African-American bicyclists from all over the country have come to Minneapolis this week to take part in a six-day conference to promote more diversity in cycling.
The conference is being hosted by the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota. The group is named for an American cyclist at the turn of the 20th century who overcame racial discrimination to win a world championship.
Club co-founder Anthony Taylor said the groups attending the conference share the broad goal of making the bicycling scene more inclusive.
"Biking is one of the solutions that our city, many cities, see that's going to make our cities better, make our cities healthier," Taylor said. "What we are concerned about is the fact that the African-American community [and] low-income communities could be left out of that."
Groups coming to the conference will share their experiences promoting cycling and some of the challenges they've run into. The Major Taylor club has donated hundreds of bikes to people in low-income communities in the past. When they checked in on whether people were still using those bicycles, they found many had stopped biking for very basic reasons after less than a year.
"It was a flat tire, it was that they had a bad experience at the very beginning of their bike," Taylor, who also serves on the League of American Bicyclists' Equity Advisory Council, said. "It's not enough to give someone a bike, they have to have a service relationship, they have to have a community around them to help them get through the early stages."
To address that lack of community support, the Major Taylor club has collaborated with Nice Ride Minnesota to launch the orange bike program, which includes not only a bike, but education and group activities.
Taylor said he thinks it's important that advocates for biking also collaborate with people pushing for equity in other areas. He said about 100 riders ranging from farmers market workers to MnDOT staff joined conference attendees during a group ride in the rain on Thursday night.
"We're including food justice networks in the conversation, we're including social justice networks in the conversation, economic justice, economic development," Taylor said.
The conference is also an opportunity to show off the bicycling culture and amenities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, like on-street bike lanes.
"We have a better relationship to our drivers than many people, and we have great infrastructure," Taylor said. "They're really excited to come from San Diego, New York, Chicago, Detroit to see what we're doing in Minnesota, because we're definitely doing something right."
The conference kicked off Wednesday with a breakfast address by the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The week will also include educational forums, regular group rides and social gatherings, most of which are open to the public.
The conference concludes on Sunday, the same day the Southside Sprint takes place, which is a series of bike races in a historically African-American neighborhood in Minneapolis.
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