116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
In a spacious garage at the Iowa City Bike Library, past rows of old bikes, a group of boxes are waiting to be spread around Iowa City for the Bike Library’s upcoming ride highlighting racial justice-related sites in Iowa City.
The boxes, which the ride’s organizers call “apparatuses,” are about two feet high, each covered in a vinyl collage that exhibit the purpose of the ride: Images of protest, of Black leaders and historical figures and important historical sites. Each one has a speaker, sensors, and will be fitted to play an audio clip at each of five sites along the ride’s route.
The ride, called Raise it Up, takes Iowa City cyclists through historical and present-day sites that exhibit the history and effects of racial injustice in Iowa City and across the country.
Riders will be able to hear accompanying audio that tells them the significance of the site and the broader story it fits into, either through the apparatuses or through their phones.
“It’s a little textbook-y, but it’s like listening to an educational podcast, where you’re on the edge of your seat,” said Sara McGuirk, the Bike Library’s volunteer coordinator who organized the ride and narrates much of the audio.
The audio clips, about 12 minutes long each, include McGuirk’s narration, music by local artists, excerpts from protest speeches, local leaders, and interviews with activists and experts.
The ride stretches 10 miles, and if riders stop and listen to the full audio at each location, it will take about two hours, McGuirk said.
The Bike Library is asking people to preregister on the shop’s website to get the necessary materials when the ride launches. While the ride originally had a planned launch date of early July, development took longer, and the group is now aiming to have the materials out by the beginning of August.
The concept for the ride began in 2020, when trying to design alternatives to a large, guided group ride. Before the pandemic, the nonprofit organized a “farm cycle” ride, in which riders visited various local farms and got to eat food sourced from those farms.
The model they developed for Raise it Up can be done solo or in a group, and as pandemic restrictions have eased, the Bike Library is planning to host four larger volunteer-led group rides.
The Bike Library collaborated with several area creators and organizations to put the ride together, bringing in designers, researchers, tech experts, and many others.
Research was done in collaboration with Humanity in Action. Tracy Jon Sargeant, from the Multicultural Development Center of Iowa, and Devale Gates, who does custom fashion designs under the name Victory Over Odds, also contributed.
Audrey Wiedemeier, the library’s executive director, said the work with the community partners was vital to making the project happen.
“There’s a lot of really talented people who are excited about the project, who want to see it succeed,” she said.
The subject matter for the ride was inspired by the movement for racial justice that erupted in 2020 and the protests that happened in Iowa City. Cyclists in those protests would use their bikes to block off streets to protect protesters, and McGuirk said the Bike Library began thinking about how they could use their platform to support that cause.
The route brings riders face to face with how national trends of racial inequity can be felt in Iowa City, McGuirk said.
For example, riders will visit the Tate Arms house, a house that offered dormitory-style boarding for Black students at the University of Iowa before the university allowed Black students in the dorms. At the stop, riders will hear from University of Iowa professor Colin Gordon about the history of housing discrimination, and how it created segregation in cities across the U.S. that still is felt today.
“The community can … learn about how equity issues are not just something on a national scale or from a historical perspective, but these issues are right here in Iowa City and people don’t even notice,” McGuirk said.
In the future, McGuirk said the Bike Library plans to create new routes that focus on different areas of social justice. She hopes to partner with area organizations that can help tell other important stories.
“It would probably be the kind of thing where we figure out what's most needed, like, come 2022, what are the issues going to be?” she said.
Comments: (319) 398-8473; firstname.lastname@example.org