Several months ago, I sat down with the Alchemy crew again about building bike #2. A dedicated singlespeed mountain biker, I needed a road bike. Probably with gears. I didn’t know where to begin.
The first bike they built me, a gorgeous stainless steel 29’er single speed, had its very first ride in Afghanistan last fall in a series of rides that happened to coincide with the announcedment that I had been chosen as a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. Emblazoned on the top tube in bright pink #GIVEASHIT. The tagline we coined for our upcoming partnership with Mountain2Mountain’s domestic program Strength in Numbers. One of my favorite memories of that trip was when a member of the Afghan National Army took it for a spin and discovered the strength of disc brakes. Many memories are made on a bike, even in a warzone. Maybe even moreso in a warzone.
The twist? I met women who bike, as part of the National Afghan Cycling Federation last fall. This is the first time anyone has heard of Afghan women riding bikes. Its still a cultural taboo, and in my own four years of mountain biking throughout areas of Afghanistan, I have never seen a women or girl riding a bike. Till now. Riding heavy steel bikes, often with kickstands, these women are the first to not only ride bikes, but to do so publicly and competitively.
Emblazoned on my bike as a surprise when I picked it up – the day before I flew to Afghanistan. Bike #001 was not just a thing of beauty, it had soul.
The incredible team at Alchemy Bicycles blew me away from the moment I met them. Thanks to a surprise meeting arranged by Skratch Labs founder, Dr. Allen Lim, I found myself at a warehouse in south Denver. Alchemy’s new Colorado headquarters. They told me that they believed in the work that I was doing in Afghanistan and wanted to support me with a new bike and be part of the new program I was launching in the US – Strength in Numbers. It was immediately aware that this was a company with soul. A company that ‘gives a shit’.
How much awesomeness can you cram into one day in a country known worldwide as a war zone? A lot.
Its starts with a 6am bike ride through Kabul with photographer and fellow biker, Mikhail Galustov.
We spin our wheels through quiet Kabul streets towards the historic Darulamon Palace. Tony, Anna, and Warren joining us with the mini bus for a little early morning Kabul adventure. Warren snapping Tony snapping us.
Riding past Kabul’s Inside Out project that was put up the day before by a group of Afghan artists in three different locations around the city as part of a worldwide street art project created by JR.
Everywhere you look you see men and boys on bikes, in the mountains, in villages, and in city centers like Kabul. But never women. For the past four years, I’ve been riding my bike in Afghanistan every chance I get. When a local offers up his bike, complete with pinwheel and three horns, I don’t hesitate. Ever.
It was October 2009 when I first put two wheels to dirt in the mountains of the Panjshir Valley, no big deal if you live in Colorado, but a first for any women in Afghanistan.