A coalition of black cycling clubs has hit the Twin Cities for five days of rides and discussions focused on the issue of racial equity in cycling participation.

The National Brotherhood of Cycling opened its annual meet-up on Wednesday at The Commons hotel in Minneapolis with sessions focused on using biking to combat health disparities among low-income and minority populations. Panelists will also discuss making bike-share programs equitable and profitable, and on using biking as a tool for social change. Similar sessions continue Thursday.

The Twin Cities also hosted the inaugural meeting of the brotherhood in 2009, the year after the organization was founded to promote a common agenda among more than 40 black-oriented local cycling clubs. Although those clubs are largely comprised of sport cyclists, as is the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minneapolis, the host group, one goal is to encourage more casual riders.

But there's also a full schedule of bike rides on the conference agenda, plus cycling promotion. That begins Wednesday at 4 p.m. with a tour of Twin Cities biking infrastructure led by Tim Springer, former director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition.

The conference continues Thursday with sessions featuring black women's cycling, racial dynamics in bike advocacy and the provocatively titled issue of gentrification titled "Are Bike Lanes White Lanes?"

That's an assertion that Anthony Taylor said he frequently hears.Taylor is a vice president of the brotherhood, a co-founder in 1999 of the Twin Cities Major Taylor club, and a member of the equity advisory council to the League of American Bicyclists.

One key to making those lanes more black-rider-friendly will be to increase cycling comfort, Taylor believes. His club and the national organization are working to slowly lure non-riders and those riding without much confidence in the black community toward more confident cycling that's integrated into daily routines,

Taylor said it's important to start with such basics as how to mount a bike and some basic maintenance. "You create a learning curve for them," he said. As one example, the infrastructure tour will have three riding levels with distances from 20 to 40 miles.

Another example of those efforts is the Thursday "slow roll" in Minneapolis at 6:30 p.m.. It will be led by the founders of a similar conversationally paced community rides in Detroit and Chicago. Taylor plans to work with Major Taylor riders in the Twin Cities to ride such rides when he opens a bike shop in the Bancroft neighborhood. He said one key to encouraging participation is to show people how they can link neighborhood destinations on low-traffic streets.

The local club has given away 100 bikes over four years, but Taylor said follow-up research found that 80 percent of those receiving them were not riding them within a year. The biggest reason was a flat tire, but other significant reasons were a bad experience or stolen bike.

Given that new bikes typically need adjustment after 30 days, a key step toward keeping people riding is to link them to a local bike shop. or instruct them in basic maintenance.

The conference will host longer rides of varying length and intensity Thursday evening, Friday morning and Saturday morning before supporting one of the local club's signature events. That's the annual Rondo Days festival. The bike portion of the event will feature a community ride, free bike checks, a bike giveaway and a commuter expo.

(Photo: A Major Taylor-led family ride at the annual Juneteenth celebration. Photo courtesy of Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota.)

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