This is my second summer helping out with the Nice Ride Neighborhood program. Our local bike share company, Nice Ride, in partnership with community organizations, offers a long-term bicycle loan program in the summertime. Participants get to keep a flashy orange bike from June to October. They can also earn $200 towards a new-to-them bicycle by pledging to ride twice a week and attending four Nice Ride Neighborhood-organized events. In North Minneapolis, about 200 people have orange bikes this year. In St. Paul, the number is around 70. The program has almost triples in size from its inaugural year.
From an equity standpoint, the program succeeds immensely in its diversity of participants. Much of this has to do with the community organizations that partner with Nice Ride to make this a vibrant community experience. This includes bicycle organizations that represent marginalized bicycle communities, such as Women on Bikes and Major Taylor, leading the group rides.
I attended the first event scheduled for North Minneapolis this year. For this event, Major Taylor Cycling Club organized and led a group ride from Webber Park to the nearby Juneteenth celebration along the Mississippi River trail.
This year’s Juneteenth was a heavy day for many people. A celebration rooted in emancipation seemed trying on the heels of unspeakable murder and a year of constant protest against police brutality. But there is nothing more real than an African-American cycling group leading a majority Black group of bicyclists to Juneteenth and around the neighborhood’s off-street trails. I was happy to witness such an occasion.
The ride itself was full of life. Around 45 people attended, which proved to be a challenge when we initially winded down the hilly bike trail. Some participants were still learning how to maneuver their bicycles, which resulted in one early-on crash. The rider was fearless as she got back on her bike quickly and continued with the ride. As I told her, I would have still been crying on the ground and refusing to keep biking, so kudos to her and her courage to continue on!
Due to the crash, we got cut off from the first half of the group and ended up meandering a bit off-course. Add that to my list of bicycle-asks: detailed markings and directionals on trails!
We soon found our way to the Juneteenth celebration. We only stayed for 15 minutes because we had to head back to the park and eat the food awaiting us. I think the participants would have enjoyed a longer stay at the celebration. Some of us talked about coming back, but those plans did not come to fruition mostly due to tiredness after our ride! It was fun to turn a bunch of heads at Juneteenth with our wild group of orange bike riders and I wished the participants could have soaked that in a bit longer. Something to consider for next year, perhaps.
Our ride back took a different route, showing off even more off-street bike trails to the participants. On the way back, another fearless woman crashed her bike and got right back up and kept riding. We discussed how cool her scuff marks made her look.
My perceptions of (lacking) Northside amenities were challenged, although I did take note that this infrastructure is very far north, on the perimeter of the neighborhood. But, if people are looking for relaxing trails to ride near their home, they are certainly beautiful options on the Northside. As for infrastructure for utility transportation? Still need some work on that.
When we got back to the park, a lovely spread of food awaited us. A local catering company, that makes a point to hire at-risk youth by the way (!!!), made us sandwiches with handmade bread. The young men who served us were clearly trained in fine-dining service, which I hope made people feel mad respected! Everyone was clearly stuffed after eating lunch. Many of us stayed around and chatted (some Black Girls Do Bike networking happened!), others went home for a nap. I ended up riding with a participant another 5 miles to an arts festival on the Northeast side of town. I finished up my day by randomly running into Walter from Major Taylor, our leader for the Juneteenth ride. On our bike ride together we accidentally rode our bikes through a very closed, very under-construction street. Whoops!
These group rides with Neighborhood participants remind me how important community is to bike riding, especially if you are new to biking around town. As a continual skeptic of bike share and its related programming, there is very little negative to say about this program. It builds strong and fearless bicyclists, fosters community, and exposes people to a variety of bicycle infrastructure and community events.