Women on Bikes Series: Meryl Williams

I live in Chicago, and only started biking in May. I cannot believe I didn't ride before because I love it so much now! In October I took a week-long vacation by myself to Portland and rode a borrowed bike all week (a bike I'd been connected with, thanks to WW). 

I recently started volunteering my marketing services to Slow Roll Chicago because I love their mission of getting cycling culture to under-served Chicago neighborhoods.

When did you first start riding a bike?
I was a late bloomer among my bicycle-loving friends! 
I didn’t start until May 2014 when a friend took me on a safe route in northwest Chicago. I’d had a bike for a year before that point but had been too scared to ride it before. I wasn’t used to riding in a city yet.

What motivated you to start riding?
I wanted to have more control over my mode of transit without having to drive. I love Chicago’s transit system but it’s so wonderful to be able to transport yourself from point A to point B with your own body’s power and no reliance on anything but your bike. 

What kind of riding is your favorite? 
I like street riding, and going from neighborhood to neighborhood in Chicago.

What have you learned about yourself since you started riding?
I am stronger than I thought! I know my city better as a cyclist than I expected. I love how I feel when riding.

Do you remember your first ride? Where did you go and how did you feel?
Yes! My friend Becca got me to go on a trail from Chicago to Evanston. I remember she told me it was several miles, and I laughed and said there was no way I’d be able to make that distance. She said I might be surprised, and I was. We made it there and back and I was thrilled.

If you had nervousness at all, what did you do or think to overcome it?
Crossing major intersections was scary, but Becca was very encouraging and patient. After that day I felt so much more comfortable on my bike, like a flip switched.

If you are a commuter what are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
I am not a commuter, sadly! I work in the ‘burbs.

Do you commute even if the weather isn’t ideal? Why or why not? If yes, what do you do to make it more tolerable?
I miss it so much now that it’s February and there are a couple feet of snow in the streets. 

Have you had a bike accident or situation that was difficult? How did you cope/heal on a physical/mental/emotional level?
I have not yet had an accident. I’ve had some drivers almost turn left into me, and I’ve nearly been doored, but I’ve been lucky. I cope by being the most careful and considerate driver I can be when I am in my car. I hope I can set an example for others on the road.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Everything! My bike is so special to me now. I love how free I feel riding it, and now when I travel to other cities, I try to ride a bike there. For example, I went to Portland, OR in October. A wonderful connection on the Wheel Women switchboard offered me one of her bikes for the week, and that was how I traveled, exclusively. I also tried Salt Lake City’s bike share program when I was visiting a friend there in November.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My friend Stefanie helped me pick out Scout, my red Huffy cruiser. She went with me to Play It Again Sports here in Chicago and I rode around on a couple. I picked her because she has fenders and a cute, comfy seat.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I don’t really have any that I love yet, but I’d love some recommendations from others!

Tell us about Slow Roll Chicago and what they are about!
Slow Roll Chicago is a community bicycle ride founded by Jamal Julien and Olatunji Oboi Reed in 2014. They go for rides on a regular basis from April to October in various parts of the city. All ages, skill levels and types of bikes are welcome. They’re called Slow Roll because they offer a slower pace to keep the group safe and give riders a unique perspective of the city and its beautiful neighborhoods. An amazing and diverse group joins them from all over the Chicago area and beyond. I volunteer PR and marketing services to them for special events.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
I worry that many women feel unsafe cycling and I hope that someday we live in a world where everyone feels safe on a bike. Everyone can help make this happen by not cat-calling or harassing women and by calling out people who do exert this behavior.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I do get cat-called, but I feel safer on my bike than I do on foot. Being on a bike feels empowering to me and I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
Tell us a random fact about yourself!I am HoH (hard of hearing) and wear hearing aids at all times. I always thought this would prevent me from riding a bike, but all it means it taking extra safety precautions, like having a bike mirror and always being alert. I also play roller derby!