As we begin a new year of free and inclusive community bike rides with our Season-Opening Ride this coming Monday, May 3rd (meet at Big Ditch Brewing, 55 E. Huron St., downtown, 6:30pm start), we resume our weekly “Get to Know” feature by turning to our volunteer squad that is the lifeblood of Slow Roll, and one of our squad leaders who’s been expanding his presence in the bike community over this past challenging year.

One of the quietest yet most impactful members of Slow Roll Squad since 2017, Damon Kimbrough was born and raised in Buffalo, schooled at Hutch Tech and UB, and is now a father of “budding thespian” McKenna and resident of the Kenfield neighborhood in the University District.

What inspired you to volunteer with Slow Roll?

Uh, peer pressure? (laughs) After so many rides, I wanted to see what’s behind the orange curtain, how everything comes together, get a better view of it all.

Slow Roll gave me a reason to ride – I’d bought a bike years before that and never got on it, but through Slow Roll I started riding more and more and meeting more people in ways I wouldn’t by myself. I’m a pretty introverted person, but at times I can be an extroverted introvert. I’d put myself outside my comfort zone, come to rides by myself and find a way to meet people from all around, different areas. Slow Roll helped me overcome some barriers.

How has it changed your life?

Aw man, outside of the better shape I’m in, I feel like I’m more invested in my community, I’m a bigger advocate for my community. I’ve been able to build stronger connections with my friends though biking. My friend Rob who got me involved initially, now I’m pulling him in on other rides, and other friends, too. Helping out others the way I was helped. It’s just a big circle of goodness that it pulled me into, everything moving toward the better.

I’m gaining more appreciation for the city that I honestly didn’t have before. In a car we’re so limited – all you’re thinking about is your destination, not how you get there. Riding changed my perspective on things, I started to see the city with a little more clarity.

Damon “corking” intersections – photos by Clay Davies

How did you get involved with East Side Bike Club?

Completely accidentally. (laughs) My friend and I came out one day to ride with them, and through the ride I started talking with George Johnson, and when we got to the Outer Harbor I was telling him how I knew the area so well from riding there a lot, and he said, “Ok, you’re leading the group now.” So I didn’t have much choice. (laughs)

Damon leading the East Side Bike Club in 2020 – photo by Fr. Jud Weiksnar

How did your recent Pride in Place ride come together?

That was happenstance as well. I ordered a shirt from Eat Off Art, because I like to support local creators and they got some good stuff. Then I had to get another one, so I biked over to get it, and Alexa [Wajed] and I got to talking about riding. She asked what’s the longest I’d ridden, and I told her I did a century ride [100 miles] last year and she was intrigued, told me about Pride in Place and the walks they were doing, asked if I’d do a ride for it.

We did a quick turnaround and made it happen, pared it down to a nice 25-mile route focused on the East Side using their checkpoints of sites and art along the way, passed something like 35 or 40 sites, worked out great.

How did bicycling help you get through 2020?

Man, that’s pretty much all I did. It’s one of the activities I can consistently do by myself, anytime I wanted to, so I did that often. Plus a couple friends got more active in riding, so we’d call rides just to get together and spend some time safely outside. We basically started a very small community during the pandemic, got us closer, had some fun adventures. That was my solace.

I had not been to Niagara Falls more in my life than I did last year, really explored up there. It became a challenge to get to every corner of Western New York. During the 21 Days of Summer that Ride for Roswell had, I made a different route every day, just to get people who contributed to see what I was doing, so they knew I was doing my part and could go along with me on the ride.

2020 was difficult, but I found some liberation and was able to make sense of some things through riding.

Damon and fellow squad LeDonia Boyd volunteering at the Variety telethon and presenting proceeds from our Variety Ride – photo by Tom Johnston

What are you most looking forward to in 2021?

More riding! (laughs) Outside of Slow Roll and being able to be in groups safely a little bit more, a big thing for Mondays will be getting my buddies more involved. We kind of officially started a very small club, keeping it intentionally small but at the same time visibly seen, just to promote the normalcy of Black people in the biking community. It’s four of us right now, we’ve decided to call it AfroVelo.

Before I would do it subconsciously, now more intentionally, I want to be seen riding and riding safely – helmets, following rules of traffic. You see kids on bikes all the time, then when they hit a certain age, they don’t do it anymore, right? I remember I was on Newburgh Ave off Genesee, rode by a porch of early teenagers, got my helmet and lights, on my way to work, and they’re laughing; I was like, “What’s so funny?” This is transportation, this is freedom. You can’t go someplace cuz you don’t have a car or money for the bus? This is how you can get around.

The more you see people like us out, the more it gets normalized, that could be a little thing to help someone get along. You don’t have to have a car, you got freedom at your feet.