Introducing Carmen, Bike Overnights Event Coordinator

Jul 2, 2021

Coming in #campandgoslow to Adventure Cycling is Carmen Aiken. As the new Bike Overnights Initiative (formerly Short Trips) Events Coordinator, they’ll be working on encouraging, supporting, and ensuring riders from all backgrounds and experiences can access bike travel. Carmen especially cares about access to cycling and the outdoors for marginalized and disenfranchised communities and wants Bike Overnights to provide safe and joyful spaces for anyone to enjoy a one- to three-day trip on a bike. 

Tell us about your background.

I grew up in the Chicago area and returned after graduating from Mills College in Oakland, CA. My dad is from Venezuela and my mom is from Oklahoma. I rode bikes as a kid and then got back into it on a single speed Schwinn Varsity in Chicago. Riding my bike gave me an understanding of my massive city because I could see it as I passed — the feeling of being able to ride to the Indiana Dunes or go as fast as I could through rush hour traffic in the shadow of the Sears Tower was something I needed to share. After working for the Active Transportation Alliance, I moved to Minneapolis where I crushed it on a forklift (sometimes literally). My former jobs also include: short order cook, men’s magazine intern, bike shop receiver, yacht club bartender, startup content writer, and pizza farmhand. 

Carmen in a bandanna and apron in front of a pizza oven.
Carmen Aiken at A to Z Produce and Bakery, Stockholm, WI. 
Carmen AIken

How did you find out about Adventure Cycling? Why did you want to work here?

I used to lurk on the bike travel subreddits looking to see if people were selling Adventure Cycling maps! I love Adventure Cyclist’s print journalism and am excited to see more diverse voices given more space. Knowing Adventure Cycling is working to call people in, make bike travel accessible, and create the Bike Overnights Initiative made me feel like this could be an organization I wanted to support through my work. It also made me feel like it could be an organization I would actually feel “a part of” (I’m a member, too!). 

Tell us about your experience bicycle touring.

Bicycle touring + mode share is my perfect pair. Me, a bike, and a train or bus is my favorite combination. I started my bike adventuring with a trip from Chicago to the farm I worked on, near Eau Claire, WI. I still have my hand-written cue sheets! I’ve also ridden the Blue Ridge Parkway in a blizzard and enjoyed a couple out-and-backs in Minneapolis in the summer months. I finally took my bike on an airplane (scary!) to ride down the Pacific Coast to attend my 10-year college reunion. I rode from Portland to San Francisco to Big Sur and returned to Oakland using Amtrak and regional buses and my bike. I never wanted it to end.

Carmen carrying a bike over a kiddie pool at a bike race
Fording the ball pit at All-City's SSCX Championships in Minneapolis.
All-City Cycles

Tell us about your interest in bicycle advocacy.

I will tell anyone who listens: I am not a cyclist. I am a person who rides a bike. And I think there are many, many people who ride and like riding bikes in this country and around the globe. Riding a bike (or cycling) does not have to involve special clothes, special bags, special materials, special anything. I’ve had many conversations with my dad where I bring up, say, a dynamo hub, and he goes, “You mean the lights we used in Venezuela?” 

I began my bike work wanting bike, pedestrian, and transit infrastructure to be safe and accessible for EVERYONE in Chicagoland. I believe everyone deserves access to open spaces and affordable, accessible transit. I do not believe cars are coffins nor that bike lanes are the end all be all of advocacy. Riding a bike can be a way to connect to the world we live in. It was a way for me to see and meet my neighbors, to try and comprehend the realities of where I lived. It was also cheap and fun and fast. We have so many ways to improve riding a bike for many! We need to stop gatekeeping and pretending biking looks one way or belongs to one group. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

I’ve written essays, articles, and poetry for a few publications; during COVID I organized an online poetry club, and it was terrific. I read fiction, comics and graphic novels. I love music and going to shows — my last three concerts were Janelle Monae, Noname, and a local ska  Halloween show. And dancing! I taught myself the Hustle during the first summer of COVID.

Carmen in sunglasses and tiara at Tour De Fat in Chicago
Getting ready for The Roots and supporting West Town Bikes at Tour De Fat.
Lauren Crabtree

How many bikes do you have? Tell us about them.

Oh boy. I have a bike I can commute and put bags on, and a bike I like to mountain bike on. I am not a very good mountain biker but I really like it. 

Here are the top three bikes that have passed through my life:

  1. At 31, I found out I liked BMX biking and a hot pink WTP Nova came into my life. It was so cool and now lives with the next generation of rad Black child shredders. 
  2. In Chicago I always wanted a Bianchi Eros and found one on craigslist the week after one of my other bikes was half-stolen outside my apartment (long story). It was set up fixed, and it rode like LIGHTNING. It was the coolest.
  3. I had a garage sale Schwinn Stingray when I was eight, and my pa and I painted it blue and upholstered the banana seat with some old blue jeans. I spent a lot of time carrying gals on the seat to the pool, or my little brother home, asleep. I’ll never be that cool again. 

Where did you ride for Bike Travel Weekend, June 4 - 6, 2021?

This year I went with a couple of friends out of Chicago to the Kankakee River State Park! It was SO hot; we ended up leaving on the Metra Rock Island Line train after work on Friday evening, and there was not a cloud in the sky. We arrived in Joliet with our bikes and made our way to the Wauponsee Glacial Trail which ran through beautiful farmland as well as the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. I also got to order pizza to a campground to make sure we all got fed, which was pretty terrific. It was a great Bike Overnight, about 30 miles from the train station or 60 if you’d like to start in the city proper. 

Carmen racing cyclocross in Minneapolis
Snagging a handup in the 4/5's in Minneapolis.
All-City Cycles