“No justice, no peace.” Amongst Street Riders NYC, the city’s biggest cycling gang, you’ll hear that refrain often. A simple but powerful chant that helps encapsulate why thousands of riders have been putting in the miles every Saturday for the past 11 weeks. The Justice Rides remind people all over the city that this country’s journey toward racial equality is still very much a work in progress — and the world’s most colorful peloton is gonna keep pedaling, chanting and more until things change.
Some of the rides have topped 10,000 cyclists, making a loud, rolling statement from Bed-Stuy to Bayside to Bleecker Street and somehow, in the midst of a pandemic, bringing the city’s face-masked cycling community together in ways none of us ever dreamed. (I speak from experience, having patrolled with the Side Group of the volunteer crew, a safety vest-wearing army that helps block the streets, deal with drivers and cops and protect protesters, for the past several weeks.)
“I've probably walked past these people at bars,” co-founder Orlando Hamilton observes. “Now we all hang out and have drinks. To me, that's everything. Because that's what's going to stop the whole fear factor, society and the government trying to keep you away from people who don't look like you.”
Fittingly, a ride a few weeks ago ended at the UN, where Hamilton surveyed thousands of people of all colors, shapes, sizes, ages and sexualities and said, in effect: We are the United Nations.
But what has enabled these pedaling masses, led by Hamilton and co-founder Peter Kerre, to protest for months without a single major accident, arrest or even a speck of litter?
“I don't want to say our protests are better, but our tactics are different,” observes Hamilton. “It's really hard to throw bottles or vandalize something when you're riding your bike all the time, you know? I feel like that's the reason we've been able to keep it going positively this long.”
Hamilton and Kerre also address the crowd before every ride to lay out the ground rules, which include the principles of peaceful protest, mutual respect for everyone on the streets and the de-escalation of potential conflicts.
Every ride has a theme and a color riders rock in a show of unity. Last weekend, the color was pink (see lead image) and the focus was black women. It started at the African National Burial Ground Monument downtown with speeches by black women in the legal and medical professions, as well as Ride to DC’s Hilena Tibbebe and Dianne Morales, the first female Afro-Latina candidate for NYC mayor. Black women then led a ride all over Manhattan, ending at Battery Park.
Along with mind-expanding moments like those speeches, the group's leaders are proud of how Street Riders is evolving beyond the Saturday rides. Members now meet every Wednesday night to clean up the streets in underserved areas, picking up trash on more than a hundred blocks. Last night, members of Two Bridges Muy Thai led self-defense training, and tomorrow, at Justice Ride XII, volunteers will work to register voters beforehand.
The general feeling is that as incredible as the Justice Rides have been, we can do so much more. One small step, perhaps, is this white guy writer/rider ceding the floor to some awesome volunteers with unique perspectives on the movement, biking and their own wheels. The following six cyclists are just part of a volunteer group that numbers well over a hundred, yet they represent many of the important roles served on every ride, from leading and side blocking to bringing up the rear, negotiating with cops and treating injuries.
If Hamilton’s final words to me during our chat are any indication, they’ll be doing those jobs for quite some time: “I just want to say Black lives matter, and we appreciate everybody that comes out to support us in any way possible, even if it's just a repost of our ride on Insta. We're thankful, we're humbled, we're blessed… and it's not over yet."
Jah’I, Side Group, 17
Why I ride: “It frees the mind and allows me to think most clearly. I ride with Street Riders to bring awareness to the issues facing disenfranchised communities. Although we do say specific chants and what not, it does raise awareness to issues that aren’t necessarily facing the families of the people whose names we say.”
What I ride: “I ride a Trek Fx1 (I’m pretty sure). I’ve had it for about four years, and I’ve made a lot of memories with it.”
Kimberly, Medic, 41
Why I ride: "Before Street Riders I was a runner. Hadn't ridden a bike in over five years. I stopped running when I saw the video of Ahmaud Arbery's death. The image of Ahmaud collapsing to the ground while trying to run away from his murderers replayed in my mind each time I attempted to run. My last run was the dedication run for Ahmaud in May, and then I saw a Street Riders protest in June. I knew there and then I had to be a part of it. I had to help spread awareness about racial injustice, systemic racism and police brutality any way I can."
What I ride: "I've had this GMC Denali 700c road bike for seven or eight years now. It's special because a boyfriend at the time bought it for me so that I can fulfill the dream of completing a triathlon. Getting that bike was his way of supporting me and that meant a lot."
Ivan, Caboose, 33
Why I ride: "I live in Brooklyn now, but I grew up in Queens and have been riding a bike since I was seven or eight years old. I love the freedom you have. I ride with the Street Riders because we need to keep pushing for change — and to help keep the protesters safe."
What I ride: "Giant ATX Mountain Bike. I've had it for 9 months. I love the size and durability. It's my first name-brand bike."
Juny, Lawyer, Ageless
Why I ride: "I am the 13th of 13 children. Between my siblings and our neighbors, someone always used to let me ride on their handlebars. One day when I was 10, we toppled over and I chipped my front tooth. After that, I decided to learn how to ride a bike for myself! I like the freedom riding gives me. I like that every week Street Riders continues to bring awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement and missions. I also love the community it has created, the diversity and unity."
What I ride: "My bike is a Giant hybrid. I have had it for six years. It was the first bike I bought for myself."
Mari, Side Group, 23
Why I ride: “Biking for me is a kind of meditation. My mind is at its quietest, and I’m not focused on anything other than moving forward. I love this community. I’ve met so many amazing people from all walks of life that I otherwise would never have met. Riding with Street Riders has also taken me to areas of NYC I never would have traveled to otherwise, and I've seen with my own eyes the huge disparities between wealthier neighborhoods and my own. It can be easy to become desensitized when your daily commute includes 10-plus potholes and uneven ground. It becomes the norm, when it shouldn’t be."
What I ride: “Clifford the small red bike is an older Cannondale. I'm not sure which model. I’ve had it for about five months, I got lucky at the beginning of quarantine when the bike shortage was becoming a real issue. It was honestly a miracle, finding a frame for my height that fit me so well. I knew from the moment I saw it that it was mine. ”
Winter, Front Group, 30
Why I ride: "I love the freedom, the movement, dodging cars and people, reacting to the traffic, it's awesome. I ride with the Street Riders because I love the people, I love the community, and I believe in the cause."
What I ride: "BMX bike I put together myself. She’s named Hannah, like Hannah Montana. Sunday frame. G-Sport front wheel. Profile Racing back wheel. It makes 48 ticks per rotation. I've put probably $1,500 into this bike over 10 years. Single speed. No gears. No brakes. To me brakes are death. Without them, you're more aware. Oh, these tires are special. My friend Jeremy died on his bike, hit by a car. He rode purple Cult tires. I ride the exact same style now. I think I’m gonna have purple tires forever."
Editor's note: Sincere thanks to the awesome photographers and videographers whose work appears in this story. Follow them on Instagram.