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Civil Rights on Two Wheels

In Atlanta, new-wave bike activism is revealing the history of the city in new ways.

Cool biker chick. History-peddling heroine. Southern do-gooder. Civil Bikes proprietor Nedra Deadwyler wears her fantastic resume lightly. She’s on a mission to demystify urban biking for both locals (who may not have access to cycling) and visitors (who want an atypical guide), using her critically acclaimed civil rights history tours as a vehicle for education and activism. I spent an afternoon huffing and puffing through Atlanta’s storied streets, learning about her people-focused business, captivated by her brilliant smile. It doesn’t take long to become a fan.

We start at bike gear hub and frequent Civil Bikes push-off point The Spindle, which was founded by two brothers, Ezz-Eldin and Sharif Hassan. While Nedra checks traffic conditions and tinkers with our course, we take in Atlanta’s most stylishly understated bike gear, perusing street shoes, bottle racks, and elegantly up-cycled bike bags (Ezz’s specialty).

No bike? No problem. Deadwyler wants to lower the barrier of entry for joy riders and change the perception that cycling belongs to any one demographic. She carries extra helmets, adjusts seats and gears between stops, and tips the group off to Relay, a rental bike-finding app that pinpoints rides within walking distance.

Deadwyler is also a member of Belles on Bikes, a women-led collective dedicated to teaching bike safety to women. And then there's her day job: Safety Education Programs Manager for Georgia Bikes — in which she promotes safe bicycling practices and increases ridership and road-sharing know-how.

Says Deadwyler: "When we’re having fun, it's easy to learn something that may challenge our understanding of the world, our identities, and take us out of our comfort zones."

Taking a pause at The Georgia State Capitol steps.

"I like to challenge the supposed norm of cycling by being me: a woman, a black person, a Southerner."

Riding past Atlanta from the Ashes (The Phoenix) at Woodruff Park. The bronze monument was originally constructed in 1969 as a testament to the city’s move from post-Civil War ruins to future of promise.

Deadwyler's tours veer toward Atlanta's Civil Rights days, but she makes a point to call out modern street pieces that speak to it, too. Case in point: This wheatpaste poster by Parisian artist JR — a three-story reproduction of a photograph taken during the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.

"I don't get to put myself into a box and neither does anyone else. It's taken me a lifetime to learn which limitations were placed on me by the broader world — and a lifetime to unlearn their unnatural boundaries."

We end at Sweet Auburn District, the landmarked mile-plus stretch along Auburn Avenue. The name was coined during the early 20th century when Atlanta's notable African-Americans lived and prospered on this street. How notable? One of the buildings was the childhood home of Martin Luther King Jr.

Photos by Dustin Chambers.


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