Recommended Listening: Dynamo Jenny Podcast
Adventure Cycling Association’s podcast series, Dynamo Jenny, is all about womxn, bikes, and taking up space in America. We reached out to host Jessica Zephyrs to chat about about her involvement with the podcast and what you can expect from it…
As Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) puts it, “Dynamo Jenny is a binge-able, 6-episode audio dive into women’s experiences traveling the world by bike.” Dynamo Jenny is ACA’s first ever podcast, and after listening to the entire series myself, it’s clear they have a knack for it. Or the producers, Jessica Zephyrs and Bekah Zook, surely do. The six-episode series covers a wide range of topics from feminist bike history to grizzly bear encounters, and the dynamic of womxn in the cycling industry. I reached out to Jessica to learn more about the inspiration for the podcast and her involvement with the series. Find the full Q&A below, including some insight from Bekah Zook, Tours Specialist at ACA.
What’s the story behind the name “Dynamo Jenny?”
Dynamo Jenny is a combination of two quite powerful things. As most cyclists know, a dynamo is a generator, like a dynamo hub on a bike, but it can also refer to someone full of energy, force, and vigor. And one gal I know who is full of that exciting energy — who is the very person I thought a lot about when making this podcast — is Jenny Ortega. Like all the womxn featured in the podcast, she’s a true dynamo. She laughs, she cries, she gets stuck and pulls through. She is one I look up to and strive to be like. And so the name of the podcast, and associated newsletter, was born.
What inspired you to start the podcast?
The physical reality of the podcast came from a conversation had in a hallway at the Adventure Cycling office last year. I’d just started the Dynamo Jenny newsletter with the express desire to focus on stories I wasn’t seeing elsewhere — the multitude of experiences womxn have while traveling on bikes. I’d successfully launched the newsletter and sent a few issues to a small but mighty crew of interested folks when I ran into Bekah Zook, a gal in our Tours Department, who practically shouted at me, “I love Dynamo Jenny, and I want to make an audio component with you!” I was like, “Awesome! That’s great. I want to make a podcast except that I have no idea how to make a podcast!”
Luckily, having worked for Pittsburgh Public Radio for years, Bekah did know how to make a podcast. There probably would never have been a Dynamo Jenny podcast without Bekah. And if there was, it would sound TERRIBLE! As for the philosophical impetus for the podcast, Bekah says it best, “When it comes to cycling, or even just recreating, white men have all the outlets. We hear their voices and their stories most prominently because they’re the ones being marketed to and the ones creating the marketing, and therefore they end up taking up the most space. It’s a vicious circle that needs to be broken, and the first step is saying loudly and deliberately: look at all of these different types of people doing things worthy of our attention.”
You’ve covered some big and important topics in the first six episodes. How have you been homing in on a particular theme for each episode?
We knew we wanted each episode to follow its own theme, vis-à-vis This American Life, and we had an idea of what those themes might be based on the general topics that tend to arise as someone goes on a bicycle trip: an impetus, uncertainty, a destination, an unexpected hardship, a desire to do it all again with good people.
But more importantly, we wanted to let womxn tell their real stories. Our biggest priority was to allow the people we interviewed to feel ownership, to decide for themselves what they talked about and how they talked about it. We didn’t want them to feel as though they had to give us some prescribed narrative about biking while female. It’s because of them that the project took the shape that it did. Without their willingness to share their lived experiences, we had nothing.
You’ve had some amazing guests on the podcast. Can you give us an idea of what kinds of people you’ve spoken to, and why you wanted their voice on the podcast?
Amazing is right. We were so fortunate to talk to so many lovely humans. In the first episode alone, we have Nicole Formosa, the Editor-in-Chief of Bike Magazine (and the first woman to hold that position), Tessa Hulls, an artist and feminist bicycle historian (I love that this is a thing!), and Anna Brones, who got to sit in the press pit for the very first La Course race. In fact, you’ll want to listen to that episode just to hear Anna correct my terrible pronunciation of French pronouns related to the Tour de France. Activists and advocates play a big role in the podcast: zahra alabanza speaks with passion about the joy Black people feel riding bikes in episode six, Devin Cowens tells about her complicated bikepacking trip in Montana in episode two (it involves a grizzly bear and multiple encounters with “intrigued white folks”), and Marley Blonsky and Kailey Kornhauser explained their unexpected paths to advocating for size inclusivity in cycling in episode four. Professional storytellers Hilary Oliver and Laura Killingbeck hilariously relate their own cycling adventures and misadventures. And Olivia Round wrote an original piece specifically for episode two. It’s all about finding female companionship in the unlikeliest of places: a Greek Orthodox Monastery in Arizona.
And that’s only some of them! If I could, I would chat your ear off about each one of these people but really, you should hear them for yourself on the podcast. So, why these lovely humans? Well, for one, they were the ones adventurous and trusting enough to lend us their stories for a season one. Secondly, Bekah and I were dedicated to getting a diversity of voices. “Women” is an overarching term that doesn’t do justice to the myriad of experiences felt and lived by the people who claim that gender identity. That’s what we wanted to show. In some respects, we succeeded, but in others, we failed. There are only so many stories that can be told within a six-episode series, but we’re hopeful that having these first six out in the world will draw out more womxn and their stories.
What do you think it will take before the cycling industry is truly inclusive?
Bekah Zook: The podcast is merely a vehicle for showcasing the womxn on the front lines of this battle. Our podcast team, as facilitators, don’t have the answers here. And it isn’t up to any one community to decide. We have to keep asking questions. Not only of others but of ourselves. There’s a lot of work to be done, and we have to ask ourselves if the way that we’re currently showing up for others is enough.
What’s next? Can we expect more Dynamo Jenny moving forward?
Hopefully! We already have some ideas in the works. But it depends on if people listen! So, please, go listen, write a review if you like it, and reach out to us if you have ideas. We’re still making the Dynamo Jenny newsletter. It comes out monthly and features the same themes as the podcast, just in written form.
Any parting thoughts?
Bekah Zook: We hope that the stories contained within the podcast provide the support and encouragement that listeners may be looking for. If anything, we hope that by listening to the stories of the brave and courageous womxn who were so generous with their time, we share the message that everyone has a unique voice, worthy of being heard. Sometimes the best way to advocate for yourself and for others is by telling your story. We want to hear it, and the world probably needs it.
Listen to Episode 1 below, featuring Tessa Hulls, Anna Brones, and Nicole Formosa. Afterwards, head over to AdventureCycling.org to get the rest. You can also find the Dynamo Jenny Podcast on all major listening apps, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher.
Want to get involved? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.