Seven Black Cyclists On What Protest Rides Mean To Them

Photo: Julianne Cuba
Photo: Julianne Cuba

Bicycling should be about “the power to be free and move freely,” as diversity-mobility activist Tamika Butler wrote in Bicycling this week.

That’s a problem for black and brown cyclists in New York City, as persistent police harassment of cyclists of color has shown.

As New Yorkers have taken to the streets for the past 13 days to protest racism and the police killings of black people, bikes have played an integral role. Some cyclists have led the pack to act as shields for marchers who were on their feet, while others have slowed down NYPD vans trailing behind; the cycling community has so far hosted two massive solidarity rides with Black Lives Matter. Still, access to cycling, equity in bike lanes and public space, and strategies that exclude cyclists of color or non-conforming genders all remain issues the cycling community must tackle.

As Butler wrote, “Bicycling cannot solve systemic racism in the United States. But systemic racism can’t be fixed without tackling it within bicycling.” 

Besides the targeted harassment, many predominantly black and brown neighborhoods have been historically excluded from receiving safer bike infrastructure, while their white neighbors call for more cops to enforce rogue cyclists in parks — strong indicators that conversations surrounding race and biking need to be louder. 

“To truly make transformational change for all people who bike, we must go beyond a ‘Bike Month’ or an occasional unity ride. We also must get beyond the narrative that only people who (too often self-righteously) make a lifestyle decision to bike are worthy of our targeted marketing campaigns, advocacy, and celebration. We must get past a strategy that assumes cisgender white maleness as the norm. We must get past an ethos of exclusion,” Butler wrote. 

Streetsblog spoke with seven black cyclists on Monday about their history with cycling, use of bikes as a protest tool, and hopes for anti-racism in cycling, before a solidarity ride with Black Lives Matter. The ride started off at Grand Army Plaza, snaked through Williamsburg, over the bridge into Manhattan, and then back into Brooklyn.

rideblm center
Photo: Julianne Cuba

Here are seven black cyclists in their own words:

Sophia Buxton

sophia buxtonIt’s powerful to see people of color on bikes, we’ve always been on bikes so it just feels good to be out here. It’s my first time being here on a bike, I just started riding a bike again this summer, first time since fourth grade.

I’m getting back into the groove of riding. This is my first bike ride as part of a protest. Biking during quarantine and the stay at home order became a mental health thing.

I saw a big movement on the West Coast where they were doing a lot of solitary rides and I’ve been looking for one here and just happened to find one on Instagram.

There’s not one way to protest; it’s about where you give your money, how you share resources, and who is out on the front lines. There’s a role for everybody.”

Emmanuel Midy

Emmanuel-MidyI think it was an interesting way to gather people. Biking is a big part of my life in New York and I wanted to come out and show support.

I think this brings in another group that may not be marching, that maybe had…I don’t want to say concerns about the way protests can go, but if you’re on a bike it limits the amount of things you can get involved in, I guess. So I guess there’s that.

And the biking population does tend to stick together in the city. The city has had a contentious past in getting bike lanes and things of that nature, so bikers coming together makes sense.

 

 

Lamar Gentles

Lamar-GentlesIf it’s active and for a good cause, it’s all good for me, bro. Any form of anything.

Walking, biking, crawling. Just to get the message out, whatever you’re doing, it’s not more significant.

Everybody has a bike, New York is known for biking and if this brings people together more than I’m all for it.

 

 

 

 

 

Anonymous government employee

I’ve gone to marches before and had never had my bike with me. I also have this bike now mostly because of the COVID situation, and just not going on public transit because of that.

But it’s been really useful for the marches as well. I think it’s cool, because a lot of white people have bikes usually and it’s getting more white people at protests, that’s what I’ve noticed.

Anton Lowe (right, below)

jimmyandbrotherIt’s our first time doing a biking one — this is our fourth day straight we’ve been out. Seems like it would be more of a message, a hundred bikes coming down the road might be a scary sight to see.

Nyle

Nyle

I grew up working class in Philadelphia in black neighborhoods, I moved around a lot and never really had a car in high school. So my dad gave me a bike and that was how I got around town. Philly had bike lanes growing up but it’s always been bike friendly and it’s just really always kind of been a part of my life since I was a little kid learning to ride my bike and actually kind of using it.

Malik Johnson

Malik-Johnson

I was here yesterday, me and two other friends, we were riding by and saw the protest happening, and we just joined it and then followed the rest of the way on our bikes.

This is the first bike one I’ve been to. I’ve been pretty active in the movement. I think, hopefully with what happens here today, you’ll have a better flowing movement of people when you’re going.

Bikes can only add in that, the movement of people and mobilizing more.

Some people probably can’t walk that much, but if you have a bike that makes it a bit easier in a way. I think it’s one thousand percent useful, because you can cover way more ground on bike than on foot.”

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