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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