"I'm a ringmaster of the circus," says Cirque Du So Gay founder and organizer E.G. Nelson. She's been planning the yearly event for LGBTQ-identified cyclists and allies since 2009, inviting one and all to travel through the city via two wheels on a quest to complete various challenges.
It's no secret that the Twin Cities has a huge bike scene — Nelson herself commutes 30 miles every day — but what about an LGBTQ bike scene? Yep, we have that too. With organizations like Queer Bike Gang and Grease Rag Ride & Wrench, plus events like WTF (Women Trans Femme) Rides, it's safe to say that things are thriving in that sector.
While Cirque Du So Gay aims to be educational, it's also really silly and bawdy. There are two routes to choose from: the gentle "Virgin" ride for beginners, and the "Harder! Faster!" course for those who want to go all out. Scheduled stops at local organizations and businesses engage cyclists in various activities, including ring tosses with dildos and DIY pasty making. Costumes are encouraged, and riders have been spotted in gold disco shorts, unicorn horns, superhero capes, red stilettos, and fluffy, fake-fur coats as they make their trek.
But unlike many bike rides, which typically stop or end at a bar, the Cirque Du So Gay ride is alcohol-free, focusing on introducing participants to organizations, services, and businesses that support the LGBTQ community.
Having a cycling challenge that was also booze-free was part of the impetus behind the ride.
"There's an assumption that alcohol plays a role in your social life, particularly among queer people, because historically speaking, bars and underground scenes were where we came together," says Nelson. "I wanted to have a venue for people to get together and have an alternative social outlet."
In addition to continuing with Cirque Du So Gay, now in its sixth year, Nelson assists at various bike-related events and unstructured workshops, teaching riders how to make repairs. As the bike scene continues to grow, she hopes to continue to create new events, groups, and spaces for a variety of riders.
"In mainstream cycling culture, there's not much representation for people of color, and that is even more prominent when you're narrowing it down to queer people," says Nelson. "There are barriers that I can't necessarily do anything about as an individual. But there are things I can do in the activities I coordinate. I really want to change this within the best of my ability."