Biking Through Borders, For Doctors Without Borders

“I jokingly say I made this group because I needed friends,” says Justin Johnstone, an Atlanta native who has since moved to Bushwick, where he started a group called NYC Bike and Brew, a social club for drinking cyclists. Now, what began as a quest for like-minded biking enthusiasts has turned into the catalyst for a one-man cross-country bikepacking adventure Johnstone is undertaking to fundraise for the charity Doctors Without Borders, all donations going directly to its efforts. He said he was inspired by the group’s unwavering presence in war-stricken Gaza. 

“I wanted to choose an actual organization that is making some tangible difference. What is happening in Gaza right now, they have been an integral organization to that community,”  Johnstone told me. “Most of their medical infrastructure has been compromised. It just makes the most sense to support this particular cause given that fact. Some people choose to protest, I’m choosing to bike across the country, it’s what I can do at this moment,” he said. 

This coming Saturday, Johnstone’s Bike and Brews route will kick off its journey from Maria Hernandez Park but, this time, the founder of the increasingly popular pedaling posse will be extending his own course significantly.

Johnstone will, himself, embark on a solo, bicoastal bikepacking journey, heading first all the way up to Albany and then moving through Canada to Michigan and then in the direction of San Francisco, where members of a newer, sister chapter of Bike and Brews await. The west coast expansion of the idea was the creation of Adrien Apollon, a former NYC Bike and Brews member who had relocated to the Bay Area with his spouse and was inspired to establish a similar group there. 

Johnstone’s goal? A fifty-day ride over there, averaging about 75 miles a day. He tells me that he knows people who have completed the almost 4,000 mile journey in just forty-three days, fueled by an enviable surge of ambition and, one imagines, incredibly sculpted quads. 

Johnstone, who has a desk job writing reports for the MTA on how climate change is projected to impact subway tunnels, has also involved himself in local biking politics.

He’s worked with Kevin LaCherra’s “Make McGuinness Safe” campaign to run a protest over a controversial boulevard in Greenpoint, where 58 year old school teacher Matthew Jensen was hit by a car and killed crossing it. Johnstone tells me that he was able to gather some 250 bikers to show up to draw attention to the lack of safety measures on that street.

The McGuinness issue has been quite controversial, with a politically powerful family backing a rival group called Keep McGuiness Moving. Johnstone is eager to clue me in on this dramatic back and forth. 

“There’s one particularly wealthy donor to the Eric Adams administration that has a business in Greenpoint called Broadway Stages. It’s owned and operated by the Argento family. They went …straight to Mayor [Eric] Adams and advocated for the redesign to not happen,” he tells me, saying “they went back to the drawing boards when the Argento family complained.” 

The nonprofit reporting website the City had run an investigative piece last year on this, on the amount of investment the Argento have put into these efforts, noting that two-thirds of the “dozens of companies” cited in support of their “Keep McGuiness Moving” campaign can be traced back to them. 

“Some people may hate me, some people support it. It depends on what mode of transportation you subscribe to, putting you on either side of that fence,” says Johnstone.

To me, the MTA analyst waxes about how odd it is that New York is still so car-obsessed despite being one of the only American cities with easily accessible forms of public transportation. Atlanta was different, he says.

“There is such a strong, anti-advocacy here around protecting parking spots and streets. There are better uses for the space,” he says. “If we take away space from the cars and invest them into other modes of transportation, theoretically it should make the city safer and cleaner and easier but people complain about the traffic and the pattern continues,” he says. 

Johnstone departs Bushwick on May 25. To donate to his campaign, click here.

Top photo taken by Michelle Maier for Bushwick Daily.

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