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Alumni Profiles
reed magazine logoJune 2010

Of Cycling and Circumcision

Susan McLucas ’73


It is a glorious autumn day and seven men and women have gathered outside a rambling wooden house in Somerville, Massachusetts. They look like a typical group ready to head out for a neighborhood spin. Quite unremarkable, except for one thing: six weeks ago, none of them could ride a bike.

For most Americans, learning to ride a bike is an indelible rite of childhood, but there are exceptions, which led Susan McLucas to found the Bicycle Riding School, which may be the only school of its kind in the country. Since 1995, she has taught 2,500 people of all ages the art of two-wheeled self-propulsion.

Susan McLucas


With her calm demeanor, unflappable smile, and thatch of gray curls poking out of her helmet, Susan exudes a maternal air. As she adjusts saddles and fastens helmets, taking gear out of a barn with wheels hanging from the rafters, her students discuss their feelings about finally doing something they have yearned for since childhood. One student, 56-year old Choy Barnes, says it was uncommon for women to ride bikes in her native Hong Kong, where she grew up. It took her six classes before she could balance. “I was so nervous I wouldn’t [be able to] learn,” she says.

The students walk their bikes to a park with a wide path. “Just be sure to have your hands on the brakes and go slow when you pass people,” Susan instructs. “Don’t try to be proving anything to yourself or anyone else.” Navigating around pedestrians and other bicyclists is sometimes a challenge. Susan is constantly vigilant. “Nice and easy,” she says. “Hands on the brakes!”

The school is more than a day job—it helps Susan subsidize her true passion: abolishing female genital mutilation in Mali.

Female genital mutilation has been practiced in western Africa for thousands of years. It involves the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia and, in some cases, the vagina being partially sewn shut by women known as “excisers.” Women who undergo the rite suffer later in life from infections, and from difficulty having sexual intercourse and giving birth.

Susan was aghast when she learned of the practice in Mali. “I don’t know what it was that made me jump off into the void,” she says. “I wanted to see what I could do.” Her first trip was in 1997 and she has gone 12 times, staying as long as 10 months. She founded Sini Sanuman (meaning “a healthy tomorrow”) in 2002 after working with three nonprofits.

bicycle riding school

Steady hand: Susan McLucas ’73 gives a helpful push to a student at the Bicycle Riding School.


Capitalizing on on the popularity of local radio, Susan helped produce an album with high-profile musicians singing about genital mutilation. Twelve radio stations played the songs. “It was the first thing I did that really seemed to work in a big way,” Susan says. She remembers the thrill of excitement bicycling through the capital, Bamako, and hearing the songs playing over the radio.

Susan then made five music videos. (See below for details.) Surprisingly, it wasn’t hard to craft upbeat videos about genital mutilation and its effects, she says. Girls in traditional, vibrantly colorful dress dance to upbeat, acoustic Malian music and sing “Safe Mal”—“it hurts.” Women talk about the joylessness of marriage and childbirth. In one video, a mother vows that her daughter will never be excised.

Sini Sanuman has convinced nine villages to prohibit the practice and 100 excisers to stop performing the procedure. Some 30,000 people—including mayors, religious figures, doctors, and other leaders—have signed a pledge against it.

The National Assembly accepted the signatures in 2007, and is currently working with Sini Sanuman to craft legislation to ban the practice.

“What you need is more and more people to publicly come out and say, ‘I’m not doing this to my family,’” Susan says.

—Amanda Waldroupe ’07

To learn more about Susan’s work and to watch the music videos, visit

reed magazine logoJune 2010