If I asked you to picture a prototypical cyclist, you'd probably conjure an image of a lean white guy rocking a snug, Spandex-Lycra blend racing suit. You know, this guy, or maybe this one. It's exactly this sort of image that inspired Jenna Burton to create Red, Bike & Green -- a group that sets out to break the stereotype and get more African Americans riding bicycles.
It was 2007, and Burton -- a Connecticut native and a graduate of Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D.C. -- had moved to Oakland, drawn to the city's history, diversity, and activist culture. Although she hadn't been on a bike since she was 9 years old, Burton was inspired by the cyclists she saw hitting the streets each day, so she decided to join them.
"Being a recent grad, I wasn't making a whole lot of money. It was nice not to have to worry about gas or car payments," she says. "In this region, where the culture is already there, I didn't feel like the oddball riding the bike."
Among her family and her former college classmates, however, her decision to two-wheel it was seen as, well, different. Even in the bike-friendly Bay Area, a black cyclist was a bit of an aberration. This led Burton to start an all-black cycling group, simply because "I wanted other black people to be just as excited about bike riding as I was."
For the group's first ride, Burton called up friends with bikes, largely drawn from the activist community. Although there was enthusiasm among the 20 or so invitees, only a small handful actually showed up -- but even as part of a group of three, Burton felt much more empowered than when she pedaled the streets alone. Red, Bike & Green was born.