Mark Metcalf

Ladies who ride

By - Jun 9th, 2011 04:00 am
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The Bella Donnas at the 2011 Spring Kick-off.

One fateful night in 2001, Jillian Imilkowski signed up for a 500 mile ride with a 50lb. mountain bike and very little cycling experience outside of leisurely trips to the store and back. For her, training for the ride was a challenge — male cyclists left her in the dust, bike shops proved to be more intimidating than helpful and attempting to ride with other cycling groups left her feeling frustrated and alienated.

Enter the Bella Donnas. Formed by Imilkowski in 2006, the Bellas are an all-female pack of cycling enthusiasts whose primary goal is empower women and challenge themselves physically and mentally through biking. Whether it’s through bike maintenance workshops, long-distance rides in the city, or challenging mountain bike trails, co-founder Becky Tesch says that the group focus is “just getting women on bikes and getting them to feel comfortable.” Members range in age from twenty-somethings to retirees and entered the group at varying skill levels — from beginners to seasoned riders.

They’re no “bike gang,” but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t just the tiniest bit … dangerous. The group’s name sums up their ethos.

“Bella Donna in Latin means ‘beautiful woman,’ but in botanical terms it’s also part of the deadly nightshade family…and it is highly toxic,” says Jillian. “So we are a bunch of beautiful women that also have a little bit of an edge to us.”

“And we’re okay if you see us as dangerous,” Becky jokes.

Listen now:


(Windows Media Player)

Learn more about The Bella Donnas here.

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0 thoughts on “PODCAST: Ladies who ride: The Bella Donnas”

  1. Anonymous says:

    And I now remember that there IS another women’s group in MKE.

    Milwaukee Area Women’s Cycling

    Also, ToAD has women’s clinics for Ladies who want to learn about racing road bikes.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I guess this is necessary, in response to the arrogant cold shoulder women get from the macho biker “boys’ club,” but the “girls’ club” separatist orientation is just as disappointing. It just reinforces that no club is worth joining unless someone else will be excluded.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry, where did you get the idea that the ladies group is separatist? We’re not excluding anyone. I think you have misunderstood somehow.

  4. Anonymous says:

    except for men, who have PLENTY of other groups to choose from.

  5. Anonymous says:

    another group some ladies might want to check into if you are interested in racing mountain bikes:

  6. Anonymous says:

    I am wondering if you took the 20-minutes required to listen to the interview, or if you’re comment is based solely on the very limited summary above. I suggest, before you continue, you set aside some time and listen. Not only do The Bella Donnas like and appreciate the men in our lives, we actually encourage our ladies to ride with their men (and boys). Just not the 1x/week they ride with us. Cycling is a VERY male dominated sport. As such, there are not a lot of options for women to figure it out without the pressure of “keeping up with” or “working as hard as” men. The Bella Donnas provide a safe space for women to learn how to bike, get more comfortable with their skills or simply meet new like-minded women. As a result of their new confidence, many of our ladies report an increase in enjoyment when riding with their male counterparts and tend to do it more. This group helps to empower women and encourage them to take control of their own health and fitness. I simply do not see how that can be considered “separatist” and “exclusive”. Feel free to return comment after actually listening to the interview, and I hope that one day you (if you’re a woman) or the women in your life will ride with us to see what a powerful feeling it is to feel safe and motivated.

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