The Wheels of Change

Peace Peloton Cycles to Support Black-Owned Businesses in Seattle

Hundreds have joined rides to restaurants and cafes around the city.

By Erin Wong January 22, 2021

Doc Wilson directs Peace Peloton, which, rain or shine, sets out to support Seattle Black-owned businesses. 

Cyclist Reginald “Doc” Wilson arrived early at Alki Beach on June 6, 2020, followed by his partner, her children, and Bike Works’ baby-blue mobile repair shop. He expected around 30 cyclists to join Peace Peloton’s first Fresh Air Bike to Black Businesses event. But attendees just kept coming: families, young people, older folks, the abled and disabled. Ultimately, about 400 riders set off together toward the Northwest African American Museum. Wilson remembers a buzz in the air as they rode. “I was not the only one in wonder.”

Peace Peloton, a soon-to-be official nonprofit, began as a half-baked idea Wilson blurted out at the end of a podcast interview. When hundreds of people showed up, however, no one could deny the power of the peloton—a group of cyclists—to engage activists from all walks of life. At the onset of the national protests for racial justice, Peace Peloton organizers in Seattle had broad ideas to tackle health care and criminal justice reform, but they decided to concentrate on something with a more direct, immediate impact. The group’s Fresh Air rides bring cyclists to some the 15 Black-owned businesses that partner with Peace Peloton along different routes. In addition to these influxes of customers, a business catalyst program matches partners' needs to volunteers’ areas of expertise, such as marketing and business development.

Wilson works with Black entrepreneurs and owners to understand the next realistic step in their venture's growth, whether it’s opening a new location or selling products to major retailers. He then identifies consultants from within Peace Peloton’s network who can provide those resources and, eventually, asks if the business would like to become a Fresh Air destination. Over the summer, these rides consistently delivered hundreds of customers to partners. And in December, a “Maker’s Market” afforded a similar platform for homemade goods. Peace Peloton’s equity and inclusion program also offers support to companies seeking to hire diverse talent or foster better working environments for people of color.

In his interviews, Wilson looks for motivated teams to join the likes of Tougo Coffee, Drae’s Lake Route Eatery, and Fat’s Chicken and Waffles. “The major difference between us and any other economic development firm is [that] we use the bicycle as the tool to get people excited about what we're doing,” Wilson says.  

On Inauguration Day, volunteers handed out “passports” so that riders and non-riders could earn stamps for attending future events or supporting Peace Peloton partners in exchange for swag. Then the group—a few dozen, given the winter weekday—rode out from Back Alley Bike Repair north along Alaskan Way, catching a glimpse of the Olympic Mountains across the water before crossing a bridge toward Seattle Center. The moderate pace allowed riders to strike up conversation. “Floaters” guided the brigade through intersections, while a “sweeper” made sure no rider was left behind. Two toddlers rode with their father near the front, in a cart emblazoned “One less truck!”

Ace Levenberg, a long-term volunteer, admits some drivers have been frustrated by the large mass of bikers. But once the group explains their cause, most are supportive. On this day, many of the bikes sported laminated Peace Peloton signs, and when one rider pumped her fist at a truck, the driver honked back, encouraging the riders up the long Interlaken hill. “When I found this group,” Mikala Woodward, a frequent participant, says, “it was one of the more joyful Black Lives Matter-associated events that I had been a part of.” (Peace Peloton is not formally connected to Black Lives Matter.)

Bikers at Communion

Attendees line up for soup at Communion in the Central District. 

Image: Erin Wong

Deep into Seattle’s core, the group approached Communion, a new Black-owned restaurant in the Central District. Wilson was already there on a corner, directing cyclists where to park with a megaphone. The executive director of Peace Peloton, Wilson’s the only salaried employee, supported by a team of volunteers with “superpowers,” also known as legal degrees or marketing and mechanical expertise. He’s organizing with friends in Washington, D.C., Portland, New Orleans, and Tampa to expand Peace Peloton to anywhere with cyclists willing to organize.

“It’s disarming when you see people on bicycles riding down the street,” Wilson says, “You don’t fear for your life. You cheer for them.”