The amazing company behind the delivery of 53 new racing bikes in Afghanistan are part of the Giant and Liv/giant family. I accepted a role as their newest brand ambassador as I saw their team embrace my work and the Afghan National Women’s Cycling team in a way that spoke loudly of their commitment. I can’t imagine another bike company involving themselves the way Liv/giant has. Last spring I delivered 6 Avail composite racing bikes for the newly formed team in Kabul. They watched my progress with the team development as well as the development of the documentary I am producing with Let Media and filmmaker Sarah Menzies about the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team, Afghan Cycles, and then they stepped up to the plate in full support of the team and the expansion of women’s cycling in other parts of the country. To start, they donated 53 more road and mountain bikes, along with clothing, tools, tires, tubes, and helmets for 40 women.
In becoming their brand ambassador, they also set me up with both a road bike and a hard tail mountain bike. As a dedicated single speed rider this is my first foray into geared bikes, and the testing ground for both bikes would be Afghanistan. A bigger test than riding in a war zone would be building up two new bikes myself, especially two with derailleurs. Thanks to a whirlwind bike mechanic 101 lesson with my landlord, I arrived in Kabul with two bikes, tools and bike stand from Pedros, and a page full of notes to build up not just my bike, but all 53 bikes in Afghanistan.
After a once over and a big sigh, I started the assembly process, knowing that this was one bike of 55 that I would start to assemble over the next week. Everything was going smoothly until the dreaded derailleur and I couldn’t figure out which way was up. After some cursing and a few different approaches, I had the bike built up and ready for a quick test ride through the courtyard Next stop, a much more public training ride with the Afghan National Cycling Team on the open road. A huge thanks to Liv/giant for their incredible support of my work and their passion for women’s cycling. #pedalarevolution photos by Deni Bechard – you can follow him on instagram at @denibechard
It took a monumental effort just to get 63 boxes of bikes, tools, clothing, and equipment to Denver Airport to fly with me to Kabul. It took an even bigger one to get them released from Kabul Airport customs house. Apparently rules have changed since my previous arrivals with Liv/giant bikes and donated cycling equipment last spring. Instead of accepting my letter, they looked at me, one lone woman with 63 bike boxes and bags loaded onto 11 trolleys creating a Everest like line of porters, and gave me the dreaded yellow paper. The yellow paper meant they would take the bikes into the customs house and that I would have to get a letter from the Ministry of Finance to release the bikes, ideally duty free as these were a donation and not for sale.
Najibullah was waiting outside the airport with a truck bound for central Afghanistan that I had requested. I explained the situation and he called Coach Sedique, the head of the Cycling Federation and the coach for the women’s and men’s cycling teams and together we tromped through the halls of the Olympic Stadium offices, the Ministry of Finance, and the Kabul Airport custom house for a total of 18 hours over two long days. Back and forth we went from office to office, searching for signatures, given new forms to fill out, told to stamp this form here or there, endless waiting and cups of tea, and a receptive mantra of “Bishi. Burro.” Sit. Let’s Go.
My view of these two determined men became a repetition on a theme, and inconspicuous went right out the window as the tall blond foreigner dutifully followed.
April 2013 – Mountain2Mountain set up a mini bike school with a few members of the Afghan National Women’s Team as part of the outdoor entertainment on the women’s day at the Sound Central Music Festival.
One of the young girls that rode around the courtyard was this young woman below.
Fast forward to October, 2012. I meet the coach and the girls for a training ride on the outskirts of Kabul to meet some of the new girls learning to ride bikes. Guess who’s there in a pale pink helmet!
She is attending the Goethe Institute and while we couldn’t communicate much in English or Dari – we found our common language in basic German.
It was a fabulous day of riding with Coach and several of the national team like Mariam, Nazifa, Massouma, and Sadaf, along with six new riders from American University, Kabul University, and the Goethe Institute! #pedalarevolution
Training with the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team is hard work!
I grabbed a cat nap amongst the bikes post filming with the Afghan Cycles film crew outside of Kabul. But Coach didn’t even wait for the bus, he just took a nap roadside after a particularly hot training day.
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’.
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.