Monday, October 16, 2017

Bike Hunt Stories Show the Power of Bicycles - Story 3: The Iron Maiden

For the next in this series of excerpts from my recently published memoir, Bike Hunt, I’ve chosen a bike hunt story that reminds me how grateful I am to be healthy and able-bodied. This last weekend was full of training, competing, and celebrating with my boxing and tennis friends. Because of stories like this bike hunt, I know that just one injury would sever these joys from my life. That thought is a gut punch to me.

So today I give you the story of The Iron Maiden who helped one man move freely again. She was a heavy steel, industrial blue, women’s-frame ten-speed bike from a thrift store in Denver, which I took to Boulder for a visit with a friend.

The next morning, I headed straight to the shelter. As I pedaled up, there were a dozen guys hanging out in a tight group. I stopped in the street next to them, got their attention, gave my spiel and settled back on The Iron Maiden’s seat to take in the reaction. Some laughed, others elbowed, teasing one guy that he needed a bike to lose some weight, another that he could use it to leave town. Watching the faces I was starting to wonder if I’d come up dry, when I heard a voice from below.
“I need a bike,” the voice said, this time sincere.
I looked down to find lying on the sidewalk a Grizzly Adams type, complete with beard and tussled blond hair, crutches at his side. I tuned out the jeers and moved closer to hear him.
“My bike got stolen about three months ago,” he continued, “and ever since, this sciatic nerve has plagued me. When I was riding that bike, I was fine, could even work. Now look at me. I’m a damned cripple.”
The jeers had stopped. They were listening too.
“Wow,” I said, “You definitely need a bike. But how do you know you can actually ride her?”
Rather than answer, he struggled to sit up and then get to his feet, wincing. One of the other guys helped him get his crutches. I got off The Iron Maiden and lined her up near the curb. Using his crutches, he lowered himself into the street, then handed them back to the guy who had helped. He took hold of her handlebar, slid his leg carefully through her low-curved frame and eased himself onto the saddle. The group hushed.
“Oh yeah,” he said, like a mountain man astride a wild horse, “I can ride her, no problem.”
“I named her The Iron Maiden,” I said. “You feel her weight?”
“That’s cool,” he said with a daring grin as he gazed at all sides of his new ride. “That’s the perfect name for her.”
At this, the group erupted into hoots and applause.

The Iron Maiden’s Bike Hunt story is one of many throughout the book. I’ve got my eye on several more to share on this blog. All will have the label “Bike Hunt” so you can easily find them.

Better yet, you can buy your own copy of Bike Hunt to read all of the stories and more. Find it through any online book vendor worldwide (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) or order it through your local book store. We also have copies for sale at


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bike Hunt Stories Show the Power of Bicycles - Story 2: Jim Lucas

My recently published memoir, Bike Hunt, is based on my disturbing time as executive director of the Thunderhead Alliance back in the early 2000s. Interlaced throughout the book are my stories of hunting for then giving away used bicycles when I travel. Those bike hunts kept me from losing myself as I fell into that abusive situation, so I recall them with fine detail. Readers seem to enjoy them. Plus, each bike hunt story shows the significant impact a bicycle can have on someone who is struggling. So, I have decided to offer a series of my favorite bike hunts in this blog. Today is Story 2: Jim Lucas.

I’ve chosen the Jim Lucas bike hunt story because it reminds me of the bike hunt I just enjoyed. I spent the last four days in Oakland, California for a community land trust conference. Upon arrival in Oakland, I asked a few people at the subway exit where I could find a used bike. A three-block walk later, I found myself settled into the backroom repair area of a sweet bike shop where the owner takes pride in helping his neighbors. Andre had agreed to sell me a traumatized black Schwinn commuter bike whose bottom bracket had been ridden into dust. After more than an hour of wrenching and replacing parts, black grease up to my elbows, I rolled my new ride, dubbed Otis, out the door to pedal through the graffitied neighbor to my Airbnb room.

But the surgical beginning of Otis’ bike hunt was not what reminded me of Jim Lucas. Instead, like Jim Lucas’ giveaway, it was my chance to connect with a heartbroken woman in downtown Oakland and give her a bike.

Yesterday morning, I’d only managed to spare fifteen minutes to find Otis a home before the conference session began. I pedaled him slowly away from the conference venue forcing myself not to rush, but to look at faces instead. After a few blocks, I glimpsed the hunched form of a thirty-something black woman sitting on a fire hydrant. I had to interrupt her deep conversation with herself. I think I was the first person to talk with her for a while, because a tear formed in one of her eyes as she folded me into her conversation and I jumped along with her scattered threads.

I learned about her mother’s struggles and that she is now in a home or institution that is difficult to reach. She told me about a brutal beating that seemed to be her explanation for her ramblings—messed up her mind.

When she realized I was giving her the bike, the tears flowed. She’d had once had a red Schwinn, but it was stolen. I showed her the lock and key dangling from the seat so she wouldn’t have to worry about that. We shook hands and I dashed back to the conference, only slightly late for my session, though it took me some time to refocus.

So today my excerpt from Bike Hunt is the bike hunt giveaway story in Chicago of Jim Lucas, a beautifully preserved 1950s black Raleigh three-speed:

I pedaled downtown the next day to give Jim Lucas away. As I turned onto Michigan Avenue, its wide expanse between skyscrapers and landscaped median forced me to choose a side. I chose the southbound side and slowed to a crawl to study the passing faces. Most of the pedestrians were in suits or fancy dresses rushing to important places. Behind this flow of people I spotted a stationary man. He was sitting on a rolled-up blanket, his smudged, bearded face watching the people pass as if he was at a tennis match. No one stopped to drop coins into his hat. His sign read simply, “Please.” I liked that. No specifics, just a polite please. I used to add that word to the end of my hitchhiking signs. Still, I wanted to make sure he’d take care of Jim Lucas before committing. After rolling up to him, I could tell he didn’t see me because he was so focused on the rush in front of him. I’d come from the side and was no longer moving.
“Hi,” I said.
“Huh?” he said. “Geez, where did you come from?”
“Sorry to surprise you,” I said, moving my eyes back to the swirling crowd for a moment to let him get used to me. “So,” I began again, “what’s your story?”
He sat up a bit, obviously pleased that I’d asked and scooched a bit closer to me as I leaned down across the handlebar to listen. He started by asking my name. His was A. J. Then he told me of thieves and beatings, the fear he felt each night when he tried to sleep, the vulnerability he was growing so tired of. And then, as if to balance this fear, he told me how much he still loved his girlfriend who had left him nearly a year before to fend for himself on the street. When I asked him if a bike would help, he frowned, saying he couldn’t buy a bike. But when I explained further, his blue eyes brightened.
“Would you really give me that beautiful bike?” he asked.
“I would be honored to give you this beautiful bike,” I said.
He stood up slowly, his eyes on Jim Lucas. I pushed him into A. J.’s hands and he swung his leg over to straddle the frame. After one quick glance at me he jumped onto the saddle and started riding in a circle, disrupting the flow of people who had to step sideways and then collide with others. A. J. no longer cared about them as he laughed and chattered about all the places he could go now, riding many more circles on the sidewalk. He coasted to a stop in front of me to give me a hug. As I walked away, he chanted my name.

Jim Lucas’ Bike Hunt story is one of many throughout the book. I’ve got my eye on several more to share on this blog. All will have the label “Bike Hunt” so you can easily find them.

Better yet, you can buy your own copy of Bike Hunt to read all of the stories and more. Find it through any online book vendor worldwide (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) or order it through your local book store. We also have copies for sale at


Monday, October 2, 2017

Bike Hunt Stories Show the Power of Bicycles - Story 1: Peaches

Since publishing my memoir, Bike Hunt, at the end of August, I’ve had many deep discussions with readers via email, phone, and Facebook as well as in person. The Interbike trade show a few weeks ago drew readers to the One Street booth to share their thoughts inspired by the book.

The top theme of these discussions has been how and why humans tend to act so badly in groups. This plays out in many nonprofits, and certainly played out at the Thunderhead Alliance while I was the director there in the early 2000s – the timeframe of the book.

Running a close second for readers’ are my detailed accounts of what I call Bike Hunts – my tales of searching for and then giving away used bikes whenever I travel. During my disturbing time at Thunderhead, my Bike Hunts were my only connections back to the world I’d known before taking the job. They were so important to me, I recall fine details of these precious moments simply helping strangers with bicycles.

Each Bike Hunt story shows the significant impact a bicycle can have on someone who is struggling, though it’s simply me giving a bicycle to another person. No anti-poverty program. No ribbon cutting. No media. Just two human beings and a bicycle.

So I thought I’d share some of my favorite Bike Hunt stories from Bike Hunt in this blog, starting with a bright pink girl’s BMX bike I found at a Goodwill during a conference in Miami and named Peaches:

            On the last evening there, after Gayle and I packed up the booth and dealt with the shipping service, I wheeled Peaches out the front door to find her new home. It was already dark and I worried that anyone I approached might be even more suspicious of me than usual when trying to give away a bike. I pedaled Peaches carefully along the busy, multi-lane road, the typical road type I’d seen all over the area. No wonder there were so few people riding bicycles there. Cars swept past my left shoulder as I focused on keeping the handlebar straight, scanning the sidewalks for someone who would adore Peaches. The few people out were rushing somewhere else, no time for a bright pink bike. I rode on into the night, heading west away from the city and into hardened neighborhoods where iron bars were favored over business signs.
            Ahead, three small figures were walking much slower than the other people I’d seen. They were speaking softly as they walked, looking at each other rather than the sidewalk. One was likely the mother, barely five feet tall. The boy was only a bit smaller than she was, perhaps ten years old. The smallest was a young girl and she had on a pink coat. I swear Peaches sped up as soon as I spotted them, but I pedaled back to slow down. I didn’t want to startle them so I eased onto the sidewalk at the next driveway and got off to walk toward them.
            “Excuse me,” I said, and watched with dismay as they all jumped back in fright. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
            The boy whispered in Spanish to his sister and mother and they both nodded at him. “It’s okay,” he said, and stepped in front to lead them past me.
            “Just a minute,” I said, “can I ask you something?”
            “Yes, of course,” he said as he stopped to listen.
            I gave him my giveaway spiel and suggested maybe his sister would like the bike. When I had finished, he nodded to show he understood, then turned to the other two to translate, taking his role as translator and negotiator very seriously. As he retold my story in Spanish, both of their faces brightened, and when he came to the end, the girl jumped up and down, still staring up into her brother’s face as if to make sure he’d really said it. The mother began speaking very rapidly as the boy encouraged her with “si, si.”
            He turned back to me. “My sister would be very happy to accept the bicycle,” he said in a business-like tone, “and my mother would like to thank you very much. You see, yesterday was my sister’s eighth birthday and she had hoped for a bicycle.”
            The Bike Hunt had succeeded yet again.

Peaches’ Bike Hunt story is one of many throughout the book. I’ve got my eye on several more to share on this blog. All will have the label “Bike Hunt” so you can easily find them.

Better yet, you can buy your own copy of Bike Hunt to read all of the stories and more. Find it through any online book vendor worldwide (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) or order it through your local book store. We also have copies for sale at


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Bristol Bike Project Transforming Lives

One Street's Social Bike Business program and our accompanying book Defying Poverty with Bicycles encourage the creation of bicycle community centers where everyone feels welcome. Such places are rare because attempts often derail toward idealistic elitism (read more in this post) or toward profits without regard to who is served (read posts labeled bike industry).

So when we find a great model, we've got to share it. The Bristol Bike Project even emphasizes keeping used bikes in their community in their tagline - something we encourage instead of shipping them overseas. Learn all about them on their website.

This article introduces the Bristol Bike Project including great photos of their work in action:

From Huck Magazine, Pivot Points: Stories of Change
Posted Wednesday 21st June 2017, Text By James Arthur Allen

Bath-based photographer James Arthur Allen learns a valuable lesson in the power of community from a project.

Stokes Croft in the city of Bristol has long been a hotbed of creativity and activism: a microcosm that retains its independent roots even in a time of increased gentrification and development. Nestled under the Banksy-adorned Hamilton House, an otherwise standard five-storey office block, lies the Bristol Bike Project (BBP), a workshop-cum-bike shop that sells second-hand steeds and offers maintenance courses.

But BBP is no ordinary bike pitstop: people who walk through these doors never really leave.

Founded in 2008 by James Lucas and Colin Fan, the project has grown into a full-time enterprise that supports and equips vulnerable groups in the local community through the humble bicycle. At the core of the project is their Earn-a-Bike programme, set up so that people from all walks of life – from asylum seekers and at-risk youth, to anyone living on the margins – can learn basic mechanics and earn a bicycle in the process: there are no hand-outs here.

BBP operates as a not-for-profit workers’ co-operative with a flat structure of pay. “All profits are channelled back into our volunteer-run programme,” says James, who also founded Boneshaker magazine as an outlet for his two-wheeled passion. “The programme is inspired by the Chinese proverb: ‘Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand.’”

Co-founder James Lucas has long believed in the transformative power of bikes.

This philosophy leads to a hustle and bustle that doesn’t limit itself to staff. On a sunny day in early June, Julien and Big Al, both experienced bike mechanics, are running the Fix-a-Bike session, overseeing volunteers at six busy work stations. Customers, volunteers and users of the project rub shoulders as they work alongside one another, talking bikes and life, exchanging skills and advice, and generally having a laugh.

Read more and see all the great photos in the original article here.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Vision Zero Blind to Racism

I’ve been uneasy about Vision Zero initiatives since the first policy was adopted in Sweden in the late ‘90s. A government policy that mandates zero traffic deaths creates a system that supports corrupt and brutal tactics in order to reach such a drastic goal.

My initial concern was that Vision Zero is the perfect backdrop for mandating bicycle helmets, even though bike helmets offer little if any protection in crashes. Such laws do immeasurable damage to bicycle advocacy by creating a barrier to bicycling, blaming the victims in crashes, and making bicycling seem far more dangerous than it is.

But until a few days ago, I had not associated my unease over Vision Zero with racism and enabling police brutality. Thanks to this article (pasted below) from Neighborhood Bike Works in Philadelphia, my concern over Vision Zero has more than doubled.

I clicked on the Vision Zero link in the article, then the action plan for Philadelphia to find that the term “enforcement” is used 34 times in as many pages. Not a good sign. In communities where people care about each other, enforcement must be the lowest priority.

Read through the article and if you have further ideas and other concerns about Vision Zero, please offer them in the comments section. And if you live in Philadelphia, be sure to take the survey linked on that Vision Zero page.


No Racism on Safe Streets
Racism and its sinister effects are everywhere – the streets included. At Neighborhood Bike Works (NBW) we’ve recognized that the roadways (and elsewhere) must be for everyone and that the long history of creating streets safe only for well-off, white people shouldn’t follow us forward anymore. In the effort for safe streets and the newer attempt to eliminate all traffic deaths (an effort called Vision Zero), we must scrutinize the offered solutions to ensure that they protect the most vulnerable road users. This is a challenge with Vision Zero, however, since erratic enforcement of traffic and other laws further endanger vulnerable road users, especially people of color.

As Paul Hetznecker, a Philadelphia civil rights attorney pointed out to PlanPhilly, “traffic stops have been used as pretexts for unconstitutional search and seizure.” This means that even as we work to make streets safer and to eliminate traffic deaths, we must remember that speed cameras, police presence, and other increased enforcement measures can result in targeting and surveilling people of color on city streets.  At NBW, we’ve seen that police presence intimidate and harm NBW youth, program alumni, and other members of our close community.  At times NBW youth graduates have been accused of stealing bikes they’ve earned at NBW. Officers have assumed that a black youth in Philadelphia couldn’t rightfully own a high quality bike. This has happened more than once, at more than one NBW site. Again and again, we’ve heard those in the NBW community share violent, terrifying stories of police brutality on city streets. One effect of this inequitable, increased enforcement is that people, including those in our NBW community, sometimes choose to stay at home, instead of joining in programs or activities. Sometimes the trip just isn’t worth the outsized risk of being pulled over or harassed on the street, seemingly at random.

We’re encouraged that in Philadelphia, bike advocates have acknowledged the risks inherent in stepped up traffic enforcement in communities of color. Furthermore, red light camera bills have civil liberties protections written into them to protect against government overreach.

The risks of escalated police interaction have led many local advocates to favor infrastructure improvements over enforcement. These improvements could include broadly and strategically distributed amenities such as protected bike lanes, traffic calming measures, recreation paths, crosswalk countdown timers, and street lights. Each time there is a proposed infrastructure project, we ask for people to raise the critical questions to ensure that we course correct decades of uneven, unfair infrastructure projects. You can ask questions like: Who benefits from this project? Who does it leave out? How could it be improved to make its benefits more widespread?  How can this project center the wellness and prosperity of communities of color and other communities that have seen disinvestment?

We don’t have “the solution”, but we know it involves a likely messy merger of the Vision Zero effort with people and groups vigilant against racial profiling, inequitable distribution of safe streets infrastructure, and police brutality. The solution to unsafe streets will involve bike advocates and also those adept at fighting gentrification, at curbing the reach of street cameras to surveil communities of color, and critically important, it will involve community input from the start.

In Philadelphia, we have the opportunity to give comments on the Vision Zero Action Plan. The comment period is open for community members to weigh in on how to make the streets safer. Take a few minutes to read the plan and take the survey. How does this plan make streets safer for people of color? Could it put people of color at greater risk for police interactions of excessive force? How would you prioritize or implement these ideas? Take the opportunity to share that safe streets are streets with fair infrastructure and enforcement aimed at de-escalation.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Women Fight for the Right to Bicycle

In most developed countries, women don’t think twice about riding their bicycle. But in some areas of the world, cultures have distorted women’s right to travel freely, especially targeting bicycling. Women who dare to bicycle in such places, are met at least with harassment and at worst, physical attack. And yet many are facing these dangers in a courageous fight to tear down these myths and open the way for all women to ride bicycles without threat.

In Defying Poverty with Bicycles, I discuss the importance of understanding local culture and barriers to bicycling before embarking on any bicycle program. In places where women are banned from bicycling, no bicycle program could effectively move forward.

If you live in such a place, I hope this latest example of Egyptian women’s courage against this injustice will help you remove your own culture’s stigma in order to set the stage for many effective bicycle projects and programs that will serve all members of your society.

Recent news articles from around the world highlighted a very successful event organized by women and girls in Egypt who call themselves There is No Difference. This excerpt from one article captures their passion:

“…Egyptian girls face the same adversity. Harassment in the streets, threats and abuse are hurled their way as they pedal past. However, a group of 5 individuals who called themselves: “There is No Difference”, are looking to change all of that.

Since the Egyptian government cut fuel subsidies, the cost of public transport has soared. This has resulted in more women cycling as a means of transportation. However, the barriers they face in the street are enough to scare off women from riding bikes, leaving them with little option for travelling.

There is No Difference hosted their first mass bike ride event as part of their new campaign. Supported by men, women and children, hundreds of cyclists rode through the streets of Port Said in Northern Egypt…”

Read more in the article including some links to similar efforts in other countries. At One Street we applaud all these efforts to bring equality to all the world’s citizens through the only machine that can, the bicycle.

Have you had experience fighting similar injustices against any sort of person bicycling? If so, please offer ideas in the comments section.


Monday, January 16, 2017

What If Civil Rights Included Bicycles?

Today is Martin Luther King Day, my favorite holiday because it celebrates opposition to hatred and injustice. One great example is the Montgomery, Alabama bus strike, launched in December of 1955 by Rosa Parks’ brave determination to stay seated on a bus, which set black workers walking and carpooling for 381 days until all Montgomery buses were desegregated. Of all the writings about the bus strike and the hard walking workers endured, there is one single-sentence quote that captures it best for me. Martin Luther King, Jr. told the story to the New York Times in 1961:

On a chill morning in the autumn of 1956, an elderly, toilworn Negro woman… began her slow painful four-mile walk to her job… The old woman’s difficult progress led a passerby to inquire sympathetically if her feet were tired. Her simple answer…, “Yes, friend, my feet is real tired, but my soul is rested.”

The walking itself, the hard, painful walking, and the complex carpool system they set up were points of pride. I realize and respect this. But I’ve always wondered how the movement might have unfolded if they could have used bicycles, too. Many more black people could have participated and the strain on the carpool system would have been eased. Perhaps bikes could have enabled even more bus strikes across the south. And then, imagine how many black workers would have kept riding, free from bus fares and the limits of their routes and schedules.

Unfortunately, in the 1950s and 60s bicycles were viewed only as toys in the U.S. Bikes were made to look like rocket ships and motorcycles, equipped with toy guns and sirens. It’s no wonder our civil rights heroes never even thought of them.

So where are we today in comparison?

A movement has emerged after horrific events with the name Black Lives Matter. That anyone, individual or group, has to proclaim that their life matters should appall us.

Politicians promote hatred and fear to gain power. And it works.

The CEOs of our top bike companies here in the U.S. still refer to bicycling only as a sport, their companies cranking out blingy mountain bikes and road racers with hardly a wink to basic bikes for getting around. Read more in this post.

The civil rights movement continues, it must; expanded now to oppose fearmongering toward any group and stomp out propaganda that segregates. Each of us—anyone who reads blogs like this one, anyone who knows the danger of hatred and prejudice—must protest every act of prejudice, whether through words spoken, police brutality, or through improper transportation provisions.

And let’s finally demand that our bike industry and transportation officials ensure that anyone, no matter how marginalized they may be by our current backslide toward prejudice, can choose the freedom of bicycling for their means of transportation.