Susanne Delaney commutes to her job at the National Passport Center in Portsmouth by bicycle. For Delaney, biking to work is an important part of her daily routine.
“If you can incorporate exercise in your morning routine, you feel so much better,” Delaney said. “I feel energized, like I’m in a good mood, and everyone’s like, ‘What the hell are you smiling about?’”
But according to Anne Rugg, manager of Commute Smart Seacoast and founder of She Rides Seacoast, a community group for local female cyclists, Delaney is a rarity. Only 26 percent of people who commute by bicycle are women, Rugg said. That’s precisely the reason Rugg founded She Rides a year ago. The group’s aim is to inspire, educate, and unite Seacoast women around all things cycling.
“My job is to get people to bike to work, but if women are afraid to bike, or nervous about biking, they’re not going to do it,” said Rugg. “So I said, let’s get them on the bike, and the next step would be to get them to bike to work, and facilitate that.”
Since then, She Rides, which is part of the larger Seacoast Area Bicycle Routes organization, has grown. At the group’s last meeting in late March, 77 women showed up to talk bikes, commuting, and everything else. She Rides’ next meeting will take place on April 25 at Redhook Brewery in Portsmouth.
At the March meeting, the weather outside was drizzly and cold, but inside Throwback Brewery in North Hampton, the atmosphere was warm. As part of She Rides’ anniversary celebration, some of the women shared stories about their cycling experiences.
Delaney, for example, used to race competitively, until she suffered a series of race-related injuries. Now she enjoys biking with her friends and husband, along with her regular commute to work.
“Coming back (to cycling) in my early 30s was really neat because you have much more confidence when you’re older,” said Delaney. “In my 20s, I think it was just intimidating, and as we get older, we gain strength and we feel like we belong more.”
Many of the women at Throwback shared that sentiment. Delaney spoke about how the overwhelming majority of men in the sport can be intimidating for women
Rugg explained that part of the reason she wanted to create She Rides was due to the lack of community surrounding women cyclists.
“I think there’s really a desire for women in the Seacoast to meet other women who are passionate about cycling,” Rugg said. “It can be really isolating … it’s more fun to ride with a buddy.”
Having that sort of community helps in ways large and small, Delaney said. “If you do a 50-mile ride by yourself, you’re going to be pretty darn tired,” she said. “If you do it with five of your friends … it’s like a flock of geese!”
She Rides meets the last Monday of each month, and each meeting focuses on a different topic. One meeting might cover cycling rules and etiquette, while another offers the basics of bike maintenance. Other meetings might look at what it means to be a woman cyclist, or how to make the activity more welcoming to women.
“Everyone can come with something to contribute,” says Delaney. “People can teach nutrition, I can teach about hill climbing, or bike safety. It’s just bringing women together, really.”
Along with their love of cycling, the women of She Rides also share a deep appreciation for good food and good beer — which is why many of the meetings take place at local breweries.
“Most of my biking focuses around eating food,” cyclist Jen Murphy said, joking with the audience at the March meeting. She showed pictures of her and her bike, one standing next to a cow and another wearing a lobster hat.
“I did a lobster ‘roll’ and got lobster rolls at the end,” she said, laughing.
That sense of fun is at the core of She Rides’ mission, according to Delaney.
“Something so simple as riding your bike brings you back to your childhood, brings you back to those days of freedom,” said Delaney. “It sounds so corny, but it’s the freedom of getting on your bike and just (saying) … ‘Where am I going to go today?’”
The next She Rides meet-up takes place Monday, April 25 at 5:30 p.m. at Redhook Brewery, 1 Redhook Way, Portsmouth. For more information, visit seacoastbikes.org/women-ride.