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15 Minutes With: Tonieh Welland


Oct. 2017

Tonieh Welland spent a season riding with the Bella Donnas, a group that organized female-only rides, but as its only black member, she felt more could be done to reach women of color. So she founded the Milwaukee chapter of Black Girls Do Bike (BGDB), now in its third season of ďno-dropĒ rides that leave no rider behind. A small-business consultant and event planner, Welland also serves on the boards for Bublr Bikes ó the cityís bike share ó and the Walkerís Point Center for the Arts.

Tell us about founding the Milwaukee chapter of BGDB.

I reached out to the (national) founder, Monica Garrison. She said, ďThis is all volunteer. We donít ever charge fees. This is the only requirement: You lead one no-drop ride a month, even if itís an indoor ride.Ē I reached out to other club leaders in other cities and got feedback (and) lots of support.

(The Milwaukee chapter) had an opening meetup in February 2015 and then started our ride season in early May. Almost 60 people were interested in coming out to ride.

How often does BGDB lead rides?

We try to lead one ride a week, and we try to alternate between challenge rides and chill rides. A challenge ride is over 10 miles and over 10 miles an hour, and a chill ride is the opposite ó 10 to 12 miles, maybe only 6 to 8, maybe having more of a social aspect, so itís more accessible.

Can anyone ride with you?

This group, while open to all women, is consciously making an effort to draw in women of color, because we are so often forgotten. You get so used to being the only black person and the only person of color in so many groups, and it just gets old.

What has surprised you?

People who had not been on a bike for years were riding on the sidewalk. Yet other people who had been riding for a long time were like, ďLetís go to Cedarburg, letís ride to Port Washington, letís ride to Racine.Ē We had a huge range of skill level, which was a big surprise, and very few women in the beginning had road bikes, so we had to go a lot slower. It was very humbling for me to slow down, to lower my expectations and to really embrace the true beginner.

Whatís been your biggest accomplishment so far?

This year I am most proud of our Riverwest 24 team. My two co-leaders, Vanessa and Nia, rode, and three other women rode ó it was their first time. Every single one of them (when they joined BGDB) did not have a road bike, and now they all have road bikes. Josie is the same woman who was riding on the sidewalk when I first met her. To go from that to feeling confident enough to ride in the middle of the night in pitch-black darkness with people on single speeds and fixies in a neighborhood that is not your own ó thatís a huge accomplishment. Itís not how far we went and how many laps we did; itís that we did it together and we had fun.

Tell us about King Dream Rides.

BGDB, Red Bike Green, the Wisconsin Bike Fed, DreamBikes (and) Bublr Bikes came together with the help of the King Drive BID (for) our first season. Itís a 45- to 60-minute ride (for) all ages, all levels. A super slow roll through the neighborhoods ó Bronzeville, Brewers Hill, Riverwest, Harambee and Halyard Park. We meet at DreamBikes, 6 p.m. on Thursdays, roll out at 6:30. Weíll probably roll that back to 5:30 and 6 as it gets darker. Those rides will continue (through Oct. 19).

When youíre not biking, what do you do for fun?

I teach yoga, and I teach spin, so I like going, when I can, to other peopleís classes. I love spending time with my kids and going to outdoor concerts. The Milwaukee Film Festival is one of my favorite (events); Iíve volunteered for years to see free films. In the winter, I read a lot more and I knit.


1 My three kids

2 Lake Michigan. The sunrise over the lake is gorgeous.

3 Workouts with November Project Milwaukee (For details, go to

4 Discovering new music for my playlists for yoga and spin

5 Being on a bike, whether cycling outdoors or indoors

This story ran in the Oct. 2017 issue of: