Wesley Ferguson, 26, is a bike mechanic at Venture North Bikes & Coffee, a North Minneapolis non-profit organization working to increase racial, economic, and gender equity within and beyond the biking community. He has a degree in Film, a hound named Harvey, and a thing for video games and mountain biking. These are his experiences as a Black man who rides bikes, told in his own words and edited for length.
HOW I GOT INTO BIKES
I went to college at Columbia College in Chicago, for Film, and I had like a 10-mile commute from class to home. One day I was coming home [on the train] and the Cubs had just won, and this Cubs fan throws up on the back of my head. It goes down the back of my shirt, and I look out the window and there’s a bike shop right there. And I’m just like, you know what? Public Transit, no more. I bought a fixie for $250. I didn’t care if it was raining, I didn’t care about the weather. I’m not taking the train or bus ever again because I’ve always had something happen.
YouTube made it easy to work on a fixie. I would go through tubes like every other week, so it got to the point that I could take off my tires with just, like, a spoon. That’s how I learned. I didn’t have the tire levers. I just had the patch kit and spoons.
One day I used all my birthday money to order this one bike — a purple Throne, a fixie. When it arrived, it was 100% not put together. Like, headset’s not in, bottom bracket’s not in. And I went back to the order to see if I’d made some sort of mistake, but no. I purposely clicked that version, to assemble it myself. So I was like, alright, CHALLENGE.
I had to basically do it with all kitchen utensils. My degree in film is in production design — building sets — so I had all this extra pink foam. I would fill it with cement and make dumb tools out of that. “Alright, this is gonna have to be my headset press.” That was how I put the headset in. And that weirdly worked.
I came back to Minneapolis after college. I was working at this one place and needed coffee. I used to go to this gas station down the road, but my car wasn’t working so I just walked up to Venture North. I found out it was a bike-coffee shop and thought, “I’ve built my bikes. I like coffee. Y’all hiring?” I’ve been there for about a year and a half now. Hanging out in a basement, building bikes and goofing off with my friends, drinking coffee.
The only way you can really survive and keep going to races is to be on a team, and all the teams are so white-dominated. I didn’t feel like I fit the puzzle.
I did some fixie track races on the velodrome down in Dallas. I tried doing long-distance road races and I would do fine — I would like my times and everything. I didn’t like the lifestyle that came with it. I don’t like a sport that’s going to take up what I’m gonna eat next week. Like, I don’t know what I’m gonna eat for dinner tonight; don’t tell me I’m gonna eat only oatmeal all next week because my heart rate’s gonna be at this and my cadence is gonna be this. You gotta wear a new full kit — [fart noise] — it’s just not fun. The only way you can really survive and keep going to races is to be on a team, and all the teams are so white-dominated. I didn’t feel like I fit the puzzle.
I was at Lake Minnetonka once and walked by, like, a 4-year-old, and he was like, “Oh, so you’re a n------?” And then I was like, “What!? Where are your parents?” And he said, “They’re right over there.” And so I asked them, “Why did your kid just call me the N-word? Like, out of a question?” And they just looked like they saw a ghost. He was at such a small age. Why did he know that word and associate it immediately with me? If I were to see a unicorn and say, “OH, so that’s a unicorn!” He looked at me like that. The kid meant it in no derogatory way.
Minneapolis is kind of a weirdly segregated city. A lot of the Black people are in North Minneapolis, and then it’s kind of peppered throughout the rest of Minneapolis. When I was living in Plymouth and other places, I would go whole days without seeing someone who looked like me until, like, I saw my dad at home. And that’s just a feeling that a lot of people can’t understand.
That feeling, especially with everything that’s going on right now, builds up a kind of distrust. Just like, basic paranoia. Anything could happen, so I just want to at least be around someone who looks like me, who can understand. “Hey, I know what you’re going through.”
But then I challenged them on the serial number. “Oh, we don’t have that memorized.” Well, I do, because that is the life of a Black man. I memorize my serial numbers.
A couple weeks ago a cop was like, “We had this bike reported stolen.” [ed. note: this is outside a local grocery store] And I’m like, alright, I have black and white bar tape interweaving here. I bet no one else has this build based off that alone, just in the Cities. If you can find that person for me, show me them. They will be my new friend. But then I challenged them on the serial number. “Oh, we don’t have that memorized.” Well I do, because that is the life of a Black man. I memorize my serial numbers.
It’s kind of shitty how often I’m accused or people are just surprised — “Oh, I didn’t know someone like you could own this type of bike.”
It’s really over north where I feel accepted as a cyclist. Over north, I’m just biking with my friends. Even biking where I grew up in Plymouth/Wayzata [Minnesota suburbs], it always felt like a sketchy thing. And that was in the era of just leaving your bike on your friend’s lawn while you played inside, then coming back for it hours later. It just always felt like something like that was not accepted for me until I met other Black cyclists and started hanging out over north.
I HAVE A FEW SURLYS
Last year I got into mountain biking, some single track. Started off with a single-speed, pink and green frame — it was like a KHS or something. I quickly got a little too good for that and got my first Surly, which was a Karate Monkey. And that’s just been how I’ve spent my time, trying to get out there.
I like single track so much I wanted to continue it in winter. So I have a Wednesday in Gray Sweatpants. It has a blue Hope hub on it, Moloko Bars, and like half the stickers on it are blue. The other half are black. But that’s out of commission right now. I’ve been jacking parts off it for other bikes since it’s not winter.
It’s based off my favorite Ninja Turtle, Donatello. He’s the only practical one in real-life applications! If you’re gonna build a superhero team, they’re all kind of equal when it comes to fighting styles. Raphael is a hothead and a loose cannon. Leonardo’s a natural-born leader, but he’s not the strongest. I’m definitely inviting Michelangelo to, like, a bachelor party. Not inviting him to save the world. But Donatello. Tech guy. Bow staff. Purple.
One guy hit me up for some Campy hubs I was selling. Just single-speed, front, rear, that’s it. He says, “I have no cash on me. I will trade you this Cross-Check frame with 105 hubs on it.”
I’m like, “HELL YEAH.”
I just threw this wheelset on real quick, whatever. Original green fork, uncut, perfect. I rode single-speed on that for like two days and I was like, you know, I really like this bike. So I cut the fork, but it moved in the fork stabilizer and I cut it too short [ed. note: explaining the mismatched fork].
Titanium seat post, unbranded. It’s so dumb to have on there. Full carbon spacers. What are you doing? It’s so fun! The suicide bell on the downtube is so unsafe! It was a terrible idea. But it’s my favorite dumb thing about bikes, right there. I’m this close to putting pink tassles on it.
These bags with the yellow cross and the phone number on the back, these are for the Emergency Bike Service. Once we found out that a lot of people at the I-35 bridge protest had their bikes destroyed by the truck, or couldn’t find them because MNDot picked them up, we started the Emergency Bike Service. We saw people were using bikes for security. We saw that we needed to do this — to get in there and help as much as we can. We found an app that helps you make a quick number that people can text and ask for help. Like if you’re at a protest and you need a tube, we can offer that service. We go in and help them.
THE I-35 BRIDGE PROTEST
“He’s going a little fast.” And someone else goes, “He’s not stopping.” At that point, we all just got on our bikes and started shouting, “Get out the way! Get out the way!” And then I remember it just passed us. And that’s the point when I lost it.
Me and two other Black men were kind of thrown into the task of blocking traffic on I-35. This guy with long dreadlocks, he points at us three and so we start directing traffic. There were like three people who weren’t OK with this, but everyone else was like, “This is inconvenient, but I support you.”
First we saw this Prius coming and I was like, “Oh, he’s going fast.” But he pulled a quick U-turn, no questions asked. No honk at us, no reaction, he just got out of the way. We all noted that was a little weird.
And then a tanker follows two or three seconds behind him. I don’t remember who, but someone said, “He’s going a little fast.” And someone else goes, “He’s not stopping.” At that point, we all just got on our bikes and started shouting, “Get out the way! Get out the way!” And then I remember it just passed us. And that’s the point when I lost it. I dropped my Cross-Check on the pavement and broke down right there.
The three of us made eye contact and started biking right toward the truck. And then everything clicked: Do it. Get rid of this man off the planet. They were pulling him out and we made eye contact again and said, “No. No.” We made a barrier around the guy until the other peacekeepers could come and get him. Everyone else was ready to kill him, but we can’t let that happen. That’s not the protest we’re trying to hold. We can’t have a couple of bad apples ruin this for us.
After that, we knew our job was to help other people get to safety. People who were on foot or had their bikes run over. Luckily I had some old goggles in my backpack. I had just put them on with my bandanna over my face, and I just felt spray go over the left side of my face. I got maced by two cops on Treks or whatever.
I felt something bounce off my shoulder. I looked down and it was a tear gas canister. You just tried to shoot me with a tear gas canister? Y’all are just having fun out here while we’re trying to fight for equality? Great. I’m glad this is just Call of Duty to you, but this is my real life.
I just started to cry going up the freeway exit. And that kicked the mace into my eyes and everything. I just lost it. Up the exit, I saw a kid I went to high school with. My face was torn up — white stains from the mace and the tear gas and tears. I lost it again. I was just dragging my bike behind me. He was like, “Aw man, they got you?” And everybody on the bridge, like a thousand people, just came up and hugged me. I was like, “Thanks everybody, but social distancing is still a thing. Back up. Six feet.”
I needed to get home and take care of Harvey, and my whole left side was burning. I was walking across the Stone Arch Bridge and I remember — I just wanted to throw up in this moment. There were so many people from the protests that were also cyclists that I had seen maced and looking defeated. And so we’re all walking by, and there’s this white family. Mom, Dad, two daughters. They’re sitting there taking selfies on the Stone Arch Bridge like it’s a good day.
When you get maced, first take a cold shower. No soap. Get it all off of you. If you’re Black, I’m sorry. It’s gonna stay in your hair. I had long hair on the side, and I had a dreadlock with mace in it and it kept burning my ear, so I had to just cut it out. Do a cold shower, then a warm shower — still no soap — and then a warm shower with soap.
It stayed in my hair for three days after that. I had to keep rewashing all my sheets. My backpack. Whenever Harvey would try to lick my hand, he would have to run and get water immediately. Spicy kisses. Sorry Harvey! It just doesn’t come off.
I don’t know if it’s some kind of trauma or what, but sometimes my whole left arm and ear area is just warm, like I just dipped it in icy hot.
After the tanker happened on the bridge, there was one night when literal tanks drove down this street. I went to go stay at my girlfriend’s place for a little bit. I felt like that gave me more unease than actually sleeping at my house. “Yo, you got chased out your house by white supremacists. Didn’t we go through this like 80 years ago? Why are people still being chased outta their house by people dressed like ghosts?”
People like me have been fighting this their entire lives. My dad’s been fighting it. My grandpa’s been fighting it. Every time we think we’ve won, it’s like they’re just letting us win. It’s like letting your brother play your N64 at the same time as you, but secretly his controller’s not plugged in at all.
WHY DID THIS HAPPEN IN MINNEAPOLIS?
I feel like it was ready to happen almost anywhere. If you look at Seattle now, they’ve taken over Capitol Hill. Germany had a huge protest. The world is fed up. When we try to protest peacefully, we get hosed, we get dogs chasing after us. Kaepernick is booed out of the league. People don’t listen, and I’m just fed up with it and a lot of other people are too.
It made me sad, like, my city’s on fire. This is where I grew up and where I hang out, but I’m more mad that it had to come to this. I’m scared that it did come to this. Because if you look at Ferguson, how long ago was that? I remember going to protests in Chicago after that, and I don’t remember any true change. That’s why it’s happening bigger now, all across the world. People are mad and no one wants to listen.
If you can’t bike in and bike out, stay home. It's not safe to drive from the burbs to the protest downtown. Your car’s tires are gonna be slashed, apparently. Or you’re gonna get arrested and not make it home.
I’m proud of my skin color and my heritage and my culture, and I hope everyone else is.
WHAT I HOPE HAPPENS
The hopeful side of me is so unrealistic. That’s the sad part about it. Yes, we should abolish the police, at this point. A lot of people are asking for it. Would you ride a broken frame for 5 years? No! You’d get rid of it! That’s what you do! You might find a new way to have a great frame, but if frames keep breaking every other day and people keep dying on the frames you’re making, you’re gonna be like, you know what? I don’t think we’re good at making bikes, guys. We’re at the point where you can’t fix it.
I hope a lot of change comes from this. I hope in 20 years when my kids ask me what happened in the Revolution of 2020, I hope I can tell them I was there directing traffic, and then I went home and ate some Lunchables. “Dad, how did you know about the whole revolution?” “Facebook invites.”
Bottom line, Colin Kaepernick deserves his own football league. Not a franchise. A whole league. Roger Goodell, just step down. Give it to Kaep. That’s what I hope happens. I hope all sports think about how they’re treating people. Even when it comes to Surly.
Venture North accepts ‘Donates.’ [ed. note: donated bikes] People just flooded us with donations. And a lot of the Donates are getting stripped for parts. Our whole front coffee area is just overloaded with tubes and tires and cables and bikes, but we’re running out of parts. We’re a month or two behind on repairs, like most shops, I think. Whether it’s staggered shifts or your shop burned down, there’s a lot of bike stuff that needs to be done. So we’re getting bikes out there again to help the community and get people back on their bikes. Hopefully when Covid ends, people will keep their new fun biking habit.
I would love to open up my own shop, bikes and coffee like Venture North. Slash dispensary probably. You know, Make That Money. But I just wanna get more people out on bikes. I just want to create my own bike-friendly places, from a bike shop to a bike park and then hopefully one day a bike resort. People go skiing for like weeks and just do the same hill over and over again. Why not? Bike trails, indoor bike parks, downhill — it just seems like a fun idea.
Trust me when I say this, because part of my degree is in critical analysis, but Sharknado 3 is one of my favorite movies of all time. The fact that someone pitched more than one movie, and people were like, yeah, that’s fun. Keep it going. That’s amazing — I love when artists can just have their artistic style and freedom and just GO. And the fact that they went to space and shot a laser at a sharknado and had to go into a shark with a light saber chainsaw while a lady gave birth inside of a shark, while in space! I hope with the film degree — I want to make movies.
Where can you follow along with Wesley?
Recently, Wesley decided to combine his film degree, a passion for bikes and a penchant for good times, and started a YouTube show called "Biking with Wesley, and Friends". So click the link below, then smash the subscribe button and follow along as his story unfolds:
If you'd to donate to Venture North Bike Shop to help support their efforts in North Minneapolis and the surrounding area, you can follow the link here: http://www.venturenorthbwc.org/donate.html
As a show of appreciation for Wesley sharing his story and time with us, we made a charitable donation in Welsey's name to the organization of his choice, the NAACP. We also donated a Big Easy cargo bike to Wesley's shop, Venture North, to help with their continued efforts to support the underserved community of North Minneapolis. And of course, we hooked up Welsey with some Surly goods that he'd had his eyes on. Wesley, thank you very much! Love, Surly.
Wesley's interview was conducted by Surly Writer, Brendan Kennealy, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.