Bikes! Co-Ops! Voyages of Self-Discovery! This Project Brings Together Everything You Love

A group of college students and recent grads bicycled across America, visiting cooperative businesses and re-imagining the country they were about to inherit.

This article originally appeared at the Field Guide to a Regenerative Economy.

In the summers of 2012 and 2013 a group of college students and recent grads bicycled across America. They visited cooperatives, honed their own cooperative skills, re-imagined the country they were about to inherit, and, along the way, discovered themselves. Here is their story.

In the 2012 U.N.-declared “International Year of Cooperatives,” a collective of college students created a project called Co-Cycle. They were 12 friends who wanted to experience the nation that they were to inherit. They wanted to spend the summer traveling across the United States and they wanted to do it by bicycle. What were they looking for? Cooperatives.

They visited over 60 cooperative businesses and learned about the co-ops’ structures, struggles, and strengths.

In rural, urban, conservative, and progressive communities, the Co-Cycle riders visited food co-ops, credit unions, worker-owned factories, electric co-ops, producer farming co-ops … the list goes on.

They biked through cities, suburbs, and towns, through grazing fields, cornfields, and oilfields, over mountains, rivers, and streams. They visited more than 60 cooperative businesses and learned about the co-ops’ structures, struggles, and strengths. As a working collective themselves, they applied that knowledge to face their own challenges in organizing and living democratically. Many of the riders have said that the biking was the easiest part and that working through the emotional struggles with the clarity, love, and dignity required to function as a cooperative was the greater challenge.

Two of the founding members, Megan Meo and Katie Coupe, were inspired to form Co-Cycle while on a long bike ride in western Massachusetts. They happened upon a sweet little food co-op and had a wonderful time learning about the community there and the workings of the co-op. They decided it was so wonderful, in fact, that they wanted to bike across the whole country doing just that: learning about democratic business models and about the people and places that uphold them.

Co-Cycle became an endorsed project of the United Nations’ International Year of Cooperatives. Co-Cycle worked with the National Cooperative Business Association and the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives to turn the students’ vision into a reality.

As more friends signed on, the collective gained momentum and organizing power. Over the next 10 months, the students fundraised, created a brand, developed marketing materials, organized co-op visits and events, and planned out the basic route. When they arrived in San Francisco at the beginning of the summer, it was the first time many of them had met, but together they set off on an incredible journey—not yet quite understanding just how together in living, working, organizing, and learning they would be over the next three months.

On June 1, 2012, the 12 cyclists left San Francisco to begin a 4,100 mile journey to Amherst, Massachusetts. They were accompanied by a 3-person film crew led by Emma Thatcher, a student at New York University and a close friend of one of the organizers. The cyclists’ journey was documented by this student and was released as a full-length documentary, To the Moon, released in 2014. [You can view clips from "To the Moon," the first above, and also here.]

Working through the emotional struggles with the clarity, love, and dignity required to function as a cooperative was the greater challenge than biking.

Deeply inspired by the cooperatives they visited, the people they'd met, and the country they'd seen with new eyes, five of the students decided to keep Co-Cycle living on for at least one more year. After putting out a plug for applications, they invited seven more riders to join the collective and complete another cross-country tour visiting cooperatives in 2013. The seven riders were all women and current college students or recent college graduates. They biked from Seattle, Washington, to Boston, Massachusetts, and visited many of the same towns, people, and cooperatives as the summer before, but every experience was new. Although they followed a similar route, in joining the collective these women created their own Co-Cycle.

Many members of the Co-Cycle collective have since gone on to do work for more regenerative communities and a more democratic economy. They all hold the values and inspiration gained from our summer deep within their persons, and these will guide them along their life journeys.