Story by Joan Milway. Photos by David Keogh.
How does cycling help people to find and create a sense of community? The March 2019 installment of BIKE MINDS aimed to answer this question. The event was held in partnership with Share the Road to kick off the annual Ontario Bike Summit, and featured the largest BIKE MINDS audience yet – 120 people! Jamie Stuckless, executive director of Share the Road welcomed the large crowd to the summit, and Matt Pinder shared an intro on the value of community and the mission of BIKE MINDS.
The first speaker of the evening was Sarah Chau Bradley of Cycle Toronto. In her presentation, titled Finding my way by bike wherever I land, Sarah spoke about her experience growing up in downtown Toronto biking around wherever she had to go, and discovering her city by bike through bike raves, races and fundraising rides. When she moved to different cities around North America she was always able to find community and things to do with a bike – even when she was working on a farm in rural British Columbia.
Sarah told the group about how even though Cycle Toronto is known for their advocacy work, they also do quite a bit of work educating and encouraging people to ride their bikes more. Cycle Toronto hosts a wide range of group rides that are open to everyone, and can be a great place to form friendships and make memories. Even if you haven’t ridden a bike since you were a child, joining a Cycle Toronto group ride is a surefire way to find community.
Next up was Dave Shellnutt, otherwise known as The Biking Lawyer. Dave spoke about how he has been able to use his legal background to support the cycling community. Through representing injured cyclists, Dave has seen how careless drivers can be and has become a more defensive cyclist as a result – ringing his bell, wearing a camera while riding, and never instigating or escalating a conflict. Although the constant defensiveness can be draining, Dave has found positivity and community in advocacy – whether it be through attending a ghost bike ride or a die-in, or providing free “Know Your Rights” workshops to people who ride bikes. Dave shared that it is profoundly invigorating to give back, show up and support your community.
Caitlin Lee shared a story of her journey of growth, adventure and belonging while biking in the ‘burbs, and how she found a home away from home in Brampton. When Caitlin moved to Brampton to stay with her aunt during her internship at the Region of Peel after her third year at University of Toronto, she began cycling the five kilometre trip to work everyday, This opened up a new side of Brampton to her.
A flat tire one day led Caitlin to a drop-in repair session at the Brampton Bike Hub, where she was first welcomed into Brampton cycling community. She joined PedalWise, where she received mentorship and learned about nutrition and how to properly handle her bike. Caitlin started documenting her trips on Strava, and explored parks and conservation areas by bike. She joined Bike Brampton community rides, and for her goodbye Brampton ride with her mentor she went for a 100 kilometre ride to Tottenham, breaking her own personal record. All in all, discovering the bike community in Brampton changed her entire experience living there.
James Hetamek from Tune Your Ride was next up, talking about his experience connecting people, parks, music and bikes at the Toronto Bicycle Music Festival. In partnership with Cycle Toronto and Arts in the Parks, Tune Your Ride leads group bike rides from park to park with different concerts in each park. The concerts themselves are pedal powered by members of the audience. Without the support of volunteers and funding partners, the Toronto Bicycle Music Festival would have never been possible. According to James, when you bring bikes and arts together you create and nurture spiritual capital.
James shared that while this will be the last year for the TBMF, after this year he will be putting his energy into a new project called Best of Our Neighbourhoods, or BOON. BOON brings the elements of the TBMF to parks around the city, but activations will be led by local groups to make them more community-focused.
Janet Joy Wilson
Janet Joy Wilson from The Reading Line gave an enthusiastic overview how she bridges communities using bikes and books on “Book Rides”. She started The Reading Line with a coworker once they realized their shared love of bike advocacy. The Reading Line is a group bike ride that goes from park to park, with multiple stops where different authors read from their books. They have even had Toronto’s poet laureate out at one event, which drew lots of media! In addition to creating bike advocates out of book lovers. She uses the ride as an opportunity to promote bike powered businesses and partner with organizations like Evergreen Canada. With grants and funding she was able to steadily scale up the event and expand to the point where last year hundreds attended the Viaduct edition of The Reading Line.
Our sixth storyteller was Justin Jones, who shared his life story of bikes, community and family. Hailing from Carstairs, Alberta, teenage Justin would have never pictured himself where he is today – living in Collingwood and transporting his young family around by cargo bike. When Justin turned sixteen, he bought his first car, and it was everything to him. He drove his friends everywhere with him, even the 300 metres between his school and the convenience store.
When he eventually moved to Toronto to do his Masters, Justin began by walking everywhere, but as his friend group and community grew, he had to start taking the TTC. After just a few weeks, he began to become frustrated with transit. He became bike-curious, and tried it out. The experience was life changing, and he began using his bike as a tool – the best tool – to get from A to B in the city. When he moved to Hamilton he founded an advocacy campaign called Yes We Cannon and built a community around the vision of a safer street with quality cycling infrastructure, which was eventually approved and built by the city. He made friends, and together they helped people see their streets in a different way.
Our headliner for the evening was Sabat Ismail, who spoke about bikes, community and empowerment. Sabat began riding in her Markham basement, with her training wheels and her dad teaching her. Eventually she made it out onto the sidewalk, and continued to ride her brother’s hand-me-down bikes. Finally, in June of 2014 her dad offered to buy her a new bike! She got a neon green CCM and biked all over Markham – and found it to be way better than the local bus. She found it empowering to be in charge of her own mobility, and interacted with her community and neighbourhood in new ways.
When she moved to Toronto, Sabat began going to Bike Pirates and built her first bike at their trans and women Sundays. Whereas before going to Bike Pirates, she wasn’t aware of how much space she wasn’t taking up, she suddenly felt an empowerment to take it up! This raised some questions, including: who do we offer space to in this world, and at who’s expense? Sabat met a woman from Black Girls Do Bike, and was inspired to start BikePOC, a group for BIPOC (Black, Indigineous People of Colour) who identify as women, trans or non binary. The mission of the group is to create a safer space and generate exposure for these folks in the cycling community.
Bikes+Community was the last BIKE MINDS event of the Spring 2019 season. Did you attend an event in 2019? Please fill out our feedback survey to help us improve for future events!