When Melissa Balmer was finally convinced to get back on two wheels for the first time in more than 20 years, she had a flood of memories.
She remembered losing her training wheels for the first time, her father letting go of the bike as she sped ahead — and she definitely remembered the freedom of transportation and being able to get somewhere else at such a young age.
“I thought, ‘Oh wow, I remember how fun this was and I can get to places easier than I thought and this bike is a strength multiplier,’” the Women on Bikes founder said, recalling her reentry into bike riding.
About seven years ago, Balmer officially decided to give up her vehicle — for both health and financial reasons. She would walk and use public transportation — enough of her clients were local that this would be no problem. Then she first restarted on a beach cruiser during a Belmont Shore Christmas Parade three or four years ago. She was hooked again.
“My challenge with bicycling was the same challenge that a lot of people have,” she said. “I was dealing with some health issues and hadn’t been on a bike in 25 years.”
But she did have the tools to ride, and now she has been a major bike advocate in Long Beach for more that two years — specifically advocating for safety and women to ride.
“What we are finding is that 60% of people are interested in riding bikes, but they are concerned about their safety or their physical fitness level,” Balmer said. “They don’t label themselves cyclists — they are just a person who rides a bike.”
Women on Bikes launched officially in November 2011. According to recent statistics, Balmer said women make up only about 25% of all bicyclists. The number has gotten better in some European cities that particularly emphasize biking — for example, Belgium. She said she could see the same potential for progress in Long Beach.
So Balmer created Women on Bikes as a communications organization that would advocate for bike riding and safety while riding — as well as showing biking in a fun, fashion-forward style.
“Also, if women feel safe riding a bike, they will be the big ‘yes’ for families riding,” Balmer added.
During her time of advocacy with her site, Balmer has worked to create safety seminar opportunities and she has worked with local and city groups like Bike Long Beach on other projects. Recently she and Bike Long Beach have teamed for the “Know Your Neighborhood by Bike” tours that will go through each City Council District.
“I wanted to create a welcome mat to someone who was open to the idea of riding a bike,” she said. “We are very much a communication engine looking at the bike dialogue in 360 degrees.”
With the bike infrastructure already in place for Long Beach, Balmer said, it should be productive and easier to get more people involved.
“It’s been great to see how people’s attitudes have changed,” she said. “If you walk around, you will see that type of cyclist (you might want to become).”
For more information on Women on Bikes SoCal, visit www.womenonbikessocal.org.