Photo: Slow Roll Twin Cities
Written by: Mecca Bos
When Anthony Taylor came to The University of Minnesota at the age of 17 to play football, he quickly got a difficult blow to his ego: he sucked at football.
But he did not suck at chemical engineering -- his teammates said he was too smart for the field anyway -- so he rode his bike to the gym every day to stay active while studying, and one day, he just rode right past it.
“I was enjoying biking so much, I skipped the gym.”
And just like that, cycling became his new sport. His competitive nature had him pushing himself to always-greater lengths -- racing, ultra endurance rides, biking thousands of miles at a time to raise money for causes. But there was just one problem: he was usually the only Black person on a bike, everywhere he went. He would go to cycling events, and look around. He was the only Black guy there.
Around the same time, he was beginning to connect the dots that health disparities are directly linked to attitudes around active living, and the way cities are built, from policy, to infrastructure, to systemic racism, meant that Black people were getting left out of the experience of healthy living through cycling.
“I wanted to start a movement where we normalize active living.”
He went on to start different Black cycling clubs -- including the Minnesota chapter of the Major Taylor Bicycling Club, in honor of Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor, born in 1878, and a decorated competitor and world cycling champion.
And yet, he was slowly recognizing that he was not really increasing the number of Black people who got on, or stayed on bikes.
“The Spandex turned people off. Anytime you turn something into a sport, someone gets left out. Sports are by nature alienating. Very male, very competitive.”
Eventually he realized, if he was going to get more Black, and other marginalized people to get on, and stay on bikes, it couldn’t be about the bike. It had to be about the people, and the about the geography around them.
Slow Roll Twin Cities is just what it sounds like. A gathering of people on bikes of all ages and abilities, slowly rolling around the cities. They’re conducted in North and South Minneapolis, and Rondo and East St. Paul exclusively. “That's where the most marginalized people live, and where they’re most disconnected from their neighborhoods,” Taylor explained. By design, Slow Rolls are not conducted on bike trails.
“Bike trails are false,” he says. “They show you a landscape, but they don’t show you the city.”
Allowing communities to better connect to their own neighborhoods is the name of the game, and the bike is little more than a vehicle; a means to that end. Slow Rolls go at the pace of the slowest rider, not the fastest. Nobody knows the route or the distance at the outset, and everybody pedals consistently for 60 minutes because the outside riders control the flow of vehicle traffic.
“When was the last time you pedaled consistently for an hour?” When the fact of the bike between your legs falls away, says Taylor, you start to see the city. Really, really see it: the real estate, the art, the history.
Slow Roll stopped partnering with bike organizations, where the focus is always about the bike, and instead started partnering with art organizations, Black owned businesses, and historical entities. And suddenly, the whole thing became about self-discovery, geographical discovery, and neighborhood discovery.
Groups average around 40 people but have grown to over 250.
“When you find your people, you’re part of something bigger than you. You’re moving as a unit. You feel seen. There is safety in numbers, for real.”
Saint Paul Rides:
Rondo Rides are organized on Rondo Festival Day, which falls on the third Saturday of July. The ride allows participants to see the historically Black neighborhood that was destroyed by Interstate 94, taking riders through the footprints of pre-and post-highway. Stops include homes, businesses, churches, and visits with “the children of Rondo,” who include notables and local celebrities like artist Seitu Jones, and Debbie Jones, St. Paul's first Black policewoman.
East Saint Paul Rides celebrate and explore Minnesota’s Hmong and Karen communities.
Slow Rolls are free, open to all ages (over 12) and riding abilities, and end with a free community feast. If you don’t have a bike, one will be provided for you.