by Ben Adlin
South Seattle cycling hub Bike Works will host an online trivia game Thursday evening, meant to raise funds and awareness as the Columbia City nonprofit kicks off its 25th anniversary year with fresh leadership and a renewed focus on racial justice.
Neighbors might know Bike Works for its bright yellow community bike shop on South Ferdinand Street or its roving BikeMobile, which offers free repairs to riders in “bike deserts,” where shops are scarce. Thursday’s trivia event is the latest virtual meetup in a monthly series the group has launched during the pandemic.
Don’t know a crankset from a dereailleur? Don’t worry.
“Even if you don’t know bicycle trivia, it’ll be a fun community event with this interesting group of people,” said Elise Hirschi, development and communications specialist for Bike Works. “We’re hoping it’s an opportunity to hang out and network at a time when we don’t have so many opportunities to socialize.”
Tickets start at $10 and can be purchased online.
An accomplished lineup of guests will join the mix, including professional cyclist Heidi Franz, who resides in West Seattle; world champion and Olympic silver medalist Jennie Reed of Renton; Giro d’Italia winner and U.S. Bicycling Hall of Famer Andy Hampsten; and Nelson “The Cheetah” Vails, a former New York City bicycle messenger who in 1984 became the first African American cyclist to win an Olympic medal.
Proceeds from the event will fund the nonprofit’s main mission, said incoming executive director Ed Ewing, “making the bicycle accessible and using it as a community tool.”
“It’s bigger than just getting some passionate cycling aficionados and pro, high-caliber bike racers on a Zoom call,” he said of the event. “They’re leveraging their celebrity, their accomplishments, their power — not just to raise money but to raise awareness about the need that’s here in Seattle.”
Ewing, who began at Bike Works as deputy director last August and will officially become executive director later this month, is something of a celebrity in Seattle’s cycling community, especially when it comes to racial justice. In 2007 he co-founded the Major Taylor Project, a program to expand access to cycling for Black and Brown youth. He’s also led racial equity efforts at the Seattle Parks Foundation and served on Bike Works’ racial equity task force.
Founded in 1996, Bike Works has always focused on the diverse and often underserved communities of South Seattle. This year, however, it will explicitly put racial justice front and center. Next month the organization is scheduled to unveil a five-year strategic plan built on promoting anti-racism.
“A lot of organizations will have a separate racial equity plan in addition to their strategic plan, and this time it’s integrated. It’s this one document,” Ewing said. “Anything and everything we do, we are going to be looking and acting on it through a racial equity lens.”
Among some of the ways the group prioritizes racial equity is by focusing on southeast Seattle. “That’s where the diversity is,” Ewing said. Initiatives also prioritize serving marginalized groups such as youth, low-income households, BIPOC residents, immigrants and refugees, people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, women, and trans and non-binary individuals.
Bike Works says it prioritizes those groups “because systemic racism and inequality denies resources to members of marginalized communities.” Every year, through its Bikes-for-All program, Bike Works gives away hundreds of free bicycles and helmets to youth, adults, and families in southeast Seattle.
“If you look at a map of Seattle,” Hirschi said, “there are very few bike shops in King County south of I-90. … Most are farther north.”
Beyond removing financial and geographic barriers, Bike Works also wants to make cycling’s culture more inclusive. “In order to help diversify that,” Ewing said, “you need to be very intentional.”
The panel of guests for Thursday’s trivia night is evidence of that intent. “I want people to see themselves in these panelists,” Ewing said, noting that the group includes two women and a Black man, all of whom are elite cyclists.
Ewing, who has been riding competitively himself since 1983, credits one of the panelists — Nelson “The Cheetah” Vails — with galvanizing his own cycling career. “He’s the guy who inspired me to take cycling to the next level,” Ewing said.
One of the biggest obstacles to equity in cycling, he added, is simply a lack of representation historically — especially on the professional circuit. “If you don’t see people in it who look like you,” he said, “you can lose interest pretty quickly.”
It’s something that Ewing, who grew up cycling with his dad in Minnesota, remembers firsthand. Seeing Vails succeed, he said, “made it possible for me.”
“The only other person I’d seen [on a bicycle] who looked like me was my dad,” Ewing said. “I’m a cyclist. I’m also Black. I get the racial equity — I live it. To have access to a guy like Nelson, and to be able to thank him for what he did, for what he does — I’m 55 years old and I still get choked up.”
Ben Adlin is a reporter and editor who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and currently lives on Capitol Hill. He’s covered politics and legal affairs from Seattle and Los Angeles for the past decade and has been an Emerald contributor since May 2020, writing about community and municipal news. Find him on Twitter at @badlin.
Featured Image: Ed Ewing (Courtesy of Bike Hugger)
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