A group of bicycling advocates is trying to build enthusiasm for cycling with a series of leisurely trips through Minneapolis neighborhoods where riding is less popular.
Similar rides have flourished in Detroit and Chicago, and have taken root in 10 other U.S. cities.
“We wanted to focus on neighborhoods that needed more bike love,” said co-founder Oboi Reed of Chicago.
When bikers gather on Wednesday night at a former filling station just off Interstate 35W in south Minneapolis, they are hoping to emulate the success of an inaugural ride last week, which drew about 70 riders. They pedaled for about 6 miles along West River Parkway, Plymouth Avenue and Theodore Wirth Parkway to an ice cream stop.
Some of the supporters have ambitions for a series of community-focused rides that could grow to thousands of bikers. In Motown, Slow Roll Detroit has built itself over five years from a handful of biking friends to rides that draw an estimated 4,000 people.
Anthony Taylor is working to grow Slow Roll Twin Cities, an organization he’s establishing along with Major Taylor Bicycle Club of Minnesota and North Side bike enthusiasts. Taylor is a co-founder of Major Taylor, a sport riding club comprised mainly of black cyclists.
Slow rolls are the opposite of sport cycling. The distances are short — in the 6 to 10 mile range — and the pace is purposefully kept casual so riders can talk and enjoy the sites.
Big numbers aren’t the main goal, said Jason Hall, a Detroit resident and co-founder of the movement. “My concern is getting people out talking to each other,” he said. He spoke at a conference of black cyclists last week about cycling as a way of reclaiming a city severely depopulated by flight and abandonment.
Detroit offered some advantages for the slow roll idea to blossom. There’s little traffic in some areas, particularly where one or two houses remain on a block. Drone aerial shots of a ride show bikers cruising a street that bisects the ghostly Packard auto complex, abandoned so long that trees sprout from some factory roofs.
In Chicago, a smaller but growing offshoot of the slow-roll movement aims at reversing what Reed describes as a common narrative about poor, minority neighborhoods. “It’s easy for people to think that anybody who goes over to the neighborhood becomes a victim, and that’s just not true,” he said. The rides try to show off the people, parks and architecture of an area, working in collaboration with community organizations on each ride.
In Minneapolis, Council Member Elizabeth Glidden is starting a ride at the old filling station that Taylor bought at 3800 3rd Av. S. to use as a base for promoting cycling in low-income neighborhoods. It’s a plan that calls on support from the Major Taylor club to overcome obstacles to cycling in areas like Central and Bryant.
He’s starting to plan weekly rides that will demonstrate to new or novice riders how they can use bikes to reach destinations to which they more commonly drive or bus, especially where there are bike-friendly routes and destinations.
“The real hope is that we really introduce the possibility of the bike for enjoyment and transportation and health improvement that gets more people to say, ‘I can do this,’ ” Taylor said.
Fitting slow roll local rides into Minneapolis streets isn’t likely to be an issue while they’re small, but in Detroit, the growing numbers finally forced organizers to get police help for traffic control and to impose a minimal fee to help cover expenses. Unlike the Critical Mass movement of deliberately obstructive cyclists, Taylor said, “These are not protest rides. Our intent is not to go out and clog up traffic.”
Glidden’s ride on Wednesday is scheduled for a 6 p.m. departure. The ride last year with her ward started at Martin Luther King Park on the freeway’s west side and wound to the Arthur and Edith Lee house, a Bancroft neighborhood garden and to the site where the Seward Co-op plans to open a second store in October, across from Taylor’s future shop. This year’s ride, starting east of the freeway, likely will concentrate west of the freeway, Glidden said.
“It will give a taste of what a slow roll could be,” she said.