Las SAASy Mujeres Take Over Santa Ana Streets
As the eleven-women bike ride headed East on Washington Avenue, 20-year-old Mary Leopo suddenly realized where she was: riding in the middle of a travel lane.
Leopo, a student at Santa Ana College, didn’t know cyclists had the right to take a travel lane. She usually rode as far to the right on the street as possible, even if it meant riding in the gutter.
“It was very eye-opening that you actually have rights as a bicyclist,” Leopo said.
SAASy Mujeres is a bike ride for women-identified folks that want to meet new people, get healthy, and learn about advocacy efforts in Santa Ana. It’s for residents and community members who want to ride around the city but don’t feel safe or confident doing so by themselves.
This year’s six-month ride series took place every first Saturday morning of the month and ran from January to June. The rides were moderately paced, about five to six miles long, and usually involved grabbing lunch at the end.
SAASy Mujeres was the brainchild of Lynnete Guzman and Marina Ramirez, both Santa Ana residents and longtime members of Santa Ana Active Streets (SAAS), a community and resident-led group that advocates for bicyclists, pedestrians, and equitable active transportation in the city.
As Guzman and Ramirez both got more involved in active transportation circles around the region and country, they noticed that white men were often the most prominent voices in these conversations. When women were present, they usually had very limited roles; and when women were present, they were often white.
“It was weird for us because in our Santa Ana world our mentors were women (of color),” Ramirez said.
Guzman and Ramirez were also inspired when they and other Santa Ana community members went to Los Angeles to join Ovarian Psycos Bicycle Brigade’s 2015 Clitoral Mass all-women bike ride. Guzman said that being surrounded by so many women for a group ride is a rare feeling. “It was one of the best days of my life,” Guzman said. “Just to feel that bond and that connection, to feel safe and feel empowered.”
The idea to do an all-women bike ride lingered with Ramirez and Guzman for years. They continued having conversations about the idea, often thinking up ways they could do it through their work at SAAS.
Then, last year, the two applied for and received a $320 mini-grant from Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities to get the idea started. They recruited freelance photographer and Santa Ana resident Julie Leopo to help, and the three began planning the rides.
Leopo, Ramirez, and Guzman shared responsibilities in developing, organizing, and leading rides. They wanted the rides to be fun, family-friendly, accessible to all levels of cyclists, accessible to those who didn’t own a bike, and, most importantly, accessible to las mujeres de Santa Ana.
The rides varied in size, some as large as fifteen riders and the smallest having only a handful of people. Women in their teens and in their forties came out, and often brought close relations like their daughters, sisters, or friends. Julie Leopo invited her sister Mary to the ride, as well as their sisters Clara, 21, and Maggie, 16.
Using equipment provided by SAAS, participants could borrow a bicycle and bike helmet. During the post-ride lunch, participants were surveyed on how the rides could be made better.
The organizers quickly found that preparing for an all-women ride also required thinking about the specific needs of female riders. While a first aid kit and bike toolkit were standard on all the rides, those don’t come standard with things like tampons and pads, Ramirez said. They learned the hard way that neither kit had one during a ride, so they packed some for future ones.
Making the rides fun and light was important. Many SAAS leaders originally got involved with bike advocacy because they first joined fun rides and cycling activities, Ramirez said.
While the rides ended last month, the organizers hope to host more later this year. One of the goals the organizers had, Guzman said, was to bring new people to the group and encourage them to take the lead.
For Mary Leopo, the rides gave her a chance to meet new people and learn new things about her city. As the group rode east on Washington Avenue, for example, they passed by artist Carlos Aguilar’s mural dedicated to World War II veterans, a piece Leopo had never seen before.
She also liked that the women looked after one another. When her sister Maggie had a problem changing gears, SAAS member and current interim chair Rosario Perez helped her fix the issue.
“It felt like having a good time with my girlfriends,” Leopo said.