LOS ANGELES — Growing up, Evelyn Martinez’s mother didn’t want her to ride a bike.
“She thinks it’s not safe for women to be riding late at night, and cars are dangerous too,” Martinez said.
Moreover, her mother told her: “Bicycles are for men.”
But after a chance meeting last year, Martinez joined an all-female, predominantly Latino cycling group that is both an answer and a challenge to the aggressive male biking culture. Like men’s bike crews, it defies L.A.’s monolithic car culture with an in-your-face ethic, reflected in its name: the Ovarian Psyco Cycles Brigade.
The group says the name “is a play on words intended to be playful and simultaneously create some sort of acknowledgment/acceptance/pride in one’s historically oppressed body.”
Without blushing, the women use “feminine positive” slogans and catchphrases too risque for a family newspaper.
“This is a way to empower ourselves and use language that describes and empowers us,” said Maryann Aguirre, this summer’s group leader.
Martinez isn’t the only one in the group who started riding at a later age because of parental apprehension. In many Latino families, women are considered fragile and must be protected.
“A lot of the times, the women that have never had the privilege of riding a bike is because they don’t have the resources, or it’s the fear of physically falling, or no one was there to teach them or motivate them,” Martinez said.
The nine core members are mostly Latinas in their 20s from Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and Lincoln Heights who work for nonprofits. Each month, they organize a women’s “Luna Ride” during the full moon, usually around their neighborhoods.
Their August ride, the biggest of the year, was a takeoff on Critical Mass, a monthly ride that spread from San Francisco to 300 cities, including Los Angeles. Just over 100 female riders joined the 30-mile ride from the Watts Towers to Hollenbeck Park, making five other stops along the way. They often choose political themes for their trips; July’s was the California prison hunger strike.
The women also sponsor coed rides — although the men might have to listen to a lecture on male privilege and machismo.
Cycling is growing among young women but still lags far behind men’s participation; only one in five riders in Los Angeles is female, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition reported in 2011. The cyclists believe more women will turn out for rides with a female stride.
With male riders, “there’s that whole bro-ish kind of stuff,” Aguirre said. “We’re not about who can ride fastest, we’re about sisterhood.”
One Sunday evening In June, 10 howling and cheering women started off from the Soto Street Metro station for the Supermoon Ride, celebrating the biggest and brightest moon of 2013.
Instead of the typical spandex gear, the women wore skinny jeans, houndstooth and plaid printed tights, studded vests and huarache sandals. Two of the women had T-shirts with the group’s logo, the torso of a woman forming the ovarian “gang” sign: thumb and forefinger touching to represent ovaries and fallopian tubes.
As they passed Cesar Chavez Avenue, a few obscenities rang out from passing motorists. The Brigade didn’t hesitate to respond.
Passers-by occasionally encourage them, including older Latinas who say they never had a chance to ride a bike, Martinez said.
“Older women come up to me and tell me ‘Mija que bueno! Es muy bien ejercicio!’ (That’s so good my daughter! It’s really good exercise),” Martinez said.
Aguirre, 23, is a single mother who started biking two years ago with the group; now it’s her main mode of transportation. She even tows her 5-year-old daughter to day care in a trailer.
Martinez, meanwhile, has lost more than 50 pounds over dozens of rides in her year with the Psycos.
“I wanted to be able to show other women on bikes that your weight, age or size doesn’t matter,” said the 21-year-old. Now her mother wants to learn to ride too.