Hero of the Deep: Rich Brown

Last month, Program Director Rich Brown was honored as a Hero of the Deep at a Seattle Kraken home game by the Kraken Unity Fund. The Fund honors inspiring individuals who are doing outstanding work to transform lives, enable resiliency, and uplift and unite communities across the Pacific Northwest. As part of this honor, the Seattle Kraken and OneRoof Foundation donated $32,000 to support Bike Works programs.

At Bike Works

At Bike Works, Rich has designed and led biking, mechanic, and advocacy programs to engage youth in the community with a focus on racial equity. These programs are held at public schools in South Seattle like Rainier Beach and South Shore K-8, onsite at Bike Works in Columbia City, and across the county and state for longer distance rides. They also provide unique and creative opportunities for young people to build skills, connect with adult mentors who look like them, get to know their neighborhoods, practice environmental stewardship, and organize around issues that are important to them.

Port Community Action Committee (PCAT)

Rich is also a founding member of the Port Community Action Committee (PCAT), a community group that partners with the Port of Seattle to address local concerns, health issues, and disparities in neighborhoods that are affected by pollution of the Duwamish River such as South Park and Georgetown. Their goals are to work towards a healthy environment, economic prosperity & place (for example, creating jobs and resources so that BIPOC folks are not priced out of their communities due to gentrification), and community resiliency and capacity building.

the beginnings

Initially, Rich first started his career in the private sector, earning a business degree and working in tech. He ultimately found this career unfulfilling, and ended up teaching tech and media at the University of Washington School of Social Work, pairing his vocational expertise with his passion for community. After that, he moved from the university to the nonprofit sector, teaching tech to youth in South Seattle (some of these students also went through Bike Works programs!) He took time off to travel and focus on music (Rich is an accomplished trumpet player and DJ) and through a series of connections, took a job in the biking department at REI.

“Biking offers so many intersections like accessibility, mobility, and equitable access to infrastructure (we have a huge lack of that in South Seattle).”

growing up with bikes

As a kid, Rich had loved cycling and racing BMX, but had stopped due to a lack of diversity, representation, and overt racism he experienced in the scene. It was enough to make him decide to quit biking at the time. The job at REI resparked his passion for biking, and he was able to find a more organic and supportive community of cyclists. Rich reflects on what drew him to cycling, “Biking offers so many intersections like accessibility, mobility, and equitable access to infrastructure (we have a huge lack of that in South Seattle).” This circuitous path led Rich to center the bicycle in his youth development, advocacy, and community-building efforts, which he has now been engaged in for nearly a decade.

Rich had been a team leader in what was then Seattle’s “Bike to Work Day” challenge for several years. During that time, he met Ed Ewing, who is today Bike Works’ Executive Director. Ed was leading the Major Taylor Project at Cascade Bicycle Club, a school-based cycling program designed to engage Black and Brown students in bike desert neighborhoods in South Seattle. Ed and Rich exchanged numbers.

bicycle safety and taking action

Shortly after that, a young person in Rich’s community was hit by a car biking on Airport Way. He survived, but the incident sparked community conversations about safety, and Rich’s neighbors turned to him for leadership as an outspoken cyclist. Rich reached out to Ed for advice and decided to take action by bringing the community together and raising awareness in a positive way.

“If I see an opportunity, or I can help somebody or I have access to something, I plug people in!”

Rich and his community hosted a helmet giveaway and bike safety rodeo to focus on safety skills. Rich reflects on the event, “If I see an opportunity, or I can help somebody or I have access to something, I plug people in!”

the major taylor project

This event was a huge success, and Rich thanked Ed for his council. Sometime later, Ed reached out to Rich to ask if he would be interested in joining the Major Taylor Project as a ride leader. He eventually joined full-time and ended up managing the program for a couple of years. Now, years later, Rich and Ed are still working together to promote cycling in South Seattle, engage community members, and address racial and other types of disparities.

Over the last decade, Rich’s work has addressed intersections of race, transit, recreation, safety, and environmentalism through an organic network of relationships. If you see Rich around, please give him a huge congratulations as a prominent community leader paving the way for future generations to come!

Seattle to Portland 2023 Reflections

2023 is the second year that we partnered with Cascade Bicycle Club to invite youth and Riders of Color to participate in the annual Seattle to Portland bike ride. This partnership is a reflection of both organizations’ commitment to anti-racism and diversity in cycling. This year, we had over 40 youth and adult riders! Amidst the high heat and scorching sun, each rider was able to have an experience of their own – riding this for themselves, their family and/or their community. For this blog, we wanted people to share their story in whatever medium felt the most authentic. Thank you to those that contributed!

Frances Tung (she/her)

a Q & A…

Why did you decide to participate in STP this year?

My best friend from childhood, Ellen, mentioned to me that she had signed up for STP and asked me if I was also interested in joining. I thought, “Oh it’s that ride I heard about a long time ago!” I joined a 40 mile Bike Works STP training just to see how it would go, and I was so impressed at how welcoming and supportive the group was. It was my first group ride and I was feeling quite nervous, but I knew I was in a friendly space when I walked in the door. Jim greeted me and asked me if I had any questions or needed help with any quick fixes on my bike before the ride. 

The training ride was challenging, but I made it all in one piece and I really loved the camaraderie of group riding and meeting so many other riders who I easily meshed with. I later decided I was going to sign up for STP and see this thing through!

What does participating in STP as a rider of color mean to you?

For me, being a minority typically means being noticeably different from others in a group setting. Sometimes it doesn’t bother me, sometimes it is uncomfortable, and sometimes it feels intimidating or like I don’t belong in a space. By participating in STP as a rider of color in a large group of other riders of color, I felt like I was in a safe and supportive space. I also hope to have shown other riders of color that we have a strong community, and they are welcome here.

“By participating in STP as a rider of color in a large group of other riders of color, I felt like I was in a safe and supportive space.”

Please share a high, low and hilarious from the weekend.

High: Making a stop at the kids splash park on the first day after suffering through 90+ degree temperatures with no shade. I took off my shoes, went straight for the waterfall, and it felt absolutely amazing.

Low: Getting only 3 hours of sleep at the Centralia campground due to uncomfortable camping setup, bright lights, weird noises, etc. And then having to wake up at 4 am to hit the road.

Hilarious: Seeing the STP support riders wearing unicorn outfits with fluffy tutus on their bikes! Also, some really creative helmet decorations, custom printed jerseys, and other fun bike attire.

How did participating in STP impact you?

Confidence: I feel more confident in my physical ability and ability to train for an endurance sport. Training for STP was the first time I’ve ever seriously trained for a sports event and now I know that I am capable of so much more than I previously thought I was.

Community: I knew I needed to train for this ride, so I joined nearly every scheduled weekend training ride and set up a few impromptu rides. Over time, I gradually got to know my fellow riders better and felt like a member of this community. My goal now is to give back to this community that has provided me with such a wonderful experience and friendships!

“Over time, I gradually got to know my fellow riders better and felt like a member of this community. My goal now is to give back to this community that has provided me with such a wonderful experience and friendships!”

Mobility: Now that I am much more confident in riding my bike, I use it frequently as a mode of transportation! I have used my bike to commute to work, run errands, meet up with friends, and just for fun. There is something that feels so special and neighborly about biking down the road to a friend’s house to hang out.

Achievement: I have a tendency to minimize my accomplishments, but with STP under my belt, I’ve found that I’ve surprised and impressed a lot of my friends who have been cycling for way longer than me and who I had looked up to as “very experienced hardcore bike people.” Now, I consider myself an experienced bike person too!

Please share an experience from STP that stood out to you! It can be your own experience or something that you witnessed.

Riding with the Party B pace group was the highlight of the entire experience. I made it through the whole ride with the leadership of the volunteer ride leaders and collaborative team spirit. The whole group stuck together through mechanical issues, medical issues, the searing heat, crazy cars zooming past, and more. Riding for 8+ hours a day is a lot of time, and I enjoyed the moments where we got to ride side-by-side and crack jokes, sing songs together, and just have some good chats about life.



Shannon (she/her)

a personal essay…

This past summer, I completed the Seattle to Portland ride with the support of Bike Works and Ampersand Bikes Club. This experience showed me not only what I was physically able to accomplish, but also what I could accomplish with the support of others.

In March, I moved from Ballard to Beacon Hill, in part to be closer to Bike Works in Columbia City in preparation for the training rides for STP that I missed out on in the prior year, due to knee pain. I knew that the early start times of the training rides would be more bearable with a 15 minute commute to the start as opposed to a 1+ hour commute. That month, I started anticipating all of the various biking activities that I would accomplish over the summer in order to make up for missing out in the previous year. With my STP, RSVP, RefugeFest, and various bikepacking trip registrations all in place, I started my training.

Training turned out to be a slog. I previously looked forward to social rides I had done with ABC as primarily fun bonding experiences, secondary to becoming a stronger rider. The training rides represented the complete opposite. Memories of riding in the rain, trying to stay warm and dry in the narrow sections of shoulders on fast highways still haunt me today. Those moments made me question whether my goals for the summer actually encompassed what I wanted to do or whether they just acted as filler for the FOMO I frequently felt. Another training ride focused on hills had me cursing Jim’s name (sorry Jim) and massaging my sore legs.

“Memories of riding in the rain, trying to stay warm and dry in the narrow sections of shoulders on fast highways still haunt me today.”

The final training ride, a practice century, had me questioning everything about the upcoming rides for the summer. I later learned that I hadn’t been properly rehydrating myself with electrolytes in addition to water during that ride, causing me to feel quite depleted. A minor seat adjustment turned out extremely consequential the next morning when I woke up with knee pain and had to limp throughout the day. After consulting others on the ride and doing some deep soul searching, I decided to back out of doing the full 200+ miles of STP. I worried that pushing myself for the ride would cause more permanent injury to my knees that would put me out of commission for the other activities I had planned in August. After talking to Jim, my new plan included only 50 miles of riding on the first day and volunteering on the second day. Despite reluctantly putting my body first instead of riding through the pain, as I had done in 2022, I was met with full support from my peers.

Come the day of the race, I joked that I would make it from UW to Beacon Hill and then call for a support ride from Bike Works. However, I made it to the lunch halfway point high on the camaraderie of the ride and the energy of those in my pace group. (Go Party B). I decided to keep going and see. Miles 50-70 proved taxing as the sun beat down full force as we rode on exposed highway. Our pace leaders kindly pulled us through these long stretches. At mile 70, Bike Works had suggested a smaller rest stop from the main one. This turned out to be a core memory of that first day. As we pulled up to a small playground with a spray park, I quickly anticipated how the cool water would feel on my sweaty skin. I later learned it was 90 degrees while we splashed around. From there, we had a much needed respite from cars and rode on the Yelm – Tenino trail, singing along to songs and having a merry time. I still didn’t feel any knee pain and continued on. At mile 90, friends provided some much needed electrolytes, and I decided to push through the last 10 miles. STP photographers captured my crying face as we rode into the first day finish. I had gone from thinking I would ride only 50 miles to completing the first day.

“As we pulled up to a small playground with a spray park, I quickly anticipated how the cool water would feel on my sweaty skin.”

The celebration at the camp revived me almost as much as my $5 shower. We ate and shared stories of how we arrived at this point through our physical selves and also our connections with each other. After setting up my tent, I asked Jim if it would be okay for me to ride the second day and not volunteer. He said it was not a problem and I could ride as much or as little as I wanted. He added that he wasn’t surprised I ended up riding more. I still remain grateful for the flexibility and peace of mind he gave me, allowing me to participate in the capacity that I felt comfortable with and allowing me to adjust as I gathered more information.

The next day, I learned why people wake up early to ride. The cool air and quiet roads provided a gentle warm up for the day ahead. We encountered some rolling hills that a few of us started gaining speed and energy on. A fellow group member pulled up beside us and reminded us that we were exceeding the agreed upon pace. I had thoughts of splitting up into two separate groups to accommodate the now differing paces, but quickly pushed those down and sat with the small disappointment that we had to slow down. Later, a group member stopped suddenly after getting stung by a bee. Everyone circled to help and ensure nothing severe happened. After everything resolved and we resumed riding, I realized, this is why we stick together. To take care of each other.

“I realized, this is why we stick together. To take care of each other.”

Throughout the ride, this kept happening. People kept supporting each other, looking out for each other, and being there for one another. This came in the form of giving each other snacks, sunscreen, and water. And also making sure that we stuck together. As a typically independent person, it felt foreign to me to allow myself to be taken care of by others. As I leaned into it, all I felt was love. Love in the leaders pulling me, love in the constant offer of electrolytes, love in the support vehicles always nearby, love in the way we communicated as we rode shouting out, “Bike passing!”

“As a typically independent person, it felt foreign to me to allow myself to be taken care of by others. As I leaned into it, all I felt was love. Love in the leaders pulling me, love in the constant offer of electrolytes, love in the support vehicles always nearby, love in the way we communicated as we rode shouting out, “Bike passing!”

I saw those around us completing the ride physically, riding silently among strangers. And I saw them start to emulate our ways as we modeled a different way of riding, one where we looked out for each other.

As we continued to ride on the second day, I started to feel twinges in my knees. I had hopes of now completing all 200 miles and recognized the familiar disappointment that that might not happen. At mile 175, we pulled into a rest stop with Bike Works folks and I started icing my knees. After learning that the remainder of the ride before University of Portland would be much of the same exposed riding on highway, I posed the idea of getting a ride to University of Portland. A smile immediately spread across my face and I knew that that was the right decision. Everyone supported me, and nobody pushed me, saying it was only 30 more miles. I received the support ride to University of Portland and met up with everyone else from all the pace groups.

Some had been waiting for over 2 hours, having ridden a much spicier pace, and others had yet to reach this point. As a group, we aimed to ride together into the finish line. The end of the ride remains surreal in my head as I had already cried 3-4 times during the weekend from the emotionality of it all, along with the extreme physical exertion and lack of sleep.

In the end, I rode 185 miles, and I say I completed STP. My perfectionist tendencies struggle with this, however I remind myself, that in essence, I rode this in the capacity I could, and nobody can take this experience away from me. I call this weekend a momentous weekend in my life, showing me everything that community can do for you.

“I rode this in the capacity I could, and nobody can take this experience away from me. I call this weekend a momentous weekend in my life, showing me everything that community can do for you.”

I have spent the past year plus searching for community and people I belong with. Finding ABC and Bike Works changed my life and I feel so buoyed by all those surrounding me.

Finally, some specific notes I want to include about the training rides and the things Jim tried to emphasize in the training rides that I didn’t fully get until the actual ride:

Riding on the highway sucks. I hated this during the training rides, however, having the experience helped immensely with this during STP. Riding in the extreme heat and among fast cars overwhelmed me during STP. But I know that it would have overwhelmed me even more emotionally had we not trained for this.

Keeping breaks short felt a bit contrived during the training rides. Getting into the habit of doing this helped during STP, especially during mornings when trying to maximize cooler temperatures and also to keep momentum going.

South End Traffic Incidents Spur Efforts to Prioritize Pedestrian Safety

2021 was the deadliest year on Seattle’s streets since 2006 with 31 lives lost. Vision Zero is the city’s adopted goal that no one should be seriously injured or killed while traveling on our streets. In response, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has just released their highly anticipated “top to bottom” Vision Zero review.

While it contains much needed recommendations to reform SDOT’s internal culture and practices, it fails to propose an action plan to create safe streets for all. Seattle Neighborhood Greenways released their plan containing equitable and proven solutions to get Vision Zero back on track last November.

On Tuesday, March 7th, SDOT’s report was review by the City Council’s Transportation & Seattle Public Utilities Committee. Head to South Seattle Emerald’s page to read more about the issues facing South Seattle.

Ed Ewing, executive director of Bike Works in Columbia City, a “social justice minded organization that centers on racial equity,” said bicycle safety and pedestrian safety are deeply intertwined, and traffic fatalities and injuries for pedestrians and cyclists are greatest in areas that have the least biking infrastructure.

“(In) South Seattle you have the most fatalities, you have the most injuries, you have the most car accidents and then you have the least amount of bicycle infrastructure,” Ewing said. “There’s a direct correlation, and again that lines up with our intention of focusing on the South End because we know that there is a huge need for safety improvements.”

Local groups like Bike Works, Smash the Box, and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways have been reaching out to and meeting with SDOT officials to advocate for safe streets in South Seattle in light of historic racism and discrimination in governmental decision-making, Ewing said.

“There’s history. There is a tremendous history of divestment, of underinvestment in the South End and pretty much any city that has a Community of Color,” Ewing said. “Our goal is to really amplify and increase the awareness of those folks who are making those decisions. Here’s the cumulative effect of divestment in this area, here are the opportunities, and now that we know, let’s do something about it … But if there is reluctance and a desire to stay in the same place, then we have a problem. We have a problem.”

Please watch this video on how we can get Vision Zero back on track at Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.

Volunteer Opportunity: Tour de Fleurs Community Ride

Bike Works needs volunteers to help us run our alleycat race in celebration of spring, the second annual Tour de Fleurs coming up on Sunday, March 26th.

Sign up to volunteer here

Volunteer roles

Opening & setup (1-2 ppl)

  • Shift time: 12-2pm
  • Meet at the Bike Works Shop at the start of your shift (3709 S Ferdinand St)

Checkpoint hosts (10 ppl)

  • Shift time: 1-4 pm
    • Meet at the Bike Works Shop (3709 S Ferdinand St) at 1pm to get supplies and head to checkpoints
    • Remain at checkpoints from 2-4pm. Checkpoint locations will be shared on the day of the ride. 
  • Facilitate checkpoint activities and sign rider manifests + assist riders as needed. Most checkpoints will involve arts and crafts, but the details will remain a surprise until the day of!

Closing (2 ppl)

  • Shift time: 3:30-6pm
  • Meet at the Bike Works Shop at the start of your shift (3709 S Ferdinand St)
  • Role: help tally scores at the end of the ride and support as needed with clean up 

What to expect

Volunteers can expect to carry some light supplies and to bike up to 3 miles to reach their checkpoints (locations will be shared on the day of the ride). Please bring a backpack or a way to carry things on you/your bike. 

Volunteers will be at outdoor checkpoints for 2hrs+, and should dress appropriately for the weather.

  • Restrooms: at Bike Works at the beginning and end of the ride. You are welcome to stop into nearby businesses or use public restrooms as needed
  • Food: provided at Bike Works at the end of the ride ~4pm. Please bring your own snacks if you need them
  • Breaks: you are welcome to sit or rest while waiting for riders at your checkpoint station. Feel free to bring blankets, chairs, water, snacks, etc. anything you need to feel comfortable for your volunteer shift
  • Optional Dress Code: Floral Spring Awakening

For additional access needs, or questions about volunteering, contact Lena Kabeshita at lena@bikeworks.org

Learn more about the event at the registration page

What is an alleycat?

An alleycat is a bike race modeled after a day in the life of a bike messenger; the checkpoints will be kept secret until the day of, and the ride will take place on city streets amongst traffic. There is no set route, and it is up to the rider to navigate their own path from checkpoint to checkpoint.

We recognize that all sorts of people of varying abilities ride bicycles. The one thing we all have in common is that we find cycling fun. So we’ve planned the ride to celebrate and encourage fun with a wide array of jovial checkpoints and challenges based on non-bike related talent and luck. Prizes given for mini-game challenges, best dressed, fastest, slowest, etc. Food and drink will be provided.

Strategic Plan 2-Year Community Report-Out

On February 21, 2023, we hosted an online community report-out about the progress we have made towards our Strategic Plan goals over the last two years and a discussion about next steps.  

Our Strategic Plan focuses on four areas for development through a racial equity lens: internal culture, community engagement, job access, and the use of our physical space. In the first year of implementation, we focused mainly on our internal culture work to promote retention, expand organizational capacity, and ensure that our values are reflected within the structure of Bike Works. This work was conducted concurrently with our programs, in service of greater community impact.

During the last two years, we also progressed our goals to deepen community engagement, promote job access, and enhance our physical space as a community resource. Those focus areas were also covered in the report-out.

During the last two years, we also progressed our goals to deepen community engagement, promote job access, and enhance our physical space as a community resource. Those focus areas were also covered in the report-out.

You can watch a recording of that event below.

View the event slides

 

We explored two discussion questions during this event: what else would you like to see from Bike Works, and what can we learn from you? We wanted to hear about the racial equity and social justice initiatives that our community members have experienced or spearheaded in their own workplaces or community organizations.

Check out the notes from that discussion here

A recurring theme throughout the night was how do we navigate decision-making while also striving to be more equitable and non-hierarchical? This is an ongoing discussion at Bike Works. One of the ways we have begun to address this is by creating a “Criteria-Based Approach to Equitable Decision-Making” tool as a reference guide. This is a “living” document that is subject to change, but we wanted to share it with our community.

Check out Bike works’ equitable decision-making tool

Finally, we discussed the need for bicycle education materials in languages other than English to increase accessibility. We do have this Spanish-language resource and terminology guide. If you have additional resources, especially in any other languages, please send them our way!

Click to access our spanish resource & terminology guide 

You can view the complete Strategic Plan document here, and watch a recording of the initial roll-out of the Plan in March 2021 below.

Youth Cyclocross Recap

In late November, our courageous Bike Works youth showed up and participated in two Cyclocross races. This was a first for most of them and definitely a first for Bike Works. 

Our crew received quite the warm welcome from the Cross community. They all did an AMAZING job on the course and we even have a few students in the top ten of their category! Most of the youth that participated expressed the desire to do it again which is a win for us. For those that decided it wasn’t for them, we commended them for trying something new for the first time.

Big shout out to Monika, Tom, Tommy, for all their leadership and planning. Also props to R&R, Cascade Bicycle Club and volunteers for their help with getting the bikes ready for each race.

Our team is looking forward to next year’s Cross season and bringing more POC to the Cyclocross races in the future!

-Rich Brown, Program Manager

What’s New in Youth Programs

October, 2022

The Youth Programs Department has welcomed five new staff members this year, including one youth intern, providing an opportunity for an expansion of partnered programming and new and diverse perspectives on youth engagement and program offerings.

We offered several programs this summer, including Earn-A-Bike camps, BIPOC mountain biking camps and long-distance ride training. Additionally, a soft relaunch of community drop-ins (bike-building and maintenance volunteer hours) provided youth with opportunities to build on the skills they learned during camp. 

Two masked instructors standing before a group of students in a circle

Bike Works Program Coordinator Tommy Teav (standing left) and Program Manager Monika Sharma (standing left) introduce themselves to participants of our Earn-A-Bike mechanics & leadership program

This spring and summer we welcomed new partnerships and collaborations with Friends of Youth, Young Women Empowered (Y-WE), STEM Paths Innovation Network (SPIN), Sweetlines, and Roosevelt Alumni for Racial Equity. Examples include Black Girls/Non-Binary Bike Camp, a multimodal day camp centering Black joy, wellness, and bike mechanics and riding skills, and a week-long riding and mechanics camps with SPIN.

A group of Black women/non-binary cyclists pose for the camera at the light rail

Youth & adult mentors from our summer partnership program with Y-WE took a multi-modal trip by bike, light rail, and water taxi to Alki Beach!

As we enter fall, our department will refocus our attention on outreach, continuing to build capacity for youth engagement at multiple levels of decision making within Bike Works and beyond. During the school year our primary program offerings are off-site, currently at Rainier Beach High School, Holy Family Bilingual Catholic School, and, newly launched: cyclocross at various locations! We continue to prioritize health and safety as the pandemic continues by providing rapid testing for all on-site programming and masking indoors.

Two people inspect a bike wheel on a work table

Rainier Beach Principal & Bike Works board member Ivory Brooks (left) co-facilitates our school-based programming for 9th graders in the “Black Men’s Excellence” advisory period

We are also working collaboratively across our staff to ideate and improve our existing processes. You can find our drop-in schedule, online Bikes-For-All! application, and more on our website. For questions, you can reach our team via email at youthprograms@bikeworks.org. Please stay tuned for periodic updates!

Khatsini Simani (she/her), Program Director

Someone inspecting their bike with a bouquet of white flowers tied to the top tube

Khatsini Simani at our spring-themed alleycat, “Tour de Fleurs,” in April 2022

End of Summer South Seattle Community Ride!

We had a blast hosting an all-ages South Seattle community ride on Sunday, August 28th! We had families with tandems, trailers, and cargo bikes. Dozens of Bike Works volunteers, current and former staff, and supporters rolled through. We even had the good fortune to cross-over with Northstar Cycling at Chuck’s Hop Shop Seward Park for an end of ride celebration.

Chuck’s generously donated $1 per pint ($50 total) and matched all additional donations to support our program partners, Young Women Empowered (Y-We) and STEM Paths Innovation Networks (SPIN Girls). REI also sponsored the event by covering delicious food from Muriel’s. This was a true community event and we’re so grateful for the good vibes.

Check out some of the photos below – full album on Facebook. Photos by May Cheng, Elise Hirschi, and Nick Strother.

Check out the full album on facebook

A group of cyclists getting ready for a ride A group of cyclists getting ready for a ride A group of cyclists getting ready for a ride A group of cyclists getting ready for a ride

An adult and a youth riding bikes on a trail 3 people at a table

Three women in sunglasses smiling at a table with drinks Two people at a table with beers

 

Cycling with Love: Bike as Cultural Icon in China

Chengxin Xu, Seattle University

20 years ago, when cars were still considered luxury goods, almost everyone in Shanghai owned a bike, and most of them cycled everyday. That included working-age people cycling for work, elders cycling for grocery shopping, and kids cycling with their parents to school. Most kids did not have their own bikes until middle school, because for most families, bikes were still relatively expensive, and letting kids cycle on streets with other vehicles was not considered safe. Thus, kids cycling with their parents basically means kids sitting at the back or front of their parents’ bikes. I did this until I got my first bike at 14 years old. Every time when I was “cycling” with my father, I felt strongly bonded with him, physically and emotionally.

This is not only for me—cycling with parents is a shared memory of many people at my age (born in 80s). What we have in common is not only cycling but also the melancholia and yearning for our parents, who are growing old, and our childhood, which is fading away.

A Cantonese song by Eason Chan opened the gate to such feeling beautifully:

It’s hard to say goodbye. I want to hold you tight.
	We have such a long life, which seems like a wild land.
	If a kid could hold dad’s back, who wants to get off the bike?
	It’s hard to say goodbye. We always have such kind of feeling.
This is our life, and there is no way to deny.
	But no matter how cruel the world is,
	when I thought about the bike,
	I can still borrow the happiness from the good old days.

While I am crying over my childhood, parents were considered as the most significant barrier against every Asian kid’s freedom. Like other kids, I was so eager to have my own bike, so that I could go anywhere I wanted. Indeed, even with fantastic public transportation, a bike still greatly enhances people’s mobility in a city like Shanghai. Therefore, when I got a bike, I started to go wild. I felt I had finally been released. My own bike allowed me to go everywhere that I wanted but couldn’t previously—street foods and arcades. Interestingly, although I was released from my parents’ care on the bike, I unintentionally inherited the meaning of a bike—the bond between the rider and the passenger—and I transferred the bond with my parents to my girlfriends. And that is also an iconic image of love in China: while we can not afford a car, with a bike, we can still go everywhere. This was the greatest freedom in my mind.

(From the film by Chan Ho Sun: Comrades: Almost a Love Story. In the picture: Maggie Cheung Man-yuk and Leon Lai Ming)

To many Chinese at my age or older, bike is our only affordable substitute for a vehicle. Still, it drastically enhances our mobility in a city, especially in large cities such as Shanghai and Hong-Kong. With a bike, the city becomes smaller, and we can go anywhere we want with our families and loved ones, on which we build beautiful memories and unforgettable feelings. Nowadays, bike is no longer the first choice for transportation—in Shanghai, more than half of the total households own at least one car now. Recently, biking is becoming a mid-class lifestyle, which is quite similar to the fact in the U.S. However, the low-income population still relies on bikes heavily because of its convenience, efficiency, and affordability. I wish we can keep affordable bikes in the market, because that is not only an option of commuting, but also two cycles carrying family, freedom, and love for everyone to everywhere.

May’s Bicycle Story

in Honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

This reflection is from a community member, May. May originally rode her bike in Southeast China (Canton Province), and now rides with her family in Seattle. The month of May also happens to be Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! We hope you enjoy this story and the photos in honor of May’s family and heritage, and for all of our Asian & Pacific Islander friends, family, and neighbors. All photos courtesy of May.

Biking is so much fun to me. I always feel as free as the wind when I am riding a bike. I can also enjoy viewing the different sceneries along my ride. Biking is an effective way for me to relieve stress from work after sitting for hours in front of a computer. It is also such a good exercise that could keep me healthy and fit.

I hadn’t been biking for many years after I moved to Seattle back in 2003 since I did not know much about biking here. The roads and safety seemed to be a big challenge to me, and I felt a little bit scared. Most importantly, I did not find a group of people who could share the same interest in biking. With the addition of three young kids, my life has become so busy that I could hardly find the time or energy for my own hobbies or interests. In recent years, I have come to know more about Bike Works through their programs and activities they have been offering or hosting.

A young girl on a pink bike with a mask on

All my three kids, two teens and a 10-year-old girl, have received a free bike each from Bike Works when they were in preschool at the REWA childcare center. They were so excited after they got their own bikes and would like to keep biking and biking without a stop in our neighborhood park. My two teenage boys used to love biking so much and they would bike every day when they were younger, but they do not bike much in recent years since they have been engaged with other fun activities. I feel that they are a little more reluctant to bike with mom nowadays since they are two teenagers trying their best to be themselves now. Bike Works had the mobile repair van located in our New Holly neighborhood last year and the helpful mechanic had kindly helped my boys fix the problems of their bikes. We are so grateful to Bike Works for its being available in our neighborhood!

A silhouette of a young person on a bike by the water with the sun shining behind her A young person on a bike at the Seattle waterfront on a partly sunny day

Compared to my kids, I was not so lucky as they are in regard to having the kid’s bike available for me to use when I was in elementary school. I learned how to bike together with my big brother on my own (basically self-taught) when I was about in 5th grade. Back then we did not have any kid’s bike to use, and we had to borrow my dad’s adult bike which was my family’s only bike. My legs were way too short, and I had to make full use of the triangle that the bike had. When I was in middle school, our family finally had a second bike that was available for me and brother to use. As I grew older, I rode the bike to help carry clean water home for cooking, to commute to the fields (plot assigned to each family in the rural area to grow rice and vegetables) to help my parents grow and harvest vegetables, and to buy groceries from the market. It was not until I graduated from university and started working that I finally had my own bike. Just like my kids, I biked almost every day after work since I had my own bike. It helped a lot in relieving the stress from work. The most memorable bike ride is the one I had together with my colleague when we traveled to Yunnan Province in Southwest China. We each rented a bike and rode the bike to see the amazing field of rapeseed flowers and a historical town.

As my kids are growing bigger, it is time to pick up my biking journey again after pressing the pause button for so many years and create new biking chapters. Currently, I do not have my own bike and have been using one of my son’s bikes even though it is a little bit too small for me.  I biked in Seward Park together with my daughter and younger son often when the weather was fine last year. My daughter and I once took the link light rail to UW Station and then biked all the way back to Seward Park. Unfortunately, the small bike I have been using got stolen recently when I was standing on top of a small hill waiting for my daughter’s school bus to arrive while the bike was parked at the foot of the hill. I definitely need to get another bike as soon as possible in order to get myself back to the track of cycling again. I would like to get more involved with Bike Works in the future because the organization has such an amazing group of people ready and willing to help people who has interest or needs in biking.

Two people high-fiving from their bike saddles

May’s daughter (left) and Bike Works Recycle & Reuse Operations Manager Allie (right) high-fiving after a community ride in November 2021 in honor of Marshall “Major” Taylor.