Slow Roll bicycling movement builds community in St. Paul

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Stephanie Schultz is a development and marketing specialist at Cycles for Change, an organization focused on build a diverse and empowered community of bicyclists.

A fleet of bicycles rolls beside me through St. Paul, Minnesota’s Summit-University neighborhood as residents step outside to watch the spectacle. We are 15 years old and 50 years old. We come from the West Coast, East Coast and everywhere in between. We are laughing, chatting, rolling, singing, popping wheelies and gliding through the rain-puddled streets. Some of us know these St. Paul sights like the back of our brake pads. Some are seeing the Mississippi River for the first time. Spectators wonder what’s going on. A few dance with their kids to music blasting from the “sound bike” in the middle of our pack. Everyone comes together in this community.

I saw this scene unfold from my bike while participating in the Slow Roll Twin Cities 2016 season kick-off ride. The ride was part of the Youth Bike Summit, hosted by my organization Cycles for Change; it took place in in St. Paul in May. With riders from across the country in town for the conference, plus a herd of local bicyclists, our roll had over 300 participants who toured the neighborhoods of St. Paul.

Founded in Detroit in 2010, Slow Roll is a fun, safe and inclusive bike ride for people of all ages and skill levels. But beyond being a group bike ride, Slow Roll is a movement. The goal of Slow Roll Twin Cities is to highlight the amazing places where we live and to bring our communities together for a weekly group ride.

We meet every Thursday night at a different venue in St. Paul, North Minneapolis, or South Minneapolis and create unique routes through the city that include all the neighborhoods we know and love. Some of the communities we visit have been torn apart by violence, systemic racism and institutionalized poverty. Several lack formal advocacy programs that promote bicycling or have historically been under-resourced. Together, we learn about these places and their many strengths. We also help break down barriers and change perceptions about areas that have been marked by a history of strife.

With funding from Knight Foundation, Cycles for Change will hire a Slow Roll Community Organizer to help create, plan and shape Slow Roll rides in St. Paul. This organizer will meet with community organizations and create partnerships throughout the city, as well as meet with community members to get them rolling every Thursday.

Everyone is welcome at Slow Roll, and there’s always lots of time to meet other riders and explore the city. At the last ride in St. Paul, I got to meet Minnesota State Senator Foung Hawj who rolled with us dressed in a suit and tie. I never know who’s going to be pedaling by my side. With these rides, I get to take back my city’s streets, strike up conversations with people I’ve never met and discover new things about my neighborhoods. Slow Roll rides have between 30 and 300 riders weekly; in Detroit, each ride boasts up to 3,000 riders.

If you’re in the Twin Cities, join us for fun, judgment-free bike rides every Thursday in 2016! Cycles for Change is hosting the next St. Paul ride on July 7, 2016. For more information visit: slowrolltc.org.

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