Anthony Taylor: Cycling has Evolved with My LifeAnthony Taylor: Cycling has Evolved with My Life

Anthony Taylor: Cycling has Evolved with My Life
Joan Pasiuk, Program Director of Bike Walk Twin Cities, sat down with Anthony Taylor, a founding member of the Major Taylor Bicycling Club to talk about bicycling and culture in Minnesota.

The Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota, established in 1999, is a nonprofit social/recreational club that promotes safe and fun cycling geared towards the African-American communities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, although all are welcome to join.

Joan: What propels you to promote bicycling?

Anthony: I've been cycling for 34 years. For me, cycling has evolved with my life. I started bicycling as a kid and then became interested in cycling for races and specifically Race Across America. Now I think of cycling as a way to maintain an active lifestyle and create environmental change. Bicycling is also a way for me to engage a community. Currently, my interest in promoting cycling is at the crossroads of several issues that I care about including community, community health, and personal empowerment. Cycling is something that an individual can do and see the broad impact it has on their communities and families.

Joan: What is your vision for more bike-able Twin Cities? What are you heading towards?

Anthony: For starts, there is the practical promotion of cycling within the communities that already have the resources. If we think about St. Paul, it is a great natural community city. There, we can actively promote cycling because people are very close to their coffee shops, hardware shops, schools and grocery stores. We can get those people to think of cycling as a way to live their lives and that will have an impact. Secondly, after we have done that outreach very well, we'll have a group of people that understand their transportation options. We can get them to think if it's A) I'll walk; if it's B) I'll bike; if it's C) then I'll bus and bike. Next, we must connect those different communities across the Twin Cities. The Twin Cities has made an effort to create natural thoroughfares to help communities connect with each other. For example, I live at Grand and Victoria, but I shop or get coffee on Snelling and Grand. Snelling and Grand is a natural hub that is connected to the River Road and Grand so suddenly we've covered a much larger area than just Grand and Victoria. We tap into things that people do already and we're not saying they need to make a big change in their lives to bike. Sometimes people don't strive for big change because they don't want to fail. When that happens, they convince themselves that everything is too far away and not bike-able. If you talk to someone who doesn't bike and say, "I rode five miles to get here," they can't even imagine it even though that's not very far for bicyclists! Finally, we must engage the communities that have decided, for whatever reason, that bicycling isn't for them. I think we have a great city for it.

Joan: How do you approach businesses when talking to them about benefits of bicycling? What is the message that resonates with them?

Anthony: All businesses and big businesses especially, understand the return on investments side of the discussion. The hook for big businesses is health care. Yesterday I talked with the director of emergency medicine at Regions Hospital and what interested them is that while their workers understand the benefits, they haven't been able to actively promote and get a critical mass of team members to seriously consider bicycling. With small businesses like the Global Market, it becomes a discussion focused on values. Are you actualizing the values that you've built your business on and that are within your community? It becomes about the business's integrity. Another example would be the Mississippi Market. They've built a customer base through their values not value -you're not going to the Market to buy the cheapest tomato, you're going because that business has a set of values that you can relate to. The Mississippi Market has maintained their integrity around that set of values and has been able to build up a base of loyal customers. The only reason those customers would leave is if the business lost their integrity. There are also restaurants, like the Birchwood, that have built their brand on a values proposition. Their customers will actualize a value by doing business with them. It's organic, local --and how do they advertise? Through a bike club! The bike club is an extension of that community and conversation. Unfortunately, many businesses have tried to tap into that values-based marketing, haven't been able to maintain integrity around those values and don't gain the customers they're looking for.

Joan: What can you share about the culture of black bicyclists? What is the role of the Major Taylor Bike Club?

Anthony: The first thing to understand is that black bicyclists are diverse. Some enter the discussion from a racing perspective, others from a fitness perspective, or a social justice perspective, or from a transportation perspective. What is unique is the sentiment that within the bicycling culture, you have to bring people along. As I talk with black bicycling clubs around the country, there is a strong community engagement component. For them, it's about getting people involved, getting kids involved in cycling. I don't see that in general market clubs or with the primarily European cyclists that can be a bit exclusive -especially when you're talking about a high performance group!

The Major Taylor Cycling club here in the Cities has its roots in the community. In the 90's, a group of women wanted to participate in the AIDs ride from Minneapolis to Chicago. Not only does this ride mean doing 100 or more miles a day, these women had never ridden a bicycle before! They called Louis Moore and me and together we started the Major Taylor Cycling club. We've always been an inclusive group, especially towards women. For us the appeal is in getting people started and helping them achieve proficiency at the bike.
I don't want to get stuck on the idea that race is what makes Major Taylor Cycling club different. We're not just creating a brown version of something we already have. If we get stuck on race, we're not able to tap into the nuances around how we see culture, how we view community, our worldview. For me, it is important to consider how we interpret what's happening based on our historical perspective -and that is culture. In this country, it can manifest as race, but race is not culture and they are not the same thing. When you engage black cyclists, you have to honor that they are diverse and may be different than the other black people you've known because their commitments are different or something might be culturally different. Actually, I believe a lot of black people would be insulted by that idea that they are just like that other black person you once know, or a brown version of the other people that you know. With black cyclists, there is a broad spectrum of who they are and why they cycle and the common ground is around social engagement, collective experience, and pulling people along. To me, that perspective seems unique.

Joan: You are busy organizing the Urban Bike Festival as part of the National Brotherhood Summit. What can you tell us about these events?

Anthony: Black cycling clubs here in the Twin Cities are hosting an event we're calling the National Brotherhood of Cycling National Summit. It will be a four day event honoring the diversity of the cycling community from across the country. We hope that the event will include all types of cyclists -racers, advocates, and young people. The last day, in St. Paul, we'll host the Urban Bike Festival to create a space for all types of cyclists to interact with each other at once. We're hoping to see the BMX riders, the racers, the advocates, the bike polo community, commuters, trick riders, the alternative bike community, everyone! The idea behind the event is to create a space where all of those types of bicycling are going on simultaneously. The cyclists can interact with each other, learn from each other, and celebrate all things bicycling. To bring all of these types of cyclists together would create a truly unique urban experience.
We'll also be hosting several workshops. One workshop we're doing is focused on why diversity matters for advocacy and addressing the question, "why hasn't advocacy become diverse?" We're also doing a workshop on health, particularly on VO2 Max as an interesting and new measure for health indicators.

Joan: Tell us about another big project. What is the vision for the Bike Walk Center in North Minneapolis?

Anthony: If you look at the portion of Minneapolis between 94 on the east, 694 on the north, 494 on the west, and 394 on the south -in that entire big box of city, there is not a single full service bike shop. The vision for the bike walk center is to create a facility that will be a full service center to meet the needs of the community and the people in that corridor that want to bike and walk. North Minneapolis is very diverse economically, culturally and ethnically which makes it a gateway community. It is also a natural link into downtown for everything west of downtown. The vision is to create a center that provides resources for people biking and walking, that has affordable retail, and gives the community the opportunity to get a quality bike at the right price where they can also receive full service. Nothing against Target, but if you buy a bike there, where do you take it to be serviced? The bike walk center is designed to be that community-owned place. To make sure this is a community initiated, owned and supported organization, we're involving many community partners such as the Bike Walk Ambassadors, the City of Minneapolis, and the Jordan Community Board. It will be self-sustaining.

Joan: Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Anthony: I think there are opportunities to tap into lots of people who own bikes bit that don't know advocacy is happening on their behalf. There is momentum and a ground swell around bicycling, and although we are celebrating gains, we need to acknowledge that it isn't a movement yet. We need to commit to strategies that will turn us into a movement and part of that commitment is to get people who ride bicycles regularly involved in the advocacy work that is happening around city planning and policy. That is a huge opportunity! We also need to create multiple "on-ramps" to cycling. If we only acknowledge and talk about bicycling from an environmental or transportation view point, we leave out a whole group of people that would be motivated to be a part of our movement for other reasons. A great example can be found in the three preeminent people that have become voices for the urban environmental justice network: Van Jones, Majora Carter, and Will Allen. Those three are African American, but they are from New York, Milwaukee, and California. They are talking about what really matters to black and brown people living in urban areas and I think cycling should be a part of that discussion.