When he’s not emceeing concerts at Larkin Square or organizing cause-related events for The Good Neighborhood, Seamus is bullhorning to a crowd of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of cyclists. The co-founder of Slow Roll Buffalo, Seamus is hugely excited about the community bike ride that takes riders of all ages on a weekly ten-mile tour of different neighborhoods across the city. The free event, now in its second season, is meant to help riders explore new places and see the city with fresh eyes. But it’s more than just a joyride.
Slow Roll started in Detroit in 2010 as a way to unite city residents from diverse backgrounds around the common goal of reinventing their city after years of industrial decline. Buffalo, with its Rust Belt legacy of poverty, segregation, and flight, is just the sort of place to benefit from a unifying, fun activity that makes an important political statement. Seamus and the Slow Roll Buffalo team, which includes over 100 committed volunteers, are determined to use the event’s success as a vehicle for positive change.
“This is a movement, literally and figuratively,” he states, explaining that Slow Roll provides an opportunity for the people of Buffalo to reconnect and restore their community. He tells me about the opening events for the 2016 season, which include the group’s first two Statement Rides: the Parkway Revival Ride, which closed down sections of the Scajaquada on May 8, and the Unity Ride, which rolled down Main Street on May 16. Both rides call attention to the negative effects that certain policies have had on neighborhoods within the community, and by partnering with organizations that champion these issues, they encourage participants to get involved.
When I ask Seamus how he thinks riders will respond to this year’s more explicit political agenda, he speculates that some will leave but many more will join. And the fear of losing a few riders isn’t going to stop them from making a point.“Some people are afraid to take a stand, and I know how that feels,” he pauses. “But we have an opportunity to stand up and push issues that align and relate to the mission of Slow Roll.”
Reaching out to different community groups and building a broader participant base is one of the key goals for this season.“One way we’re getting more people involved this year is by reaching out to more block clubs and community organizations with the direct message that we want to ride with their neighborhoods, not just through them,” Seamus emphasizes.
As someone who works to bridge divides and build community by organizing events, Seamus is pretty adept at striking the right balance between having a good time and raising social consciousness. The rides may make a political statement, but they’re about bringing people together and having fun. This balancing act isn’t always easy, but the payoff is well worth the effort.
“I just want my work to be fun and fulfilling – if there’s enough of both there’ll always be growing pains, but Slow Roll brings so much that I often start churning ideas the second I wake up, even in the middle of the night. It costs me some sleep sometimes, but that sense of purpose is priceless,” he says with a satisfied smile.
Join the movement and ride with Slow Roll Buffalo on Monday evenings from May-October. The group meets from 5:30 pm and the ride starts at 6:30 sharp. Be sure to stick around for some seriously cool afterparties too! Join the Facebook group to stay in the loop or check the website for each week’s schedule. For all you fun-loving bikers, this Memorial Day Weekend has two rides to enjoy. Cheers!
By Natalie Photiadis, a Buffalo native and recent repatriate working to strengthen the Buffalo community and promote more sustainable lifestyles.