Olatunji Oboi Reed: Cycling’s Power to Transform City and Self

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Slow Roll Chicago founders Jamal Julien (left) and Oboi Reed (right). Photo via actionhub.com.

Cycling saved Oboi Reed’s life. He has long suffered from depression and, in the darkest moments of a severe bout with the disease years ago, was contemplating suicide. Instead he went for a bike ride along Chicago’s Lakefront Trail. It wasn’t a magical cure. But the exercise, the natural environment, and the social connection to other cyclists helped put him on a path to recovery and sparked a deep love for cycling. Now Reed is working to spread that bicycle love throughout his city. He wants to live in a Chicago with safe bike infrastructure, ample bike resources, and bike share stations in every neighborhood; a Chicago where everyone can access cycling’s inherent health, environmental, and economic benefits regardless of race or class.

It’s a lofty goal. Currently, Chicago’s bike infrastructure is clustered predominantly in the city’s whiter, more affluent downtown and North Side neighborhoods. Reed says the city hasn’t made an equitable investment in bike infrastructure in the poorer, blacker South and West Side neighborhoods, which, in turn, discourages riding there. It’s a problem he’s working actively to fix. He co-founded Slow Roll Chicago and is involved with Red Bike & Green and South Side Critical Mass, organized rides focused on getting more people of color biking. Reed’s also increasingly been a part of Chicago’s bike politics. In December, he and a coalition of black bike advocates presented a letter to the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee demanding a public commitment from the city and state to invest an equal share in bike infrastructure, education, and bike share stations. I spoke to Reed about cycling’s positive impact on his depression, his foray into bike advocacy and organizing, perceptions of cycling in some black communities, fighting for bike equity in Chicago, and more.

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Allen Krughoff: The Bumpy Business of Professional Cyclocross

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Allen Krughoff riding in Colorado. Photo by Dane Cronin.

Nearly any conversation about U.S. cyclocross these days will hit on two points: its status as a participant sport and its explosive growth. USA Cycling says it’s the fastest growing sector of cycling in America, with participation numbers quadrupling over the last decade. That boom paints a picture of a big sales of cyclocross bikes and a sport flush with sponsorship money and good salaries for professional athletes. But that’s often not the case. While there are certainly some American cyclocross pros making a nice living, many racers receive little money beyond travel expenses, equipment, and race-day support and often have to hold down another job to make their racing life viable.

It’s a reality Allen Krughoff knows well. Over the last few years he has established himself as one of the best domestic cyclocross pros, notching wins and podium spots at the country’s biggest races (as well as an impressive 7th at CrossVegas as one of the few Americans able to hang with a stacked field of Euros). Financial success as a bike racer hasn’t been on such a consistent rise for Krughoff, however. Last summer, on the cusp of his best season yet, he and fellow pro Meredith Miller were scrambling to pull together sponsors for their new, two person Noosa Professional Cyclocross program. I spoke to Krughoff about the difficult business side of being an American pro, his winding path to cyclocross racing, launching and maintaining his own team, and more.

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Paul Steely White: On the Radical Idea that Cars Shouldn’t Kill

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Paul Steely White delivering thousands of letters to NYPD in 2011 demanding driver accountability. Photo via nag-brooklyn.org

New York is one of America’s most progressive bike cities. On one hand that makes perfect sense. As the biggest, fastest-paced city in the country it has always drawn forward-thinking, ambitious people; why not forward thinking, ambitious bike advocates? On the other, it’s kind of insane. New York has a sociopathic driving culture, a police force and political establishment historically apathetic to the idea that fatal crashes are anything but accidents, and millions of drivers, bicyclists, and walkers all vying for the same small space. Yet over the last decade, Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn have been remade into great places for biking and walking with protected bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, and more and the advocates at Transportation Alternatives (T.A.) have been there every step of the way.

Recently they’ve turned their attention to Vision Zero, a radical notion that traffic deaths in New York are completely preventable. Given that the city is still averaging between 200-300 fatal bike, pedestrian, and car crashes annually, they have a long way to go. But T.A. Executive Director Paul Steely White says the Vision Zero framework they’ve laid out can get them there if they can garner the political support and capital funding necessary. I spoke to White about his history in New York City advocacy, his role in one of America’s most influential advocacy organizations, the “golden years” of New York City bike advocacy, transforming transportation with Vision Zero, and much more.

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A Year of Adventures and Advocacy, 2014 in Review

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Though The Bicycle Story is four years old, 2014 was a bit of a rebirth for the site. For the past couple of years, the project took a serious backseat to my day job, other obligations, life in general. This year, with the flexibility of full-time freelance journalism, The Bicycle Story was once again a high priority. We published new interviews nearly every week, readership grew, and fascinating bike people shared their valuable perspectives on adventuring in far off places; the growth of American cyclocross; women and Afghani tribal politics; long distance randonneuring; race and poverty’s intersection with urban biking, and so much more. It was a good year.

Year-end retrospective lists are kind of hokey and as much an attempt to squeeze a few more page views out of recycled content as anything. But they also provide a moment for valuable reflection on the year. Looking at The Bicycle Story’s top 10 most-read interviews of 2104 helps sheds some light on what you love to read and some of The Bicycle Story’s coverage gaps. This year’s most read are:

  1. Austin Horse: From Courier to Career Adventurer
  2. Nicholas Carman: Pedaling the World as a Gypsy by Trade
  3. Cosmo Catalano: The Snarky, Outsider Voice of Professional Racing
  4. Dan Malloy: Slow is Fast When You’re Surfing by Bike
  5. Casey Greene: Mapping the Future of Bike Touring
  6. Ed Ewing: Race, Equity, and Empowerment by Bike
  7. Mary Gersemalina: Coffeeneuring, Community, and Some Seriously Long Rides
  8. Mike Curiak: Finding the Edge of Human Endurance
  9. Jeremy Powers: Life at the Top of American Cyclocross
  10. Mike McGinn: Fighting Bikelash with Seattle’s Former Mayor

It’s not surprising that more than half of the year’s most popular interviews feature bike adventurers. Austin Horse parlayed the popularity of bike messengering into opportunities to travel the world and ride. Nicholas Carman scrimps and saves for half the year, then spends six months touring around the world. Pro surfer Dan Malloy rode the coast of California surfing along the way. Mike Curiak’s wilderness adventures are both impressive and a little terrifying. It’s inspiring to read about other peoples’ adventures. I know I’ll never do a 1200km ride like Mary Gersemalina or follow Curiak’s tire tracks across Alaska’s Lost Coast, but reading their stories gets the gears turning about what’s possible on two wheels.

It’s exciting that several of the other most popular interviews are about bike advocacy. Biking-as-transportation in the U.S. has a lot of momentum right now. Cities are recognizing the need for better infrastructure. More people than ever are getting around by bike. But, there are still huge gaps in our infrastructure networks, far too many people are dying on the road, and there’s real inequity between those neighborhoods that support bicycling and those that don’t. It’s helpful to tap into the insight of advocates such as Ed Ewing and former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn to think about the problems we’ve solved and the fights yet to come.

From the outset, The Bicycle Story’s mission was to capture the incredible breadth of the bike world. There are so many people involved in bicycling for so many different reasons. And while I’m proud the project’s work in service of that mission thus far, I recognize that there’s a ton of room for improvement. It’s telling that eight of the 10 most read interviews of 2014 are with white men. I will work harder in the coming year to elevate a broader range of voices.

Thanks so much for reading. You, the readers, make The Bicycle Story possible and I thank you for your support. Looking ahead, I’ve got a few plans in the works to help reflect The Bicycle Story’s growth and evolution. Keep your eyes peeled for details soon. In the meantime, keep coming back weekly for great interviews with the best adventurers, advocates, racers, industry insiders, and frame builders the bike world has to offer.

Happy New Year. See you in 2015!

-Josh

The World’s First Mountain Bike Film (Probably)

Canadian filmmaker Wolf Ruck made Freewheelin’ in 1985. The short film highlights early mountain bike footage set to a decidedly-80s soundtrack. According to Brian Vernor (read The Bicycle Story’s 2011 interview with him), it is likely the first purpose-made mountain bike film in history. Vernor writes:

“In early 2010 I showed this film to multiple cycling media outlets in an effort to re-release the film, or even do an in depth profile on the man that as far as I know has made the first mountain bike film. the FIRST. This is a film. It is not a bunch of scrappy footage. Wolf Ruck made something beautiful and important, and then he moved on and made other films about other subjects. He was very humble when I approached him about his film FREEWHEELIN. He was even surprised anybody cared. What a shock to see this film for me. Besides the historical importance, the great vibe he transmits from the scene as it was back then, jamming soundtrack he co-ordinated, Wolf Ruck can likely be credited with the first urban POV shot in all of cycling. Plenty of people have made names for themselves simply from that shot alone. As a filmmaker this whole film inspires me.”