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Feb 15, 2022

On this week’s episode Randall speaks with Monica Garrison, Founder, Executive Director, and Chief Storyteller of Black Girls Do Bike. BGDB’s mission is to introduce women and girls to the joys of cycling, with an emphasis on those of color who are often less-represented in the cycling community. With 30K+ members spread over 100+ chapters, BGDB is rolling proof of the bicycle’s potential as a vehicle for connection and an example we hope to learn from and collaborate with as we evolve our own efforts toward building community.

Black Girls Do Bike

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Automated Transcription, please excuse the typos:

Monica Garrison - Final

[00:00:00] Randall R. Jacobs: Welcome to the Gravel Ride podcast. I'm today's host Randall Jacobs. And with me is Monica Garrison

monica is the founder executive director and chief storyteller of black girls do bike and organization she founded in 2013 and has grown to a hundred plus chapters worldwide black girls do is where you can find more about her organism. She's also a skilled professional photographer and videographer whose work you can find on her personal website, Monica, Godfrey being her maiden name.

And with that, I'd like to bring my friend Monica Garrison to join us here. So Monica, welcome to the podcast.

[00:00:35] Monica Garrison: Hello. Hello. Happy to be here. Thanks for having.

[00:00:39] Randall R. Jacobs: Absolutely. It's been a while in the making. So let's dive right in. What were your motivations for starting black girls do bike.

[00:00:46] Monica Garrison: Black grocery bike came from a place of longing for community. I was, um, discovering my joy of, or my love of cycling in the summer spring of 2013. And after a few months of writing and, you know, discovering my city in a new way and spending time with my kids, um, at the end of all that I realized that I didn't see many women who look like me on, on bikes in my town.

And so. You know, these women are either out there and I, I can't find them or that they don't exist and they need to know about how great cycling is because I have found cycling to be very, um, healing in a lot of ways, you know, mentally healing, obviously physically healing. Um, and so when I went to the internet to find these women, I, I didn't really find, um, good representation of women, of color on bikes.

And so. That was, that was the birth. The Genesis of black girls do bike.

It was, it was like, well, let's create this space and invite women into it and see what happens. And, um, and the rest is history.

[00:01:52] Randall R. Jacobs: And your base.

[00:01:54] Monica Garrison: I'm in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

[00:01:56] Randall R. Jacobs: And it sounds like this was a very personal for you, but so before we dive into the organization, I want to talk, I want to hear more about your personal journey with the bike.

[00:02:04] Monica Garrison: I mean, I, I think like most people I wrote as a child, I spent my summers on my bike with my brother around my Pittsburgh neighborhood Lincoln. Lymington where I grew up. And and so it was a big part of my childhood. And then I think like most, most women may. We just stopped riding and at some point, and and then when you get to a point where.

The burdens of life kind of catch up with you and you're looking for ways to ease those, those burdens. You look hopefully to exercise or to some other outlet. And, um, for me having all those good memories of riding my bike and feeling stress-free, um, I turned to, I turned to cycling. But it was, it was cool because I started to connect with like Pittsburgh, which was our local bike that, that organization here.

And I discovered, you know, this great community of, of bike advocates and people of all sizes and genders and, um, who just wanted to ride their bike carefree and, and do it safely. And so that opened up a lot of possibilities, um, as to what riding even meant for me here. And.

[00:03:09] Randall R. Jacobs: What was your, what was your first bike? And how'd you come about it.

[00:03:12] Monica Garrison: Um, the very first bike like

[00:03:15] Randall R. Jacobs: Yeah, well going, going back to your, your most recent journey back onto two wheels.

[00:03:20] Monica Garrison: Yeah. So I, I did, um, I think what everyone in my generation does, I just. Like crazy online to figure out what kind of bike I need it. And I decided that there was, it was Bita was the name of it, maybe by specialized and it just seemed perfect. And then in the styling was right up my alley. So I'm just like a hybrid commuter type bike.

Um, but it was the perfect tool to get me back on my bike because it was so versatile. I could ride on any type of terrain and it was very comforting. Um, despite the small seat, I was apprehensive that it would actually be comfortable, but it, it really was. And, um, yeah, so that bite got me through that first year.

And because I was so obsessed with cycling by the end of that first year, um, I added another bike to my stable by the second, you know, the following summer, more of a road bike, um, drop bars to, you know, help me with the speed and even more, it was even more comfortable. So there you go.

[00:04:20] Randall R. Jacobs: So that Vita if it was a 2013 or 2014, um, I would have had a hand in it cause I was at specialized and that was one of the bikes under, um, I wasn't the product manager, but I would have been doing the bill of materials and um, the supply chain stuff for that bike. Yeah. So, so I know that bike reasonably well.


[00:04:38] Monica Garrison: Yeah. Yeah. No, it was great. It was a great bike and I, when I finally sold it, I sold it to someone like it was, it was a good cause I knew they needed that bike at that time. But I really didn't want to let it go because it is really, it was really a great bike.

[00:04:53] Randall R. Jacobs: Yeah, it's,

[00:04:54] Monica Garrison: still recommend to people today.

They're like, what should I start on? I'm like, well, I started on the visa and I loved it. Um, and then, you know, there are other bikes that are comparable across all the brands, but, um, yeah, that bike, that bike stole my heart.

[00:05:08] Randall R. Jacobs: Well, and that sort of machine, you know, they, you, you can, you know, they go up into the, a couple of thousands, but you can get an entry-level one at around 500 bucks or so. And it's a fine machine for getting off the ground. And that's, I think that that accessibility is a real critical, um, area of our sport that, that.

No, it needs to be addressed. We have a lot of people in our community that are riding, you know, fancy superbikes, but you have to get a start somewhere.

[00:05:32] Monica Garrison: Yeah, for sure. and I had done, like I had done the cheaper bikes and I knew all the things, you know, in terms of comfort and durability that. And so I said, I'm going to invest in myself. Right. I'm going to do this. If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it. Right. So I, um, so I was like, yeah, $500 is worth the investment.

If it gives me a machine.

that does what I needed to do and it ended up being a great investment for sure.

[00:05:59] Randall R. Jacobs: And what were some of the earliest rides you went on? What was that experience like?

[00:06:03] Monica Garrison: Um, there's a great trail in Pittsburgh called the Eliza furnace trail. And, um,

[00:06:09] Randall R. Jacobs: I've been on that

[00:06:10] Monica Garrison: it runs along. Yeah. Yeah. It's um, it runs along our Parkway and then it's, you know, circled, it goes in lots of directions. It's, it's actually pretty cool. It runs past our county jail. Um, it and it runs to the south side of town, which has great great culture over there.

So yeah, the olanzapine trail.

is pretty cool. It's actually still my favorite trail. Um, and then. When I, when I would ride with the kids, we were always looking for like, you know, kid friendly. So I spent a lot of times, a lot of time on the trails because I wanted my kids to come along with me. And, um, obviously I didn't want to take them onto the roads.

So I got really familiar with that. And then I grew up in east Liberty, that part of town. Um, and there are a lot of things to bike Pittsburgh. There are a lot of bike lanes there now, which are. Pretty conducive to getting around town without having to interact too much with traffic. So, um, so that's probably my favorite part of the town to ride in.

[00:07:07] Randall R. Jacobs: Yeah, I've been visiting Pittsburgh for like 15 years or so. And the amount of investments in the downtown and broader infrastructure and so on with bike being part of that has been it's been quite transformative in that area. So very cool to hear that you've been taking advantage.

[00:07:21] Monica Garrison: pretty sure.

[00:07:23] Randall R. Jacobs: And how old were your kids at the time?

And th this is we're talking like early 2010.

[00:07:27] Monica Garrison: Yeah, right. So my youngest, I taught him the ride at four. So he was probably four, my daughter's three years older. So she was seven. So four year old and a seven year old. And we're like killing it around Pittsburgh, on our bikes. Yeah.

[00:07:41] Randall R. Jacobs: That's great. Yeah. Um, I have a niece and a couple of nephews that I live with in a few nephews next door. So kind of same thing for 6, 7, 8. And it's just really wonderful to have that experience. It kind of slows you down a little bit, I would imagine.

[00:07:58] Monica Garrison: Yeah. Yeah. It's a different type of ride. But it's but it's invaluable in so many other ways, so it's cool.

[00:08:06] Randall R. Jacobs: So tell me about some of your first big group rides with other adults.

[00:08:09] Monica Garrison: Um, I think my first, I don't do a lot of group rides even to this day, to be honest with you. Um, cycling is in a lot of ways, a solo sport for me which is kind of ironic because I created this organization encouraging people to ride together and to appreciate the power of that. But yeah, in all honesty, I don't, I don't do a lot of group breads.

I will say my, my favorite thing to do here in Pittsburgh, that feels like a groove ride, but it, so, so isn't um, is our open streets, um, series that we have throughout the summer. So they, they shut down miles and miles of streets here. And, you know, you can just be on the, on the open roads with other cyclists and rollerbladers and, um, All kinds of other people on transportation and the it shops are open, you know, everything's open.

And, um, that, that sense of community is, is great. And it gets people on bikes who wouldn't normally be, and it gets them in, in an environment that they wouldn't normally be. So then they start to see. What's possible. And that's why I like that event so much, because once you experience it, you're like, oh, why can't we have this more often?

You know, what's holding us back. And so I think it gets people's wheels turning into the possibilities of what, you know, open streets could really be.

[00:09:32] Randall R. Jacobs: Yeah, I think the us is generally behind say a lot of European countries with regards to like cycling as a modality for transportation and recreation and so on, but you kind of hit a tipping point around, um, like 5%. Utilization of bikes versus other modes where the infrastructure comes into play and drivers are getting used to cyclists on the road, and you have a critical mass of people who are pushing for more open streets, more bike pads and things like that.

Um, my guess is that Pittsburgh has hit that tipping point. Is there significant more like additional investment happening or

[00:10:08] Monica Garrison: yeah.

for sure. For sure. We we've had, um, for the last two last two terms, we've had the political power behind change, which has been helpful. Um, and so when folks are at the top are agreeable, you seem to get a lot more done.

[00:10:27] Randall R. Jacobs: Yeah, for sure. Well, so then let's dive into, um, you know, how, how far, how many years into your ride? Did you decide? Okay. Um, I don't see enough people who look like me and I want to motivate them. I'm going to start an organization. How did that come about?

[00:10:43] Monica Garrison: Yeah, it really wasn't immediate. Like, um, I realized that we were missing from the tapestry of my city pretty quickly. And, um, within, within months of me taking that first ride, I, I set up the Facebook page for black girls, Dubai. And, um, and then within a couple of months I said, this might be a thing, so I should probably get the domain.

So the website came soon after and, um, I think I have to go back and look because the first chapter did not start in Pittsburgh. It actually started in Florida, a lady contacted me and said, I want to create this in my town. Would you be on board? And we worked through the process of creating the first chapter, but, um, Yeah, it was, it was almost the thought came to me immediately.

And then it just took some time to figure out if it existed. Cause I don't want to duplicate someone else's work. Um, and there was, there was a group in the sea of black women on bikes, um, and they had had done a great job. It seemed to like galvanizing women of color in DC around cycling. And I thought, you know, that could, that could be, that could be worldwide, not just in DC.

And So um, I started down the path of seeking women all over the country who shared this love of cycling.

[00:12:06] Randall R. Jacobs: So started in Florida. And then what were the, what were the next chapters and how did that, was it, was it also organic people reaching out to you or was it more proactive or a mix of the two.

[00:12:18] Monica Garrison: Um, it it's always been people reaching out to me. I think we created a page that was dedicated to showcasing what chapters we had and also giving folks steps they needed to follow to, to reach out if they felt they met the criteria to lead a group of black girls or like, um, women. So uh, so it was always we're, we're looking for. And I didn't really solicit at all. Other beyond that. And the first few chapters were major cities, as you can imagine, like Los Angeles has been, um, almost one of our founding chapters, Atlanta. We were in Texas pretty quickly. So our Houston chapter, I think was the first one in Texas, but we've since expanded to almost all the big cities. Um, yeah, just, it was like a domino effect. Once people realize that they could duplicate what we had done in their towns, they were very excited. And so we were just like, here, here are the tools you need, and we'll give you the platform to let people know that you exist and let's see what happens.

[00:13:24] Randall R. Jacobs: So then from there, you've got this, you know, rapidly kind of self accumulating snowball of interest and people reaching out, wanting to start their own chapters. How did it evolve from there? And, um, what sorts of opportunities emerged as, as that started to grow and become a more visible.

[00:13:41] Monica Garrison: Yeah, I think I remember so the first time I showed up at the national bike summit in DC. Which was, I believe the second year into this process. So folks had started to hear about us. Um, and I was like VIP at the bike summit. Like everyone knew who I was, folks were coming up to me and they were like, let's connect.

We need to, you know, we need to help you grow this. And so out of that excitement, Because that's a meeting of the, you know, the greatest advocate minds of the, of the bike, um, community. And so out of that, you know, we're just kind of spread. And then I think within another year or two, um, I was part of the keynote panel speaking at the bike summit.

Um, so that was, that was just crazy. And, and then beyond that, obviously, because of the numbers of women who are, who we consider members. Um, we started to get noticed, you know, through our Instagram page. So some of the bike brands started to reach out to us, which was never, never even something I anticipated would happen.

But, um, but I think it was just hard to ignore us because we were growing so fast and, and hopefully the content was was so compelling that they just couldn't couldn't ignore us. And, um, And so it just kind of, like you said, it was, it was, it was a snowball at that point and it kept gaining momentum even to this day.

Like, you know, I did a project with Ford, um, just a few months ago and that's like, that's probably the biggest of the big and. It was a whirlwind. I don't even know how it happened. They were just like, be here at this time and do this thing and we'll make, we'll make some magic and they did. So, so when you talk about opportunities, like, you know, I couldn't have imagined that I would be in a spot talking to the, you know, the folks at Ford. that.

was pretty cool.

[00:15:36] Randall R. Jacobs: When I thought that, that, that, um, that ad was pretty interesting too. Not just because it showcased you and black girls do bike, but then also it's like, um, black women in outdoors generally. And I think it was the, the, the, um, their new pickup truck. Am I right?

[00:15:51] Monica Garrison: Yeah. The Bronco.

[00:15:53] Randall R. Jacobs: Yeah. Okay. So, um, yeah, I thought that that was really well done.

And I, when I saw you posted up on your pages so then we, so here we're at, um, so now you're at a hundred or so chapters, including some international, where are you? International chapters?

[00:16:09] Monica Garrison: The biggest one is London. We have a UK London, UK chapter as of the end of 2021. They came on the scene. Um, And then we have we have a chapter in the Caribbean, but they've actually been with us for probably five years. Um, and then I like to brag, I realized Alaska is part of the U S but we have an Anchorage Alaska chapter, which still blows my mind.

So, but that shows, you know, the depth and breadth of the organization, you know, London and Tega and anchors, Alaska.

[00:16:37] Randall R. Jacobs: And so then, so you have all these chapters, mostly around the U S but, but you've started getting interest from people wanting to start another international cities. I'm curious, like, what are some of the archetypes of people? What types of things. Come into your organization in terms of their relationship to the bike and backgrounds and things like this.

And how did, how did they find you?

[00:16:57] Monica Garrison: Yeah, so it varies. I I'd say we have everyone from like, you know, the 20 something in college who, you know, is riding her bike to get around campus. And she discovers us to the. 50 plus a woman who, you know, has a career, kids are out of the house and she's got lots of free time. And, um, and she's either discovering cycling, or she's been a casual rider and she wants to take it more seriously to, you?

know, um, deal with her health, mental health, physical health, all those things, um, and everything.

And everyone in between, to be honest with you, um, I mean, we even have riders who don't know how to ride and some of our sheroes are literally holding their hands. And teaching them how to ride so that they can then join the group to ride. So it really, it really is a spectrum.

[00:17:50] Randall R. Jacobs: And this, this term Shiro that you just use, um, this is the toy, a term that you coined. I hadn't heard it before.

[00:17:55] Monica Garrison: Yeah. I, I think I coined it, but I hear it a lot now. So then part of me is like, maybe it was always there And, I just, you know, pick that up somewhere. But, um, but it was to play a play on the word hero and and, and I didn't really like the way heroin sounded. So I was like, let's make it cheer. Let's make it chiro. Um, yeah. And it stuck. So

[00:18:18] Randall R. Jacobs: and is this a formal, is this a formal role within the broader community?

[00:18:23] Monica Garrison: yeah. So, so all the women across the, the org that volunteer to lead, those are our sheroes. Um, and some, some groups only have one leader and then there can be Koshi Euro. So sometimes there's a group of four or more, um, who handle all the responsibilities. And then we have ride leaders, which is probably the only other title in the organization.

Those are people who, you know, don't want to necessarily have the responsibility that she wrote, but they want to support in that, you know, that's the best way that they can support.

[00:18:51] Randall R. Jacobs: Well, and this flow is very natural. My next question, which is talk to me about the structure of the organization and both in terms of how it's run, um, and like the organizational structure, but then also in terms of its.

[00:19:04] Monica Garrison: Yeah. So I am in a lot of ways, a one woman show. I mean these eight years I've. I've handled the logistics of running the shop. Cause we have a really vibrant shop full of gear. All of our social media posts, those, um, messages myself. And then as you can imagine, all the backend things that come with promoting the organization. You know, learning new skills so that we can enter into other interesting ways of talking about cycling and women in cycling. Um, so yeah, so I'm, I guess I'm the only employee of black girls do bike. Um, our, she rose our volunteer. And, um, you know, there are certain perks that they take advantage of because they hold that she wrote a role.

So anytime I commit to something with a company or an organization, I'm looking for ways to, you know, send some perks there way for the, for the hard work that they do. Um,

we are as a, we're a nonprofit organization. And, um, so. Us to seek donations from private and public entities. And that that's fairly new for us.

We've, we've actually not operated as a nonprofit until just the last 12 months or so. So we're, we're growing into that role, what that means. And, um, we're fiscally sponsored by a company called players philanthropy fund. That's a mouthful. Um, but they're great. So they handle all of our, um, all of our backend legal.

And accounting thing. So that's, that's, that's the makeup of York.

[00:20:40] Randall R. Jacobs: Got it. And, um, in terms of like funding, so what sorts of organizations tend to like, how does, how are you currently funded? Is it a mix of organization and. Dues, primarily membership. How does, how does that work out?

[00:20:53] Monica Garrison: So ironically, our we've always. So I'm proud of the fact that we don't take membership dues. We just want you to show up and ride. So we are funded primarily through our shop, which I mentioned. Um, I put a lot of, even from the beginning, I've put a lot of energy into. Um, making our, our gear and our swag unique and stand out?

and be appealing because I want these women to, you know, even if they feel like they don't fit into the cycling community, I want them to show up and look great so that they feel great.

Right. So if they show up to a ride, I want them to feel like they fit. Um, and sometimes cycling kid is, is the way to fit in. Right? So we, so we do those, we do t-shirts and all those other things. Um, we have some great partners. We partner right now with track and USA cycling and REI has been a strong, strong partner for.

[00:21:49] Randall R. Jacobs: Hmm.

[00:21:50] Monica Garrison: Probably more than five years now. They've been, they've been with us almost since the beginning and supporting them in multiple ways. So they're probably our longest partner. So those partnerships, you know, usually come with some sort, some sort of monetary support. And then, as I said, we're transitioned to a nonprofit.

So just in the last year and a half, I spent a lot of energy, um, attempting to secure grants and that's that's all new to me, but, but we've had a really good year and I'd say our success rate is pretty high. So, um, yeah. So, so the shop sponsorships And grants are three, um, funnels of income.

[00:22:29] Randall R. Jacobs: And then for our listeners, if there's anyone who's interested in supporting what you do, what's the best way to get a hold.

[00:22:35] Monica Garrison: Oh sure. Um, just probably our website, black girls do Um, and there's a, there's a donate button there, but there's also, if you go to our if you go through the page, you'll see lots of examples of, you know, what, what we, what we've accomplished really in the last eight years. And, um, and what we expect to accomplish going forward.

[00:22:57] Randall R. Jacobs: Yeah. And I can say just as an outside observer, who's only had the opportunity to get to know you over the past couple of months as we've been chatting. Um, it's, it's very. What have you been able to pull off? And as you know, we've talked about the ridership, which is an online community that we're building and, you know, looking at it from afar, what you do and the degree of in-person community that you've been able to facilitate.

Um, it's yeah, it's very admirable, very admirable. Um, so now I'm curious.

[00:23:27] Monica Garrison: a lot of, a lot of other people.

[00:23:29] Randall R. Jacobs: Well, and, and it's only recently that you have taken a salary, is that right? Like you were, you were funding this out of your own pocket or out of your own time until fairly recently.

[00:23:40] Monica Garrison: I mean, what I've, what I've always said is we were, we were a for-profit company with philanthropic intentions. So the goal was always just to, just to invest, reinvest, to grow growth was, was always the purpose. Um, and so if there was some leftover, certainly I would pay myself, but only until recently.

Yeah. So that we're structured as a non-profit and I'm the executive director now. So I'm able to, you know, formally, um, be paid for the time that I put in.

[00:24:08] Randall R. Jacobs: Yeah. And there's a lot that you do that. I mean, you're a professional photographer and videographer, so you're doing pretty much all of your content, right? In addition to seeking grants and collaborations and coordinating with a hundred different chapters around the world and trying to grow, that's a, that's a full-time job for anybody.

[00:24:27] Monica Garrison: for sure.

[00:24:28] Randall R. Jacobs: Um, so then let's talk about, I'm curious to hear more about the various collaborations that your organizations and. Um, whether it be with companies or with other writing communities. So tell me more about that.

[00:24:41] Monica Garrison: Yeah, I think, um, each collaboration is slightly different. Um, I know REI there focuses on the outdoors and, um, so they're always looking for a ways and it's not just us, they've partnered with, I think there are nine other organizations right now that.

they're re re really focusing in on, um, who all encourage you know, marginalized communities to get outdoors and, and to feel safe in the.

Um, and that's something that's, you know, kind of near and dear to me because I also beyond cycling, I love to hike and, um, I love the outdoors and camping and those things. Um, but so their partnership has always been what, what do you need to be successful? And it's funny because their, their support has more because when it started, it was, you know, will these funds help you?

Yes. And then it became, what do you need to do? And what can we give you to help you accomplish it? So it was more focused on us as founders and, um, and what we actually want it long-term so that, so they've committed to three three-year commitments of support. Um, and they've helped them in a plethora of other ways, um, that I, I can't even really measure, um, USA cycling.

That was unique because they want it too. They're focused on racing and in diversifying racing. So they said, well, you have this audience, but how can we help, help you pull out women who. You know, in your ranks who are competitive, who want to race, but are hindered in some way. So they're not racing for various reasons.

What are, what are those obstacles and how can we help you help them? Um, so that was unique. And we, we got a grant this year from Rafa, which along the lines of the racing, um, that that's been. Incredible because I always had in the back of my mind, this thought of when we got to the point where we were big enough and we were touching enough women's lives, um, could we help some, some athletes become, you know, competitive racers who either were struggling in the space or who even hadn't considered it because they knew they didn't have all the resources they needed.

So with the combination of USA cycling and the, the funding that we got from. we've committed to creating at the very least, um, some, some athlete ambassadors who will represent black girls do bike and, and go, you know, go out and race in the name of black girls do bike, which on some scale, hopefully will help diversify cycling the racing, the racing team.

Um, Partners. What other, even you asked about partners with our, who? Our other partners. Oh, we've been partnered just a little thing. Well, not really little thing. Little, little Bellas is a mountain biking group. When they focus strictly on getting girls on mountain bikes and, comfortable in that space, I've been a big fan of theirs for a long time.

And they reached out and, said, you know, I know you have young girls in your ranks or maybe the daughters and granddaughters of the women who are riding with you camp. Are there some synergies. Where, you know, we can help you with those girls and we can, you know, get our girls, mothers and grandmothers riding with you.

And, and when girls age out of little Bellas, can they transition in the black girls bike? Because we welcome all women riders, not just, you know, women of color. So that was kind of beautiful. And, um, we're still working on it, but. And a lot of ways our organizations are similar, but they're also different in a lot of ways.

Um, so that that's been a challenge, but but our hearts are in the right place. And I think we are moving in a direction where we can, you know, merge or at least have these two communities communicating and sharing skills and, you know, getting better because of the connection. So just a few examples.

[00:28:29] Randall R. Jacobs: well, and to be fully transparent with our audience, I've already shared this with you. But part of my motivation in bringing you on was to also start kind of exploring, like, what are the ways in which our respective communities can, you know, integrate and be supportive of each other and connect.

Um, and so thinking about well, first. I'm actually very interested to hear more about kind of your premier athletes within your ranks. Cause there are some things that we might be able to do there, but then also I'd like to understand, I'd like to explore a little bit more, like how, how do your members, how many members do you have and how do they engage with you and with each other currently?

[00:29:10] Monica Garrison: Yeah. So, the best kind I have is just adding up all of the women who are in our individual groups. So we have, like I said, a hundred, I think we're up to 102 chapters now. Um, so at last count we had 30,000 women in those groups. So because we don't charge membership dues, that's what I use as our membership number, because any of those women could, you know, show up or ride with us on any given day.

Um, so yeah, so that's the breadth of our membership. And I'd say, I'd say, I mean, on average, if you ask our, she rose, they probably have between. 10 to 40 women show up for a given ride, right. Depending on the skill required for the ride. So, um, just to give you an idea of how many people we have actively riding on a weekly basis or a monthly basis.

[00:29:59] Randall R. Jacobs: And you're communicating with your membership primarily over email or what are the different means that you use to coordinate your.

[00:30:06] Monica Garrison: Yeah. So I wish I used email more. I, um, I gave up the, the, the thought of a newsletter a long time ago, but, um, I,

[00:30:16] Randall R. Jacobs: It's a lot of work.

[00:30:18] Monica Garrison: is a lot of work.

It is, I, I did it for about a year and then I was like, there's gotta be a better way. Um, so our primary channel of communication is facing. And that's, it's been faithful from the beginning.

Um, I think probably this was true eight years ago, more than it is today, but Facebook was the premier number one way to like create a community, keep them informed, you know, organize and, um, disseminate information. Like there was nothing better than Facebook. I do feel that's probably changing or will change in the next five to 10 years, but,

[00:30:53] Randall R. Jacobs: we, if we have anything to do with it. Yep.

[00:30:54] Monica Garrison: Um, so, so yeah, it's a, it's a, it's a web of of chapters all connected through Facebook. They each have their own pages. I am on all of those pages, so I can kind of monitor like the pulse of what's going on and what things are important and what topics are coming up. Um, And then some of our chapters, probably the more tech savvy ones have created Instagram pages.

So they've ventured out a little bit and they're using. To do some of the same things they do on Facebook, but also just to have a presence on Instagram so that they can be found. So those are the main channels.

[00:31:30] Randall R. Jacobs: And there's a, I'm curious, do you have some sort of, um, basic like guide to, um, how to manage the local chapters? Are there meetings that you're having with, um, all the different chapter leaders how does that get coordinate?

[00:31:45] Monica Garrison: Yeah. So I have a couple of things we have. Um, I created a I guess the best way to describe it as a slideshow that I, all of our sheroes, when like, an onboarding slideshow that they all have to watch. Um, it tells all the raw happy things about black girls do bike and you know, what links are important and what perks they now qualify for and all those things.

And then in order to keep everyone on the same page, I have a Facebook page dedicated, just Frishy. So we're all, all 180 plus of us are on one page. And that way I can drop a message and they all get it at the same time. And, and I use that also for feedback, like, you know, I'm thinking of dropping this new cycling kit.

What do you think of the colors or whatever? I, um, I use that forum for a lot of things are, you know, we're considering. In the future, you know, what kind of perks would you want as part of a membership? Like all those questions I bounce off of them, um, in that in that arena and beyond that, um, that's, I guess that's, I guess that's the best way we organize.

Um, we do have starting this year, actually. I probably should have started a long time ago, but since I was so bombarded with zoom meetings during the pandemic. I was trying not to have a black girl, Dubai zoom, by popular demand this year we, we started having probably quarterly though end up being quarterly meetings with this year.

It was just to keep them, you know, abreast of what's going on. And, um, and also to get some feedback, you know, what things are, are top of mind for them. And so that that's, we've had one so far. And we, I expect have to continue that as long into the future.

[00:33:29] Randall R. Jacobs: So I'm curious to dive in more. You know, obviously a topic near and dear to my heart, as we're considering how to evolve the ridership. Um, both from a dynamic standpoint and the community standpoint, but then also from a technical standpoint. Um, so you've described Facebook as kind of core to how you, um, you know, manage your organization.

What are the challenges that you see with Facebook? And one of the things that you would either that you're planning on doing or would like to do, but that your current stack doesn't, you know, tech stack doesn't allow you to do.

[00:34:01] Monica Garrison: Yeah.

Um, I think the biggest challenge with Facebook is that everyone's not on Facebook. I mean, there are a large, large part of the population probably. Under 30, um, who have just opted out of Facebook altogether, or they only keep it so they can keep in touch with their parents and cousins. And, um, but they don't use it as their main source of entertainment information.

So I, I think going forward, we're going to be missing out on those ladies because we don't really have a solution. To reaching them, um, at this point. And I, and I refuse to get on Tik TOK and dance to get, to get those lanes. So I don't have a solution yet. Another challenge is like so we have some chapters that have 2,500 women in them.

Right. And then our Atlanta chapters, 2,600 ladies right now. And there are limitations on that Facebook has Facebook has implemented that you can only invite so many people to events that you post or that you create with them. Facebook. Um, I think one of those years told me 400 was the limit. Well, You know, if you have 2,600 people, you're barely, barely scratching the surface.

If you can only invite 400 to your next big event. So there are some limitations and I see why they might do that. But for a group, our sides, that's, you know, that's not good for us.

[00:35:24] Randall R. Jacobs: well, and you get into 400 peeper people. You need liability waivers, you need the ability to, um, You know, have other managerial structures, you need the ability to take, um, you know, payments, if there's going to be a fee for the events to, to actually fund the event. Cause 400 people were talking like, you know, porta-potties and police details and things like this in order to pull off that sort of thing.

This is not a, um, a, an ad hoc group ride anymore at that time.

[00:35:51] Monica Garrison: you're right. Yeah.

So there's so much more involved. And I think what what's going to happen is is that Facebook. It's becoming less relevant already. We kind of can see the handwriting on the wall and, um, our potential audience is going to be left behind if we don't somehow evolve and find a way to, um, bring them in and in the tool, Facebook is a tool like even, um, advertising. So if I have a cell in the black rooms of like shop and I, and I want to reach, you know, my audience. I will tell you the price of advertising has skyrocket on Facebook. Like I used to be able to spend 50 bucks and I could hit everybody in a week, um, when we had 15,000 people. But now that you know, it's, Penny's, um, The same money I spent five years ago.

It was pennies. Now the inflation rate is, is crazy. So I I've been, I've been making do, but, um, I don't, you know, there's no long-term strategy to, I don't think they're gonna bring their prices down. So

I need another way.

[00:36:55] Randall R. Jacobs: Yeah. Yeah. That's one of the things that we noticed when we got to a certain scale on Instagram and it wasn't a huge scale. You know, we had a few instances where we had. You know, a thousand likes for a post or something. And then all of a sudden I'm getting messages from Instagram's advertising sales team.

And you know, we just said, no, we're not interested at this time. And all of a sudden our posts are getting, you know, dozens of likes. And that's when I looked at as like first off, I never liked Instagram much anyways. Um, I think that there's some good that happens there, but there's a, it can be a little bit, um, look at me, look at me.

Um, and the dynamics there, aren't always healthy, but then also like, The, you know, people like yourself, people like us are bringing people to this platform. The platform is, um, getting access to their data. And then now they, and that they're monetizing that data in various. The platform is, and then now they want to be paid to access the audience that we brought to them.

Um, and you know, it, the tools don't necessarily serve the needs of, of communities like ours. So we've been thinking a lot about, um, how to. Have online tools that facilitate, you know, offline community and connection and exchange and, and experiences, right. Event planning and things like this, that don't at the same time, have this kind of exploitative or extracted.

Components, which seems to be very much the direction that the major platforms have taken. And that's where you see, like you've been in the ridership a little bit. I'm curious what you've you know, what you've observed. And then also, I just want to encourage our audience. If you have any questions for Monica, um, you can tag her in there and you know, she can she can, you can engage with her there, or if you have ideas or ways that you want to support what she does.

But I'm kind of curious, like what, what, what you'd like to see different, um, with a next generation of tools and maybe what you've observed with us and what we get right or wrong.

[00:38:50] Monica Garrison: Um, I think you guys are onto something. Um, at least when I talked to you, you realize our pain points, um, you know, you recognize our pain points maybe because we're. You know, grow this community the same way in, in similar ways. But I think, I think the biggest failing of our current system is, um, while we do grow by word of mouth I think there has to be a better way to, to organize a community online in the, the, the tools we're using now are, are good enough, but they're, they're not going to be good enough because things are changing every day and, um, Organizing the community is important and that there are many layers to that.

There's finding new members, there's keeping current members satisfied. There's, you know, um, you know, bringing people together around ideas of the future of the organization. Like there, there, there are a lot of levels to it. Um, so I would say that, that I think you're on the right track. Um, and I think you realize where the failings are in the current system and. Hopefully that, you know, there are solutions on the other side.

[00:40:03] Randall R. Jacobs: I can say, um, and we'll be talking about this more publicly in the upcoming months as these tools come online, but we do have a technology partner, um, for the ridership. Who's also happens to be one of the investors in, in thesis. Um, and you know, I've been, I've been in those meetings and the hope is that we'll have at least the, um, like an, like an alpha pilot sort of product that we can migrate the ridership to in the, in the upcoming months or by the summer.

And this will include not just the slack line functionality that we have currently, but also the ability to organize events, including waivers and, um, you know, entrance fees and even conversations around the. You know, marketplace component, things like this. So just a matter of like how quickly the development can happen, but, um, I think there's a, another conversation for you and I to have both, um, offline in the upcoming weeks.

And then maybe back here on the podcast in a few months, if we find opportunities for us to collaborate.

[00:41:00] Monica Garrison: Yeah, for sure. I'm um, I'm excited about the possibilities. I know. I mean, even just being in the slack community that you have created has been beneficial, I've made some connections. I've, I've gotten some ideas, um, that have sparked, you know, other ideas. So, um, I found that valuable for sure.

[00:41:18] Randall R. Jacobs: Well, and I just want to extend a very warm welcome, um, to the rest of your community that would find our community valuable, um, to come and join us. Um, it's the And if you'd like to reach out to me personally, you can, you can find a way to contact us through that website. And if you have ideas as to how we can do things differently, um, we definitely want to.

Yeah, we've appealed early on to an audience that is much more in the kind of more hardcore enthusiast realm. I mean, it's the types of people who listen to a podcast dedicated to gravel riding. Right. So, you know, already there's, there's kind of a self-selected element to that. Yeah. Um, but, but really the, the broader motivation here is to create a place where, um, you know, really a fellowship of writers helping.

And so the extent to which, um, you know, there's, there's opportunities for connection there, that's certainly something to explore. So anything else that you'd like to to talk about while we're while we're here together today?

[00:42:18] Monica Garrison: Um, no, I think we hit all the major, major topics.

[00:42:24] Randall R. Jacobs: All right. Well then Monica, Garrison, thank you very much for joining me. And, I really look forward to keeping the conversation going.

[00:42:32] Monica Garrison: For sure. Yeah, this has been great. All of our conversations have been great, so I'm glad we were able to connect and it seems like we're going to be talking more in the future. So I look forward to it.

[00:42:42] Randall: And that's going to do it for this week's edition of the gravel ride podcast. If you'd like to engage further on this topic I encourage you to join The Ridership. If you're interested in supporting the podcast, you can visit And finally here's the finding some dirt onto your wheels.