Detroit’s East Side Riders

If you haven’t already picked up a copy of the recent Metro Times, do so immediately.

This issue includes a great, great story on a Detroit neighborhood cycling group called the East Side Riders. This group has become much more than just some guys biking around. They’re building community in a challenged neighborhood.

Here’s an excerpt:

In early summer, with the body count rising, [Georgia Johnson] called the local TV stations and newspapers and scheduled a press conference. To show that other residents in this sparsely populated part of town were behind her, she asked the guys she’d seen riding those outlandish bikes to appear in front of the cameras with her, to demonstrate community strength. They were the biggest group she’d see gathered in the area.

“They didn’t really have nobody to come out,” Mike says. “So they said, ‘Bring the bikes up there and we want y’all to represent the neighborhood.'” And the cameras saw the surreal sight of an elderly couple, a handful of concerned residents and a large crew of large men rolling up on these strange bicycles.

Before the East Side Riders showed up, it was left to such as 79-year-old William Johnson, Georgia’s husband, to slowly walk the long distances between houses and hand out fliers, one at a time.

Instead, the bike club took a stack of them, spread themselves out and covered the streets in a fraction of the time, leaving a copy at each house. Suddenly, CARA had a fast-moving, mobile unit at its disposal. “They were a godsend,” Georgia says. She was so thankful, she made everyone in the East Side Riders members of her group. Once again, the bikers were drawn into community service.

Now there was no doubt — the club had transformed into something bigger than before. And it became a point of pride among its members.

This is much welcomed news. While it’s great that hundreds show up for Detroit’s Critical Mass ride and thousands more are at Tour de Troit, but both groups are mostly white and often suburban. The Detroit cycling scene could definitely benefit from more diversity and more neighborhood clubs like the East Side Riders and Southwest Detroit’s Latino bike clubs.

And at this year’s Pro Walk/Pro Bike Conference, Romona Williams from the Metro St. Louis Coalition for Inclusion and Equity mentioned that bike lanes aren’t always welcomed in predominantly black St. Louis neighborhoods. Bicycling is too often seen as an early step towards white gentrification.

We have not yet heard of such a response in Detroit. Having a highly diverse bicycling culture might keep us from ever hearing it.

The article’s author was also on WDET’s Craig Fahle show last week. The podcast is on-line. The East Side Riders discussion begins at 1:36.

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply