The beauty of the Slow Roll

The inaugural Slow Roll ride in Minneapolis was lead by Anthony Taylor of Major Taylor's Bicycling Club of Minnesota and Oboi Reed, co-founder of Slow Roll Chicago. Credit: Photo by Alexis Pennie, Minneapolis bicycle advocate and co-founder of Twin Cities Black Bike Week

It might have been raining but that didn’t stop nearly 100 people from showing up for a relaxed group bike ride, on a Thursday evening in July. As it turns out, this event will be the first of many. Anthony Taylor of Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota, announced that Slow Roll is coming to Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

Slow Roll is a movement that was launched in 2010 to make people “fall in love with Detroit” as founder Jason Hall describes the event. What started with Hall and a couple of friends has blossomed into a weekly ride that includes an average of 4,000 people and has spread to 12 other cities around the world. “There is such a demand for this type of ride,” said Bill Dooley, a local bicycle advocate and one of the planners of the National Brotherhood of Cyclists (NBC) 2015 conference.

Slow Roll is an example of the type of action that came out of the fifth annual NBC Conference in Minneapolis, July 14-19. The NBC Conference brought bicycle advocates — like Hall and Oboi Reed, founder of Slow Roll Chicago — together with urban planners, public health professionals and other local and national leaders who are using bicycles to encourage more active lifestyles among populations disproportionately affected by health issues, increase diversity in the sport of cycling and promote a love of cycling.

Health inequities discussed at the conference include the high incidence of diabetes among communities of color. Nationally, American Indians (15.9 percent) and non-Hispanic blacks (13.2 percent) are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with the disease as whites  (7.6 percent), according to a presentation by the Nicole Preston, director of special events at the American Diabetes Association.

Minnesota’s Commissioner of Health Dr. Edward Ehlinger said, “Health equity is the central challenge for this state.”

He discussed the need to change the narrative around health from placing blame on the individual to recognizing that policy decisions have resulted in the socio-economic conditions — access to quality food, housing, education, etc. — that account for 75 percent of an individual’s overall health.

While inequities faced by communities of color, gentrification, harassment of women cyclists and other issues discussed are by no means small issues with easy fixes, the overall tone of the conference was positive. Preston discussed the way cause rides like the American Diabetes’s Association Tour de Cure are bringing more people to bicycles.

Local advocate Alexis Pennie said that the conference and Twin Cities Black Bike Week provided a “designated space and time to celebrate Black cycling, promote health equity and engage people who are not usually decision-makers to become part of the decision-making process planning and implementing projects.”

If it only takes a small dedicated group of citizens to change the world, then the first Minneapolis-Saint Paul Slow Ride event foreshadowed a more healthy and equitable future for our cities.

“I didn’t want to break it to the people from Detroit but if they can get 4,000 people, the Twin Cities can get 40,000 people,” said LaTrisha Vetaw, program coordinator at Northpoint Health & Wellness Center.

Annie Van Cleve is a freelance writer, blogger and volunteer with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.