This month, in conjunction with International Women’s Day, PEARL iZUMi celebrates women in cycling. Female riders excel at bringing others into the sport and creating an inclusive space for the love of bikes to flourish. This is one of several stories focusing on women who devote time to the development of others getting out on the bike.
Sheryl Porter’s passion for riding bikes is so strong that she can’t keep it all to herself. She wants to get others out there, too, so she co-founded the Dallas/Ft. Worth chapter of Black Girls Do Bike (BGDB), a national movement to get more women of color on bikes.
Porter started riding seven years ago, after discovering it for health reasons. Although she’d been an athlete in high school, life’s distractions got in the way until her father passed away from cancer. “It was a huge shock, and I went into depression and gained some weight,” Porter said. “Then my doctor didn’t like what she heard in my heart.” It turned out to be an irregular heartbeat, and the cardiologist urged Porter to manage her stress. “He told me, ‘Whatever is happening, just let it go. You look fairly active — whatever you used to do, start doing it again. Stress builds up, and it destroys you.’”
So she pulled her 1989 Huffy mountain bike out of the garage and started riding around the neighborhood. “You don’t have to have an expensive bike to get fit. I rode two blocks that turned into three, then half a mile, then I found a bike path here in my community.”
Getting away from it all made Porter fall in love with cycling. “When I got on my bike, it was an escape. I thought about my dad, but not in a negative way. It was so peaceful.”
As her passion for riding grew, she joined a local group, the Iron Riders Dallas Cycling Club, to find others to ride with. “They took me and got me riding a century pretty quick. Then I found Black Girls Do Bike, and that was amazing because it was all women.”
She co-founded the Dallas/Ft. Worth chapter in 2014, and today it has about 400 members.
“A lot of people think it’s just social, but really it’s about community and learning from one another. You take those things you see other women doing, and you think, I can do that too.”
A high priority for Porter and BGDB is working to remove the barriers that keep women from getting into riding. “There are so many things we have to deal with that men don’t,” Porter said. “There’s the body type thing. Many of us don’t have the typical cyclist body, so a lot of people don’t want to wear a cycling kit. I might help those ladies choose a skort, it gives them some coverage and modesty. And there are helmet challenges, too — for example, I have natural hair, and it’s pretty thick. I had to figure out what size helmet to buy, and how to secure it without damaging my hair.”
Porter makes sure the education process keeps going. “We teach people all kinds of things, including nutrition before, during and after the ride, and about hydration — we have a lot of people with high blood pressure and diabetes, which runs rampant in our community, so there’s a lot to address with hydration.”
But most of all, she likes to focus on the enjoyment factor. “I think I have a positive outlook on almost every situation. And I think the more positive you are, people want to be a part of that. When you’re doing things that are good, that feeds others, then that draws people to you. My goal is to make cycling fun.” Porter organizes a lot of themed rides, such as this year’s kickoff ride, which has a Mardi Gras theme. “I want to make sure the excitement is there, make it more than just hammering it out. I try to bring a positive spirit, some fun, and playfulness with it.”
And of course, representation matters. “If women of color see us out there, they’re more likely to be interested. I have the personality where I can go to an event, not see anyone like me, and be comfortable, but not everyone is like that.” The group welcomes riders of any color. “We have Hispanic women, white women… we just want to get women into cycling.”
She’s learned to find new riders in unconventional ways. “We’ve gotten so many ladies into BGDB by wearing a jersey or hat when we go places. I’ve worn mine into the grocery store, and people ask me about it.” And she’s not afraid to be assertive once she’s caught their interest. “I hold them to it if they say they want to ride. I’ll loan them a bike, do one-on-one rides with them around their neighborhood.” She laughs. “I boss people into riding.”
Every group has its core riders who turn out all the time, and Porter’s focus this year is to get more of the women out to the monthly rides. She posted a poll to the group’s Facebook page, asking what kind of rides people wanted to do. “We’ve got more novice and intermediate riders than advanced, and we need to focus on bringing them along. I don’t want them to not show up, thinking they can’t keep up on a ride.”
Porter herself is primarily a road rider, but also owns a mountain bike and a cruiser, plus a 35-year-old bike she just acquired for a tweed ride. “Anything bicycles, I like it. I think cycling is an amazing outlet. It’s a peaceful time, a fun time, and there’s also the competitive moments. You can enjoy it the way you want to.”
One might imagine that running a BGDB chapter would be enough to keep her busy, but Porter doesn’t stop there. She became president of the Iron Riders Dallas group four years ago and just launched Bike Friendly Grand Prairie-Cedar Hill, an organization that advocates for safety on the roads for motorists and cyclists alike. As the executive director, she attended the BikeTexas Cyclists in Suits lobbying effort In Austin last month. She’s also a “Do Better Influencer” for Quick Brown Fox, an effort led by road racer Ayesha McGowan to inspire women and youth of color to ride.
For Porter, inclusion is just part of who she is. “I like to see other people excel, it makes me feel good to see other people doing something awesome. You open yourself to people, and from a five-second interaction, now you have a teammate and a friend.”