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The New Face of Cycling
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Ed EwingEd Ewing caught on stage at the Seattle Bicycle Expo fashion show in 2011.
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Photo by Martha Williams
Genaro EscarzagaGenaro Escarzaga in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood.
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Photo by Mike Hartnett
Lacourdaire "Lucky" CamargoLacourdaire "Lucky" Camargo, photographed in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, IL.
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Adolfo HernandezAdolfo Hernandez in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood.
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Photo by Melissa Hung
Robynn TakayamaRobynn Takayama poses in front of Huckleberry Bicycles before joining the Halloween Critical Mass in San Francisco, CA.
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Alpha BarryAlpha Barry presenting the keynote address at Recycle-A-Bicycle's Youth Bike Summit 2012.
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Photo by Ted Belke
Stanley TeoStanley Teo at his workplace, the Lillian H. Smith Branch of the Toronto Public Library.
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Photo by Eileen Schaubert
Bruce Woods, Dr. Talia McCray, Anothony TaylorBruce Woods, National Brotherhood of Cyclists president; Dr. Talia McCray, University of Texas School of Architecture; and Anthony Taylor, National Brotherhood of Cyclists vice president at Urdy Plaza in Austin, TX. This was the first stop of the African American Historic District Bike Tour - part of the launch of Major Taylor Austin on Feb 25th, 2012.
The New Face of Cycling
Lacourdaire "Lucky" Camargo
Bruce Woods, Dr. Talia McCray, Anothony Taylor
Stereotypes about bicycling are falling away as diverse communities adopt and promote the cycling lifestyle
From every perspective, bicycling was a part of Ed Ewing’s upbringing. During the summer months, Ewing’s father rode his bike to work. On the weekends, bike outings were a common family activity. From an early age, Ewing’s bicycle was his transportation to and from school, football practice and his summer job.
But, because he rode a bike in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Minneapolis, MN, Ewing caught flak from his friends. “They didn’t understand it,” he said. “They’re like, ‘Are you turning white? Why are you doing that? Black people don’t bike’.”
The outsider status cut both ways. Inspired by the Tour de France, Ewing started racing in high school. But out on the local circuit, he was often the only black cyclist at competitions. “At bike races people were like, ‘Who is this kid?’” he remembers. “There’s this fishbowl effect of everyone staring at you – and you just want to ride your bike.”
As a young African-American, Ewing didn’t fit the cycling stereotype. According to the US Department of Transportation, a full 83 percent of bicycle trips in 2001 were made by whites. As of 2009, Caucasians still accounted for 77 percent of trips.
But that’s changing. Across North America, people from all cultural and racial backgrounds are adopting the cycling lifestyle. In fact, according to a 2011 study from Rutgers researcher John Pucher “cycling rates are rising fastest among African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans.”
Now living in Seattle, Ewing is propelling that shift. Four years ago he was approached by the Cascade Bicycle Club. At 14,000 members, Cascade was already one of the largest bike organizations in the nation – but, Ewing said, the majority of its membership was 50- to 60-year-old white men.
“We looked at ethnic diversity and gender diversity and realized we have a responsibility to change those numbers,” Ewing said. “Then we looked at the communities we served. We do a lot of activism work on bike lanes, greenways and making streets safe, but a lot of those initiatives were not in communities of color.”
From Seattle to Toronto, advocacy organizations and citizen activists are mobilizing, creating the social and political networks that are redefining the face of cycling in many neighborhoods and cities. Back in Ewing’s hometown of Minneapolis, Anthony Taylor helped establish the National Brotherhood of Cyclists – a rapidly growing coalition of African-American cycling clubs. The group started 12 years ago with three black women looking to train for an AIDS benefit ride. Now Taylor flies all over the country, spreading the message that bicycling can – and must – be accessible to all.
“To create a true movement in this country, we will have to turn around the top 25 major metropolitan communities,” Taylor said. “And, from that perspective, you know who has to be involved? People of color. They will have to be engaged.”
The Generational and Cultural Gap
Like many teenagers, Adolfo Hernandez abandoned his bicycle when he entered high school. As a kid, he tooled around Little Village, a predominantly Mexican neighborhood in West Chicago, IL, on two wheels. But when he hit adulthood, he relied on public transit.
One day, after college, he decided to ride his bicycle 6 miles (10 kilometers) to his job at the YMCA. He braved major arterials roads with terrifying traffic on an old mountain bike, but still arrived at work feeling fresh and energized. Hernandez was hooked on the cycling lifestyle. But his parents, who had emigrated from Mexico, were perplexed.
“A lot of people come to this country, including my parents, with a set idea of what the American Dream is and what it means to be successful,” Hernandez said. “I remember my mom and dad saying, ‘Why are you riding a bike? You can afford a car.’ They didn’t mean it in a derogatory way, but riding a bicycle, to them, meant not having the means to get around any other way. In some ways, the car is part of the American Dream.”
According to a 2010 study published in Transport Policy, newly arrived immigrants are 41 times more likely to ride a bicycle than native-born Americans – but that propensity plummets to half that in just four years. Over the course of a decade, immigrants’ automobile mode share rises from 30 to nearly 42 percent, while bicycle mode share drops from 1.8 to 0.5 percent. Income could be a factor, the report suggests, as higher income is typically associated with higher automobile use.