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Friday, August 12, 2016

Nedra Deadwyler’s Civil Bikes business is retelling Atlanta’s Civil Rights history and a whole lot more

Nedra Deadwyler’s Civil Bikes business is retelling Atlanta’s Civil Rights history and a whole lot more
By:  Michael Lander

Nedra Deadwyler is the owner of Civil Bikes in
Atlanta, which she started in 2013.  Civil Bikes
offers classes and tours that provide an
opportunity for people in Atlanta to get to
know their city, their history, and one
another.  (Photo:  Courtesy of Cameron
Adams and

There are all kinds of words that could be used to describe Nedra Deadwyler.

She may be seen by most people as being a cycling enthusiast and as an entrepreneur behind a bicycle business (known as Civil Bikes) in the Atlanta area, but she really is so much more than just that.   

Deadwyler is also a healthy-living advocate and a business owner who uses bicycle tours and classes to get people out riding their bikes and learning not only about bicycling, but helping them to also appreciate the people, the history, and the stories, (especially those that occurred throughout the Civil Rights movement), in the city of Atlanta.

In many ways, Deadwyler can also be seen as a visionary, and a voice for social justice, and an advocate for the marginalized and disenfranchised in the Atlanta area and beyond. 

Deadwyler’s Civil Bikes arrived on the scene in Atlanta a little over three years ago.

“I started Civil Bikes in 2013 as a bike tour company that could retell Atlanta’s civil rights history.  It came after years in social work and several attempts to develop a business that reflected my skills, interests, beliefs, passions, and values,” Deadwyler said.

The inspiration for the bicycle tour company came to her when she was on a road trip with a friend in another state.  They were traveling to see various civil rights sites and she thought that it would be great to do this on a bike in Atlanta, so she did just that.

“We began as a pop-up shop in Sweet Auburn, the home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and have worked out of a rented storage PODS unit along the popular multi-use paths the Atlanta Beltline,” Deadwyler said.

“I currently lead tours from our shop called ‘The Spindle,’ selling urban bike clothing and accessories, as we look for a location where I can store bikes, begin rides, and host larger public events,” she added.

For Deadwyler, the key for success has been having a business model that is creative, extremely flexible and adaptive to her needs.  In the past year, for example, she has even shuttled bikes around Atlanta in her Nissan Versa in order to get them when and where they were needed.

Many people who participate in her guided tours do so because they are either new to riding, unsure of how to safely maneuver on the streets, or they just like going out on rides with others with routes that are already planned out well ahead of time.

“Classes and tours are also a great way for families to connect to each other in ways that improve health and increase a sense of place.  Most people walk away from the rides with a positive feeling and a connection to others and to the place where they live,” Deadwyler said.

“Soon after I started Civil Bikes, my attention quickly turned to bicycling education and equity issues that included getting more women riding, and issues like gentrification, immigration, economic development, and other social issues and trying to gain more visibility for marginalized communities,” Deadwyler said.

Nedra Deadwyler is a native to Atlanta who left it for about a
decade, but returned to the city that she was born and raised.
She hopes to make a difference and to have a positive impact
on its future.  (Photo:  Courtesy of Civil Bikes)

“At Civil Bikes, we use bicycles as a tool to build community and to bring awareness and attention to social issues that exist within our communities.  It is also a voice valuing equity and inclusion and it provides a place where everyone matters and where stories are told of the people embedded in the history of our landscape,” she added.

Civil Bikes does not currently have a storefront, but that doesn’t prevent it from having a real presence in their community.  It offers Atlantans an opportunity to see and to completely rethink their city and its history and it’s all done on bicycle. 

“Some topics of discussion can be difficult or controversial, but the intention is to provide a place to inquire, to see, learn, engage, experience, and to create,” Deadwyler said. 

“Civil Bikes is currently in its own evolution right now.  Beginning in December 2015, I began working with Georgia Bikes, a statewide bicycle advocacy organization and that has changed my focus.  I am thinking now how to make Civil Bikes much more sustainable,” she added.

Deadwyler was born in Atlanta and she was raised in Metro-Atlanta.  She returned home after living in New York City and Seattle for 10 1/2 years.  While she truly loves her native city, she does have a deep concern for some of what is being lost and displaced within it.

“Every day in Atlanta, there is a loss of history as buildings come down and people are displaced due to increase of investment in neighborhoods long neglected,” Deadwyler said.

“Since 2012, 95 percent of Atlanta’s development has been luxury condos, townhouses, apartments and homes, all the while removing those who have less money, less options, less social and political clout, by removing affordable housing,” she said.

Even though she believes that these developments may meet some need, she is very concerned about the long-term ramifications of it.  

“I perceive these as actions as being hostile because they effectively erase social concerns, such as poverty instead of reaching for more equitable solutions,” Deadwyler said.

Atlanta, she feels, is just part of a microcosm of the health and economic disparities that can be found nationally. 

As for cycling, though, Deadwyler sees the progression of that in the Atlanta area as being a much more positive development. 

“There is more bicycle awareness and infrastructure in our city, which means more people are riding bikes.  There is also a push to support transit cyclists, bike only, low-income, and persons of color who ride and live in areas that have little to no infrastructure and/or means of alternative routes that are safe,” Deadwyler said.

Deadwyler, herself, returned to cycling after moving to New York City for graduate school in 2000 to 2001. 

“What I love most about cycling is the freedom and the positive experience that it gives me that I can share with others.  It’s also trendy now to be on a bicycle – It’s mainstream and that changes everything,” Deadwyler said.

“People want to be healthy and to socialize.  Riding a bicycle provides a way to do that and to be active and it’s also super-flexible and that’s a great characteristic about it, too,” she said.

Nedra Deadwyler loves bicycling and her Civil Bikes business, which
has already been recognized for what it, and she, has done in the
three years since its inception.  (Photo:  Courtesy of

“Bicycling can also bring opportunity in all kinds of ways and directions.  It’s up to each community, though, to decide what is wanted with their own vision, not just recreating what has already been done somewhere else.  They need to make it their own,” she added.

In March of this year, Deadwyler attended the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C.

“I attended the National Bike Summit and was presented with the
Gail Coups Spann and Jim Spann Educator of the Year award.  It was a surprise and a huge encouragement for me to keep moving and to not give up the work,” Deadwyler said. 

“I was also part of a panel discussion with three generation leaders of the bike movement who have been working in different ways to get more people to ride bicycles,” she added.

Deadwyler has many goals for the future, which includes not only making Civil Bikes a labor of love, but also something that is successful all around.

“I want Civil Bikes to be respected by all who come in contact with it and I want it to be seen as an outstanding model for how businesses should be, to include  being socially engaged and responsible and not just profit-driven,” she said.  

With that being said, Deadwyler would also like to be accepted, acknowledged, and supported, which means that people will come to do business with Civil Bikes and not just applaud them or recognize them for what they’re doing.

“Throughout all this, I am striving to make positive contributions in society and I want to live out my values and to live a life that builds deeper connections while honoring my ancestors,” Deadwyler said.

“I support the effort for world peace and that people can learn to live as one and not judge each other.  I hope that I’m alive when this all becomes mainstream and that people will check their fear at the door.  Until then, I will keep my mind on that vision and try not to get too jaded by all the events in the world today,” she added.

In addition to riding bikes around Atlanta, Deadwyler also loves walking, especially with her dog, hiking, and being out in nature.  Mountain biking is a favorite activity of her and she is interested in taking some swimming classes. 

“I’m a weak swimmer and my summer goal is to become better at it.  In the past, I was also a runner and soccer player, but both are activities that I’ve quit because of injuries.  I’m really quite a klutz,” she said.

However you want to describe Deadwyler, she is someone who is seeking to make a difference in the world and that makes her an inspiration for others, everywhere.

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