Patrick Stephenson, a Minneapolis resident, peddled on his electric cargo bike from the Minnesota State Capitol, cheering as music blasted from DJ Eric on Saturday, June 17, 2023. The Joyful Riders Club was off to ride to the Choose How You Move Frogtown Fair, where fun activities and ice cream awaited their arrival.
Stephenson became passionate about biking in 2009 when he began commuting to work. In 2011, he launched a community biking challenge, 30 Days of Biking on Twitter. Through 30 Days of Biking, Stephenson connected with Mario Macaruso, and the two led bike rides together. Five years later the challenge grew into an organization called The Joyful Riders Club. The bike club is open to the community, meeting at least once once a month.
“I just want these rides to create really cool experiences for people where they’re making awesome memories,” Stephenson said.
During the start of the 2020 pandemic, The Joyful Riders Club stopped meeting. Life changes, like growing families, also created a shift in the organization. Before the pandemic, a large focus for the club was adult connection through biking. The club was sponsored by Surly Brewing, where the group would often gather at the end of the ride for free drinks and conversation.
“Everytime people would walk out of Surly, they’d have a Surly smile,” Macaruso said. “That kind of became The Joyful Riders logo-you look at the smile.”
The Joyful Riders Club picked back up in April of 2022, this time with a different focus and no longer sponsored by Surly Brewing. Stephenson met Eric Moran, a bike enthusiast that found a way to DJ during rides. Moran has been a rave and club DJ since the early 2000s. After discovering a video of a UK-based DJ who mounted music equipment on a bike, Moran was inspired to do the same. Stephenson and Moran built the DJ bike trailer at Perennial Cycle (Hennepin Ave, South Minneapolis), which started a new era of DJ bike rides.
“We have two origin stories,” Stephenson said. “The origin story of The Joyful Riders Club, and then the origin story of where Eric came into the picture, because he gave us a lot of new energy.”
Now The Joyful Riders Club host more family-friendly rides for bikers of all skill levels. The rides are often during the daytime, but some still take place at night, with plenty of bike lights to ensure safety, and music to encourage dancing.
“We’re riding slow, we’re making friends, we’re not judging each other,” Stephenson said.
The DJ Dance Party ride on June 17, started with Macaruso handing out donuts to all who came. The ride was around 30 minutes long. Families, adults and kids joined to experience the event, and enjoy the Choose How You Move Frogtown fair at the end of the ride, hosted by Move Minnesota at the Lilypad Garden in St Paul.
“The joyful riders always have some cool destinations, and do things to support the community,” said Jeanne Kaplan, a Joyful Riders Club member since 2016. “I’m glad to see more of Frogtown.”
The Joyful Riders Club has partnered with organizations like the Lynx and held a ride for the Lynx home opener on Friday, May 19. The club also hosts donation-based rides for back to school supplies, cold weather supply drive, housing insecurity and more. Their hope is to continue working and partnering with the community to meet needs and foster joy on their bike rides.
“We always make people smile when you have a big ol’ group of bikers roll past,” Stephenson said. “And then the music adds a new spontaneity to it because then we might get people dancing.”
Black bikers of Minnesota
Slow Roll MSP is another local biking organization that cultivates community through movement. Saint Paul resident Anthony Taylor brought Slow Roll to Minnesota in 2015 after a trip to Detroit, Mich. An avid cyclist, Taylor belonged to the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota, which was founded in 1999. The group centers itself with the Black community, and focuses on the sport of cycling. Slow Roll, also centered on Black community, offered a difference in pace and purpose.
“It really is not a bike ride,” Taylor said. “It happens on a bike, but it really is a program to reintroduce people to the community, experience new art, restaurants and find some freedom.”
A large aspect of Slow Roll is about encouraging people, specifically Black people, to have autonomy over their bodies through movement. Taylor curates the rides so that the pace is slow and consistent. Ride leaders are stationed at the front and the back of the group. Traffic is blocked off to ensure safety, and gestures like raised fists, and vocal cues like “Hole on the right!” communicate to the group when to stop or move.
“The struggle for Black people has always been around mobility,” Taylor said. “It has been that historically White supremacy has been about controlling Black bodies, controlling their mobility and their ability to move freely.”
The beginning of the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd were a turning point for Slow Roll. The group grew in size and relationship as the community mourned together. During that time, the group had its first “Blackout” ride, intended solely for Black community members to join together in solidarity. The goal of the “Blackout” ride was to care for the emotional needs of the community.
“I mean it was literally crazy,” Taylor said. “And we had 300 Black people show up.”
On Thursday, June 29, Slow Roll MSP held a Hotter than July Southside Late Solstice Roll. Bikers started on 3rd Avenue in Minneapolis, traveled around Lake Harriet, and returned to 3rd Avenue. Bikes and helmets are provided to those who need them. Before each ride, The Slow Roll team reviews bike safety measures. During the ride on June 17, the team even gave a demonstration on how to change a flat tire.
No one knows the entire route except for Taylor and his Slow Roll team. The reason is because for Slow Roll, the ride truly is about the journey and not the destination. Doing so ensures safety by tailoring the ride to people that need support but, more than this, it promotes relationships and a sense of togetherness, said Taylor. The only rules are that everyone has to meet someone they don't know, and see something in the neighborhood they’ve never seen before. The ride always starts and ends at the same place. At the end of the ride, food is served and prepared by a community chef using produce grown from community gardens. Riders gather to eat together as the DJ plays music.
“The bike ride is fun,” said Shonda Thomas from Plymouth, a Slow Roll member since 2022. “It doesn’t feel like exercise, and I always walk away meeting someone I would have never crossed paths with in my regular life.”
At some point during each ride, Taylor will stop to explain the historical significance of a community, business or organization and how it relates to historically marginalized communities in Minnesota. Doing so allows community members to gain new knowledge and perspectives of the neighborhoods.
“It changes the way that they [riders] understand the community,” Taylor said. “Cars inherently never put you in community. They move you through community, and bikes put you in community where you can feel the texture of the road.”
Slow Roll often partners with art, health and youth initiatives and organizations across the state. The group has also held rides with other Minnesota biking organizations. One ride included Major Taylor, Biking with Baddies, Slow Roll, and the West African Bike Club on a ride that provided information on how sickle cell disproportionately impacts Black lives.
“I think the idea of connectedness for a cause really brings people together,” Taylor said.
Taylor is also in connection with the Joyful Riders Club, and referred to the group as a good friend of Slow Roll.
“I think Slow Roll is absolutely amazing, and I especially love that it’s a complete community-building experience that includes local food, local music, and even lender bikes for folks who need a bike for the ride,” Stephenson said.
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