Chelsea, my best Chicago companion, who had been through the first transitions of a new city and a long hard winter with me, had left me to brave summer in the Windy City on my own. I received an envelope in the mail from her, with her favorite photo of us enclosed. Written inside the envelope was one line, “I love you more than anyone, for real.” Once I had uncovered its contents, I set the mail down on the kitchen table and wept.

After I cried, I realized I was roasting in my sunny 90-degree kitchen. I hate to waste the A.C. so I absently stuck my head in the freezer to cool off. Following a brain freeze, I resigned myself to my second best companion, a sturdy pink road bike, and wandered east.

When I moved to the city from small-town living, I was fascinated with the prospects of  “sustainable”, “DIY” urban living. One aspect of realizing this fantasy was to become an avid bicyclist, although I had not owned a bike since cruising the neighborhood as a child. No sooner had I shed my winter coat than I found “Caliente”, my little old Schwinn, at a used bike co-op.  I spent less than the price of a monthly bus pass on my summer vehicle, and took to the streets immediately in boots and sundresses, bound only by the limits of my own two legs.

From the seat of my bicycle I am jostled between foreign sights. I find myself in a whole new world as I pass neighborhood borders. Everywhere I go, no one looks or feels like me, or like home. To get to the lake from my apartment in Ukrainian Village, I pass through the spot that once housed the infamous Cabrini Green housing projects. The area is gentrifying quickly, with pressure from the upscale residents of Gold Coast to keep their luxury bubble sealed, but there are still signs of wreckage; desolate blocks of shut down businesses and deserted remnants of human life inhabiting the up-and-coming “River North.” By cycle saddle, the littered streets vanish only minutes later, and I’m suddenly maneuvering past taxis, Lexus’, and tourists on foot enjoying landscaped sidewalks and designer bags. I wonder if they have any idea what its like 10 blocks west.

Without a bicycle, it can be difficult to picture all that a city contains. On foot, you cannot get far enough fast enough to take in its diversity; and buses, trains, and cars all create blinders to the nitty-gritty of every neighborhood. Chicago was the city I learned to bike in, and the first city I learned by bicycle. Four years, three bicycles, and two states later, the woman-powered, two-wheeled view of my surroundings has continued to be my best orienting tool. As friends move, seasons change, and the city bustles at its own pace, a bicycle is a means of grounding—allowing you to develop a route and cycle of your own.

–by, Molly Thornton, Age 24, Seattle, WA


Swift Industries’ Tough & Tender Project is an annual LITERARY AND PHOTOGRAPHIC PROJECT TO CELEBRATE WOMEN’S EXPERIENCE OF THE BICYCLE because Women’s experience of cycling is not celebrated enough in bicycle communities. Cycling is a male dominated activity and industry, and it’s our experience as women and female-bodied individuals that cycling empowers and inspires us in ways which are not portrayed by mainstream bicycle culture. It’s time for something different!