Feminist Bicycle Book Publisher - Elly Blue
Elly Blue describes herself as a “feminist bicycle book publisher." She’s made a living in Portland, Oregon by writing about her two favorite topics: feminism and bicycling. Most of her books and zines are produced through the company she co-founded: Microcosm Publishing. Elly’s the author of such juicy titles as Bikenomics: How Bicycling Will Save the Economy and Bikes in Space: Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction.
"I started writing as a way to make sense of the bicycle events and activism I was becoming involved with in Portland."
In 2010, Elly produced the first issue of Taking the Lane zine. Entitled “Sharing the Road with Boys,” it included pieces by Elly about her life in Portland, and the sexism she often faced as a female cyclist. Since then, Taking the Lane has continued its mission of “publishing the bicycle feminist revolution!” Elly was excited to tell me that this month’s issue, called “True Trans Bike Rebel” is now being funded on Kickstarter through June 15th.
I caught up with Elly via email last week, and asked her some burning questions.
How did you first fall in love with bicycling?
I was 21 and had just started to bike for transportation. I rode mostly on the sidewalk. One day, I was coming home from work and there was a group of maybe ten people gathered on bikes on a corner. I knew one of them, and he waved me over and said, "come ride with us, it's Critical Mass!" I had no idea what that was, but I loved the feeling of riding right down the middle of the lane of traffic, and doing it with other people. The politics came later, but that evening really was when I got my first glimpse of the radical potential of bicycling.
"I had no idea what [Critical Mass] was, but I loved the feeling of riding right down the middle of the lane of traffic, and doing it with other people."
How do writing and cycling intersect for you?
I started writing in my mid-twenties, as a way to make sense of the bicycle events and activism I was becoming involved with in Portland. It started out as long emails to a list-serve, recapping events, analyzing what happened, debating what to do next. When I moved over into blogging, it felt like a natural way to keep making sense of my experiences and politics as they evolved. I had a lot of energy then, and I’d compose everything in my head while riding, and then could hardly wait to get home to start typing it all out.
Being able to write about these thoughts and experiences meant I was always learning something new and my ideas and choices were always evolving. As I started to publish zines and then books, being able to put out other people's writing became even more exciting, because it felt like a way to truly build a movement of people who might not always agree or have the same perspective, but the parts always seem to add up to something greater than the whole.
"It's seeing those problems that inspires me the most, knowing it's grist for future activists and leaders to do it even better."
What excites you about bicycle culture where you live?
I live in Portland, Oregon, which is famous by now for its bicycle culture and infrastructure. Living here, though, you see the good parts, but the gaps and problems are also glaring. It's seeing those problems that inspires me the most, knowing it's grist for future activists and leaders to do it even better.
Men far outnumber women when it comes to bicycle riders in the United States. This isn't true in some European countries. Why do you think there are fewer women riding bicycles in the USA?
Sexism and gender inequality in cycling always seem to be directly correlated with whatever is going on in the broader culture. In the case of the US, I do believe that our sprawling land use and transportation infrastructure reinforce economic inequality and via that, gender and racial divides. There are other factors that reinforce racism and sexism in our transportation system, of course, from unequal income to police profiling. But the sheer cost to entry of basic mobility in most of the US is so high, due to everything being built around cars, that it majorly tips the scales.
"The sheer cost to entry of basic mobility in the US is so high, due to everything being built around cars, that it majorly tips the scales."
Where do you see bicycle culture heading in the next twenty years?
I have no idea! Let's see, that would be in 2038. Honestly, the direction I see us going in now isn’t that great of a future—a sort of stratified Portlandification, where inner cities become ecotopian playgrounds for the wealthy, full of bikes of course, surrounded by smoggy suburbs where if you're stuck riding a bike it's not for fun. There's a much less flashy potential future for bicycling, probably led by community bike co-ops and modest city planners, where some of the car-centric development of the last 50 years is quietly reversed and bicycling becomes simply more normal and accessible. But it's up to regular people to make it so.
"There's a potential future for bicycling... where some of the car-centric development of the last 50 years is quietly reversed and bicycling becomes simply more normal and accessible. But it's up to regular people to make it so."
What’s a current project you’re excited about?
The 15th issue of Taking the Lane zine is called “True Trans Bike Rebel,” and it's funding on Kickstarter til June 15th: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ellyblue/true-trans-bike-rebel-taking-the-lane-15/