Tales from the National Bike Summit 2015
Working in the industry, and having bikes be such a natural part of my life, it’s easy to forget that they stand for so much. I take it for granted. Health, environment, fun, social justice—at the Summit, I was reminded of this fact.
So many amazing people, seminars, and ideas getting spread around in just a few short days, not to mention some amazing lobbying efforts in Congress. I was blown away by the dedication of so many people—most of whom were volunteers. I know that my little bubble of the world is very bike-centric, but it was amazing to be somewhere and not really know anyone, but still be surrounded by bike-obsessed people. And it was even cooler to realize that they’re doing it in addition to their day jobs, as side projects, as start-ups, as co-ops, in every way, shape and form, people are making cycling happen.
Even being a woman in the industry, I’ve actually always considered that fact to my advantage—there just aren’t that many of us, so it’s easier to make waves as one person, as opposed to (sorry guys) getting lost in the shuffle as “just another industry guy.”
However, the one thing that really came across at the Women’s portion of the Summit was that there are tons of women who are feeling disenfranchised from the cycling industry and from advocacy. And that group includes a lot of minorities that we don’t always think of, those in the LGBTQ communities. I loved what GreaseRag did, handing out stickers to go on our nametags to specify what gender pronoun we prefer… It highlighted the issue that ‘women’ encompasses a huge group, and, from a practical standpoint, it both educated and helped avoid awkward social situations for people.
The panels at the Summit were hugely interesting, but for me, I think the coolest was about Retrofitting Suburbia, with author Dr. Ellen Dunhan-Jones leading the discussion. Growing up in the suburbs, I can attest to the fact that riding just isn’t part of life here, except as entertainment. It’s nearly impossible to run errands on a bike where I grew up, because everything is spaced fairly far apart, and the direct routes are all highways. The back roads are winding and narrow, and while they’re fun on a road bike when out on an adventure, they’d be terrifying on a bulky commuter bike laden with groceries. It’s just not conducive to creating a bike-friendly population.
That’s what I thought was so cool about the seminar—the idea of retrofitting things like ‘dead malls’ to make bike friendly areas, and even changing the town’s infrastructure to create better bike planning (for example, where I live, the main shopping center is around two miles away, as the crow flies, but involves seven miles of backroad or four miles of highway to get to it. A network of bike paths could be a gamechanger).
The Summit gave me a ton of food for thought about advocacy—I admit, it’s not something that comes naturally to me, and especially not about simple things like infrastructure. Maybe because I don’t live in any one area for very long, but it’s hard to become part of the discussion in a town that you’re only in for a month at a time! But that doesn’t mean I can’t be part of the solution in other ways.
I’ve been more active in the social justice element, though—I love when I get the chance to work with Shannon Galpin from Afghan Cycles, and to be honest, I feel like the best way I can contribute to any type of bike advocacy is through my writing, and my ability to help spread the word about the different causes out there, and how we can help each one. That’s a pretty cool space to be in.
But I think there’s more I can be doing. I’m working on some new things, like a big women’s night up in Collingwood later this month, but the Summit gave me a million new ideas. Though as the first speaker, Tulsa Hub founder Ren Barger, talked about in the very beginning of the week, passion in advocacy is great, but that isn’t enough. It takes structure, organization, skill and experience… so, hard work, in essence, to make a movement work. There was a ton of passion at the Summit—and a ton of people working very hard—and I’m really excited to see where a bunch of the projects go.