourself and your discomfort.

      I do want you to realize that taking the time to explain this to you is labor and that it is the same type of labor I was forced to undertake when I had to calm down my partner. I want
      you to realize that this explanation is not something that is owed, but that it is an undertaking to create more light than heat.

      I will keep a closer eye on my fork in the future.

  • Superpilot

    These people are so rad! Love love!

    • Cake Carrot

      YOU’RE rad! <3

  • So happy to see this happening!!

    • Cake Carrot

      <3 <3

  • California Travis

    This rules so hard. Yes!

  • Liz Harris

    Mmm… sign me up for next year!

  • Lewy

    What is the front bike in pic #17? It looks fantastic.

    • Sarah Swallow

      I believe that is a custom Black Cat.

    • spencer harding

      Black Sheep I believe, I saw the frame at the oveja shop this summer, so rad to see it all build up and packed out

    • Lane Willson

      That’s my Black Sheep! Great bike from FT. Collins…Oddity did the fork and bars.

  • Big Jänet Romance

    🌹 thE wØrLD gĘts beTtėR SoMEtÎMEŠ . tHIs iS a bRiGhT eXaMLÊ OK : tHë bICyCLê w I l l sÆvE UŠ aLL OK 🌹

  • Sarah, you always have the best t-shirts! I need to know what that t-shirt in 17 is!

    • Sarah Swallow

      Thanks Kyle! You mean the shirt/sweatshirt piece? That’s from Mollusk!

  • Tron Kellen

    I searched femme on Wikipedia because I had never heard the term yet. I don’t really understand, so it means a feminine lesbian? But isn’t that included in the Women part? Or are the “butch” (wiki’s word not mine) lesbians not welcome at this event? I’m not trying to troll BTW, I’m genuinely curious. Thanks!

    • Murray Watson

      I think in this instance femme is an adjective and refers to anyone who identifies as feminine, or identifies with feminine qualities.

  • Jennifer Renshaw

    This looks like a rad event! I’m going to give y’all a follow over on Insta.

  • This is so fucking cool and substantial. Glad I took the time to read this today. Keep going.

  • Pascal K

    fantastic!