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Two Madison nonprofits work to create more inclusive cycling community

BikEquity and Madison Adaptive Cycling are trying to expand access to biking for communities of color and people with disabilities.
Published: Jul. 24, 2021 at 11:17 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - In summer, the bike paths and trails around Madison are full of people and families taking in the city from their bikes, but not everyone has the opportunity to enjoy a ride. Two new nonprofits are trying to change that, saying there are some communities they want to see more of on the trails.

For Francisco Sayu, founder of BikEquity, it is not just the riding that is important. Sayu said anyone who rides should also learn basic bike safety and repair.

This summer, Sayu is partnering with Madison School and Community Recreation (MSCR) to host a weekly bike club, part of his efforts to expand access to biking through his nonprofit BikEquity.

“I think the bicycle in a way, it opens up spaces for everyone,” Sayu said.

Sayu’s mission comes from his own experience as someone who loves biking, for recreation and sport.

“I’m a triathlete and one of the sad things is when I go out there to race, I don’t see a lot of people like me,” he explained.

Sayu wants to give more people of color the chance to try out the sport and make it easily affordable. To that end, he created bike club and the Mobile Bike Library, where people can check out a bike and helmet for free.

“We know some people in the community can’t afford to own a bike or cannot maintain a bike or don’t have a place to keep the bike secure,” he said, adding, “The bike library’s trying to address those concerns by making bikes available to people in a convenient way. We go to where people are, so we bring the bike library to communities, to neighborhoods, to schools.”

People—including the students in Sayu’s bike club—also have the chance to earn bikes of their own by participating in community events.

“When the students can demonstrate that they have mastered these skills, they have the opportunity to earn a bike to take home so they can continue cycling and they can continue improving their skills at home,’ Sayu explained.

Madison native Brian McNurlen has a similar mission, though his is focused on people with disabilities. His nonprofit Madison Adaptive Cycling was inspired by his 13-year-old daughter Rosie.

“She has profound autism and she has some physical disabilities as well,” McNurlen said.

During the pandemic, McNurlen took Rosie on a lot of bike rides, sometimes multiple times a day, using a specialized 3-wheel tandem bike fitted with an electric motor. On those rides, Rosie was like a different person.

“She wants to sing songs, she’s gesticulating a lot and her arms are flying,” McNurlen said smiling. He added, “Rosie would just be so happy, you couldn’t help but notice her when we were riding down the street.”

However, those specialized bikes are expensive, costing thousands of dollars. McNurlen said he bought the one he and Rosie use for $12,000. He has sold other similar bikes at a discount if Rosie outgrew or did not like them, but the cost was still too much for some.

“I would take calls from people from all walks of life, and I felt horrible that I couldn’t make this bike available to them,” he explained.

McNurlen wanted to make sure anyone who needed one could access these types of bicycles, so he started the nonprofit and started building up a fleet of bikes people can try, but not buy.

“People can jut come ride the bike for a few hours and then they can leave and not have to make that huge investment,” he explained.

Both Sayu and McNurlen said they want to create a more inclusive cycling community and normalize seeing a more diverse group of people in Madison’s bike lanes.

“People who are older and don’t feel comfortable riding a 2-wheel bike or anybody could ride a trike and not feel embarrassed about it or like they’re getting undue attention as a result,” McNurlen said.

Sayu added, “I hope to see a cycling community that’s representative of the demographics of the city.”

Both BikEquity and Madison Adaptive Cycling are less than a year old. In the coming months, Sayu said the organization will continue holding community events and expanding outreach to neighborhoods. McNurlen said he will spend the next year finding a permanent location and raising money to buy more bikes.

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