Kim Cole is accustomed to people underestimating her as a cyclist. “They see a woman, they see someone heavy, they see someone they are not used to seeing on a bike,” Cole says. “They assume that I will be slow. Oh, but I surprise them!”
Cole, who grew up in Kansas City, is a co-founder of STARS (Sister That are Riding Strong) and can be seen on most of the region’s weekly and annual rides. She rode a bike throughout her childhood and into her teens. “I remember being 18 and riding a bike and people were blowing their horns at me. I was riding in the inner city at a time when it wasn’t that common,” Cole says.
This is Kim’s 5th summer seriously riding with groups in KC. Before that she was riding on trails on her mountain bike until she met some other male road cyclists who convinced her to start riding on the streets with them. Kim took her mountain bike on the roads for months before she could afford to purchase a road bike. She notes that every group besides STARS, she rides with has been male dominated. “However, they’ve all been very welcoming and don’t make me feel like I’m just the girl that needs to stay in the back.”
“It’s such a male dominated sport where women don’t feel like they belong on a bike. However, many women probably don’t realize that cycling is a great way to workout and a great way to socialize too,” Cole says. “It doesn’t have the same draw as doing yoga or going to Curves. You might go out and all you’ll see are these guys riding bikes. You don’t see it as a sport that welcomes women.”
Kim does a lot of local rides with the Kansas City Metro Bicycle Club, as well as weekly group rides. Last fall she did a Gran Fondo in Santa Rosa California. “It took me all day, but I completed the 64 miles. Of course it was male dominated, but probably 25 or 30% were women.”
Kim rides anywhere in the city, from Olathe to the urban core. “My experience riding through an urban community is that just seeing women–period– out is kind of an anomaly,” Cole says. “Women are either driving or walking. You don’t see women riding or wandering around on a bicycle. In the urban community there’s not many people using cycling for commuting or fitness. To see a woman on a bike is just uncommon.”
When riding in these neighborhoods, Cole says children will often run out to the street to cheer them on and give them high fives. She says it is important for children to see that there are women riding bikes. As a result, the image of what a ‘cyclist’ is will change over time. She hopes that with STARS, the KC Women’s Bike Summit and other efforts around the city, women will be encouraged to ride and that fewer women are intimidated.
“Hopefully any woman who feels like she doesn’t fit into the group of guys going by, feels like she could join up with us, get strong and meet whatever goals she may have,” Cole says. “I met a woman a few months ago who was apprehensive about biking because she was too heavy. I said, ‘I used to be obese like that and I lost a lot of weight and had a lot of fun.’ I hope the summit gets people past the question mark of ‘Should I do this?’ If you get on a bike, you might get bitten. All it takes is one bite and you too could be a cyclist.”
For more information about STARS – Sisters That Are Riding Strong, visit their Facebook Page.