For the second summer in a row, Cruise Chi, Chicago's new LGBTQ+ cycling club, has been fostering a sense of community while supporting queer- and trans-advocacy.
The group, led by co-founders Alton Deon and Shai Garcia, began meeting in the summer of 2022. Each Cruise Chi ride begins at the organization's partner bar, Replay (alternating between its Lake View and Andersonville locations), where Deon and Garcia first lead participants in a demonstration on basic road safety, then introduce the Cruise Captains, a rotating group of cyclists tasked with keeping everyone safe and on track during rides.
After that, they're off. The distance for each ride varies, with ranges from five miles for beginners to up to 30 for those who want a little bit more of a challenge. Past rides have taken Cruisers to Navy Pier, Leather Archives & Museum, and Baha'i Temple in Wilmette.
"A big part of the group is exploring this beautiful city that we live in," said Deon. "It's really great hearing stories from people who have been wanting to go to these destinations, and they haven't really had the courage to do it, and we have created this experienceand this communitythat has brought these people out of their homes and onto their bikes."
This desire to make Chicago more accessible led Deon and Garcia to think about how they could get community members involved who did not have bikes of their own.
"When we created this group, we really wanted to focus on how do we give people access," said Deon. "So last year we started our in-house Cruise bike share program in partnership with Replay. … We now have four bikes that we are able to use so folks who don't have access to bikes can still join our rides for free." This year the group also began partnering with Lyft and Divvy to provide free bike vouchers.
Since they first put wheels to pavement, the club has grown from just a handful of cyclists to upwards of 90 bikers per ride. Deon and Garcia are now looking for ways to leverage this newfound camaraderie in support of organizations that advocate for the wider LGBT community. For one recent event, for example, Cruise Chi rode to the AIDS Garden Chicago near the famed Belmont Rocks, a once-popular gathering space for the LGBT community from the '60s through the '90s. Cruise Captain Carter Oselett organized the ride in partnership with AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) and the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC).
Oselett, an AFC researcher with AIDS Foundation Chicago, partnered with Cruise Chi to promote sexual health awareness as part of NMAC's Youth Initiative Fellowship, a program supporting youth advocates fighting for an end to the HIV epidemic. After the ride, Oselett distributed at-home HIV testing kits, Narcan and fentanyl testing strips, and distributed information about access to PrEP.
"We are trying to get more information about HIVand about sexual health in generalat more of the Cruise events," said Oselett. "I think this kind of goes in with a long history of queer spaces and events trying to tie in public health with fun."
This is Oselett's second year attending Cruise Chi events, and as a recent arrival to the city, he feels the group has been a great way to build community. He explained, "I thought it was a cool way to meet queer people and there are people who I probably wouldn't have run into or become friends with outside of this space…It's nice to kind of be away from the nightlife scene too which is where I feel like queer events usually take place."
Cruise Chi is also helping out with Victory Lap Chicago, an upcoming bike ride raising funds for the Test Positive Aware Network [TPAN], a non-profit providing resources and support to those living with HIV. A "re-imagined" version of TPAN's longtime Ride For Life Chicago fundraiser, Victory Lap Chicago takes place Sept. 23 and follows Chicago's boulevard system, stretching around the city's Northwest, West, and South Sides, with distances ranging from 25-100 miles.
Interested riders can sign up for Cruise Chi rides at their Instagram page, @CruiseChi. The last ride of the season is scheduled for Sept. 13. Information on Victory Lap Chicago is at tinyurl.com/6954tudw.