What makes a cyclist? If you’ve read cycling magazines and websites, watched cycling movies or the Tour de France, or simply gone out with your local cycling group, you might start thinking two key ingredients are being male and… white.
While plenty of people without those traits bike, there’s no denying the sport’s inherent gender and race issues, and the numerous barriers to entry for someone new: the cost, the local road quality, how you're treated based on how you look and cops who stop cyclists of color disproportionately, to name a few.
Hilena Tibbebe believes things need to change — and she’s doing something about it. The Brooklyn-based ESL teacher founded Ride to DC, a 300-mile cycling trip from NYC to DC for the March on Washington — to participate in the March, but also to make a statement that reshapes the answer to that question.
“Ride to DC wants biking to be so accessible that we don’t need to write stories of Black afro queens to prove their existence in the biking community,” Tibbebe explains. “We want to redesign the current image of a cyclist in the minds of millions. We want to cultivate a community where every single cyclist feels like they belong and are cared for. Most importantly, we want to ride for Black lives.”
(In that way, Ride to DC is not unlike Street Riders NYC, a huge grassroots group with many overlapping participants that has been protesting on wheels for 12 weeks now; stay tuned for an upcoming article.)
And despite the fact that Ride to DC rolled into action just two months ago, her vision is already materializing. Next week, more than a hundred coronavirus-tested and face-masked riders will join her (and the author) in this journey, with backgrounds and bikes as varied and inspiring as you can imagine.
“The most exciting and surprising thing is the diversity,” Tibbebe says. “I am also shocked at how much support we are receiving from the community we are building. It has become a safe and healthy space for many including myself.”
After the Ride and March, the group will continue the Prospect Park and Central Park laps, mechanic and safety workshops and weekend bike trips that have brought together a rainbow of cyclists over the past several weeks — and strive to turn the whole thing into an annual event that unites cyclists across the country.
But first, let’s see what really makes a cyclist by meeting seven of the brave New Yorkers undertaking this trip... and their wheels.
Kenya, pre-K teacher, 33
Why I ride: “I learned how to bike at nine years old. Biking is a great way to work out while having fun. I ride with Ride to DC because it’s all inclusive. And doing many lessons with my students, on why going green is important, and seeing that they get it, has been fulfilling for me.”
What I ride: “Specialized Sirrus. I’ve had it for 3 months. My bike is special to me because I have been thinking about getting one for three years, and I finally did. In the height of the pandemic, and with everything else going on, I find biking therapeutic.”
Chris, freelance illustrator, 26
Why I ride: “I got my first BMX bike when I was around 10, but I didn’t start riding more until I got my first fixed gear at 16. I ride with Ride to DC because we are a family. We all come from different backgrounds, but we have to stick together during these rough times.”
What I ride: “MASH Cinelli Bolt 2.0. This frame was the last collaboration by San Francisco brand MASH and legendary Milan company Cinelli. This bike is special to me because I'm from San Francisco, and SF-based graphic designer Benny Gold did the colorway.”
Tracy, graphic designer, 28
Why I ride: “Because Black lives matter. Riding with Street Riders — with a crowd of thousands — is inspiring, but training with Ride to DC, my focus has been increasing my endurance and working as a team. It takes a dedicated group to take it to the next level and ride/protest outside of your bubble. You won't come across that often.”
What I ride: “Giant TCR Composite with a Dura Ace groupset, so I feel super safe riding now with newer cyclists on the road. I would say it's my pandemic bike. There are a couple issues that have forced me to learn more about bikes and get it properly fitted to my needs. It's not exactly the bike I wanted, but it’s the one I needed.”
Lynnardo, chef, 33
Why I ride: “I first rode a bike when I was four or five. I really enjoy the freedom of having a bike, especially in a city like NYC. I can beat cars and trains to certain locations. I ride with Street Riders and with Ride to DC because they are effecting change.
What I ride: “I have an early ’90s model Trek 520 that I found on Facebook. I’ve had it for a few weeks now. It’s a solid bike and I know it will get me to where I’m going.”
Breanne, filmmaker, 31
Why I ride: “When I was a teenager, I studied abroad in Denmark, a very bike-centric country! Now I realize biking has always given me a sense of freedom — and community. I also love it as a form of protest. Both Street Riders and Ride to DC are giving people of all genders, sexualities, body types and class statuses an opportunity to discover that there's no one way to be a cyclist.”
What I ride: “Vintage Bianchi Sport SX, a single speed. Eventually I might convert it to a multi-speed, but for now, I really enjoy the challenge of tackling these long rides — and hills! — with what I have.”
Henry, high school math teacher and tennis coach, 29
Why I ride: “I love the freedom and the rush. I believe in Ride to DC because every person should have the opportunity to own a bike — the feeling of independence and ability to let their imagination run free, traveling and exploring without fear or repercussion.”
What I ride: “Fuji Touring 2015. His name is Roy. This bike is particularly special because he took me on a solo cross-country trip, 3,400 miles from Hoboken, New Jersey to Santa Monica, California.”
Nicole, Stumptown account rep, 30
Why I ride: “Biking is my therapy. I was frustrated and upset with the state of our country so I joined a Justice for George protest. Then I went on a protest with Street Riders and I can’t remember which post I spotted Ride to DC on, but I immediately was like, “hell yes!” As a woman cyclist all you want to do is find a diverse, safe and inclusive community. It’s intense out there. Women are capable, especially BIPOC women. Riding a bike should be accessible to everyone, and so should being able to do it safely.”
What I ride: “A Bianchi Pista named Ramona. I’ve had her for four years now. I originally rode a Giant mountain bike I'd had as a kid around the city. I told myself if I committed to riding for a year I could upgrade. She's the first real nice bike I’ve ever had, and the first one I bought for myself. This bike is a part of me and will always be my first choice when hitting the streets.”