Annika LaVoie has racked up an enviable amount of saddle time for someone halfway through her twenties. She has traveled by bicycle across America twice and has also cycled along the eastern and western coastlines. Although LaVoie is excited about cycling and sharing her knowledge, she never lets it go to her head. She well remembers her humble beginnings and recalls what it was like to be stranded, unable to fix her bicycle, and forced to hitch a ride home. In fact, one of the driving factors behind her ambition to empower women on bicycles is saving them from those feelings of fear and uncertainty.
In 2016 LaVoie joined the Wheel Sport Ladies, which creates opportunities for women to ride bikes together. She took over the reins soon after and started hosting free bike maintenance classes for women twice a month. These are hands-on classes where women bring their bikes in and learn the names of the parts, how to clean the drivetrain, and how to fix a flat. LaVoie makes a point to remember what it was like to be new to cycling. Because of her passion for cycling and grounded approach, people new to the sport feel comfortable enough to ask questions.
Her approach has reaped benefits for several of the women, including my wife and a friend, who sustained flat tires and reacted with a cheerful “I got this” attitude. Gaining the confidence and ability to fix a flat tire has been liberating for my wife, who is now comfortable riding on her own.
For 2018, LaVoie would like to offer more skills classes. One idea she has is to help people get used to riding with clipless pedals. Both my wife and I, when we first started using clipless pedals, suffered the embarrassment and minor injuries that occur when you stop but forget to disconnect your shoe from the pedal—or, as I did more than once, stop but lean towards the side where the shoe was still connected to the pedal.
Another idea she has for a skills class is how to use your gears for best results since many people starting out are not familiar with the gear choices and their uses. In addition, LaVoie may offer basic road riding safety as well as a touring clinic.
Wheel Sport Ladies also offers group rides, which vary in order to match up with the experience and comfort levels of participants. For example, some rides are “no drop,” which means you’re not left on your own because you are slower than the rest of the group. There are also faster-paced rides and mountain bike rides for people interested in exploring the many Spokane-area trails.
It’s cool to see how supportive these cyclists have been on the group rides. On one occasion, a woman showed up for a more energetic ride with a beach cruiser-type bike and the wrong clothing. The group welcomed her anyway. She kept up as best as she could and they didn’t leave her behind.
Whether you’re new or an old pro, it’s a great group to connect with. You can find out more about the Wheel Sport Ladies Group rides on their Facebook page. //
Hank Greer has been writing Out There’s Everyday Cyclist column for years and likes to ride his bike everywhere. The last article he contributed was about riding the Oregon Outback Route.