We want change. And we want it now! Sustainable Cycles believes that anyone who has, will, or does experience a menstrual cycle deserves access to basic education so that they can make informed choices about their mobility and their menstrual cycle.
This spring 2017, we will send 6 self-supported cyclists to bike thousands of miles to the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference in Atlanta, Georgia. We will be demanding space for sustainable transportation on public roads and hosting menstruation workshops in local communities along the way.
As we cycle, we offer workshops about basic menstrual health and bicycle safety for women. We talk to hundreds of people about the environmental, economic, and health benefits of choosing sustainable modes of transportation and menstrual supplies. Our workshops link personal health with sustainability – from menstrual cycles to bicycles.
Since 2011, we have ridden 16,000+ miles in over 30 US states, demanding space for sustainable transportation on public roads and challenging menstrual taboos. This spring marks our sixth tour, our second pilgrimage to The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference, and our first time riding internationally.
Vamos unidas con nuestras hermanas latinas porque el movimiento es mundial.
We cycle through diverse political landscapes and meet people from all walks of life. Through person-to-person interactions, not just comments and likes, we narrow the gap between the ideologies and judgments currently keeping us divided and oppressed.
Disposable menstrual products are wasteful, toxic, expensive, and chained to an industrial system that is NOT good for our communities. In using them, people who menstruate have to spend thousands of dollars, create hundreds of pounds of trash, and expose themselves to harmful chemicals throughout their lifetimes. The 15 billion dollar “feminine hygiene industry” will never admit that the alternatives to their expensive and wasteful products are simple and healthy. We have to do it ourselves. Our workshops link have already inspired hundreds of people across the US to embrace their cycles as a sign of vitality and make the switch to lesser known, non-toxic, reusable menstrual supplies.
Your donation will go to rider scholarships to support our “spokeswomen” on tour, providing them with food, bicycle gear, and emergency repairs as they cycle through communities and provide workshops on their way to Atlanta.
Donate now. Support the movement!
In October, Sustainable Cycles attended Bike!Bike! hosted by Back Alley Bikes in Detroit, MI. Their website says it best: “Bike!Bike! is an international annual gathering organized by and for community bike projects and collectives that use the bicycle as a vehicle to create positive social and community change solidarity” (bikebike.org). It consists of a rollicking four days of workshops, shared meals, music, dancing, and lots of biking!
The Hub is the retail branch of the DIY wrenching co-op Back Alley Bikes in Detroit.
The Hub is the retail branch of the DIY wrenching co-op Back Alley Bikes in Detroit.
Spokeswomen Rachel Horn and Heather Meehan attended the conference as part of their own co-op delegations. Rachel H. works at the Bikerowave in Los Angeles, and Heather is involved with Mechanical Gardens, a new co-op in New York City. The two of us collaborated in facilitating a workshop about Sustainable Cycles’ past, present, and future, and to brainstorm improvements.
It’s always fun when people attend our workshops unintentionally. Due to a change in venue, some people arrived expecting a workshop on bike tools. Whoops! When we explained the periods and biking theme, some initial confusion and discomfort transformed into very rewarding conversations during and after the workshop. Since Bike! Bike! Is a gathering of seasoned social activists and bike nerds, our session was primarily a brainstorm to improve our messaging for future workshops.
We had one (!) DivaCup to give away, so we invented a competition. At the start of the workshop, we handed everyone a piece of paper and asked them to draw a diagram of the female reproductive system on one side, and a bicycle on the other. They then had to label as many parts as possible. This exercise turned out to be quite challenging, even for us! It also highlighted a need that came up later on in our discussion: to educate people on the specifics of the female reproductive system. This is something we could consider incorporating into our SC workshops in a more comprehensive way, since many of us do not have a solid grasp on this most fundamental knowledge.
The person who labelled the most parts was male-bodied Shane from LA. Shane graciously passed along the DivaCup to female-bodied Hannah from Detroit, since she has more need of it than he does. Way to go Shane for paying attention in health class (that’s where he credits his knowledge of female anatomy), and for sending a message to the rest of us to step up our game!
Shane is knowledgeable in bicycles and the female reproductive system. Congrats!
During the workshop, we received valuable feedback from our multi-gendered and international participants. They suggested organizations to connect with and creating self-care oriented all-women bike tours that incorporate holistic healing methods. They suggested more zine literature and continued support for menstruation-related story sharing. We are excited to connect with more amazing projects as we continue to ride bikes and facilitate period spaces.
We are grateful to the safe space that Bike!Bike! Provides. In conversations throughout the conference, Heather spoke to a number of people, mainly male-identified, about menstrual cups and the mission of Sustainable Cycles. They had a healthy curiosity not only about menstrual cups but also the impact that they have on women’s lives and overcoming taboos surrounding menstruation. Having these sorts of mildly awkward but immensely illuminating conversations goes a long way towards undoing taboos.
Jack, the urban farmer and bicycle dad. We made produce deliveries with him to some Detroit restaurants. He’s got 3 children in that front cargo set-up!
2017 will be exciting! We are planning to ride to The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research Conference at Kennesaw State University, just outside of Atlanta, GA. We will leave Austin, TX in late May and arrive in Kennesaw in time for the conference start on June 22. We will stop in Jackson, MS and Birmingham, AL. We are also planning an east coast route leaving from NYC. Let us know if you want to ride with us for all or part of the trip!
I have a confession. Sustainable Cycles isn’t just about menstrual products. While menstrual supplies are the focal point of our work, this project is as much about social and economic justice, community conversation, breaking down stigmas, feminism on the streets and conscious consumerism, as it is about what we put between our legs.
Here are a few of the other things that Sustainable Cycles is about.
Sustainable Cycles is about women being visible, living examples of courage and strength. When we ride through small towns and big cities and talk to people on the street, many ask us: Are you carrying guns? Are you insane? Aren’t you afraid? They assure us that we should be. With so many living in fear, we choose to share stories of the generosity and hospitality we’ve encountered. Like the people who offered to host us with just a few hours’ notice, who fed us dinner in their warm kitchens and sent us off with breakfast. Like the “strangers” we end up talking about birth and death with, sharing stories and tears. In many corners of the country, simply being women traveling by bicycle and fixing our own flat tires is radical. We shake up people’s conceptions of what is safe, of what is possible, of what we are capable of. It seems almost everyone has a spark of adventure inside them, and we get to ignite this – countless individuals at gas stations or public parks tell us about their own dreams of taking off on an adventure, which we wholeheartedly encourage! When the teenaged girls we talked to at a day program in Jacksonville told me they’d like to go bike touring one day, I felt enormously proud. I realized the power of planting these seeds, and remembered all of the people who inspired me to take this life-changing adventure.
When we are traveling in a pack of six, as we did for the last leg of our journey last spring, we are enough to hold up traffic. We make cars move over for us. We turn heads. We take up room in the streets. We declare our presence, making ourselves big – when we are so often told to make ourselves small, as women and as cyclists. All of this we do entirely through a grassroots, people-to-people, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other way.
Sustainable Cycles is about conscious consumerism. We expose one way that corporate interest intersects with economics and environmental disregard to negatively affect our health. Tampons and pads are made from cotton, one of the most pesticide-heavy crops grown in the world. The pesticide-laden cotton (less-so for the more expensive organic brands, of course) and synthetic glues and plastics that make up tampons and pads, plus the petroleum-based plastic or cardboard applicators and packaging, plus the fuel required to deliver them all over the world, amounts to a lot of environmental toxins and a lot of garbage. And guess what – these pesticides and plastics are also harmful to our internal ecologies, and they get inserted directly into one of the most sensitive parts of the human body. (Check out books such as Whitewashing and others on our resources page for more info). So, we have a product that is dangerous to our bodies, harmful to the environment, and it is one that companies sell to us over and over and over, creating a monthly burden for many. Because environmental degradation and poor access to healthcare disproportionately affect low-income people and people of color, this issue is also one of race and class. We also learn about how many of the health class videos that students watch across the country are made by Proctor & Gamble or other corporations, and are usually accompanied by sample packs of tampons. Brand loyalty starts at menarche for many pad and tampon consumers.
Now, we’re not saying that disposable supplies don’t have their place. We understand that certain lifestyles, situations, and personalities are not conducive to reusable alternatives, which is totally fine! However, due to the health risks and the monthly costs and the waste, many folks would like an alternative. So why aren’t sustainable supplies more well known and available? Capitalism pop quiz! You are a multinational corporation that makes menstrual products. Which would you rather sell: tampons, which each woman will buy every month on average for forty years, or a menstrual cup that women will buy one time every ten years? Obviously the prior. And if you are a drug store trying to turn a profit on the materials you stock on your shelves, the same principle applies. On the other hand, menstrual cups, sea sponges and cloth pads are almost all made by small woman-owned businesses around the world, with a much lower profit margin and a social mission. When we shift toward these products, we shift toward a sustainable economy that provides us with choices that are healthier and low-impact for body and earth. We can redirect thousands of dollars that would otherwise end up in the already stuffed pockets of major corporations.
Through group discussions, we examine this phenomenon and start to become more conscious consumers, examining the way that economics, environmental impact, health, and social issues intersect in almost everything that we buy.
Sustainable Cycles is about breaking the menstruation stigma in order to encourage education, health, and period positivity. By talking about periods, whether in workshops or to people on the streets of the towns we ride through, we break the sound barrier that surrounds even the word “menstruation.” In our society, menstrual shaming is so pervasive that for many people, young women especially, if they don’t feel ashamed of their own cycle and disgusted by their own body, they are inconvenienced or in some way feel negatively about it. In my view, this is a tragedy in its own right and a part of the distorted sense of self that results from the alienation of whole self from physical body. Furthermore, when we don’t talk about something, we don’t learn about it. The stigma contributes to a lack of education about menstrual health and how to deal with bleeding from a logistical perspective, leaving most people feeling alone in how to handle their cycle.
In our workshops, we bring bleeding-bodied folks (of all genders)* together to learn from one another and share our experiences about menstruation. We hear story after story about the embarrassment of being caught red-panted, or about tampon mishaps, or the confusion of a trans-gender experience. In our conversations, we invite everyone to share their period stories to create a community where all experiences are welcome, from the painful to the celebratory. By voicing our stories, we break down the silence, relieving ourselves of the shame that many of us carry. We also get to celebrate the beauty and life of periods! Folks get to share the strength and wisdom they draw from their cycles, the beauty of the life-giving process, the connection to their bodies, earth, moon, mothers, and sisters. We air these stories, celebrate them, laugh in resonance, and learn from each other. Stories tell of some of the most intimate moments of our lives, of how we learned from our mothers or grandmothers or aunties, of how we relate to our partners, of how we treat our own bodies. We create sisterhood when we share and laugh and cry together. This newfound openness and connection can ripple out through our all of our communities. By inviting everyone to share, we uncover the collective wisdom and knowledge of our lived experiences, and share it to help one another live healthy, powerful lives.
So, this is a little bit more of what Sustainable Cycles is about, and why I can hardly wait for our 2017 tour. I hope you will make it to a workshop one day to experience it for yourself!
*We intend to support and fully include gender fluidity and the experience of trans-gender people in our work. We acknowledge that not all women menstruate and not all people who menstruate are women. Therefore we often use terms such as “bleeding-bodied” or other gender-neutral words to refer to people who menstruate.
In early October of 2015, the Casa Ciclista in Guadalajara hosted Bike!Bike!, the annual convergence of bicycle co-ops from around the world. My local bicycle co-op, The Bikerowave, graciously financed a flight to Mexico to represent Los Angeles; and, of course, to present a Sustainable Cycles workshop during the conference. Since Mexico celebrates Día de los Muertos at the beginning of November, I decided to stay for the month and hang out with my new bicycle friends.
I would say that the folks at the Casa Ciclista community bicycle workshop were unbelievably gracious in their hospitality but at this point, I have experienced such kindness from strangers that I believe it easily. There were around 200 people who traveled to the event; each one of us was provided housing through the expansive bicycle community network in town. Our bike co-op hosts volunteered their time to cook us two meals a day and put together an extensive conference program. We overtook an old warehouse, a local bike shop, and the community bicycle workshop space to participate in programs ranging from how to finance a non-profit bike shop to how to welcome non-binary gender and queer sexuality into a bicycle space. Our hosts planned social events as well. One night, they projected “Bikes vs Cars” onto a big screen, and we watched how people in numerous cities around the world are using the bicycle as an agent for positive change. We went on a night time group ride with at least 400 riders reclaiming the streets of Guadalajara. Believe me when I tell you, the cycling movement is global and growing.
Cicla tu ciclo was very popular. After I left Guadalajara for Mexico City, I collaborated with some local feminists to organize some more. One of these events was held at an old radical printing shop called the “Casa de El hijo del Ahuizote” in the historic center of downtown Mexico City. Amongst a strong history of corruption in Mexico lies an inspiring counter-movement of activism and human rights advocacy; the structures of yesterday’s movements continue to support today’s. At the downtown venue, I was assisted by a number of new friends in running the cycling workshop. As little as we talk about menstruation in the US, it is spoken of even less in Mexico. The dedicated space for flow conversation was well-received and appreciated by a non-exclusively female audience.
During the Guadalajara conference, I met a friend who made my stay in Mexico City two thousand times more enjoyable than it would have been by lending me one of her bicycles for the whole month I was there. Biking around Mexico City during the sunlit hours of the day is not something I encourage you to add to your bucket list; traffic is bad and fumes are noxious, but late at night, the roads quiet and the riding becomes much more enjoyable. I am happy to report that the Mexico City bike scene is alive, well, and fast! Thank you to the Casa Biciteka for welcoming me into their strong community of fierce cyclists. I return from Mexico knowing that when I ride the streets of Los Angeles, I do so in solidarity with cyclists who share a vision of independent mobility, healthier bodies, and a healthier earth.
Cyclists from around the world converge at La Casa Ciclista in Guadalajara. The cooperative bicycle movement is strong!
Wow. Sustainable Cycles 2015 was everything I had imagined and so much more. As the only international member of the team, it felt pretty amazing to be welcomed into the United States by such incredible people, and have the privilege to ride with such a “bad-ass” bunch of women. There were so many highlights on this trip, from the warm hospitality we received the whole way, to the workshops, the food and life on the road on the other side of the world. The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research (SMCR) Conference was life changing. Never before have I felt so welcomed, needed and nurtured by a professional society. I made connections that, thanks to technology, I will be able to maintain and use in this incredibly important work in the future.
Now that I’m back in Australia, apart from missing my riding team like I would miss my right arm if I lost it, I’m eager to plan the next adventure. It felt amazing seeing Sustainable Cycles grow this year, and for word to get around. The interest of people both on-line and in person, is really wonderful to see. I’m so excited to see where this project is going next, and what the following years will bring. We had quite a few people of all ages ask us how they could get involved, and if they could ride too. I’m looking forward to seeing the team grow, the message get out, and menstrual cycles get greener across the USA. I’m hoping to see the same thing happening here with my work in Sustainable Menstruation Australia. It was great seeing participants at Sustainable Cycles workshops who were there on behalf of a friend or partner who couldn’t make it. A huge part of finding sustainable solutions to menstrual health is having conversations that allow shame and fear to melt away. When we talk sustainable menstruation, we aren’t just looking at a greener planet; we’re looking at a long-term healthy view of this beautiful, wild and wonderful bodily function.
One of the great things that life on the road brought was long stretches of time for thinking and creativity, away from distractions. I wrote this piece in a park, somewhere near New York, in preparation for the Menstrual Hygiene Day and SMCR Conference poetry open mic nights. It sums up my experience of Sustainable Cycles pretty well. I hope you can join us in spirit, on-line, or in person, on our next ride.
* * *
My feet flow through each cycle. Every revolution takes me further into the cycle. Life Cycle. Bicycle. Upcycle. Recycle.
My small wheels move along the road, a mirror to the larger wheel of which I am a tiny, insignificant, and yet pivotal part. My essence is essential to the whole. The microcosm of my womb reflects the entire universe!
I look at my legs powering my bicycle across state after state. I watch as I bleed and listen to my body as my ovulation is reflected by the road. My menstrual cycle is a perfect replica of the seasons, of the stages from egg to caterpillar, to pupa, to butterfly. The Earth rotates around the sun, just as my pedals rotate around my crank shaft, and foot by foot, mile by mile, I move forward. We move forward. Propelled by our destiny as cyclists. Life Cyclists.
We cycle, and millennia of oppression melt away. We are part of something immense. Individually, we are just a tiny cog in the giant clock of evolution, but together, we can say menstruation. Period. I bleed. You bleed. We were, are and will be bleeders. Without our blood, life as we know it would not be. Cycling, together, we conquer fear. We surmount shame.
Sustainable cycles? It’s a pun about bikes and periods, but it’s so much more. Our message is clear. Love your cycle. Love the cycle. Take care of yourself, and you take care of the planet. Learn about your body, and you will be empowered.
I watch a teenage girl ride her bike through the streets of Philadelphia. Will she have knowledge of her cycle?
I see an old woman on a park bench in New Orleans. Who is learning her life lessons?
A middle aged dame in Texas tells me she doesn’t like “that word” and I wonder. Does her daughter know her – Period?
A transgender man tells of his forgotten tablets and using soft leaves to soak up his accidental summer-camp flow.
So many perspectives from so many places and we’ve only just scratched the surface. So many lessons to learn from our neighbours.
Collectively, we have a purpose.
Learn to love. Love to grow as our cycle continues. I watch a playground of children. What world can we envision for them? A world where we know our bodies? Where we can be ourselves without fear?
… a world void of hatred?
Who knows. I am but a tiny wheel on the cycle of life.
Yet one small action can trigger a revolution.
One cycle. One. Cycle.
We are in it.
Where do you want to go?
Happy belated Summer Solstice!
We are happy, a little sad, and proud to say that the 2015 tour has concluded! Both Sarah and Ruby are back to work in NYC, Rachel H is working at a summer camp in Vermont, Olive is working at a camp in California, Rosie has returned Down Under where she is applying what she learnt on tour to her work with Sustainable Menstruation Australia (www.sustainablemenstruationaustralia.com.au), and Rachel S. is in Boston planning her next adventure.
The last week of our tour from NYC to Boston were some of our best and strongest days. We hustled hard, completing the 300 mile journey in 5 days’ time. As we headed north we got to bike through some New England beach towns. We were near the ocean for much of the week, and got to ride through beautiful salt marshes and forests. After a 77 mile day that ended just before a rainstorm hit, we were hosted by an amazing Warmshowers host named David who generously took in all 6 of us. He regaled us with stories about his bike tour from England to Israel and fed us a veritable feast that included freshly caught trout.
We then traveled to New London for our last official workshop at Fiddleheads Food Co-op. We felt incredibly welcomed by the community, and their employees even took us home for the night. Next was the long, but exciting last leg to Boston. Although the weather was unseasonably chilly and rainy, our spirits were up and we were feeling sentimental about our last few days on tour.
WOW! WE DID IT.
Our trip concluded in Boston on June 3rd. We got a great surprise when Ruby’s mother arranged for a police escort for the last three miles of the tour. The streets of Melrose, MA shut down, and we were welcomed warmly by enthusiastic bystanders! We were overwhelmed by joy and gratitude at having completed our journey safely, and we ended the evening with a “make your own baked potato” bar-– this was a highlight of the day!
On June 4th we made our way to the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research Conference. We were so happy and relieved to have arrived at our final destination and the mecca for menstrual activism. The Society gave us many platforms to share our stories, including a morning panel, afternoon workshop, and evening potluck. It felt great to have our work be recognized and valued by other activists, scholars, and researchers. Individually, we all found the conference itself to be life changing. Key note speaker Loretta Ross spoke about her Reproductive Rights model, and opened our eyes to the many social, political, socioeconomic factors that effect women’s reproductive rights daily. Jax from the Menstrual Activist Research Collective (M.A.R.C) led an eloquent discussion about the importance of “queering” menstruation, and the implications of our language when discussing periods. Lisa Leger from Justisse enlightened us about the Fertility Awareness Method of birth control, which was inspiring enough to have Ruby looking into a possible career shift! WASH United presented a global perspective, and reminded us about the basic needs that are not being provided to women all around the world, including clean water and the privacy needed to change a menstrual product. We were all touched by ceremonialist Giuliana Serena, who gave a heartfelt workshop about rites of passage with her organization Moon Time Rising, and gave permission for each attendee to use the space to facilitate their own rite of passage about issues ranging from menarche, to menopause, to abortions. We left the workshop with teary eyes, and full hearts.
And our work continues!
Sarah W. was able to present on a guest panel for the “Unmentionables Film Festival” in NYC. Again, another opportunity to share stories from our journey, and meet other inspiring activists, including a woman who teaches therapeutic double dutch, and two 16 year–old, up–and–coming film makers who had their movie, “A Girls Rite” featured at the festival.
Although our 2015 tour has ended, Sustainable Cycles continues to grow and gain momentum. We feel that we are at the cusp of a menstrual revolution, and we are deeply grateful that we (and you!) are a part of that revolution. Stay tuned for more updates as we enter the next chapter of Sustainable Cycles post 2015 tour.