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East Hill resident seeks to increase female presence in bike culture

Bike enthusiast Johannah Jelks wants to bring more women into the Grand Rapids bike culture through her campaign, She Rides Her Own Way. The final product will help to link bikers, retail and nonprofits together through advocacy and promotions.

/Michelle Smith

Underwriting support from:

Get Biking!

The Greater Grand Rapids Bike Coalition provides resources for bikers and works toward improving biking conditions around Grand Rapids.


Grand Rapids Bike Shops:

Grand Rapids Bicycle Co.

Central District Cyclery

The Spoke Folks

Freewheeler Bike Shop

Switchback Gear Exchange

/Johannah Jelks

/Johannah Jelks

To Johannah Jelks, women and biking should go hand in hand. The union of the two comprises the driving force behind her campaign, She Rides Her Own Way, which will culminate in a new hub on the web for bike advocacy and retail. The site is due for an early 2016 launch.

“It’s going to be an online bike boutique,” Jelks says. “I’m also going to be featuring profiles of women with their bikes and it will be a resource center to connect you with bike nonprofits.”

The idea began to manifest after her friend encouraged her to ride her bike to Blues on the Mall a few years ago. Having not ridden a bike for more than eight years, she noticed the effect biking had on her- and she kept biking after that one night.

“I had this weird idea of wanting to have a women and bike campaign because I was enjoying the experience so much,” Jelks says. “I thought about how much my self-esteem increased. I looked a lot better, I was feeling really good and I was exercising.”

After sharing the idea on social media, she said the response “floored” her. Many women shared that they, too, wanted to see women on bikes, living a healthy lifestyle. She decided that the campaign was worth pursuing and created a Facebook page to share stories and events while she works on making the final website.

According to Jelks, she’s designing She Rides Her Own Way (She Rides) as a low-profit limited liability company (L3C) because she wants it to introduce people to other organizations, like The Spoke Folks and Skirts in the Dirt. Rather than adding another nonprofit to the mix, she aims to create something that will connect them.

“I see She Rides being a bridge between nonprofits and bike retail,” she says. “I hope to get some really great speakers, get some very good informational marketing pieces out and to promote to women how to get into bike retail.”

She Rides will have some community outreach and urban planning elements as well. Jelks notes that she’s gained interest in the conditions and developments for bikers in the area the more she bikes around Grand Rapids.

“When you ride through the neighborhoods, you pay a lot more attention to the homes, the buildings, the surroundings you’re in,” Jelks says. “I feel like we could continue to bring the message about the benefits of biking, especially to low income neighborhoods that don’t have a lot of exposure. I think there’s still work to be done.”

Part of that drive for community development and placemaking can be attributed to her time as a community organizer with the East Hills Council of Neighbors. The council largely influenced her and allowed her to meet many mentors, she says.

Her father Randal Jelks also influences both her and her work with She Rides. In particular, memories of her father biking around with her as she grew up in Eastown have helped to propel the campaign.

“As a baby he would strap me on his bike and he would ride all around Grand Rapids,” she says. “That’s definitely a huge influence.”

Jelks says she feels happy to have Grand Rapids be the base of operations for the campaign, but she always envisioned reaching an international audience. She already received messages from international women thanking her for sharing her thoughts and acknowledging the effects of the growing international bike culture.

“There’s a change going on internationally about transportation and biking is such a big piece of that,” she says. “It changes your perspective and opens you up to learning not only about your body and health, but also about what communities are going through and ways you can help be apart of change.”

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Love the phot. Great job Johannah!