19 September 2018

Girls on Bikes: Mobility, community and leadership

| Jessica Abramovic
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Girls on Bikes: mobilising community, two wheels at a time.

There are some people and programs that every once in a while, stop and make us smile. One such program is Girls on Bikes, a free learn-to-ride program that aims to mobilise and connect migrant and refugee women in the Canberra community.

The women who run the program are equally inspiring. Founded and directed by 26-year-old Sophie Fisher, and run on superpower volunteer strength, Girls on Bikes is fostering an unstoppable community of empowered women that are mobilised, strong and confident.

When the program began in 2017 and saw its first 10 participants learning to ride on bikes donated by the Canberra community, its purpose was clear: to provide women in the ACT with the opportunity to grow, connect, and continue to lead positive change in their own communities.

Sophie Fisher is the indomitable force behind the campaign.

When asked why she founded Girls on Bikes, Ms Fisher says, “While volunteering as a tutor, I discovered that many of my students, who were migrant and refugee women, never had the opportunity to learn to ride.

“When I moved to Canberra some years back, my bike was my sole means of transport, and getting to ride all over our beautiful city was something I wanted to share with others. The mobility, freedom and joy that come with cycling is unparalleled.”

Based on Ms Fisher’s vision and the incredible support of the Canberra community and businesses, Girls on Bikes is well on its way to teaching every woman who wants to learn how to ride.

Twenty-four new participants are currently in their fourth week of the five-week program, and all of the women have now taken their first wheel turns. Some have advanced to braking, while others are now confidently riding and scanning for hazards.

Mumbi Kamau, a previous participant turned Program Trainer says, “I never imagined, before I learnt to ride, just how much goes into learning. About all the things you need to know, what to watch out for, the coordination you need.

Mumbi and Sophie.

Mumbi and Sophie.

“Now that I know how to ride, I am so proud to be a Trainer myself and teach other women just like me how to ride. It is very exciting to see the women go from gliding to pedalling to confident riders.

“Beyond the riding though, I have also made some wonderful friends. One of the women I went through the program with turned out to actually be my neighbour, and now we are very close. I also know other women, who through Girls on Bikes, have made new friendships and feel more part of Canberra and Australia.”

It is stories like Ms Fisher’s and Ms Kamau’s that show the true community the underscores Girls on Bikes. It also highlights the leadership that every woman who comes to the program, develops; from women like Ms Fisher who are determined to make a difference to those like Ms Kamau who want to pay their skill forward to mobilise and connect hundreds more women.

The community of Girls on Bikes continues to grow too, particularly through the generosity and support of the wider Canberra community.

The program depends on donated bikes for the women to learn on. At the end of the program, they also receive a free bike to ensure they continue developing their cycling skills and can pass these on to their families. All of the bikes are in good condition, ensuring that each woman who is part of the program truly has the opportunity to embrace cycling.

More than that though, receiving a bike from the Canberra community provides that woman with a connection to her new home, her new neighbourhood, her new life.

It is for this reason that Girls on Bikes is worth smiling about.

To get involved and donate your good quality disused bike, visit Girls on Bikes ACT at https://www.girlsonbikesact.com.au/

Girls on Bikes is auspiced by Pedal Power ACT with support from an ACT Government grant. Helmets for participants are donated by Trek Bicycles, and bikes have been provided with support from the Canberra Environment Centre, Goodspeed Bicycle Company and members of the Canberra community.

Jessica Abramovic is Director of Communications of Girls on Bikes.

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