Feature Series

NYC Hometown Heroes: Ryan Snelson


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  Right now it’s the little moments of hope surrounded by chaos — the rainbow from Monday, neighbors cheering for essential workers at 7 pm, watching our son take his first steps on the big sidewalk.   

-- Ryan Snelson, Motoveli
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April 16, 2020 | Rahoul Ghose

While NYC is replete with heroes in the medical field, tackling the battle against COVID-19 head on, the local moto community has also stepped up with some creative and resourceful ways to help out: production and transportation of medical supplies — masks, hand sanitizer; rides for medical support staff; and even photojournalistic documentation of the city’s efforts.

We’ve partnered with Kirsten Midura from Engines for Change to talk with a few of these local moto icons about what they’re doing for the city, how they’ve been personally affected by the pandemic, and, literally, what keeps them going day to day.

First up is Motoveli magazine's rider-in-chief Ryan Snelson, who partnered with Masks For Docs to arrange pick up and delivery of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to hospitals and individuals around NYC.


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1) Welcome Ryan ... while we're obviously friends and colleagues, for the readers out there, tell us a bit about yourself, what you do work-wise, and your relationship to New York City.

Let’s go way back. Both of my great grandparents came here off the boat. In 1918 my Italian grandfather was born on MacDougal Street in the village. My Irish grandmother was born in Brooklyn around Coney Island. My mom was born in Queens, and my dad in Jersey — where I grew up. Everyone else ended up in Long Island or out of state. I’ve been working and living in New York most of my adult life. My wife and I live in Brooklyn where our son was born last year. In the moto community they call me Ryan from Motoveli. Professionally, I’m a product designer.

2) What makes NYC special for you?

Right now it’s the little moments of hope surrounded by chaos — the rainbow from Monday, neighbors cheering for essential workers at 7 pm, watching our son take his first steps on the big sidewalk.

3) Tell us a bit about your chosen cause during this pandemic ... what inspired the idea, what obstacles have you had to overcome? Who has helped make your valuable contribution a reality?

If you follow Motoveli on Instagram, you might have seen the story where I ride through Times Square. This was in early March when the lockdown was just starting. At the time I wanted to experience the emptiness, and to take advantage of the open streets. The story got a lot of attention on social media because Times Square was empty. It became the thing to do for a while.

And then it hit me — why the fuck am I riding around at night during a pandemic? Am I out of my mind? Yes. That ride made me more self aware. You know how when you ride, you feel everything around you? You notice things, spidey senses are up. I started to feel uneasy about what was happening to our city.

A few days later the Masks For Docs Foundation was forming with one goal — get protective supplies into the hands of healthcare workers as quickly as possible. I saw a Tweet, and within minutes I helped self-organize a pick up and delivery of much-needed PPE.

Volunteers like Reginé Gilbert, Crü Jones, John Saponara, Meredith Balkus, Jon Pater, and myself were among the first on these missions. We got much needed PPE directly to doctors at a time when they didn’t have anything.

Doctors called us heroes. They were thanking us while we were thanking them. This is what started the motorcycle missions. We were able to prove out this hyper-local model of going around red tape — meeting doctors away from hospitals on the street or at their homes.

I rallied more friends and other riders who signed up to help — some had cars and vans too. I started working with an epidemiologist named Chelsea Polis to identify leads, and to coordinate and verify PPE pick up and delivery around NYC. This basically became the NYC pilot for Masks For Docs.

on a two-wheeled delivery mission to pick up and deliver ppe around nyc | ryan snelson
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  We were able to prove out this hyper-local model of going around red tape — meeting doctors away from hospitals on the street or at their homes. I rallied more friends and other riders who signed up to help — some had cars and vans too.   

-- Ryan Snelson, Motoveli
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4) What other needs do you see for the city that members of the moto community could contribute to?

There are short-term and long-term needs. But as it relates to motorcycles, I’m now seeing less need for what I like to call 'reactive delivery'. This is because supply chains are being set up to handle more volume. Coordination efforts with health care workers have become increasingly smooth, and storage facilities are emerging. Other foundations are working together and scaling with more volunteers too.

We’ve been doing this for about a month, and M4D now has more than 100 local chapters delivering and 3D printing supplies on six continents. It’s incredible. But like Crü said during our first mission — we shouldn’t have to be doing this. And he’s right. There’s absolutely no reason for the wealthiest country in the world to be relying on volunteers to find PPE from donors, and to deliver it to health care workers on motorcycles. We need to vote out Trump, and eventually revamp our entire political system.

In short term New York, I’m seeing a real need to close streets so people can get outside. It’s a simple idea that few are talking about. This virus is airborne which means you can get it by breathing. People want to get outside when the weather is nice, but the sidewalks are too narrow for people to pass each other safely. If social distancing means at least six feet away, but most sidewalks are not six feet wide, then people will be forced together by design. We need to allow people to expand their movements onto the street where cars normally go. Organize with your neighbors and go guerrilla — block off streets with cones so there are safe spaces to walk and play. This will cut down on new infections and reduce personal conflict. Pretend you’re having a block party. Do it as a group together ... at a distance.

Another short-term thought — NYC is the epicenter of a global pandemic. If you must ride your motorcycle because, 'look at me I’m social distancing,' then please take an extra second to understand the risks before you ride. Cars are extra sloppy right now. You’re most likely considered a non-essential worker. Hospitals are already over-capacity. You get the idea. Just be extra safe if you’re out there.

5) How have you personally been affected by the COVID-19 crisis and what do you do to keep positive day to day?

I’m ok, but I’m always learning about friends and colleagues that are going through their own COVID battles. We’re all dealing in our own ways. Right now there are 10,834 deaths in New York from COVID-19. That’s almost four times 9/11, and the numbers are rising daily. Our brains haven’t processed this yet. Like everyone else, I experience moments of sadness, nights with vivid dreams, and days that feel blurry. Being sober during lockdown forces me to confront emotions and deal with the news. I’m not having drinks on 'zoom' during virtual happy hours. I find myself being more introverted than usual.

My family keeps me grounded and focused. I see the world through my toddler’s eyes and I love it. He laughs and drools and we play hide-and-seek. I’m grateful to be able to spend this time together, and I’m thankful that my wife still has work, and that we can both be remote. My landlord and neighbor sing and play music every night. The block claps for them, then we all clap for health care workers, then it’s bath time, then we read Goodnight Moon.

motoveli rider-in-chief ryan snelson and his son take a stroll | ryan snelson
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  Right now there are 10,834 deaths in New York from COVID-19. That’s almost four times 9/11, and the numbers are rising daily. Our brains haven’t processed this yet. Like everyone else, I experience moments of sadness, nights with vivid dreams, and days that feel blurry.   

-- Ryan Snelson, Motoveli
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6) If you're looking at that light at the end of the tunnel, what's the first thing you want to do once this crisis subsides?

Run into the ocean, float a while, look at the sky, walk back up the beach, dry off, have a cold soda, and make mud castles with my son, family, and friends.

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You can view more of Snelson's work on motoveli.com and Instagram: @motoveli.

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Comments

  • All the feels. Thank you @nyc_motorcyclist @miduramoto @enginesforchange

    @motoveli
  • Huge thanks for all that you babes do @nyc_motorcyclist @miduramoto @motoveli

    @crasserole

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