Ready to Roll

041114_bikes1This spring a lively group of women bike riders plan to hit the road for friendship and fun.

Parkton resident Cathy Myrowitz has organized a new group called the “Annie ‘Londonderry’ Jewish Women and Friends Bicycle Circle.”

It’s “AL’s Gals” for short.

The name was inspired by the achievements of Annie ‘Londonderry’ Kopchovsky, a Jewish mother of three from Boston who, in 1895, biked around the world.

Myrowitz has a couple of goals for herself and the group.

First, in November, she’s flying to Israel to take part in the Arava Institute and Hazon Israel Ride from Jerusalem to Eilat. She undertook the five-day, 350-mile journey once before and is eager to try it again. She’s got a lot of training ahead of her and wants companionship for her rides.

Second, she hopes to encourage more women to hop on their bikes and set off to explore the world, or at least the byways of northern Baltimore County, where Myrowitz believes her fellow riders will be as entranced by the rolling hills and scenic vistas as she is.

“It’s like right out of ‘Downton Abbey,’” she said. “It’s so beautiful  there.”

Judging from turnout at her initial meeting on March 23 at Reisterstown’s Pearlstone Conference Center, interest is strong. Close to 20 people gathered to hear about the group, to learn about Annie Londonderry and get bicycle safety tips from a representative of Bike Maryland.

Towson resident Deborah “Spice” Kleinmann is looking forward to the outings. Years ago, she rode all the time and wants to get back into it.

“I still have all my gear,” she said. “I grew up riding. … I didn’t get a car until I was 25.”

Reisterstown resident Victoria Eisner skis in the winter and is looking for an off-season activity.

“I live on one of Baltimore’s scenic bike routes, but I don’t bike on it because it’s kind of hilly and dangerous, so I thought this would expand my horizons, show me some different places in Baltimore and hopefully Baltimore County that I can cycle,” she said.

Annie Londonderry is a little-known figure. That’s changing, however, thanks to a book about her life, (“Around the World on Two Wheels,” by Peter Zheutlin, Citadel Press, 2007) and a new documentary by Washington, D.C.-based filmmaker Gillian Willman, who screened “The New Woman” for the group.

Members of AL’s Gals learn bicycle safety at a recent meeting. (Photos provided)

Members of AL’s Gals learn bicycle safety at a recent meeting. (Photos provided)

“Hearing about someone who was so ahead of her time, who was just lost to history, who, had she been remembered, probably would have been world famous,” said Willman. “Even cycling enthusiasts didn’t know about her.”

While there were numerous newspaper reports about Annie’s exploits, she left no diaries or personal papers. She started her trip in long skirts, riding a 42-pound bike but soon switched to bloomers and a lighter-weight model. A $100 sponsorship from the Londonderry Spring Water Company earned her the nickname “Londonderry.”

Willman spent seven years on “The New Woman,” which has been screened at about 15 film festivals. Now, she hopes the half-hour documentary will have a long life, with showings in museums and for bike clubs, women’s groups and Jewish organizations.

Safety is top priority for AL’s Gals, and the inaugural meeting featured a talk from Bike Maryland program coordinator Marla Streb, who noted that the more cyclists on the road the better. It’s good for the environment, and with more bikes on the road, motorists just get in the habit of watching out for them.

Streb urged the group to safety check their tires, brakes and chains before every ride and to gear up in eye-popping orange or green so drivers will see them.

“You notice that  construction workers aren’t wearing camo,” she said.

As for motorists who forget that cyclists also have a right to the road, Streb noted that “a nice wave and eye contract” go a long way toward reducing driver hostility.

In addition, Streb reviewed the details of Maryland’s 2010 law, which requires motorists to give cyclists three feet when passing.

AL’s Gals is open to all women riders from Baltimore and D.C. While most of the women at the Sunday meeting were in their 50s and 60s, it’s open to women of all ages. Wyrowitz says the group will start out with 10 a.m. Sunday morning rides on the NCR trail in Ashland (officially, the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail) and then make the transition to road trips. That way, her dream of a Jewish women’s bike circle, for women of all ages and athletic ability, will really get rolling.

The New Woman: Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsky (a documentary trailer) from Gillian Willman on Vimeo.

For information on AL’s Gals, visit the group’s Facebook page at facebook.com/ALsGalsBicycleClub.

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