Meet the All-Women Bike Crew Running Gentrifiers Out of Town

I stumbled upon this article a few weeks back and found it to be thought provoking and a different and important way to look at the power of women on bikes. It was published on Good Worldwide Inc. at The Daily Good.

by Tasbeeh Herwees

March 15, 2016

Almost six years ago, Xela de la X, a local Los Angeles community activist and musician, organized the first Luna Ride, a nighttime bicycling event that takes place beneath the full moon. This event marked the founding of the Ovarian Psycos, a collective of brown and black women who are reclaiming the night, the streets, and cycling, as their own in a city that is famously hostile to both cyclists and women of color. The Ovarian Psycos are no novelty, however—they’re representative of a new shift in the world of cycling, which has a reputation for being excessively white and male-dominated.

Since that first Luna Ride, the Ovarian Psycos have been staging cycling events across the pothole-ridden streets of Los Angeles; one of the more notorious rides,Clitoral Mass, has become a national event, taking place in six cities around the country. This kind of provocative branding has garnered them plenty of attention from the local cycling community, and not all of it has been favorable. But founder De la X (her name, a pseudonym, is an homage to Malcolm X) and her comrades are unperturbed by these criticisms, concerned only with the health of their collective. Their struggles to helm a cycling community for women in the neighborhood of Boyle Heights is depicted in a new documentary by directors Kate Trumbull-LaValle and Joanna Sokolowski, called Ovarian Psycos, which premiered this past weekend in Austin at SXSW. GOOD spoke to De la X about the Psycos, the film, and the fight for mobility and access (this article contains spoilers of the documentary).

How would you describe the Ovarian Psycos to people who aren’t familiar with what you do?

It’s a collective of knuckleheaded women, women of color, brown women, black women, who give a fuck about their community and who give a fuck about the next generation. We’re placing ourselves within the historical context of our ancestry, of the legacy of the women that came before us, and understanding our place and position currently in our communities. The younger girls coming up, they know that this didn’t start and it didn’t end with Ovarian Psycos. We’re just one in the long lineage of brujas, of knuckleheaded, at-risk, psychotic, radical—whatever, however you want to describe us.

We work a lot with many, many different organizations and different circles in Los Angeles and beyond. There’s mad spaces, mad collectives in L.A. flourishing, really being intentional about linking with each other, and letting it be known to potential gentrifiers that we do not come alone. We will do whatever we need to do to protect our neighborhood and protect our community.

What’s the significance of cycling in that mission? Why bicycles?

Bicycles because, first and foremost, we’re a working-class community, so for a lot of us, that is our mode of transportation. Bicycles are also very key in the sense that we as women, women of color specifically, in those areas—we were brought up with a fear of movement and of the spaces we inhabit, a fear of navigating them. We use the bicycles to say, “We will be fearless! We will inhabit every space, and be mobile, and have access.”

Access and mobility is very important to us, because that’s been taken from us. It’s been a very limited experience for most of us growing up. I don’t want my daughter growing up fearful. I want her to fucking navigate. We run this shit. And we have sisters that will run this shit with us.

How can the mobility of people within cities pose a challenge to gentrification?

We really need to engage in further exploring that conversation. First and foremost, one of the telltale signs of gentrification in our communities is [the appearance of] bike paths. In one sense, here are bike paths that are supposed to be meant for people. Our people are on bicycles. They need their own lane. And the motherfuckers in cars need to respect the fact that we’re here too.

At the same time, it [allows] for a certain class of people to now feel safer as well in our communities, where once they wouldn’t have felt safe. … To be really honest, I haven’t been to a lot of mobility conferences. I don’t get invited. And I’m going to tell you right now, I don’t get invited because I’m known to talk shit. But I encourage folks that are doing this work around mobility and access. I encourage them to be critical. And sometimes it’s going to hurt to be critical. And sometimes it’s going to be ugly to be critical. But we have an obligation to be critical. Or else, we’re only perpetuating gentrification ourselves.

So certain city plans to bring in bike racks or bike lanes can facilitate the process of gentrification?

Exactly. I feel like a lot of mobility folks—it can be like a “Rainbow Coalition” for bikes. Like, “Can’t we all just get along? Look how beautiful it is now.” And it’s like, yes, it’s beautiful, but for who? For whose access? When the price of rent and the price of our homes are going up? When police are still targeting black and brown youth, who the fuck is this beautiful scenery meant for at the end of the day? It’s not for us. Obviously, it’s not for us.

I’m sure there are similar efforts in New York or Brooklyn, or wherever, but I feel that Ovarian Psycos, specifically, is a unique product of L.A. Why do you think that is?

When you’re talking about East L.A., Boyle Heights, there’s a very strong history of social justice movements, where we’re not going to be your stereotypical, docile Mexicans. We come from that. I think that’s what makes it so unique. We’re coming from this legacy of rebellion. Of revolution. Of stand up to a fucking pig and chant down the system and reclaim [our] agency.

How did the film get made? Who approached you and why did you say yes?

[Directors Kate Trumbull-LaValle and Joanna Sokolowski] approached us. They were white. To be honest, we didn’t say yes. We said no from the gate. We want women of color to represent and document other women of color. But the truth of it is that we knew women of color filmmakers, badass fucking filmmakers that came from our hood, [but] they were busy with their own projects.

It was a long process to build our trust with [Kate and Joanna] and even to get me on board. I was like “I don’t trust them. What’s their angle? What’s their agenda? Who sent them?” But after a period of time of building with them and knowing their own backgrounds—like, Kate has a Mexican mom that grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico. She was also working [on] the documentary No Más Bebés, about the forced sterilization of women from East L.A. So I was like, ok, they got some legit credentials. They have an invested and sincere interest in documenting the work that we’re doing—not with their own agenda, not with their own spin on it. Just an honest account. The moment that I felt comfortable with that, then I agreed.

One of the most interesting moments of the documentary is when that guy, who was wearing the CicLAvia shirt, was complaining about Ovarian Psycos. The organization has clearly rubbed some people the wrong way. Is there contention between Ovarian Psycos and other cycling organizations?

We had a lot of pushback. We had a lot of folks talking mad shit about whatever we were doing. Not only talking that shit, but minimizing the work [that we were doing] and ridiculing our efforts. Even saying that we’re not “real cyclists.” And we didn’t give a fuck, at the end of the day. We were not looking for the cycling community’s validation. That was never on our agenda. We want folks to learn, like, survivalist shit. These topics are fucking real. How can we address them? Laugh at us. We don’t care. We’re going to continue to do that work that we know has to get done.

Xela de la X and her daughter

The film’s narrative is centered on your relationship with the Psycos, and it documents your departure from the organization and stepping down as leader. How did it feel to see that depicted on the screen?

Painful. Even through the process, I was reliving a lot of trauma that I wasn’t necessarily ready to revisit. It was a bittersweet type of situation. When I stepped down, it was also painful and bittersweet, in the sense that I stepped down specifically to prioritize my relationship with my daughter. I was really neglecting that. I get choked up just thinking about how I was just neglecting her because of the work that I do. I work a 9-to-5 at a shelter for homeless kids. On top of that, I do my music. And on top of that, I was cycling. So my daughter got the really shitty end of the stick for a couple of years. I had to be honest about the fact that she needs me. She had to be my number-one priority.

And I had to be honest about the fact that these women have that power. They are all capable of this shit. They’re going to be fine. They’re going to be fine without me. Who’s not going to be fine without me is my own kid.

What’s your current involvement with the Ovarian Psycos? Are you still organizing with them, since stepping down?

I will organize with them until I die. Once a Psyco, always a Psyco.

Images by Sylvia Frances Films.

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UCI World Championships!

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Triangle Velo Women at AceTravaganza!

Triangle Velo Women at AceTravaganza!

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Women’s Wednesday ride!

Women's Wednesday ride!

What an awesome turnout at our weekly women’s ride (photo taken on May 7, 2014)! More photos to come throughout the season!

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How to get more women racing

I started racing about three years ago. Last season was my first full season of racing. I struggled with the thought about racing for several years before I actually lined up for a race. I noticed that during my first race I had a lot of fears and trepidations. So, I completed my first race and got a state championship out of it for my age group. Looking back at this experience and through to my experiences now, I’ve given much thought to what it takes to get more women racing.
I recently returned from a Women’s and Juniors Only Race Weekend in Columbia, SC. I am part of a committee through the Carolinas Cycling Association that is focused on women’s development. We came up with this idea through a collaboration with a similar committee focusing on junior development. When we were conceptualizing what this weekend would entail, we knew a few things would be important for women:
1. Women like community. They want to feel supported and included.
We knew that creating an environment where every woman could be made to feel like they could do it would be essential. So, we structured a clinic focused on racing skills like pacelining, cornering, and bumping to teach women the safe way to race and to show them how doable it actually is. We hosted races after a lunchtime discussion. After the races were over, we had a post-race discussion. That evening, we all had dinner together and the conversations continued. The second day we had more races and pre- and post-race discussions. We also made sure to have sign-up sheets for women who want race mentors. We had successful women racers and experienced women racers helped to lead the clinics and conversations throughout the weekend.
2. We partnered strategically with like-minded organizations. The Carolinas Cycling Association (CCA) (governing USAC body for NC and SC) was a natural alliance as was The Feed, Osmo Nutrition for Women, and others. We offered goodie bags for participants, which included water bottles branded with the CCA logo and lots of free samples of products. Every pre-registered participant was given a goodie bag. Partner with the Women’s Cycling Association (WCA).
3. We also were able to reduce registration fees to $10/race–a much cheaper option for most cyclists. We offered separate age group categories for juniors and a Women’s 4 and Women’s 3/4 races (separate). We had a huge turnout for the women’s 4, approximately 35 riders. I’ve never raced in a field that large in all of my years of racing! It was empowering and encouraging. Women after completing this race (many of which this was their very first race) felt accomplished and happy and well-prepared after their participation in the clinic. Overall, we had somewhere north of 50 participants! A huge success!
4. Social media is your friend. Create a Facebook page or event to support your event so that women can coordinate carpooling, housing/accommodations, etc. Also, use this opportunity to answer questions from prospective racers, allow them to use the forum to build excitement. Use Instagram and creative hashtags to highlight your events and pre-event efforts to build and maintain excitement. Here’s our Facebook page for the CCA Women’s Development Committee: https://www.facebook.com/ccawomen.
5. Follow-up with a survey for participant feedback and plan to do more in the future to continue building enthusiasm and excitement. Have women make connections with each other so that they can continue to support each other at races and in cycling in general.
6. Have fun. Talk about the fun that you’ve experienced!
Some pics from that weekend. More to come!
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Some recent cycling pics!

I’ve been a way too long from the blog! That’s what happens when things get busy!

I’ve been doing a little bit of everything recently–cyclocross, trying to figure out how to mountain bike, and doing some group rides. Below are some pictures from those experiences. Soon I will post more to this blog.

In December, my new Specialized Crux should arrive (it’s on backorder now)! Yay for a cross bike that fits me properly!

 

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Looking back, looking forward

“The bicycle is a curious vehicle. Its passenger is its engine.” ~John Howard

As my road season comes to a close (there are still a couple of races left), I want to take a few moments to reflect on my season. Along the way, I’ve learned some valuable lessons.

1. Hang in there. Don’t ever quit…even in the pouring rain!

I learned this lesson the hard way. This summer has been unbelievably wet with several of my races being held in heavy rain, wind, and most of the time with thunder and lightning. While this can be the recipe for disaster in a criterium, I managed to keep the rubber down!

2. Work hard, train hard, and you will see results.

Finally, I am able to see some marked improvement in my riding and racing. I’m still not where I want to be, but I’ve made huge progress in my racing. I can finish with the pack, which I was unsuccessful doing last year. I also have raced a lot more this season than I have in the last couple. Those experiences have helped me gain confidence and abilities that I didn’t realize that I was missing.

3. The cycling scene will provide you with opportunities you never imagined!

This year I was given so much good fortune and opportunities through cycling. I was selected as a Specialized Women’s Ambassador, start leading the women’s ride on Wednesdays, and became a USA Cycling Level 3 Coach. I’ve made new friends along the way and have strengthened existing friendships.

4. There’s always next year!

Yep. We can always do better. I have bigger goals for next season. I learned a lot this year, but there’s more that I need to learn and more effort I need to put in before my goals are realized.

5. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

That’s the most important lesson of all. You shouldn’t get so caught up in racing that you can’t take the time to realize how much fun riding and racing is. It’s not always about whether or not you reached your desired outcome in a race (someone always finishes first, someone always finishes last, and there is always a middle), it’s about the fun and the friendships you gain through the experience. It’s about pushing yourself harder and farther than you ever thought and then doing it again. Take the time to enjoy it, reflect on successes and failures of course, but have fun!

Next up…? Who knows? I am going to attempt mountain biking and will probably do a couple of ‘cross races. The women’s ride is going to continue with some night-time riding (with lights, of course), so stay tuned!

The summer in review:

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