Author: Davey Davis

Erika Longino has created synergy in her transcontinental bicycle tour with sustainability and social activism, mycology and food education. Photo courtesy of Erika Longino

Erika Longino has fungus on the brain. “When I bike, I keep one eye to the road to make sure no cars are getting too close,” she says. “The other eye is looking to the forest for little, wild edibles. Lion’s mane, puffballs and oyster mushrooms just come out of the woodwork.”

Sometimes you just want to hop on a bike and hit the road. If you’re Erika, you ride for over six months, connecting mushrooms, bikes, environmental activism and Mardi Gras in a glittering cycle of life and death, growth and decay. It makes for quite a different bike tour.

Erika set out from Salt Lake in September, aiming to visit food co-ops around the country before returning home to start one. I called her while she was relaxing in New Orleans, gardening at a squat in the 9th Ward. She’s a young woman with bright round eyes and an infectious smile, solidly built, tan from farming and biking, with an ever-changing spiky spray of hair. She acknowledges that she’s not your average long-distance bicyclist. But she maintains that biking is queer, femme and relevant as hell.

“Being on a bicycle in a world that’s made for cars, you’re given a space that’s off on the shoulder,” she says. “You’re smaller, vulnerable and have to deal with more dangers. But at the same time, you get to experience things in a really vibrant way. You get to claim your space.” Not unlike being a woman in a male-dominated society, it can be uncomfortable, especially when biking alone through rural towns. “People are looking at you like you’re completely crazy, asking who your husband is. It drains you after a while.” But between the catcalls and misunderstandings is where the real change happens. When you are out of your element, people see you in a different light, and you can connect with them and represent your ideas. Strangers routinely let Erika into their lives, fed her, helped her. She calls these moments “bike-tour magic.”

In the course of three months, she made it from SLC to Detroit, to NYC, and down to Pittsburgh, camping and staying with hosts from Couchsurfing or Warmshowers. She rode with two friends over the Rockies to Denver and throughout the trip would travel with others, old and new. She stopped along the way at Bike!Bike!, an international summit for DIY bicycle spaces like the Salt Lake Bicycle Collective, where you might have met Erika working as the shop manager in the past two years; and Bike Kill in Brooklyn, a chaotic freak-bike destruction derby that happens on Halloween. It’s a brutal event filled with giddy revelry and twisted metal as people crash welded contraptions into one another. On a trip about food sources, breaking bikes wasn’t a diversion—it was part of the cycle.

“It’s all a process of destruction in order to emerge on the other side,” Erika says. “There’s always this dynamic of growth and decay—this darkness to things, out of which sprouts life and new growth.” Erika talks in ecosystem metaphors a lot, which fit right in at the Radical Mycology Convergence in upstate New York, where, halfway through her trip, she joined 300 other mushroom nerds in the forest. “I feel like that’s really the ethos of mycology: Take things that are decomposing or dying and then convert them into things that are productive and light and non-toxic.”

She dishes out a bit of mushroom theory: The majority of a mushroom is mycelium, the mushroom’s roots. The ten percent that we can see and eat is called a fruiting body. When you pull apart an old stump, the mycelium are the hair-like, white crystals running amok, decomposing the wood. “That’s what connects the entire forest, and the entire underground of the world,” she says. “When there’s a spot that’s conducive to reproduce, then they put up little fruiting bodies, and that’s what you see when you see mushrooms.”

The quiet, daily work of riding a bike across the country is Erika’s mycelial journey—solo touring, spending days on end in her own head. “You see all that, and not just outer landscapes. You get to see what’s on the inside of your own head and your own struggle, and you kind of get to figure out what’s going on.”

Erika biked against the frustrating backdrop of American politics. The rural landscape was dotted in Trump/Pence signs. After months of hearing about it, she followed her heart and jumped aboard a caravan to the pipeline protests around Standing Rock, North Dakota, riding with Sophia Wilansky, a friend from the Mycology Convergence. Erika worked in the kitchen tents and returned to her bike tour after drawing a dark Tarot card regarding the protest. Two weeks later, Sophia’s arm was blown apart in confrontation with police, garnering national attention. She is one of many inspiring women Erika met on the road.

These women were a touchstone for Erika: meeting new people would inspire her to keep pursuing her work, while bonding with friends and family sustained her. Between these moments of contemplation and connection, she continued to travel to New Orleans, visiting eighteen food co-ops along the way. She witnessed socioeconomic decay and its relation to food. “My mantra on this trip is that food is medicine,” she says. “I see it everywhere.” The answer, for her, lies in finding ways to get good food to the people who need it most. Collective ownership can provide that solution. By cutting out the middlemen of employees by using owner-volunteers and incentivizing the re-use of wasted food, healthy food becomes more accessible.

Erika’s cyclical adventure is ongoing. Only recently returned to Salt Lake, she’s working on the Mobile Moon co-op, a rolling caravan promoting women’s health via science, bicycle maintenance, gardens, politics, poetry and more. Follow Erika’s work and story at nutrientcyclist.com.

Photo courtesy of Microcosm Publishing

Emily June Street wrote the first young adult novel published by DIY-punk press Microcosm Publishers. An experienced fantasy writer, Street also blends her love of bikes with her physical savvy from teaching Pilates. The result, The Velocipede Races, is a fast-paced book that defies categorization. Emmeline Escot knows that she was born to ride in Seren’s cutthroat velocipede races. The only problem: She’s female in a world where women lead tightly laced lives. Emmy rebels—with stunning consequences. Can her dream to race survive scandal, scrutiny and heartbreak? We called up Street to get the backstory.

SLUG: What is The Velocipede Races about, now that you’ve finished it and have seen what it has become?

Emily June Street: The book for me was always about overcoming obstacles and about feminism, and the road via physicality, particularly, to achieve those two things. I teach Pilates—physicality is pretty much what I do and think about all day. Physicality plays a central role in becoming more empowered and becoming more enabled in your body. Whatever limitations you’re working with, whatever skills you already have, that is such an important route to liberating your mind—to achieving your potential, to overcoming obstacles. It didn’t necessarily have to be sport, even though this book is very much about sport, and Emmeline, the heroine, is a very competitive person and an athlete. I think the more important kernel in there is that via the physicality you love—and being able to express it—you can overcome all kinds of different obstacles.

SLUG: What’s a velocipede race, and why can’t Seren women race in them?

Street: I modeled the velocipede races in the books after Kieren racing in Japan. There’s an honor code—I wanted to have that sense of history in it. It’s a style of racing where the racers all get up to a certain pace before the race actually begins, so it makes for a very strategic and fast-paced race.

I set up a very traditional 19th Century society for this book to take place in, partially because I wanted to explore how the bicycle as a symbol affected women and the first wave of feminism in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Women were living very cloistered lives at that time—they didn’t get to participate in as many activities out in the world as men did.

SLUG: The Velocipede Races is a great empowerment story, but it’s also a romance novel. Could you talk about feminism in the context of Emmy’s husband, Everett, who seems really down with the cause, versus her brother, Gabriel, who’s more begrudging in his support?

Street: With both of those two male characters in the book, I was trying to make some statements. With Gabriel, he’s aided and abetted her in her secret riding for a long time. He basically helped her achieve the dream. At the same time, there’s a part of him that’s very much of the society he was born in. He exemplifies a certain type of man you encounter who is somewhat supportive in many ways, but when it comes to the chase, he’s not really sure. Everett is an outsider himself. He isn’t one of the high-born people, so he had a different sense of the whole society and the rules. He represents one step further along the progression of being able to offer support and empower women in a slightly more helpful way.

SLUG: The issue around sexual education and women’s lib is well played. You have this first sex scene where Emmy is preoccupied with what’s expected of her, but it’s not traumatizing.

Street: What I find amusing about that sex scene is that she’s excited about it—she’s a very physical person and I wanted that to run true through different domains in her life—but after it, the thing she’s really excited about was that she’d gotten to race that day.

SLUG: You mentioned that you don’t race; you commute. Why write about a different kind of riding?

Street: I knew I wanted to write about riding, but I couldn’t find the groove. One day while I was riding, I had this idea of this gladiator-style competition. I thought, “Well, why not bikes? Why not bikes in a cutthroat environment where the competition’s really intense?”

SLUG: It seems like a good fit for Microcosm, a publisher that’s all about bikes and self-empowerment. Did that come up in the editorial process?

Street: I just sent the book to [Microcosm Co-Owner and Marketing Director] Elly Blue. I followed her blog—I knew she was into bicycles. I wasn’t even really looking for a publisher. I just sort of said, “Do you want to read this?” But certainly, it was a good fit, because they’re very interested in how bicycles can change you individually and on a collective/societal level, too.

If you feel like casting off your corset and hitting the track, pick up The Velocipede Races at microcosmpublishing.com.

James Kirk (center) leads a Monday night class, teaching SLC Bike Collective frequenters Max Gallant (L) and Luke MacFarlane (R) about headset removal and installation. Photo: John Barkiple

Hailey Broussard has five kids, and, until 2008, taking care of them was her sole occupation. “I knew how to be Betty Crocker, and little else,” she says. She does not consider herself a cyclist, though she now spends every weekday leading mountain bike trips and wrenching on dummy bikes in a classroom of kids. As the youth director of the Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective, Broussard’s job revolves around bikes, but she and others at the Collective argue that the bicycle is part of a larger equation. It is a vehicle for getting around and a vehicle for building a connected and complex community. 

From a loose network of people using borrowed tools and looking to put more butts on bikes, the Bicycle Collective has expanded over the last 11 years into a multi-facility network that enables bicycling on a local, state and national level. The Collective believes in partnerships, which it uses to share knowledge and enhance its programming with elegant, non-monetized tie-ins: Clients of the International Rescue Committee can ride out on bikes donated by the Police Department, tuned by volunteers fulfilling community service hours. It has worked in a big way: The organization has put approximately 10,000 bikes into circulation, and satellite locations in Ogden and Provo have grown into autonomous entities. This summer, the Salt Lake location is expanding to accommodate a full-time classroom and larger office spaces alongside their sales floor and DIY workshop space. 

During a bustling night at the Collective, from the moment customers queue up at the door with bike frames in hand, everybody’s welcome. “I love the diversity. I wear cowgirl boots and have big hair and wear lots of makeup, and have always felt at home,” Broussard says.  During the open shop nights, a dozen bike junkies will tinker on their passion projects, and another dozen people will ride off on a bike for the first time in perhaps 20 years. Some will come shopping for an inexpensive bike, others are referred by partner organizations and will receive bikes for free. For these people, bike maintenance might be intimidating, but knowing more solves a real problem of transport. Broussard can relate: Before coming to the Collective, she could not adjust anything on her bicycle. “Now, I think I could fix one from head to toe, any given day of the week,” she says.

Deb Henry, a Collective board member, sees a further benefit of their diverse clientele. The homeless, refugee immigrants and people without formal education are often marginalized. Coming by the Collective can give them a place to participate and find value, by problem-solving mechanical issues with other visitors in the workshop or by sharing experiences as commuters. “It doesn’t matter what kind of degree you have, or what your background is, or why you’re homeless, or anything like that. People can find a common ground in the Collective,” says Henry.

The open attitude extends beyond the shop. When faced with the challenges of establishing a bicycling non-profit in 2006, Collective Executive Director Jonathan Morrison realized that other organizations might have answers to his questions, or could at least learn from his mistakes. He spearheaded the formation of the Bicycle Collective Network, reaching out to the few dozen organizations that they were able to find. The network has ballooned to 400 members globally, who actively participate in spreading messages, resources, and best practices. Locally, this open communication has led to the Collective acting as a think tank for other advocacy organizations, and the location expansion in Salt Lake includes a plan to share office space with Bike Utah. “It’s important to create this air of clear and open communication between all the advocacy organizations,” says Morrison. “I hope people with ideas continue to come forward and share their ideas, and the Collective can continue to be an incubator for good things to come.”

The expanded space will strengthen existing programs, as well as allow room for new partnerships. Broussard is ecstatic about having a designated classroom for the kids’ classes, which are currently shoehorned into the open shop. “Basically, it’s going to be a 24-hour, kid-friendly place,” she says, hoping to regularly bring graduated youth volunteers back as co-instructors. Henry hopes the new space gives Collective customers a chance to come back and contribute what they’ve learned in pay-it-forward-style classes. Morrison hopes that the sustainable expansion of the Collective can inspire satellite shops, scaling as needed: “You just need room for tools and a stand. You don’t need much, which makes it beautiful,” he says.

As the organization grows, and cycling in Salt Lake becomes ever more popular through the combined effort of different groups, it is encouraging to think of the people who are empowered and connected by it, and the future potential for similar successes. Broussard is unequivocal about the effects of the place: She’s gone back to school, she’s lost a ton of weight, and she’s found a place to work and contribute. “I have a lot of passion for this place. It’s just done great things for my life,” she says. 

The Salt Lake Bicycle Collective is located at 2312 S. West Temple. DIY shop nights are Tuesday and Thursday 5:30–9 p.m., Saturdays 12–7 p.m. Women’s Only shop night is the first and third Wednesday of every month, 5:30–9 p.m., and Park Tool School classes are taught Mondays from 5:30–8 p.m. For information on the 4–6 week Kids Earn-A-Bike Course, contact Hailey Broussard through the Collective’s website, bicyclecollective.org.  

Editor’s Note: Davey Davis resides in NYC and is a former core volunteer at the Collective. He’s in the process of becoming more involved with them in the near future.

Photos: