25 October 2010

Critical Lasses In Edmonton

Now I have to take a trip to Edmonton.

No, I'm not going there to take in an Oilers' game.  And, while the idea of biking or hiking in the Rockies and taking in the Edmonton night life appeals to me, I've never made going there one of my goals.  

Lately, as a result of Sarah Chan's Girls and Bicycles blog, I've been reading about Edmonton's bicycle scene.  Until I came across her blog, I thought that cycling in Edmonton looked something like this:

You might accuse me of New York Provincialism.  You've seen an example of it on that famous New Yorker cover:

Since I started reading Girls and Bicycles, Edmonton Bicycle Commuters and other sites, I've formed an impression of an active--velocipedically as well as politically--cycling community.  And it seems to embrace diversity--and, yes, there's more of it than I, the jaded New Yorker, expected--in ways not commonly seen.

How can you not love a place that has a "Critical Lass" ride?

But the thing that really got my attention was a practice of Bike Works, the bicycle cooperative EBC operates.  On the first, third and fifth Sundays of every month,  BikeWorks is open only to women and transgenders.

Now that was an eye-opener for me.  I didn't think that there were enough transgenders, let alone transgendered cyclists, in Edmonton for them to be so recognized.  There's my NYP at work again!

If I ever were in Edmonton, of course I would check out BikeWorks on a women's/transgenders' Sunday.  However--and, as someone who hasn't been there, my view is admittedly limited--I have mixed feelings about  such a practice.

On one hand, I'm glad that a bike shop or cooperative wants to make its facility female- and trans-friendly and give us a "space."  In a sense, they're acknowledging that there aren't enough such spaces and hours.   And I know that sometimes (actually, often) I want to be around other women only, not out of any animosity toward men, but because of our particular ways of seeing and experiencing things. 

On the other, I have to wonder whether that will help or impede our acceptance by the larger cycling culture, and the culture generally.  I feel the same way about other gender-segregated institutions such as schools, and ones that are dedicated to LGBT people.  Some educators and psychologists raised the same concern when the Harvey Milk School was opened in New York.

Don't get me wrong:  I'm happy that the folks at BikeWorks recognize that there are indeed transgendered cyclists and that we, like other female cyclists, sometimes feel alienated and excluded from the larger cycling culture.  I don't doubt that they are trying to make us feel more welcome and to counter some of the condescension and hostility female cyclists have long complained about in cycle shops and clubs.

Still, I find it interesting that such a thing is happening in Edmonton and not in New York, at least to my knowledge.  


  1. hi justine. my name's Jim, and I'm a cyclist in Edmonton. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading this. It's inspiring to see someone from NYC can appreciate something too many edmontonians either take for granted, or miss entirely.

    I had the same mixed feelings about the exclusive women/transgendered days at EBC. But prior to knowing about it, I showed up on one of those days to work on my bike, and nobody said anything to me. I was welcomed without any inkling I was breaking any rules at all. They even assisted me.

    Thank you so much for your post.

  2. Hi Jim,

    I'm glad they were helpful to you. That makes me feel a little better about the idea of a women's/transgenders' Sunday.

    And thank you for your comments. Maybe--hopefully--I'll get to Edmonton.