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LCI Corner: Lowering Barriers with Learn to Ride

Serving the Twin Cities, Cycles for Change is a community bike shop and hands-on-advocacy organization that grew out of the Yellow Bike Coalition and the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance. With a mission to build a diverse and empowered community of bicyclists, C4C works to “deliver bicycle access and education programs that match the needs, experiences, and perspectives of our participants.”

In this LCI Corner, educators Jason Tanzman and Hannah Geil-Neufeld share how their efforts are matching the needs of many women, low-income residents and immigrants, through their Bike Library and Learn to Ride programs.

It’s 8 a.m. on a Wednesday morning when a Cycles for Change staff member arrives at Logan Park in northeast Minneapolis. She recognizes Em’s* purple bike and bright red helmet from across the park. She’s in the normal meeting spot: a quiet section of the path with a slight incline that’s perfect for learning to ride. Em pushes off down the slope, coasts for a moment before losing her balance and falling off to one side. She jumps away from the bike, laughs for a moment, then prepares to mount her bicycle once more.

Em connected with Cycles for Change through the Community Partners Bike Library, an innovative, federally funded program supporting traditionally under-represented community members with access to a bicycle, plus the training to ride safely and confidently. Em signed up for the Bike Library program not knowing how to ride a bike.

“Since I was little, my dream has been to ride a bike,” she says.

In fact, 43 out of the 44 Learn to Ride students in 2013 were women, with Latina and East African immigrant women making up the majority. These classes were customized to meet participant needs, providing small group and one-to-one instruction at convenient locations near to where they lived or worked.

After one of our lessons toward the end of the summer, Em unbuckled her helmet and put on her philosopher’s hat. While many students talk about the tangible health and economic benefits of learning to ride a bike, a lot of students also talk about the learning experience of being empowering in and of itself.

“Learning to pedal a bike and balance marks a change in your life,” Em said. “Each time I take up something new, I think like I’m getting onto a bike to pedal. And each time I pedal I go a little farther… It’s beautiful to learn to pedal because you discover a marvelous potential within yourself.”

*Pseudonym used at the student’s request.

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