Iowa City Bike Library focuses summer rides on racial justice, ‘the power of the bicycle’

Caroline Garske

In early July 2021, the Iowa City Bike Library is releasing the first in a series of four bike rides touring the Iowa City area intended to create awareness of calls to action in the community. The Raise It Up Rides are audio-guided routes visiting points of interest relating to racial inequities, identifying systems of oppression, celebrating artistic works of the community and demonstrating how bikes can be applied to these causes. Participants are invited to contribute to constructive conversations and learn how they might be able to make a difference in the community.

In the Bike Library’s letter of intent for the project, titled “Why don’t we ride for another reason?,” the 17-year-old org traces its impetus back to a question the organizers, led by Bike Library Volunteer Coordinator Sara McGuirk, began asking themselves a year ago: “How can we use the power of the bicycle to advance racial equity, mobility justice, social justice and anti-racism?” In collaboration with the City of Iowa City, Humanity in Action and the Multicultural Development Center of Iowa, their goal is “to establish a force for education, celebration, reflection and action.” Organizers commit “to the movement for equity and liberation today and every day,” and ask the same of riders.

I had the privilege of getting a sneak preview of the first route with a personal guided tour from Bike Library Executive Director Audrey Wiedemeier. Charming and inspiring, Wiedemeier exhibits that same clear passion for community outreach and equality. Several times during the tour she stopped to post flyers for the recent Bike Night that was held on June 18, which collaborated with area bike shops to provide free repairs for kids. She never hesitated to personally give a flyer to people that we encountered on the ride and invite them and their friends to the event. Indeed, as I followed her with her duster-shirt billowing in the wind behind her like a cape, she appeared to be the superhero that Iowa City needs.

Iowa City Bike Library Executive Director Audrey Wiedemeier repairs the brakes on a bike. Friday, June 22, 2018. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

This tour starts at the Bike Library, 1222 S Gilbert Ct, and includes five points of interest along a 10-mile loop. Although not yet available at the time of the preview, these points will have audio units that can be activated by a hand wave or accessed through a smartphone. These will play segments of a companion podcast (also available separately). This enables the route to be completely self-guided at any time. If you choose to, you could even time the ride to coincide with one of the Diversity Markets—but act fast, because there’ll only be a couple more in July. A limited number of guided tours will be conducted.

McGuirk advises, “Riders need to pre-register online or in-person at the Bike Library to gain access to the full set of ride resources once those are released.” More information can be found at

Cards with more context and thought-provoking questions can be picked up at the interest points; they’re intended to be put into your spokes. I enjoyed the play on words that “spoke” provided in this context.

Stops include former off-campus, dormitory-style housing for segregated Black students at the University of Iowa, artwork completed by local public school students and the large mural painted on the back wall of the former police station in SE Iowa City. If you’re lucky, at the Kingdom Center stop, you can go around the corner to find Mama’s Chicken and Fish on Wheels for a tasty break during the ride. (You can check the food truck’s Facebook page to see if they’ll be there.)

Tate Arms House, 914 S Dubuque St, housed Black students who were prohibited from living in the University of Iowa dorms from 1939–1961. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

During the ride I also learned more about the Bike Library, a nonprofit with the simple mission of getting more people on bikes. For 17 years the Library has worked to recycle and upcycle bikes and outreach programs through repair, care, education and riding opportunities. Its Bike Club is dedicated to teaching kids and teens about bike safety and providing community resources such as affordable bikes and repairs. I asked what the first rule of Bike Club is and it isn’t, in fact, “Don’t talk about Bike Club”: It’s, “Lift each other up.”

“Anyone with a bike can do this!” Wiedemeier says of the route, “One does not need to be an experienced cyclist to participate. Even if you start and can’t finish, that is OK.”

I agree, the route is accessible to everyone. Even beginning cyclists average 10-14 mph, so if you’ve ever ridden your bike for an hour, you’ve likely already done a 10-mile ride without even realizing it. I was geared up in bike shorts and a dry-fit tee, ready for anything, but I found I never had to change out of a comfortable gear. There are a couple of short slopes but overall, it was a flat route. There are some busy street crossings, so be sure to look both ways and always wear your helmet!

Even those who don’t ride or who have mobility issues can explore through the audio podcast and the associated storymap.

Raise it Up Ride map

“We worked with Humanity in Action to make this as accessible to everyone as possible,” McGuirk said in an email.

There is an optional off-road section that will take you into the wetlands of SE Iowa City. Wiedemeier said the section was included for a bit of fun and the opportunity to escape civilization for a while. The path includes light gravel and some overgrown areas, but even on my road bike I was able to push through without much problem. On this particular trip, we were greeted by one of the local residents, a small turtle!

Kids should enjoy the rough and tumble adventure, and the view of the natural wetland area was certainly worth the effort. The brief detour would also be a good place to pause and review the spoke cards previously picked up and to reflect on or discuss those topics.

“You do not have to be an activist to feel the pull of ‘wanting to do something’ one can get through this series,” Wiedemeier said. “But it will elevate whatever your sense of that feeling might be.”

A portion of the audio script, which McGuirk shared with me, reads: “After the New Yorker published an article entitled, ‘The Bicycle as a Vehicle of Protest,’ we at the Iowa City Bike Library knew that this moment needed to be mirrored, as many mirrors as it took to tell the story not of vehicles of protest, but of revolution. … This ride uses the power of the bike to share experiences, to open spaces, to lift voices. And, unlike many rides, this ride asks you to stop often so that you can listen. To hear what has been silenced, we need to do just that.”

“Neighborhood of Seasons” pillars, South Sycamore Greenway Trail. Lakeside Drive, features two glass mosaic pillars funded by the Iowa City Public Art Program and the Grant Wood Neighborhood Association. — Google Maps

I encourage everyone to learn more about how the Bike Library promotes the bicycle as “a vehicle of revolution” — not just in the turning of wheels but by increasing mobility and transportation equity. You can donate money, time and bikes. I know I plan to drop off some bike parts that I hope will become a part of someone’s means to freedom and overcoming barriers.

There are three 10-mile rides planned, which the Bike Library will release one at a time at the beginning of July, August and September. The fourth and final ride in the series is a 45-mile gravel route that will dovetail the September route. They are planning for a shorter in-town option as well.

If you’re looking for a reason to get outside on a bike, the Raise It Up Rides provide that opportunity. If you’re already an active cyclist, this will give your ride additional substance and enlightenment. Either way, you’re bound to learn some new information and refresh your sense of purpose within the community.

Presented by World of Bikes

Brian Tanner lives in the Iowa City area and loves cycling. While his regular writing is usually in the form of playwriting, he is happy to have been able to contribute this article. He hopes everyone has a safe and super summer! This article was originally published in Little Village issue 296.

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