Bikers from Ride to the Polls cruise down Van Buren Street to their first stop at Union Station. (K'Von Jackson)
Bikers from Ride to the Polls cruise down Van Buren Street to their first stop at Union Station.

K'Von Jackson

Chicago motorcyclists ‘Ride to the Polls’ to encourage voting

October 26, 2020

Bikers from Ride to the Polls cruise down Van Buren Street to their first stop at Union Station. K’Von Jackson

Rumbling engines cut through the brisk morning air as more than a dozen bikers gathered to take part in Ride to the Polls, a voter mobilization effort organized by Black Girls Ride, Engines for Change and other partners in cities throughout the country.

On Saturday, Oct. 24, motorcyclists rode from Good Call Moto, a motorcycle merchandise shop in the West Town neighborhood, to Union Station, 225 S. Canal St., to drop off mail-in ballots and raise awareness for voting in the upcoming presidential election.

David Salk checks the air in his tires in preparation for the Ride to the Polls, ensuring his bike is safe and ready to ride before the event. Mengshin Lin
Bikers from riding clubs across Chicago meet at Good Call Moto in West Town to mingle and enjoy some refreshments before riding to Union Station. Camilla Forte
Katie Stamaris, who organized the Chicago ride through Engines for Change, speaks to event participants about the purpose of the ride before they head out on the road together. Camilla Forte

The recent event was put together by Engines for Change organizer Katie Stamaris and was the first of its kind in Chicago.

“Engines for Change really set up the nationwide structure for what we’re doing, and then every city that’s participated has done something unique,” Stamaris said.

Katie Stamaris, Chicago organizer for Engines for Change, carries her dog Waldo to the Ride to the Polls event. Mengshin Lin
“It’s surreal; it’s different than any other election our country has ever had,” said Gail Swanson, who rides with Lady Rides of Chicago and the Bleeders. Camilla Forte

The national Ride to the Polls initiative was created by Porsche Taylor, editor-in-chief of Black Girls Ride, a magazine representing black women in motorcycling, in collaboration with Kirsten Midura, founder of Engines for Change and other motorist organizations. Taylor and Midura connected during the Black Lives Matter March on Washington in August.

At the March on Washington, Taylor spoke to activists across the country about the Ride to the Polls initiative with the aim of creating a reoccurring, nationwide movement to encourage civic engagement among motorcyclists.

“We want to be able to show people there are motorcyclists who care about civil rights and equality for everyone,” said Midura.

After arriving at Union Station, riders dismount and document the moment through a commemorative group selfie. K’Von Jackson
David Salk, a biker from Ton Up Club Chicago, points out the irony of his “vintage” 2016 Make America Great Again hat that was made in China. Mengshin Lin

For Chicago’s Oct. 24 event, Stamaris rallied participants through community outreach. She laid the groundwork by reaching out to members of various local biking clubs, who then helped spread the word within their own communities.

While the general mission of the event remained central to the ride, Stamaris said some adjustments were made to ensure compliance with COVID-19 regulations. But, bikers were still able to come together before the ride to catch up and exchange ideas for a ride plan.

Following the bikers’ stop at Union Station, they rode as a group in a giant loop across the city to promote voting.

Many motorcyclists who took part in the ride decked out their bikes, jackets and helmets with accessories expressing their political leanings and issues they care about. Camilla Forte
Bikers line up and take off from Union Station to their second stop at the Cobra Lounge. K’Von Jackson

Cutting through several Chicago neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, North Shore, Old Town, Wicker Park and West Town, the bikers’ route officially concluded at the Cobra Lounge, 235 N. Ashland St.

Several riders were decked out with flags and stickers on their bikes and jackets in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and LGBTQ+ rights.

At stoplights and intersections, bikers interacted with pedestrians and fellow motorcyclists, who waved and honked in support.

Some motorcyclists and onlooking pedestrians interacted with the bikers at stoplights and intersections, waiving and honking their horns in support. Camilla Forte
Each group of bikers participating in the Ride to the Polls took on a different role, some securing the sides and back of the group while others led the way to each destination. Camilla Forte
After dropping off their ballots, participants in Ride to the Polls cruised through several Chicago neighborhoods to encourage voter turnout in the upcoming election. Camilla Forte

While a few bikers were there to drop off their own mail-in ballots, many in attendance had already sent out ballots or planned to vote in-person on Election Day.

David Salk, a biker from the Town Up Chicago riding club, came to motivate the public to send their ballots in and communicate the importance of voting to the community.

To Salk, the lack of voter turnout in 2016, especially among young people, was particularly upsetting.

“I’ve voted ever since I could,” said Salk. “I’m pretty pissed at the students because … it took you guys a long time to wake up. ”

K’Von Jackson


The group of 13 bikers stops at Union Station to allow those voting to drop off their mail-in ballots. K’Von Jackson

Gail Swanson, a biker who rode in from the North Center neighborhood after hearing about the event through Facebook, is passionate about dispelling stereotypes surrounding the biking community.

“I think there’s unfortunately a reputation of motorcyclists being quite conservative and right wing … and I’m definitely on the other side of that,” said Swanson.

She said it is important for her to represent the diversity within her community.

Bikers line up in front of Union Station to encourage people to vote in the upcoming presidential election. Mengshin Lin

With the hope of maintaining the initiative’s momentum, bikers with Engines for Change will continue to ride to the polls nationally up to Election Day, with upcoming rides planned across the West Coast in the coming weeks.

Stamaris said she hopes the Ride to the Polls gatherings will serve as a catalyst for greater civic involvement, rather than being an isolated event.

“I want [the] West Loop and Chicago to have a lot of opportunities to gather as a community,” said Stamaris. “I think politically what we’re all learning is the importance of getting more involved on a much more micro level.”