Cycling to work, shopping or to school, is still a minority transportation choice in North American cities.
For me, as a long-time bike commuter for the last 22 years, Bike to Work Day or Month (depending on the city), is not only a public event to encourage bike commuting love. This Bike to Work event, also affirms the healthy lifestyle choice for often, the lonely daily bike commuter. Especially when I have been and continue to be, 1-4% of all employees that bike to work in all organizations where I’ve worked.
I have worked for 8 different employers in Toronto, Vancouver BC and Calgary during my bike commuting years so far. For each work location, my daily bike rides have ranged from 8 km. to 32 km. for a round trip way between home and workplace. I have trundled along by bike in all seasons and weather.
It’s been part lucky happenstance and part, personal reminder, I make a bike stopover to participate or even better, volunteer, in a local Bike to Work event nearly annually. Well, ok. Make that at least, last 15 years out of 22 years, I’ve experienced a Bike to Work event.
Toronto- Bike to Work Mid-1900’s and 2013
For the first few years, in Toronto when I returned to cycling, I wasn’t even aware of the event. Toronto did have the event as far back as 1989, but I couldn’t have participated anyway. I worked in the near hinterland of mid-town Toronto. Away from the central downtown Toronto Bike to Work event sites. Usually these group rides or stop points for juice, energy bar or pancakes were synchronized in early morning hours to catch passing cyclists.
It wasn’t until I had a job in downtown Toronto where I cycled 16 km. from the suburb, Scarborough to catch an hr. of morning bike commuting revelery. That’s when I did see
the now defunct, Song Cycles, a locally known choir on bikes.
The choir cycled into Nathan Phillips Square at Toronto City Hall while singing cycling parodies of common songs. Here are some of the choir’s cycling ditties –including a parody of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy but ”Bicyclized” in lyrics. We have a CD of their songs which I bought as a gift for Jack. It appears the choir founder, Sue Zelinski moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan and started up a local U.S. version of that choir.
Spin forward to 2013 where just a month ago during a visit, we cycled over to City Hall to join over 1,000 other bike commuters from across Toronto for its annual Bike to Work Day.
We’ve come full circle. We returned to the city that laid the seed to our personal bike commuting sagas. A brilliant blue morning sky and sun beamed down on blue-T shirt clad cyclists who rode together from several different start points in Toronto. Coffee and pancakes were served up and quickly consumed by cyclists. There were enthusiastic podium speeches from event hosts, several local city cycling councillors and a high school troop of students with a teacher, who chose to bike to school daily. Various cycling organizations and vendors dotted the public square for just 2 hrs. before everyone disbanded.
Vancouver, BC: Cycling Participant and Event Feeder
Here, I’ve been both a bike commuter and a volunteer for its Bike to Work Week for different years. A few years ago Vancouver’s cycling advocacy group, The Hub (formerly the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition), expanded to 2 Bike to Work Week events, one in June and the other in November.
The event is on, rain or sun shine. By 2009, Vancouver expanded its cycling energy pit stops for cycling information, juice and snacks to 45 (yes) different locations across Metro Vancouver into the suburbs of Burnaby, New Westminister, Richmond, etc. I have manned some energy pit stop
locations usually less than 5 km. away from home in downtown Vancouver. Some locations served morning, pre-work cyclists while other stops served afternoon, homeward cyclists. I volunteered at pit stops, near bike routes with frequent bike commuters.
Sometimes the ‘problem’ were non-stopping cyclists on a personal timeline before and after work. Or cyclists that simply had to gear up to whizz up a minor road hill or avoid stopping in the rain on a red traffic light. Not every cyclist had time to celebrate Bike to Work Week/Day.
When a cycling energy pit stop was by Stanley Park or at a location in Kitsalano residential neighbourhood, it was easier for parents to bring along their child tucked in a bike trailer, biking on a tandem or with their child cycling on the wee bike. Whether or not it was really the parent on their way to drop the child off at daycare, school or just out to beat cabin fever, it was always just refreshing to see children get their fun bike stickers, granola bar and juice. It is even better, when the fledgling cyclists drop by in steady rain.
Like most Bike to Work events, sometimes there was free basic bike safety checks and pumping up tires. Usually my bike is pronounced quite dirty if it’s subjected to an inspection.
Calgary- Bike Commuting Celebration in Need of Expansion
I’ve dropped by the main Bike to Work Day event for the past 3 years for pancakes, sausage and some chat. It has been spearheaded by a local law firm where one of the lawyers is an ardent bike commuter who partners with other parties for some funding and volunteers.
It’s done well but now Calgary’s city boundaries have expanded very rapidly with no natural barriers of large water bodies, mountains and other adjacent large cities. Calgary is further north than Vancouver and Toronto. Spring warmth for gardening without killing seedlings starts over a month later than the other 2 cities. But for
unknown reasons, Calgary’s Bike to Work Day has been within the first 2 weeks of May –still a bit too cold to capture more wannabe cyclists.
Bike to Work participation at energy stops, is confined to downtown area. It is 1 work day, not 1 week which helps save time and energy but doesn’t kick up bike commuting
love or awareness. 2013 is only the second year, June has been proclaimed Bike Month for Calgary by its mayor. While its population growth has galloped along to now over 1 million, it’s hard to know if many suburban residents en masse, have ever experienced any bike commuting event, much less a ride to work, school or even to the grocery store.
On Calgarian Margins- Car-free, Cycling Lifestyle
Just a few weeks before Bike to Work Day, I was featured on a corporate intranet news profile for my 30 year car-free lifestyle with cycling. To proclaim car-free for so long, is not something majority of Calgarians want to announce –when our winters often dip to -25 to -30 degrees C. Nevertheless, I received reactions from encouragement to surprise.
Bike to Work event, is always very short in any Canadian city. Just barely a pedal crank turn in 365 days of cycle commuting love and encouragement.
Does your area have an annual bike to work event?
More Interesting Reading
Becker, J. Bike to Work Events: What are They For? In Third Wave Cycling Blog. May 8, 2011.
Chong J. Biking to Work- In More Challenging and Isolated Areas. In Third Wave Cycling Blog. May 22, 2010.
Chong, J. Children on Bikes: Cycling into the Future with Them. In Third Wave Cycling Blog. Sept. 24, 2010.