When Gritchelle Fallesgon started commuting around San Francisco by bike in 2005, she never expected cycling to become a passion. “I had no interest in ever wearing spandex or racing because I was like, ‘That doesn’t look like me,’” explains Fallesgon, who is Filipina. Over time, however, Fallesgon shifted from a casual commuter to an avid cyclist. Two years ago, she moved to Portland, drawn by the city’s bike friendliness and huge cyclocross scene.
Last summer, Fallesgon received a message from Molly Sugar, a Korean-born designer who had recently moved to Portland after biking from Virginia to Oregon. Sugar had fallen in love with cycling while attending college in Richmond, Virginia, where she was part of a close-knit community of Asian cyclists. Her friends had nicknamed the group Friends on Bikes—a play on the acronym FOB, a derogatory slang term for recently arrived Asian immigrants.
“I wanted to not only be a part of that community again, but also offer it to other people who might feel the same way,” Sugar explains. Together, Sugar and Fallesgon re-launched Friends on Bikes as a cycling group for women and women-aligned people of color.
“It’d be awesome to encourage other people like ourselves to ride bikes more, and not make other women of color feel like its solely a white man’s sport,” Fallesgon adds. “It can be our sport, too.”
While Friends on Bikes brands itself as a group for women of color, it’s open to women of all races, as well as transmen and nonbinary folks. “I personally really wanted to specifically [invite] women/trans/femme/nonbinary [people] because I've heard about my dad's struggles to find social groups that he felt comfortable in,” explains Sugar, whose father is genderqueer.
Sugar and Fallesgon have crafted a three-pronged approach to promote diversity in cycling. They plan to interview women of color “doing great things in the cycling community"—making Friends on Bikes the go-to resource for those stories. They also intend to team up with like minded nonprofits and organizations; for instance, female-focused bike shop Gladys Bikes stocks copies of Sugar’s Biking Across America zine, with a portion of proceeds benefiting Portland’s Bikes for Humanity.
Perhaps most obviously, the pair plans to organize bike rides around the region, from Forest Park excursions to bikepacking trips. The first event—a 15-mile ride featuring free Ristretto coffee and Pip's Original doughnuts—attracted 27 cyclists, largely women of color.
Amazing turnout for this morning’s inaugural Women of Color Social Donut ride! Huge THANK YOU to all our new awesome bike friends who joined us on this beautiful Sunday morning! We look forward to doing more rides with ya’ll in the future! Special thanks to @rrpdx, @pipsoriginal and @less_is_more_pdx for their generous support. To @jordanpattern for ride support and to @linedotstar for delivering our donuts around. We’re stoked to be a part of this amazing community!
Doughnuts aside, Sugar and Fallesgon agree that cycling offers them a strong sense of independence and empowerment. “Once you get over that hill, you feel that sense of accomplishment, and that can take you further,” Sugar says. “Biking across the country wasn’t just something that happened overnight. But since I’ve done that, now I feel more confident to do other things. And I want to pass that along.”