.Health, Peace and Pedals

Rich City Rides sees a two-wheeled future

There are actually two Rich City Rides (RCR). One is a for-profit bike shop on Macdonald Avenue in Richmond, and the other, founded by bike shop partner Najari Smith, is a nonprofit with many wheels, so to speak, in the community.

On Sunday, Nov. 20, the nonprofit arm of RCR is sponsoring a ride across the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge, honoring the third anniversary of the opening of the bridge’s bike/pedestrian lane. “We’re expecting hundreds of riders from all over the Bay Area,” said RCR project manager Dani Lanis. And although some riders will not be up for completing the 35-mile round trip route, “all wheels are welcome,” Lanis said, even those who’ll bring backup transportation after completing part of the route.

The website mysidewalk.com has documented 241,009 users on the lane since its 2019 opening, said Lanis. Despite this, complaints from drivers who want it closed continue. But RCR views the lane as part of its “equity” mission, as stated on its website: “We feel that bicycles, popularly considered either a sign of poverty among the poor or a harbinger of gentrification for the prosperous, are a trojan horse for change.”

“Not everyone can afford a car,” said Lanis. “And bicycles create community connectivity, provide recreation and are part of climate justice.” Lanis himself was born and raised in Argentina, and started biking more in 2015 when he discovered the beauty of Richmond’s trails on Ohlone land.

RCR is clear in its vision statement: “We envision Richmond as a world-renowned bicycling community known for its bike-friendly neighborhoods and its worker-run businesses which are owned and operated by historically marginalized residents and families.” And in the historically poor, gritty city, “RCR has provided 3,255 free bicycles to community members since it was founded in 2012,” said Lanis. 

An application form on the organization’s website allows people to apply for a free bike, for themselves or their child, giving them the chance to explain why they need one. Lanis noted that RCR encourages parents to bring back bikes their kids have outgrown, to be exchanged and re-used by other smaller kids.

RCR’s community contributions extend beyond free bikes. Lanis explained that the nonprofit arm sponsors events seven days a week. On “Moving Mondays,” there are dance classes at Presto Gallery, located behind the bike shop on 15th Avenue. On Tuesdays, “Black Men Tea Talk,” led by Najari Smith, brings together men to speak about their concerns in a safe environment. Wednesdays provide the same opportunity for women with “Black Women Wellness.” 

Monthly “Third Thursday Night Rides” teach people how to ride safely after dark, and are festive, three-hour events that are open to all. Lights are provided, and the ride has scheduled rest/festivity stops.

“Fix-it Fridays” happens at RCR’s warehouse, at 16th and Ohio, from 4-6 pm. “You can come both to have your bike fixed, and to learn how to fix it yourself,” said Lanis.

Every first Saturday, in partnership with Moving Forward and Richmond Building Blocks for Kids, RCR sponsors a hike in the many local parks in and around Richmond. Each third Saturday is the “Love, Peace & UNITY” volunteer community clean-up at Unity Park on the Richmond Greenway, again partnering with the organizations above, and bringing in local farm partner Urban Tilth, which sponsors a free organic vegetable stand there. 

“We noticed there was a lot of illegal dumping at the park,” said Lanis. “So we began bringing in four dumpsters and inviting neighbors to use them.” RCR has been able to reduce the number of dumpsters to two or sometimes three, and there is less and less illegal dumping, he said, noting that RCR believes this could be a model for other places in Richmond, and for other cities.

Sundays are the popular “Self-care Bicycle Rides,” starting at 10am with preparation, warm-ups and explanation of the rules, and then proceeding on an easy route of up to 13 miles. “There’s a big mix of ages, including some riders as young as three,” said Lanis. The little ones may only pedal a short distance, but “we ride at the pace of the slowest riders,” he said. 

Lanis, and the RCR founders, believe in a future that includes many more bike-friendly roads. He singled out the Netherlands as a country that has fully embraced bicycling as a major means of transport, and has made major infrastructure investments that support high volumes of cyclists. Locally, he said, Emeryville has forward-thinking leaders who are helping make the city bike-friendly.

Increasing interest and adoption of e-bikes is also a big step forward, he said. “We’re excited to see Phase II of the Richmond Wellness Trail, and the e-bike lending library at Unity Park come to fruition,” he said. These two projects were recently funded as part of the $35 million California state grant awarded to the “Richmond Rising” coalition, which includes the City of Richmond, Groundwork Richmond, Urban Tilth, Grid Alternatives, the Trust for Public Land and Rich City Rides.

Other RCR goals include seeing a velodrome (track cycling arena) built in Richmond, and a flow trail for mountain biking in Wildcat Canyon. “We look forward to the upgrades coming to [dirt bike park] Dirt World, as well as more bike-friendly neighborhoods,” Lanis said.

As the world, including the East Bay, moves toward an internal-combustion-free future, both motorists in electric cars and those on bikes will need to adapt, Lanis said. “Motorists need to know the law and share the road.” The “road belongs to cars” attitude is outdated. But, cyclists need to obey the rules of the road as well, which is why, he said, RCR is “adamant” about teaching those rules, including turn signals while biking.

“Phones are a distraction for all road users. And everyone needs to slow down,” he emphasized. 

As that future evolves, RCR will continue to be a major advocate for more, and safer, bike lanes and paths. Those wanting to celebrate one of the Bay Area’s most scenic ones should come out on Nov. 20, said Lanis. RCR considers the ride “a fight for our right to safe pathways…use it, or lose it.”

Rich City Rides will also host a family-friendly after-party and networking event at East Brother Beer Co., 1001 Canal Blvd., Richmond, with “music, food, games and community.”

‘Bridging the Bay: Richmond/San Rafael Bridge Bike Lane 3rd Year Anniversary Bike Ride,’ Sunday, Nov. 20. 11am, meet at Richmond BART Plaza; rollout at noon. All wheels welcome. www.richcityrides.org/richmond-san-rafael-bike-lane-3rd-year-anniversary-ride

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