This Brooklyn bike club centers Black joy and freedom every day
If you ever spot the Good Co. Bike Club out in Brooklyn, you might misinterpret their intentions. As they glide through neighborhoods, a ribbon of Black cyclists, it’s tempting to reflect on joy as a form of resistance. “We'll get cars honking and people coming outside, clapping, cheering, and thinking it’s a protest,” says Shari Brown, chief marketing officer of the bike club. “Every time we get on a bike, we know how important it is to show the community that Black people can cycle as well. But [in predominantly white neighborhoods] they think it's a protest every time.”
Club members are likely doing other things: giggling with fellow bikers, facing a challenging incline together, grooving to a cacophony of sounds that float from bike speakers, or savoring the sensation of sunbeams against their skin. They’re busy basking in unapologetic joy.
Despite the solidarity chants and cheers, civil disobedience wasn’t top-of-mind when Andrew Bennett started the Good Co. Bike Club. The Brooklyn native and avid biker wanted to spend time with friends during the pandemic safely. On a whim, Bennett posted an invitation for folks to bike with him. “He had 17 people join him, myself included,” Brown explains. “And from there, we would ride on a weekly basis.”
Amid COVID-19 surges, layoffs, grief, and police violence, regular bike rides became a lifeline—and popularity quickly spread. By June, when protests in Brooklyn reached a fever pitch, Bennett founded Good Co. Bike Club, along with his executive board: Brown, Milly Louis, who serves as chief operations and policy officer, and Marv Marcel, who is the organization’s chief creative officer. “The idea is to have a space for our friends, our parents … and for the local community,” Brown explains, adding that they’re centering fitness, community, and joy.
The impact on the core members is tangible. Djovanny Joseph, an ICU nurse and Good Co. Bike Club captain says bike riding helped him maintain normalcy as he watched his ICU transition into a COVID-19 unit. “When you get home, you can't really talk to anybody. You can't see anybody. I lost my sense of freedom during COVID,” he explains, adding that the bike rides helped him feel less trapped.
Anastasia David, one of Good Co. Bike Club’s unofficial chefs, says the regular rides provide a sense of community and that there was power in “riding with people who looked like me.” The bike club also gave her the support she needed to launch her catering business.
For an organization founded on community support, joy, and general wellbeing, a Juneteenth Freedom Ride was a no-brainer. Last year, they partnered with local Black-owned businesses who agreed to act as hydration stations, they planned a route that would take them throughout the borough and into Fort Greene Park, and enlisted assistance from city officials to make sure that riders would be supported instead of harassed.
The planning, which took place over 10 days, was a labor of love for what they assumed would be several hundred riders. Instead, 1,500 Black people across the tri-state area showed up to ride together on Juneteenth 2020. In 2021, bicycle titan Schwinn hopped on board to “help accelerate and celebrate Black culture,” partnering with Good Co. to sponsor a series of rides — the biggest one so far, this past weekend, on Juneteenth.
And as the bike club grows, so does an awareness of a holiday whose significance most non-Black Americans are still only vaguely aware of. While Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the executive order didn’t actually free all enslaved Black people in the United States. Emancipation wasn’t accessible to all Black people until General Robert E. Lee surrendered in 1865. Even then, word traveled slowly (and slaveholders ignored mandates). But on June 19, 1865, the Union Army made its way to Texas, and the southernmost state received official word that enslaved Black people were free. Juneteenth was born.
Interest in Juneteenth waxes and wanes depending on the political climate, Kelly E. Navies, a museum specialist of Oral History at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, explained on the museum’s website. It reemerged during the Great Migration, spread throughout the United States, and reemerged during the Civil Rights Movement, she wrote.
In 2020, Juneteenth reached peak-popularity. And, last week, President Biden signed a bill that will make Juneteenth a federal holiday. There’s fruitful debate about whether this is an empty gesture (in light of more pressing issues like voter suppression, pandemic relief, and police reform). But for Black people in the United States, it’s an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on the ways we continue to push toward freedom. “At its very core, Juneteenth is this affirmation that we are here, and we will continue to be here,” Navies wrote. “We will continue to struggle in the face of many challenges.”
Just as the holiday calls attention to freedom and struggle, Black cyclists bring awareness to the joys and challenges Black bikers face. For example, a joint report presented by the League of American Bicyclists and the Sierra Club found that Black people are among the fastest-growing groups of bikers in the country, along with Asian and Latinx folks.
But the fatality rate for Black cyclists is 30 percent higher than it is for their white counterparts. This is due, in part, to infrastructure, Brown says, adding that there are very few bike lanes in Brownsville where she grew up. What’s more, a recent analysis in Bicycling examined traffic infractions in three major cities and found that Black cyclists are stopped, searched, ticketed, and arrested more frequently than white bikers.
So even though Good Co. Bike Club rides are more of a social bonding than political protest, members know that everyone's imagination expands when Black people take up space. Merely existing as a Black person pushes society forward. Sometimes that means ignoring the gentrifiers who think Black people only assemble to protest. But often, by being unapologetically joyful, we give other Black people permission to do the same. “It's important for the youth to see us, to see me on a bike,” Brown says. “I've seen young Black girls see me riding in my cute little outfits, and they're like ‘Oh, I want to be like her. I want to do that.’”
In just over a year, Good Co. Bike Club has gone from an informal hang to a robust and supportive community. The organization has donated bikes, worked with local politicians to make sure rides are safe, developed strategic partnerships to launch online bike tutorials, expanded diversity in the cycling space.
But, whether you see Good Co. as a protest organization, a social club, Instagram goals, or a wellness movement, Good Co. Bike Club’s most radical achievement is that it consistently provides places where Black people can catch their breath, find community, and feel free. “We need progress, and we need empowerment for our people,” Joseph explains. “But the first thing that we want to bring to people is a place where they can feel safe.”