2 minutes reading time (475 words)

Freedom Ride

Every kid deserves the opportunity to ride a bike. It's this simple statement that drives Smiles 4 Miles. But for kids in marginalized communities the statement, 'as easy as riding a bike' might as well be 'as hard as scaling K2'. BIPOC kids don't always have access to trails, safety equipment, or even bikes. That's where the Smiles 4 Miles Tour comes in.

You could say Smiles 4 Miles was conceived on a bike, and you wouldn't be wrong. Founder, John "Bobby" Shackleford, and a team of friends set off to ride the Underground Railroad in 2020. He mapped out a route that would take the cyclists from Alabama, across the south, and north to DC, tracing historical footsteps from slavery to freedom. 

Bobby grew up in SE DC, on a bike. He became a bike messenger and started racing, which became his outlet to see the world. He found freedom on his bike, as many of us do, but the more he looked around, the less faces he saw that looked like his. He made it his mission to bring cycling to his community, to empower and inspire other kids of color.

Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. Names that fueled a movement. Lives that should never have been lost. These individuals, no doubt, ran through the minds of the cyclists, as they pounded out miles in the fall of 2020. Questioning the very word, freedom. Every road cyclist feels exposed on their bike, they may even feel targeted. Now imagine being black. And not on a bike.

Shackleford shared many thoughts from his journey along the Underground Railroad Ride, drawing on comparisons and raising questions. His team set out to celebrate black culture and bring awareness to cycling in marginalized communities. He hoped to break stereotypes and fight back against the danger felt when Riding While Black. His enthusiasm for activism and adventure serve as an inspiration to youth and the young-at-heart.

Now that the 1,114 mile journey has ended, the work begins. Bobby formed Smiles 4 Miles to retrace his journey and give back to the communities he passed on the ride. Working with community groups and influencers, Smiles 4 Miles is delivering free bikes to BIPOC and marginalized communities to overcome socio-economic hurdles, build a new generation of diversified cyclists, and promote health and wealth through cycling.

Earlier this year Bikes for the World joined forces with this effort by donating over 50 bikes to Smiles 4 Miles. The bikes were repaired by volunteers and distributed by Smiles 4 Miles at an event in Richmond. We look forward to the next collaboration.

I want to share this of joy and the feeling of freedom to the communities who haven't had the opportunity.

John "Bobby" Shackleford, Cyclist, Activist, Mentor
Featured Volunteer(s): Earl and Brian
Featured Volunteer: Connor Monahan