Babes in Bikeland is the largest all-WTF (women, trans*, femme) alley cat race in the country. (And probably the largest race of its kind in the Universe, we just can't confirm that.)
Through the PA, Kat asked, "ARE YOU READY?" and I'm straining to hear the magnificent rumble of 400+ BABES ready to rock and roll! And yes, that is a Grease Rag flag! Photo by Brian: Fanelli.Brian@gmail.com
My Time in Bikeland
September 13, 2014 marks the eighth Babes in Bikeland, and the first Babes I have not raced since 2009. Babes 3 was my first alley cat, first bike race, and first bike event ever! I did it with my new found friend Buzo, and we bonded during the experience and now we do gross stuff like send each other postcards and hug a lot and declare publicly on Facebook how much we love each other. And I've felt that way about every person I've raced Babes with since, too. Which tells me it's not really about the act of racing. It might not even be the event. There's just something different about Babes in Bikeland.
This year, I didn't race because I was given the honor and privilege of organizing Babes with these fine people.
Babes organizers Karyn, Kat, and Jess. Photo by Bjorn
Each year when I do Babes I try to have a goal. A goal besides, "Have fun," because that's a given! I've used, "Go to all the stops before close," "Drink a beer and chill out for at least one stop," and "Finish in the top 50%." This year, as an organizer, my goal was to work really hard at making a safer space for all WTFs to have fun while racing, riding exuberantly, and bonding with WTFs at the after party.
With the help of our sponsors, stop and party hosts, a whole group of dedicated volunteers, and some rad, take charge Babes, I achieved my goal. Thank you to every racer, especially the rookies, who came out and did their thing, and had a great time. This Babes is for you!
I mentioned earlier that Babes in Bikeland is more than a bike race to me. But how is it different from other alley cat races in Minneapolis? Let me count the ways.
Eleven Ways Babes in Bikeland is Unique
(I started with the goal to write about five things, but I couldn't stop!)
Pre-Wanderabout Group Ride
Organized and sponsored by Grease Rag, the Wanderabout is a social event meant to introduce people to each other, and the concept of an alley cat. The goal of the WTF-only ride is fun, helps with pre-race jitters, and makes sure that people get their questions answered. We begin the ride at the Babes race start location, and we conclude the ride at the finish line. So if you do the Wanderabout you'll know two stops on the manifest before the big day! Ginny, Julia, and I organized the ride this year, but many others pitched in to make it happen.
Saturday morning, Ginny hosts a brunch from 10-2 at the Seward Cafe for even more social time and hangs. Fuel up, meet up with riding partners, and spend time with Ginny at one of my favorite brunch spots.
WTFs to the front
Babes encourages self-identified WTF (women, trans*, femme) cyclists to race. We won't police your gender at registration, we won't police your gender during the race, and we won't police your gender at the after party. We gave you a nice big blank spot for your "preferred gender pronoun" on the manifest, so go ahead and fill in your favorite pronoun!
Designated Stop Captains
We had Stop Captains in bright pink shirts that had been coached to be as supportive as possible, and we held them responsible for the actions of volunteers at each stop. We did a pre-race mandatory meeting where we talked about gender identity, trans-inclusion, being supportive without using gendered language, and what to do in case of emergencies. Big shout out to all of our volunteers that took their role in the race seriously, and worked really hard to support our racers! You fellas are top notch.
From coozies to socks, panniers to rain jackets, wool baselayers to skirt garters. Babes wants as many people as possible to walk away with a prize. Most races offer a prize to the top one, two or three fastest. But Babes knows there's more to being a winner than being fast.
Podium. Lots of chances to get up on the podium: Rookie, Out of Town, Masters, Best Costume, and every completed manifest earns a raffle ticket for a complete bike.
Safer spaces education
Not only did our volunteer Stop Captains get training on what safer spaces are all about, we started the conversation on Facebook and asked you to help Babes define what safer spaces should look like. Talking about safer spaces online, leading up to the event, is another way to get the word out about what Babes trying to do with the space. Your input shaped a flyer that was handed out to racers and allies at the after party.
Critical mass of Babes
There's nothing like lining up with 400+ WTF cyclists before the airhorn sounds to signal the start of a race. There's nothing like watching 50 Babes streaming by you in the opposite direction on the road. There's nothing like being in a sweaty gym with a bunch of your new WTF friends that just shared a race experience with you. A critical mass of Babes means there's no room for the patriarchy at this dance party. Our mere presence is powerful. It's as if 400 of us are saying to each other, "I got your back, Babe."
I love a good dress up party, and some racers brought their A-game. Team Babe Lincoln, Team Sparkle Sass, and Team Crow were some of the ones that I remember. I love the creativity and freedom represented by all of the fun, exuberant outfits.
Out of towners
I met new friends from New Jersey, welcomed the Denver crew, talked to some racers from Chicago, and reconnected with friends from Boston and Milwaukee! Sure, some alley cats bring people from other places, but this is a race where a lot of my far flung friends come back home to roost. And it is wonderful.
So many people stepped up to fill in the gaps to make the event run smoothly. This was the largest number of racers we've ever had, and it went the smoothest. At 12, when the party was supposed to end, several racers stayed behind to help sweep, mop, and clean the space. That is what community looks like.
I have never been thanked so many times in my life for putting on an event! It was intoxicating to feel the gratitude of a group of people that I care about. Such lovely manners you all have!
Your Stories and Images
ROOKIES! VETERANS! MASTERS! WTFS!! I need to hear from you. Send us your Facebook posts, your race reports, your narrative, your photos, your impressions. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will compile your media, and we will be HEARD! Your voice will encourage others to partake next year, and your voice will show that we are active, supportive, biking BABES.
If you were able to attend Babes this year, you know how important it is to the vibe and energy of the event to pack the venue with amazing WTF presence. And if you are a WTF, you know how important it is to keep on publishing stories in our own words, and images of us being ourselves, and not sexualized, passive objects. I strongly believe that publishing what you write, photograph, record is important, regardless if it is an event like Babes or an account of your commute, or a cute photo of you and your kid enjoying bikes together. Let's show 'em how it's done.
(If you have feedback about the race itself, feel free to email email@example.com.)
Update 9/15: We posted thank yous and race results on the website!
Sveta took some lovely photos of the race start!
Check out these photos, mostly from the race start, by Brian, who also provided the free mechanical help on race day, courtesy of Recovery Bike Shop. Fanelli.Brian@gmail.com
Please enjoy these photos from our friend, Bjorn, that really capture the event, especially the finish line excitement.
Photo by Ellie Kingsbury
Photo by Alex MacGillis
These photos are from Alex's camera, and he took some photos before and some really great photos after the race. During the race, photos were taken by Ellie Kingsbury, and show racers dressed up for the Three Bling Circus. So much fun!
MPR interviewed our friends Annie, Kat, JJ, and Letta, and they did a great job capturing the spirit of the race.
"The men who are involved in the race are thrilled," Page said. "They're seeing their biking community expand, and they go on to encourage Babes in Bikeland riders to come join in other races, to take this as a moment of inspiration that shows them that they're definitely up to the challenge of joining in on any race they want."
Letta said the broader public sometimes just sees bikers as either spandex-clad weekend warriors or an activity for people with the most expensive gear. She said Babes in Bikeland offers another way of thinking about biking.
"Bikes are fun -- just because we're grown ups doesn't mean we can't just look at our friends and say, 'Let's go ride bikes,'" Letta said. "Races like Babes in Bikeland that emphasize fun and cooperation and competition help us reclaim the fun part of riding bikes."