Building community through biking

As someone who grew up Asian within a white family and overwhelmingly white community, I never really felt like I fit in with other Asians. My experience isn’t unique, but that didn’t make it any less lonely. I’ve struggled over the years with my identity — people assuming they know my story with just one look when in reality it couldn’t be different.

Kae-Lin Wang felt similarly, without an Asian community to connect with. Wang grew up in a Texas town where she was one of the only Asian kids, and even into adulthood, never really had a friend group that was Asian. So when the news came that eight people were killed in a shooting in Atlanta, six of whom were women of Asian descent, Wang felt isolated in her grief.

The Asian Bike Club, a group that gathers monthly to ride together and enjoy ramen outside, was born out of her desire to find community. Wang spoke with The Evergrey about the club’s origins, how it’s evolved, and what she’s hoping to achieve with it.

How did the Atlanta shooting inspire the creation of the group?

I don’t know why, but the Atlanta shootings shook me in a whole different way. It was just so f***ing intense. I realized I have no Asian friends except two close ones in Seattle and another one from college. And what I wanted to do at that moment was reach out and talk to my Asian friends. I went over to my friend Vivian’s house, and we kind of just debriefed and processed a lot of it;  it was so encouraging and healing just being able to talk through it because she’s been unraveling her race way longer than I have. I feel like I’m brand new to all of this; it was really good to just have another person to talk to, and I was just like, ‘I desperately need an Asian community right now and I don’t have that.’

When was the first ride?

I was on a walk with one of my friends and told them I think I want to do an Asian bike ride [group]. This was only a few days after the shooting happened, and I was like ‘I don’t even know how to organize this. How do you even get people? Should I just make a flyer on Instagram and just share it?’ And she just told me you should really do this. I was like, Okay, and so I got home from work, made this random, really bad flyer, and I just shared it. I literally thought maybe like three people would arrive; we met at Gasworks and 30 or 40 people showed up.

How important do you think the timing of this ride was?

The timing was so crucial because it was literally a week after the shootings. We all just needed to be surrounded by each other, and to see us all come together at once in a group was really emotional for me. I gave a speech and I cried in front of a bunch of strangers, because for me, it was this personal journey, and I know that everybody is kind of on their own journeys, wherever it is.

How did this one-off ride become a continuing thing?

A couple of people showed up from this other group called Northstar Cycling and they also work for Bike Works, and they completely jumped in and wanted to help me [continue the rides].

People became friends after the ride, which is my greatest joy. I remember somebody rolled up to me and was like, “Wang, I just canceled my birthday party to come up here.” And I was like “Oh my God, really?” She said, “Yeah, this was such a hard week and this is something I didn’t even know I needed.” So many people told me the same thing, it wasn’t even something I thought I needed either. It was so full of healing and just a safe place. After that, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh there’s a clear need for this community.’

After connecting with some people from the first ride to organize another for AAPI Heritage Month in May, Wang left to cycle the Great Divide, something she had planned long before Atlanta. In her absence, various folks stepped up and helped lead rides over the summer.

I attended their August ride which focused more on the social aspect of the gathering than the biking — which I was more than OK with. I came away that evening feeling exactly how Wang hoped folks would after one of ABC’s gathering like I finally had found a group of people that not only looked like me but had this mutual desire to be with folks who never sought solace in an identity that not everyone understands so easily.

The next Asian Bike Club ride is this Thursday, Oct. 7 at Fritz Hedges Waterway Park; additional details are available on the group’s IG page. They ask that only people who identify as AAPI join the ride; if you’re looking for other local bike communities to ride along with, consider checking out Northstar Cycling, Bike Works, Cascade Cycling, and Breakfast Cycling Club.