The slow roll movement is the new critical mass ride, and it’s doing more to expand the reach of bicycling than anything to come along since the invention of the freewheel.
The first official slow roll event happened back in 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. The city was falling apart a the seams, and the bicycle was seen by many a wise resident as a way to help make things right, to connect people and neighbourhoods.
Detroit Bike City was founded to coordinate slow roll rides and to further advance the two-wheeled agenda: growing bicycle culture in the city to benefit the city’s “health, environment, economy and community.”
The principle is beautiful in its simplicity: a ride of a reasonable length, say an hour or two, for everyone and at a leisurely, social pace through every neighbourhood, through art projects, through community gardens. The routes that best show the real city, get people interested in cycling as an alternative mode of transportation and instil a sense of pride and community.
Five years later, and slow roll rides can be found throughout North America. The rides tend to focus on neighbourhoods that need a little bike love, as opposed to those with a fixie chained to every lamppost in town.
The latest event took place on July 16, the inaugural Slow Roll Twin Cities in Minneapolis, which was held to coincide with Black Bike Week and the National Brotherhood of Cyclists 2015 Conference and drew 70 riders.
The hosts of the event were Jason Hall, co-founder of Slow Roll Detroit and Oboi Reed, founder of Slow Roll Chicago.
In a local newspaper, Hall said, “My concern is getting people out talking to each other,” and big numbers attending the event isn’t the primary objective.
The movement differs from the critical mass rides, which were first held in San Francisco in the early ’90s on the last friday of the month and grew to become a major park of bike activism in more than 300 cities around the world.
Where the critical mass was more about activism and deliberately disrupting traffic as a group taking over entire lanes and reclaiming streets for cyclists, under that slogan, “we are traffic,” the slow roll is about providing a way for people to connect and as a means of introducing neighbourhoods to the benefits of cycling.
Anthony Taylor, the founder of Slow Roll Twin Cities, said, “The real hope is that we really introduce the possibility of the bike for enjoyment and transportation and health improvement that gets more people to say, ‘I can do this.’”
Slow Roll rides have been organized in such cities as Chicago, Buffalo, Washington D.C., and Toronto.