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‘Bicyclists of Color PDX’ seeks multi-cultural riding community

Posted by on June 15th, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Flyer for Saturday’s ride.
(Larger version here)

We’ve reported on a local non-profit’s effort to break down Portland’s biking color barrier, now there’s a grassroots riding group with a similar mission.

On Saturday, Bicyclists of Color PDX will take their inaugural ride. The new group was formed by Michelle Garcia, a community college student and bike shop employee who moved to Portland from Oakland, California. After hearing about the group from a brief story in The Oregonian earlier this month, I emailed Garcia a few questions to find out more about the group and her motivations for starting it. Below is a Q & A we had via email.

Why do you think this group is necessary?

“I feel a group like this is greatly needed anywhere, especially Portland. I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area where people of color have a very strong presence and there’s a small handful of groups like this that bring multi-cultural communities together through cycling. Portland’s greater population is mostly white and people of color are scarce, kinda hidden in the outer communities of Portland with the exception of the Alberta District. Having a group like this brings the community together, providing a hate-free atmosphere and at the same time creating a safe outlet for teens and also creating and encouraging sustainability.”

Have you felt intimidated from going on group rides because they lacked a significant amount of people of color?

“I as well as other members and people of color have felt a sense of intimidation and and the feeling of being out of place with other groups. Because people of color have different experiences with life, culture and class it is difficult to relate to members of certain groups that are predominately white and who ride nice bikes (not a $15 ten speed or Wal-Mart bikes). These groups also tend to be very competitive. Bicyclists Of Color rides at a very mild pace and welcomes riders of all experiences and we LOVE to take breaks.”

What has been the response to your group so far?

“Portland has responded very well, with support from bike shops like the Community Cycling Center and City Bikes Co-Op we’ve been able to grow. We currently have twenty riders. We recently had write up The Oregonian after that article our Facebook profile got a lot of attention. However, there were a few negative comments on the online article by confused readers that were under the impression that Bicyclists Of Color is only for people of color, however we welcome anyone who encourages folks of color in becoming a positive influence in the community. Bicyclists of Color Doesn’t discriminate against ANYONE. We welcome anyone regardless of class, race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexuality and age. I would also like to add that a great portion of our riders are white.”

You can join Michelle and others for their first ride this Saturday, June 19th. They’ll meet at the Rose City Transit Center at 2:00 pm and ride to the Springwater Corridor. For more information, check out their group page on Facebook.

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Comments
  • Anonymous June 15, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Cool!

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  • Michweek June 15, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Okay, call me a newbie or dense. But can someone explain to me how this color barrier occurred. Because from what I can gather owning a bike is WAY cheaper than a car. Hence, I don’t own a car and I’m from a middle class, white background. Where do these minorities find the “only for rich hobbyist” ideas from? Don’t they ever check out bikes on Craigs? That’s where I get all my bikes which I afford on a minimum wage paycheck.
    I’ve been really confused every time this subject is brought up.

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  • Bob_M June 15, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    It is not about cost, it is about cool, and the cultural concepts thereof. On Best Of Craigslist there is a funny post about a cyclist of color selling a cargo bike because it only attracts rich white women, and “sisters” ignore him

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  • ecohuman June 15, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Portland’s greater population is mostly white and people of color are scarce, kinda hidden in the outer communities of Portland with the exception of the Alberta District.

    That might be one of the more ignorant and superfcial assessments of Portland I’ve read recently. I’d pass it along to the Asian communities in Portland, for example. I’ll also pass it along to a personal friend whose entire family rides their bikes all over Portland–and make a very modest living, and are African American. We’ve worked on and rode our bikes together more than once, and have yet to encounter anything “racist” about Portlanders towards non-white bicyclists.

    And the apparent confusion of the interviewee about the difference between “race” and “culture” aside, I think these “barriers” to cycling by people who aren’t “white” are largely manufactured in the imagination of people who are looking for a problem.

    I would also like to add that a great portion of our riders are white.

    Upon reading this, a black friend equated it to the infamous racist reply “but some of my friends are black!”

    Truly, an odd point of view from this new transplant to Portland.

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  • Perry June 15, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    If you’re asking the question as “Where do these minorities…” – then you’ve answered your own question about how the color barrier occurs.

    As a lone white man, take a trip on the Japanese train system (not the shinkansen, the subway), or go for a walk through a city like Lagos or Mumbai and you’ll start to understand.

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  • chrisg June 15, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    @Michweek: First of all, please don’t call us “these minorities.” Its really offensive. Akin to me saying you privileged whiteys. You dig?

    “they” do check out bikes on craigslist. But not everyone has access to that forum. Think about the time it takes to get to learn enough about bikes to know what is a good deal or a bad deal on craigslist. Time=money. Not much money = not much time. Second, craigslist is on the internet. That costs MONEY. And no, internet access in a public library is not enough. You have to email someone, wait for a response, call them, meet them……Finally, craigslist is only in English, so people who do not speak or read English have a hard time using that forum to access affordable bikes.

    There are more barriers to bicycling than just money.

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  • Michweek June 15, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    @chrisg, I dig, Sorry.

    Those are all great points your brought up. I guess I didn’t think about the whole waiting for e-mails conundrum. I don’t pay for internet myself, but I do have a laptop. Technology, I suppose, posses another barrier for others. Language barriers are something I never think about, thank you for bringing that to my attention as well. These are the kinds of things I’m not aware of and was hoping someone could make more clear for me so that I can better understand this problem.

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  • A.K. June 15, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Perry: As a caucasian male, I’ve never felt safer than I did on the Tokyo subway system. Was something bad supposed to happen to me?

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  • trail user June 15, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Areas that are predominantly white feel racist because there aren’t enough minorities for the whites to acclimatize. Every American city has been that way until there were a significant number of minorities for which the whites could positively interact. Everybody’s a little bit racist.

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  • cat June 15, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    this is great! I hope I can make the ride.

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  • Oliver June 15, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    I also felt safe in the Tokyo subway, actually everywhere in Japan, but I did feel self-consciously out of place on more than one occasion.

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  • Kenji June 15, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Eh? Seeing more and more minorities on their bikes. Don’t need separate to be equal. Heck, last time I checked I wasn’t cauacasian. LOL! Also, argument seems more socioeconomic rather than based on racial/cultural classifications.

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  • zurich07 June 15, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Had to laugh — as I was reading this article the ad at the top of the page proclaimed: “Great deals on Trek bikes for June — 2 hot bikes under $2000!” I think that price point eliminates a lot of folks, regardless of race, background etc.!

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  • KRhea June 15, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Great, interesting, troubling and sometimes very flawed ideas, thoughts and concerns. I’ve spent hours riding the subway in Tokyo, never felt intimidated/threatened or anything other than “very tall”. I was greeted by smiles and friendly giggles, kind of a way of communicating in it’s own right I think.
    Sometimes we’re uncomfortable with ourselves and make the mistake of projecting that on others or expect others to react in a way that will allow us to find fault or find cause for concern. Sometimes we look for a problem that really isn’t there also.
    I don’t think we can all expect to feel comfortable in every community we choose to live in or be a part of immediately and I don’t think it revolves around only race.
    I would have to ask Ms.Garcia if she really made an effort to “join” a local cycling organization/club prior to forming her own. If she gave local clubs a chance to show her what they were about. I’d really like her to tell us what she experienced from these other portions of Portland’s cycling community or if she’s “creating” a perceived problem that really isn’t there. In the 17yrs I’ve lived and cycled in Portland I have yet to notice or even hear about a cyclist of color being treated any differently than any other cyclist. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and riding with cyclists of every stripe including blacks( not many for ONE reason, there aren’t many blacks in Portland, which means the number of black cyclists would be even lower), gays, lesbians, men, women, young/old, fast/slow, riders on $50 bikes and riders on $5000 bikes and everything in between. Portland isn’t the Bay area, thank goodness, so perhaps you need to adjust your expectations a bit, spend some time here, get a feel for the city, the people and more importantly the cycling community/culture and then make your generalizations.
    You may of guessed by now I feel pretty strongly about this subject, you’re right, I do. Why? Because I happen to be a person of color, a black male, who is very involved in the Portland cycling scene and is the president/director of one of Portland’s largest cycling clubs, Portland Velo with over 600 members. To compare Oakland and Portland is the usual apples to oranges comparison. Oakland’s population is over 40% black, Portland’s is about 5%. By numbers alone that means there won’t be many people of color riding bikes in Portland, by they black, Hispanic or whatever. Factor in economics, factor in the lack of awareness of the activity as a sport or lifestyle and then factor in the image or lack thereof of cycling to a pre-teen/teen/college age person and you’ve got a losing proposition to folks of color and it’s not a racist reason, it’s the real world, life. As someone put so well, “It’s not about cost, it’s about cool”, that guy gets it.

    I can support an effort based on facts but the fact here in Portland are, we’re blessed to live in “Cycle city USA”, we’re fortunate we, cyclists of color, do not feel threatened riding our bikes, cyclists are also lucky because Portland offers a cycling option for just about anyone and everyone, just check out the 100s of ride options during Pedalpalooza, rides for everyone and nearly 99% of them are non-competitive, fun, short rides that most anyone can do…regardless of color. As a matter of fact there were at least 3 people of color at the Nekkid ride on Saturday as the rolled through the Art Cycle Parade on Mississippi!
    Best of luck Ms Garcia and just so you know, you along with anyone, regardless of color is welcome to be a part of Portland Velo.

    Ride safe everyone.

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  • el timito June 15, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    I’m saddened by the folks who question the reason for this group. White privilege is a hard thing to see around, I know, but what I hear from these comments is, “I feel comfortable, supported, and normal riding around Portland – why don’t you?”

    It’s a similar sadness that I felt about some of the comments about the Women for Bikes initiative.

    How about this: if folks whose experiences are different from yours decide to get together to ride bikes and don’t personally invite you to join them, take a breath and realize that’s o.k. In fact, even if they do invite you, take a breath and realize that’s o.k. too.

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  • Kronda June 15, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    OMG Timo, thank you for bringing at least one sane comment to this discussion.

    Funny how when white folks form a group based on communal experiences/interests no one steps forward to question the ‘need’ for it.

    White privilege, indeed.

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  • KRhea June 15, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    El timito:

    Excellent points, however, the question remains, was Portland’s cycling community given the chance to “meet” that groups needs.

    Before you decide something doesn’t, won’t or can’t work for you or your group give it a fair shake and see what happens. My viewpoint is not because Portland’s cycling community “works” for me, it’s because there was no substance to her comments about Portland being unfriendly or unwelcoming to cyclists of color. Broad generalizations such as these are what ticks folks off.

    When you put in your “reasons for being” to provide a “hate-free atmosphere” then I have to question that.
    I would be very surprised to find such language in any document concerning the Women for Bikes Initiative, am I wrong.

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  • Red Five June 15, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    el timito…. I could care less if “people of color” ride or not. Their loss if they don’t. Can we ever stop pulling the race card? Ever?

    White privilege? Please. I was a poor white kid raised by a single mother in North Portland. I had TWO bicycles stolen from me by “people of color”. One of them taken by force.

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  • trail user June 15, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    There are, sadly, avowed racists in this world that people of color can’t tell are racist until they overtly show it. I think a lot of colored folks are understandably cautious around unfamiliar whites until it’s known for sure they aren’t racist. “Colored” rides would presumably attract definitively non-racists of any color — white, black, or in between.

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  • Pete June 15, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    People looking for something in common to share and build friendships on? How novel!

    I’ve lived in many places and Oregon is the least racially diverse I’ve seen. Doesn’t make Oregonians racist, but yeah, in my mind it validates Michelle’s idea for the need. When I brought my Haitian girlfriend to Corvallis in `99 to consider a job she said “Hell no – how many black people do you see running around here?”. Racism wasn’t in the equation, just comfort level.

    There is one minority group that Oregonians aren’t that great at tolerating – they’re called bicyclists! ;)

    (Oh relax, it’s just a joke. Have fun Michelle!! :)

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  • PdxBike June 15, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    My understanding is the group attempting get more people involved in biking by creating a safe and comfortable space. I don’t think anyone should be offended or feel offended by this group or its intention, or over think it!
    Sometimes taking that first step into something new is difficult, intimidating, and confusing; that first step can be made easier by making it with people that one easily relates to, whether it be culturally, racially, economically, socially, etc.
    Think of this group as merely a bridge, to help expose people to biking and to help get them oriented in the biking community here in Portland, so they can go on to join other groups and learn how to participate in races.
    No, this isn’t the only group in Portland one may join to learn about biking and yes there are plenty of people of color biking! This is just one group that is attempting to get more people to live healthier and to feel more apart of the city. And if it works, applaud it, support it, and most importantly, take the time to get involved and help educate the youth about living a healthy lifestyle…no matter their background!

    Sincerely,
    PDX person of color!! : )

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  • PdxBike June 15, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    My understanding is the group is attempting to get more people involved in biking by creating a safe and comfortable space. I don’t think anyone should be offended or feel offended by this group or its intention, or over think it!
    Sometimes taking that first step into something new is difficult, intimidating, and confusing; that first step can be made easier by making it with people that one easily relates to, whether it be culturally, racially, economically, socially, etc.
    Think of this group as merely a bridge, to help expose people to biking and to help get them oriented in the biking community here in Portland, so they can go on to join other groups and learn how to participate in races.
    No, this isn’t the only group in Portland one may join to learn about biking, but it isn’t claiming to be; and yes there are plenty of people of color biking, there aren’t any claims otherwise; and yes this is Portland we are talking about, expectations about lifestyle and understanding of demographics are well understood! I don’t think anyone is complaining or making accusations!!
    This is just one group that is attempting to get more people to live healthier and to feel more apart of the city. And if it works, applaud it, support it, and most importantly, take the time to get involved and help educate the youth about living a healthy lifestyle…no matter their background!

    Sincerely,
    PDX person of color!! : )

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  • Kenji June 16, 2010 at 1:01 am

    I’ve had time to think on this one since my last post (which was from my iphone). Race is a toxic subject to which many individuals have gut reactions. It’s a difficult thing to talk about because it can be controversial.

    I posit the following- as a whole the cycling community in Portland is quite progressive and accepting. However, there has been instances where yes, even I have seen racism. Case in point, last year a fellow racer (who hadn’t met me yet)- spotted another Asian-American racer. He thought that guy was me. When the poor fella corrected the individual in question, the guy said, “well, you all look the same.” Gee. Really? But- this is a rarity. With any community you have your outliers.

    I think the Bicyclist of Color group is a great idea and do encourage it. If it brings out more cyclists that we would have otherwise not been able to reach, AWESOME! I enthusiastically support it. The more riders we have out there, the better. It’s good for all of us.

    But, I must caution you. You must be careful with the language you use. By saying that you provide a “hate-free atmosphere”. That by implication means that all other groups foster hate. I cannot disagree more. Choosing words carefully is one of the most important pieces of fostering community. A better way to describe it would be to say something to the effect that “we provide a supportive environment for people of all races, ethnicities and socio-economic groups. We aim to bring together people from all different backgrounds to foster understanding and encourage learning- but most of all to introduce people to cycling and empower them to ride.”

    Keep your message positive- and remember that we’re a community.

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  • david....no! the other one June 16, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Welcome Ms Garcia,
    And happy riding to your Saturday group, whomever it may include. Because its the ride.

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  • Ely June 16, 2010 at 9:44 am

    I don’t think color matters, but I’m white in a white city so maybe I just don’t know.

    Whatever gets people on bikes & having fun works for me. Have a great ride!!

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  • suburban June 16, 2010 at 10:52 am

    If you perceive Portland Velo, XYZ College Cycling Club, or Portland Wheelmen to be hateful, or not comfortable, you may need a gate-way club, (training wheels?) That’s FINE. If your legs tell you you want to start clocking some more miles, congratulations- you will just want your club to include safe and happy riders who know when to use fenders, all other qualifiers melt together into the Colors of Peloton.

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  • beth h June 16, 2010 at 11:22 am

    The fact that this topic has raised so many related issues — and more than a few hackles — is evidence enough of the need for the conversation. Thanks to all who are trying to keep it both honest AND thoughtful.

    Discussions of race in a mostly-white town are always difficult because so many people who enjoy what we now call “white privilege” don’t see themselves as enjoying it (I’m old enough to remember a time when ethnic Jews were not seen as being truly “white”, either — there’s a reality jolt for ya). The socioeconomic layers sometimes obscure the racial issues and things can get muddy.

    Any bike club is, should be, must be welcoming — except that if you’re too broke to get a bike, you’re going to feel left out in the cold no matter how friendly the club is. The study done through the Community Cycling Center is an important first step in working on what I would like to call Bicycle Equity. Maria’s group is perhaps another.

    I think that every time we have the discussion there are opportunities for us to learn from each other. Thanks for opening up the discussion from another perspective.

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  • Pashful Gazelle June 16, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Maria? Hmm… The organizer’s name is Michelle. She’s cool people. Works over at my nabe shop Citybikes.

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  • Perry June 16, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    A.K. (#8),

    Oh no! The point isn’t about safety, it’s about something that most of the American Caucasians I know don’t get to experience – the realization of how it really feels to be the different face. Sometimes, it’s nice to be in a crowd with familiar experiences and backgrounds. You will never, ever feel more “different” than when a train load of commuters who are packed like sardines can still find a way to make room around the lone gaijin on the train (but, you’ve been there, right?). It isn’t personal, but it’s not real comfortable either. Makes people’s attitude toward “these minorities” open up a bit, I think.

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  • Esther June 17, 2010 at 10:53 am

    I am sooooo upset there was a Ginger Ride yesterday. There are already plenty of redheads riding bikes around town, why would we need to encourage them anymore by having their own group? Perhaps they just haven’t tried hard enough to integrate into the existing [bike] community or given it a fair chance because they haven’t felt respected or valued enough as redheads.

    Also, WHY would we have women-only bike rides for the same reasons? I think Girly Bikes and the Fat Girls ride and the Women on Bikes Program are offensive for these same reasons, there are plenty of women in the bike community, why would women want to go be in their own group? Also, a woman in a car cut me off once, which goes to show that women have plenty of privilege and don’t need their own group. And why is this so important to me? I’M A WOMAN! I RIDE IN ALL THE OTHER BIKE RIDES! THAT GOES TO SHOW ALL WOMEN MUST FEEL COMFORTABLE IN MIXED GENDER BIKE RIDES!

    Also, WHY ARE THERE SO MANY DONUT RIDES? Perhaps people just haven’t tried hard enough to eat donuts on REGULAR rides with the rest of us. Plenty of rides that AREN’T donut specific rides stop at donut shops!!!

    Ok, in case it wasn’t obvious, the above was SARCASM! Why are some of you so threatened by people doing something fun with people they will feel comfortable with?

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  • Justa June 17, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Damn Esther, way to beat me to the punch. Between you & Timo I think we’ve got the subject covered.

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  • Justa June 17, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Also–I really shouldn’t be feeding the bears here, but…I really don’t like it anytime one group of people is vocal about their collectively perceived marginalization, and another group (unaffected by the same factors) is automatically dismissive of that assertion, just because it hasn’t been part of their experience and might (oh heavens no) implicate them in some way.

    Seriously…that easy dismissal of such a large group of people? You think they’re just making it up, maybe for the fun of it? Or that they’re all somehow mentally unstable, with varyingly skewed perspectives that all magically have this aspect in common? Or perhaps they’re doing it for attention, or because it’s exaggeration is a quality inherent to whatever sort of person they are?

    Really?

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  • DNA June 18, 2010 at 3:13 am

    Yay Justa and Timo!

    Note that Michelle said everyone, not just people of color, are welcome to participate in this ride. How convenient that so many people are forgetting that aspect…

    It seems to me that what is upsetting to some is that there is the fact that some people of color do experience racism in Portland. Just because you might not experience racism doesn’t mean that others have not. There seems to be a kind of hypocrisy here, which essentially breaks down into: your experience of racism doesn’t reflect mine so you must be generalizing! But, in order to negate the your experience I have to generalize based on my own!

    I

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  • el timito June 18, 2010 at 10:43 am

    I should add that many of the comments above expressed curiousity, not rejection of the idea.

    For those who would like to learn more, I’d recommend this noon-hour workshop on Institutional Racism on Thursday, July 8 at the Portland Building.

    I haven’t heard the speaker, PSU professor Jack Straton, before but his resume is impressive. Here’s a summary of the session:

    “The goal is to get participants beyond the idea that racism equals interpersonal prejudice. Because our culture has higher levels of casual friendships across racial lines than 40 years ago, this leads many people to the conclusion that racism has been substantially solved. In order to understand why people of color in our culture do not experience a culture free from racism, one must investigate the role institutions play in its perpetuation. ”

    In this case, “institutions” could mean any bike club, bike gang, or bike event.

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  • Riding Bikes Is Fun June 22, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Thanks to Beth H. for applauding the conversation. These are difficult issues to workthrough and they have many layers. We won’t figure all this out over night, but with leaders like Michelle we can continue to grow our cycling community regardless of what is keeping people from riding.

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