Afghan Cycles: Change On Two Wheels

Afghan Cycles is a feature documentary about a new generation of young Afghan women challenging gender and cultural barriers, using the bicycle as a vehicle for freedom and social change. 

Afghan Cycles: Change On Two Wheels

What if someone told you that you weren’t allowed to ride a bicycle? Would you do it anyway?

What if you were threatened every time you went to ride? What if it meant risking your life?

While riding a bicycle is a simple act for most of us, for the women of Afghanistan, embarking on a two-wheels is far from easy. In a country where cycling is taboo for women, each pedal stroke is an act of defiance, a challenge to the gender and cultural barriers that define their everyday lives.

This is the topic of Afghan Cycles, a documentary film that seeks to tell the story of these courageous women.

I traveled to Afghanistan in the fall of 2012 with my friend Shannon Galpin, the executive director of Mountain2Mountain. Shannon was the first women to mountain bike across the Panjshir Valley, and for both of us, cycling is not only an activity that we love; it’s a way of maintaining our balance and sanity. To not ride a bike is unthinkable.

I remember exactly where we were sitting when we found out that there was a team of female riders. I don’t remember the exact words that came out of my or Shannon’s mouth, but it was something along the lines of “Girls? Riding?”

That small moment, sitting in a cafe in Kabul, became the start of a long project. A few months later brainstorming project ideas together with friend and filmmaker Sarah Menzies in Colorado, we decided that a film should be made. That the story of these women was too important not to tell.

Photo by Jenny Nichols / Afghan Cycles

Photo by Jenny Nichols / Afghan Cycles

And the rest, as they say… well, it’s not history yet, because we’re just now in the final throes of production. There’s one last production trip that has to happen before we can get the film finished and out into the world for a premiere in 2016. So we’re doing what any creative team does in the digital age: we’re running a Kickstarter campaign.

But I’m not here to tell you to support the Kickstarter campaign (you can do that if you want to, and we will greatly appreciate it), I am here to tell you to ride. To stand up for your rights. To share the story of these women, not just for inspiration, because it’s in telling and sharing their story that we can hope to create change.

For me, working on this project has meant questioning my own role as a woman. It has meant a renewed sense of gratitude every time that I get on my bicycle. It has meant not taking my own rights for granted, but also being conscious of all the rights that I have to continue to fight for.

Photo by Jenny Nichols / Afghan Cycles

Photo by Jenny Nichols / Afghan Cycles

The bicycle is a beautiful thing because of its simplicity. All around the world it’s used for transportation, and for fun. But it’s a simple tool that is capable of one very important thing: freedom of mobility. In a place like Afghanistan, that freedom of mobility is what threatens the status quo. It means that a woman can easily get to school. It means that she doesn’t need a man to drive her around.

For those of us who live in the Western World, the bicycle, while free of the social taboos that the women of Afghanistan experience, gives us that freedom of mobility as well. It lets us live a lifestyle that isn’t dependent on cars. It makes us healthier. It fuels local business. it creates positive change.

Which is why I am an advocate for bicycles. Because I believe in two-wheeled change. Because I believe that everyone has a right to ride a bike, no matter where they are in the world, and they have the right to do so in safety.

The bicycle is a powerful tool for social change, let’s use it.