Cycling activism

Urban activists are adapting bikes to be a political instrument.

Eric Best

Putting on a helmet and riding a bike through Minneapolis may seem like an apolitical way to move around, but biking is challenging the hold that motorized traffic has on urban spaces.

I’ve biked in the Twin Cities for a few years now. The more I get into riding, the more I’m realizing biking is a rejection of a lot of the norms we face each day, from nature to civic order.

The aesthetic of whizzing through Minneapolis on a bike is one part spiritual and one part ego.

In the summer, the accessibility to nature is exciting. The world feels friendlier as you interact with other cyclists all without air conditioning or lake traffic. 

In the winter, it’s the challenge of finding bravado, a strong constitution and a sense of organization. It’s a solitary endeavor as fellow bikers put away their wheels for the season.

The activism comes in subtle ways. On some level, a cyclist rejects traditional transport and the paradigm of large road spaces, gas prices and surface parking.

Events like Open Streets, put on by groups Open Streets MPLS and the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, involve shutting down traffic for a day so that residents can gather by foot or bike. The event underscores a social movement against the
atypical city life.

However, the subtlety ends there. Urbanites are using bikes for rallies, blocking traffic and getting heard.

Minneapolis bikers should be familiar with rides like Cirque du SoGay and Freedom From Pants Ride that have their own elements of activism. Hundreds of cyclists disrupt the daily routine of drivers and pedestrians by safely blocking traffic.

Bikers use the disruption to physically bring attention to problems of urban planning, civic order and environmental responsibility — and they have fun doing it.

New York-based Occupy Wall Street activists used bikes in rallies, events and to document police brutality. In Moscow, cyclists are becoming a counter culture against city planners who are slow to adopt bike sharing and responsible urban planning.

Wherever it’s used, the bike is becoming a political tool because of its efficiency and utility. The beauty in this activism is that one can start with the approachable buy-in of wheels and a helmet.