Women on Bikes Series: Revisiting Sibohan Dolan (Spokes Gal)

I was late to biking in life, learning how to ride at age 30, but in the few years since have crammed all types of cycling into my life. I was racing for a short while, until a crash and surgery set me back. Because of that, I came back to why I ride in the most basic of terms. And it made me realize that I didn't have other women to ride with and rarely saw a woman pass me on my commute, also frequently seeing very small groups of women in the races, too.

I connected with a budding women's cycling club forming in Los Angeles called S.W.A.T., She Wolf Attack Team. It was a fast nightly ride for women only that matched dozens of male-heavy rides all over town. I found allies! I found friends! I began the slower-paced weekly night ride and have led that for 2014-1015. It has been an amazing community that has taught fellow women on the road to ride in groups, rider safer and believe in themselves to get stronger, fitter and faster. 

I was on a very good track to perfect health again myself after the surgery but then was hit by a car while making a left turn at a light. It's been months since but I have been slow to find my confidence and strength again and hope that re-connecting this your interviews and the friends that I have made through cycling to once again find my passion. I have before believed that cycling gives me more than it takes away, and I want to believe it again.

Check out Sibohan's original On Bikes and Involved interviews.

You have had a bit of a hiatus from your blog- Braking the Limits. Do you feel it will be something you'll regularly update again or can others find you elsewhere in the social media world?
The biggest struggle for me was "What is relevant now?" For awhile I wasn't sure I was comfortable making light about my situation, my pain, my fear. I thought, as many say it does, that writing would help me through. But once I felt strong enough to come back after surgery (after a bike race crash) I was then hit by a car and really lost my motivation to connect via my blog. Now on my recovery road, I am unsure what readers would want from my blog, or what I want from bicycling myself.

Since your last interview, you became involved with a cycling club called S.W.A.T. (She Wolf Attack Team)-tell us about the club and what they're about-
S.W.A.T. is a women's bicycling club that creates weekly fast/slow rides, weekend climbing rides, and encourages women cyclists to try everything cycling has to offer, like racing. At the time in LA, there was one fast weeknight ride and it wasn't encouraging to women. Initially this was the response to that, but we have grown to be so much more once we found the demand and energy was there.

When it comes to joining a club, do you have suggestions for those on the search for one to join?

TRY THEM ALL. Honestly, I was a solo rider and found out about clubs through bike shop websites and Facebook. I just showed up to all of them, ready to leave if I felt the vibe wasn't for me. And I did that on occasion. On many more occasions those rides pushed my limits and also showed me new routes. But what I really wanted was more women to ride with, someone who truly shared my experience. And I was glad to be at the right time when SWAT was forming.

How has it been finding other women to ride with? Why is riding with other women a positive thing?
My personal life has benefitted too. I have fellow cyclists that I now call wonderful friends, and I have a safe space for my health questions or biking issues when I wouldn't go to a bike shop or a male friend to discuss. I have encouragement the way I need it, and empathy the way I give it, and most importantly, I have a reason to be accountable and RIDE. They make it more fun.

After making headway in the healing process (accident mentioned in first interview), you were faced with another setback- being hit by a car. This is a worry of mine and I'm sure of many other bike riders. How has the recovery process gone mentally/emotionally?
I felt angry. Angry that something was taken away from me. When you crash yourself out, say clipping in or making a bike handling mistake, you can laugh it off. But when a ton machine comes crashing towards you and it's their fault according to law, you feel wronged. It caused a chain reaction of expenses, lost opportunities, pain and sadness that is all mine now, even though it was their fault completely. I was left without a working bike and had to save a lot of money to replace it. Then once I went for small rides, I noticed I was tense. I was afraid. In everything I saw danger with a capital D. I lost my confidence, the confidence that told me I was right to use this road and choose this method of transportation and fun. But I saw big car bumpers, circus-mirror style, everywhere I turned. It's been almost a year now and I am much better with help but it's never the same.

Do you have any suggestions from your experience that could help others who have been thru the same?
Reach out to someone immediately. Admit the fear, to yourself and to those you trust. I couldn't have gotten through it unless I let some tears fall and admitted to my closest friends and my partner that I was in a bad place. Their sensitivity and encouragement to take my time was what I needed. Then I found myself not wanting to be left out of their great rides and fun events and I felt safe with them with me while I tried these things out again.

Do you have suggestions for those who ride/commute in traffic? Tips on how to (hopefully) prevent an accident and stay safe?
Do what you want to do. If you want to hop on the sidewalk to avoid one bad stretch, do it. If you want to pull over and wait for a block of cars to go by, do it. If you want to wear bright colors, attach a mirror to your handlebars, even get a blowhorn instead of a bell, DO IT. It's your right to be there. It's hard as one person to fight against a car for your space, and sometimes it's better to bow out and let the aggressive drivers just go on their way to their important life, but you can get back to it and keep pedaling. And remember that pedaling there makes you healthier, happier, and better able to focus at work and get things done in your day. Knowing your rights is the most helpful thing. Second would be to take a cycling safety class. A lot of cities or nonprofit cycling advocacy organizations offer them and they were incredibly helpful in understanding how you can safely move, within your rights, with traffic on the road. And they give you excellent resources to navigate tough traffic spots.

What has been the biggest step in your healing?
Strength and exercise off the bike, actually. I found that when my body became stronger again from physical therapy and swimming, I felt excited again to ride my bike. It's disheartening to have a setback occur and when you ride again you feel like a beginner again. But I found fitness with yoga, spin class, weight training, etc and then felt killer on the bike. It was a smoother transition to riding.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling?
Safety is the biggest issue. Our cities fail us in safe infrastructure. We need to build not for cars but for the most vulnerable users of the roads. Only from that perspective can be keep safety the key focus and make it better for everyone. But community can overcome this. I encourage all women to seek each other out and become a force to reckon with.

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride?

We certainly have a voice within our cities to implore them to recreate our infrastructure to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians better. I do feel more women's cycling is being covered at a national and international level (but not enough IMO) and that encourages more women to ride. There is a big benefit to seeing someone like yourself in media, as we see with children and TV.

What would you say is your biggest goal for '16?
My biggest goal is to attempt a century. Maybe a charity ride, maybe a friends ride, but I haven't done that kind of mileage and as a goal it could be great for fitness.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
When I first started I was alone. I didn't have any friends that rode bikes. I did a lot of learning on my own and the chance to share that learning with others makes me very proud. I'm happy to be a resource for other women. I want to see women get the empowerment that I did on the bike and I will give to that cause for as long as I can.