Pinup calendar sparks controversy in the women's cycling community

November 9, 2011

Updated on 11/18/11 at 5:24 pm

It started off as just a cheeky idea: Take the traditional pinup calendar image of a woman on a bicycle, reinterpret it by using actual hardcore female cyclists, and donate the profits of the calendar to a women's health organization. The Chicago-based group TyK [Thought you Knew] did just that in 2009, when they published a calendar featuring local female cyclists, and gave the proceeds to the Chicago Women's Health Center

But now some of the women who had participated in the calendar feel duped - and are voicing their displeasure on Facebook. They say they've recently realized that the money from the sale of the 2012 TyK calendar will not be going to the Chicago Women's Health Center. Instead, they claim Alexis Finch, the founder of TyK, is using that money to move TyK to San Francisco

Becky Welbes, 26, is a graphic designer and cyclist who was Miss October in 2011's calendar. She also runs a women's cycling organization called Pretty. Fast. which briefly considered joining forces with TyK this summer. Ultimately, they decided the groups had different goals.

"I don't think it was ever explicitly said that TyK was moving away from the Chicago Women's Health Center" in the planning for the 2012 calendar, said Welbes on Tuesday, and so she and others remained under the impression that it would still be donating the money.

"The calendar is full of local women who are doing a lot of great things in the local cycling community," said Welbes, "and they put in their time with the understanding that this was helping something locally, and now that it's moving away from that, I think that a lot of the women are pretty disappointed."

"For a lot of women in the calendar, aside from being proud to be a woman that cycles, and is in the city and help raise awareness for that community, I think they're proud to help an organization like Chicago Women's Health that has probably helped a lot of them in the past," she continued.

The Director of CWHC, Ali McDonald, said the center has never been officially affiliated with TyK, but that she was troubled that advertisers or participants might have lent their services to the calendar with the understanding that the money was going to the center. She said Finch had not contacted her about the money being donated this year, and therefore CWHC wasn't depending on those funds.

However, McDonald also said that TyK was a "significant fundraiser" for the center, donating $13,000 over the past two years.

TyK has expanded to other activities in recent months; Finch started hosting an event called "The Monthly Cycle" (similar to Welbes' Pretty. Fast events aiming to increase female cyclists' confidence in the male-dominated cycling community, and something Welbes helped organize).  Finch says all dollars from a Kickstarter campaign after production expenses will go toward "The Monthly Cycle" - and toward efforts to expand it to other cities, including New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Austin and San Francisco. 

To that end, Finch is currently en route to San Francisco. On Tuesday evening, she posted an extensive update responding to various accusations about her decisions involving TyK. She wrote that she had contacted CWHC this year about the calendar, but never received word back about their relationship going foward. On Wednesday morning, Finch said it's only been recently that she realized that some women thought the money was going to CWHC this year; to her, the intention of the project "has always been to forward women in cycling", with the donated money being an added bonus.

In an email message, Finch said that she felt her work empowered women to make connections within the biking community, instead of teaching women to fix problems alone, something she found other bike co-ops lacking in.

Finch said she's working with Sarai Snyder of the blog GirlBikeLove, on what looks to be a new project based off of her work, with the goal to launch in the spring. 

"I think for this to really take off, it needs to be not in Chicago, or New York City, or Austin," Finch wrote of her aspirations to get women into cycling. "It needs to be the same recognizable name, that folks trust, nation wide."

And though the future of TyK in Chicago may be unclear, those at the CWHC, and in the Chicago Cycling community, are moving on.

The CWHC is relaunching and rebranding their image; they're hosting a party on Thursday to celebrate their recent fundraising successes. 

And for bikers like Welbes, the loss of TyK won't make much of a difference for Chicago.

"If the mission is to get women into bike shops, there are things like that happening already," she said, citing events like her own and the Women and Trans Night at West Town Bikes.

"The power of community is really being used," she said. "I think that there's a lot going on in the women's cycling community, and a lot to watch for."
 

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Becky Welbes was in the TyK calendar for two years in a row. She appeared in the 2011 calendar only. Additionally, this story was edited to clarify that plans call for "The Monthly Cycle" project to continue in Chicago as well.