The bicycling renaissance in the Twin Cities is in high gear. Minneapolis and St. Paul are both working to expand already respectable bicycling infrastructures, and more residents than ever, from all walks of life, are getting around town on two wheels. But, as Jason Tanzman of Cycles for Change
in St. Paul is quick to point out, “the reality is the bike movement is a white movement.”
That’s something Cycles for Change, a nonprofit community bike shop bordering the Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhoods, is looking to change.
“Our vision is to build a diverse and empowered community of bicyclists,” says Tanzman, the director of development and outreach for the organization.
In addition to a full service retail and mechanic shop, Cycles for Change offers a host of programming designed to build a resilient and diverse community around bicycling—and it is quickly gathering momentum.
In 2013, the organization lent out 290 bikes from their Bike Library by partnering with community and civic organizations from around the metro to pair eager riders from low-income areas with new sets of wheels for 6-month leases. Riders in the Bike Library program also get a complimentary helmet and lock, and training to be confident and safe on the roads.
The Build a Bike Class brought in 120 area youth who constructed their own bikes from the ground up, learned how to maintain their bikes and mastered the rules of the road before riding out the door, according to Tanzman. Cycles for change also mentored 12 youth apprentices last year—many of them now help design and run the organization’s programs and retail shop.
Many of the people joining Cycles for Change represent populations Tanzman says are not adequately represented in the bicycling movement. The fastest growing groups of bicyclists nationwide are people of color, according to a report by the League of American Bicyclists.
From 2001 to 2009, the percent of all trips that are by bike in the African-American population grew by 100 percent. Trips by Asians-Americans grew by 80 percent and Hispanics took 50 percent more trips by bike during that period, while whites saw a 22 percent increase, according to the equity report.
When it comes to making decisions about where new bike lanes will go or advocating for how new bike trails are designed, people of color and people of low socioeconomic status aren’t adequately represented at the table, Tanzman says.
“No matter how many people of different racial groups ride bikes, there is an underrepresentation of people from low-income communities and people of color in the decision-making bodies,” Tanzman said.
In many ways, these are groups that would particularly benefit from improved bicycling infrastructure. “A bike is a way to save money,” he says. “A bike is a way to live a healthy life.
According to Tanzman, 25 percent of the households in the Cycles for Change neighborhood don’t have access to a car. “Then of those other 75 percent that do, they might have one car in the household, and maybe it’s not that reliable, maybe it costs a lot of money to gas it up every week,” he says.
“There are so many natural opportunities to build alliances and really make the bicycling movement a multi-racial, multi-ethnic movement that it’s not right now.”
Cycles for Change is hosting a Spring Celebration Monday May 19 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 pm at the shop, 712 University Avenue East.