“The BLK Panel,” Possibly Chicago’s First-Ever Black Bike Summit, Happens on 2/23
In what may be a first for Chicago, an all-Black panel of cyclists will gather later this month to discuss existing barriers to getting more African Americans on bikes, and opportunities to work together and overcome these obstacles. Here are the details:
BLK Panel and Discussion
Saturday, February 23, 2-4 p.m.
Blackstone Bicycle Works
6100 S. Blackstone Ave.
Panelists include Bill Gaston from the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago; Sam Scipio of Comrade Cycles; Taryn Randle from the 2wheelgods bike group; Michael “Tekhen” Strode, from Red Bike & Green Chicago; and SRAM employee Mulubwa Munkanta. Xia Xiang W. will moderate the forum.
Randle, an urban farmer, and fellow 2wheelgods members Kahari Black, a designer and community organizer, and D’Frantz Smart, also a community organizer, put the event together. Randle and Black are relatives, and Randle and Smart met in high school, when they played on the Whitney Young basketball team together.
Smart spent a decade living away Chicago while coaching at the University of Michigan and the University of Louisville, and visited Randle in Los Angeles in 2014. “Taryn put me on a bike and I did rides with the Ovarian Psycos, [“an all womyn of color bicycle brigade”], and I went to some of their meetings.” She said it was powerful being in a room with so many Black and Latinx cyclists. “When I moved back to Chicago a year and a half ago, I decided I wanted to do something like that here, to see what things we can learn from each other.”
“I’ve talked with many [Black Chicagoans] who say, ‘I really want to hop on a bike, but I don’t have a bike or know where to ride,’” Smart added. “It’s really important for us to collaborate on ways to help those people ride.”
“We just love riding bikes, and we want to share that, but we haven’t had the conversations to figure out exactly what the barriers are,” Randle said. “So we want to get everyone together to explore that.”
2wheelgods already hosts a number of group rides in African-American communities, geared toward people who don’t fit into the stereotypical straight-white-male demographics of recreational cycling. There are rides for children; Sankofa Sunday rides tailored towards local elders; the Black Queer Joy Rides hosted in partnership with the LGBT African-American collective Party Noire; and a Full Moon Ride for all women-identified Black cyclists.
Randle said Saturday night 2wheelgods rides attract a younger African-American crowd, including many fixed gear riders, for moderately fast excursions. “It’s somewhere between Slow Roll Chicago and the Major Taylor club.” The former group which promotes cycling on the South and West side, hosts relaxed cruises that are great for new riders. The latter one, named for turn-of-the-century cycling champ Marshall “Major” Taylor, organizes faster outings for Black road-riding enthusiasts.
In addition to the scheduled panelists, the organizers reached out to other POC-led or oriented bike organizations and groups to help spread the word about the event, including Slow Roll, South Side Critical Mass, West Town Bikes, and the Monday Night Ride.
The forum will begin with a short film about Major Taylor, followed by a discussion of his life by historian Bill Gaston from the eponymous cycling club. Other presentations will cover Sam Scipio’s experiences exploring Japan on a bike; Black bike mechanic Aaron Davis’ plan to open a cycle and skate shop; Mulubwa Munkanta’s experiences as an African American working at SRAM, a major bike parts manufacturer; and Michael “Tekhen” Strode’s efforts to “radicalize cycling for Black folks.”
Bikes stores have donated gear like lights, reflectors, and helmets to be distributed by 2wheelgods to current or potential bike riders in Black neighborhoods. “We’re in that part of the year when we’ve got more night than light,” Smart said. Participating shops include West Town, Blue City Cycles, Green Machine Cycles, BFF Bikes, Let’s Roast, Comrade, and Heritage Bikes, and Detroit’s Shinola bike company is also donating some products. In addition, Blackstone Bicycle Works is providing some refurbished kids’ cycles that will be given out at the talk.
“We’ve had a lot of people say that they were looking for an event like this,” Randle said. “We’re glad we’re finally putting this on.”