FWOD Celebrates Women on Bikes

A biking group with an ever-changing acronym, FWOD raises awareness about women in cycling and promotes safe biking.


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Savanna Tracey, out front, and other FWOD babes head out on a recent ride. The club has chapters springing up in Brooklyn and Chicago.

Photo by Pat Mazzera

It’s 6:30 pm at the Lake Merritt BART station where 20 bikes are parked against a concrete wall. Oakland doesn’t know it yet, but in half an hour, these two-wheelers will be overtaking entire lanes of traffic. They’ll be gliding down Broadway like a flock of starlings through the sky. Cars will merge to the left but stare to the right as this crew of cyclists turns corners in tandem, somehow seamlessly making its way through the neighborhood.

But for now, the bikes are waiting to get started. Beers are cracked, sandwiches finished, cigarettes lit, chips shared, and throughout the circle, there is a lot of laughter and a lot of catching up. It’s been a week since the members of FWOD saw one another. And now, on Wednesday night, the team is reunited once again.

This group of women, clad mostly in black shorts and jeans, makes up an all-female cycling crew. FWOD (pronounced as one word, fw-ah-d) meets to raise awareness about females in cycling and promote safe riding opportunities. In the past few years, new chapters have been established in Brooklyn and Chicago.

Now it is 7 o’clock and a vote of hands has decided that the group is headed to the Port of Oakland. This is a destination the riders will reach just as the sun is setting. They’ll then convene in the two-story tower in Middle Harbor Shoreline Park and listen to Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack” while drinking beer and having an overall enjoyable time. That’s because the purpose of FWOD isn’t necessarily cycling. It’s actually friendship.

Initially, in 2004, the team was formed as a response to the dominance of males in biking. But as it continued, the heart of FWOD became sisterhood. For Kate Coysh, 28, who has been riding with the group since 2006, Wednesday nights are about supporting and empowering one another. “These women are more than just the babes I ride bikes with. They are my friends, my sisters, and my teachers,” says Coysh. “Riding 20 ladies deep down the streets is a sight to behold. My favorite thing is how FWOD continues to grow and that more and more women are coming out to ride in solidarity.” Jenny Simmons, 39, has been coming to the Wednesday night meet-ups for a year and describes it as “the highlight of my week.”

Once people make FWOD part of their weekly routine, they tend to stick around. This has benefits. The crew has a Broken Babes Fund that offers financial support to women cyclists who have been injured, which is paid for by membership dues as well as community fundraisers. Another perk is the no-drop policy. This means that no rider is ever left behind because they cycle at a slower pace. And for the truly committed, there is the benefit of an ultimate badge of FWOD-ness: a custom cut-off vest with the logo on the back, recognizing the wearer as an official member.

You don’t have to live in Oakland to ride with FWOD. Six-year member Savanna Tracey, 24, a former Alameda resident and an Oaklander now, notes that the ladies bike outside of city boundaries and into Alameda.

The name FWOD is an ever-changing acronym. It has stood for many things, including Fixed WithOut Dicks (which was quickly disregarded to make sure both the trans and non-fixed-gear-riding communities felt welcomed) and For Women Only, Duh. It may stand for a variety of phrases on any given day.

After heading down the Embarcadero and crossing the Park Street Bridge, they hook a right toward the Little House Café. The trip in is breezy, but the journey back takes a bit of valor. The ladies whirl through the tube one by one and wait for each other on the other side. It’s not especially pleasant, but as Coysh explains, “What are you gonna do? Add another seven miles in the wrong way?”

It’s also not a requirement to be formally invited. Anyone who identifies as a female is welcome to join and feel the freedom of flying down a busy street in a circle of safety. New rider Katherine Rae Mondo, 23, heard about the group from a girl at a house party and was immediately intrigued. “Dates are a dime a dozen,” she said. “But girlfriends are hard to find.”

It’s now 9 o’clock at the Port of Oakland. The sky is stripes of pale blue and hot orange. Twenty women, some who have never met and others who have formed lifelong bonds, just rode like a singular unit for miles. Toward the second story of the harbor park tower where the team is lounging, a security guard flashes his lights. “It’s after hours,” he says. “You have to go. But I love you all.” The members of FWOD stand and gather their bags like they’re about to go. Until he leaves. Then the women sit back down, open another round of beers, and turn their music back on. They clink their bottles. Next Wednesday is only seven days away.

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