Bring a Buddy by Bike

You will, I hope, excuse the alliteration in the title.  There is more to come, but I swear it’s not my fault.

I live and bike in Boston, and am active in the bike scene there.  For a job interview – must have been a year ago now – I had to write a bit about an issue that’s important to me, and propose a way to effect change.  What I came up with is a campaign, with the working title of Bring a Buddy by Bike.  Don’t worry; I’m not married to the title.  It’s a simple enough idea, but the details of turning it into a reality may be a bit tricky.

What we have learned as bicycle advocates in the past 40 or so years is that the most important thing is to get people out on bikes.  Increase the number of bicyclists, increase the number of trips taken by bike.  The more people biking, the safer it is to ride; the safer it is to ride, the more people decide to bike.  Once you get that critical mass (or Critical Mass), there’s a chance for a very powerful bit of snowballing.  This is why we build infrastructure, to make people at least feel safer so they’re comfortable getting on the bike. 

So if local governments are redesigning the road infrastructure, what can your average cyclist do to change the streetscape a bit?  If you ride in the city, you’ve told someone about your pedal pushing ways and they’ve been all, like ‘OMG you’re crazy and the drivers are CRAZY and do you wear a helmet I heard someone was in an accident and and and aren’t you SCARED?’  Friends, let me tell you once and for all, it ain’t that bad.  Now, I’m not saying you don’t need to know your shit before you start joining me on my commute down Mass Ave twice a day, but you’d be surprised how well you (yes, you) can get around the city on two wheels and your own muscles.  I used to work for a company whose entire business model was based on getting tourists – as in, out-of-town, haven’t been on a bike in a decade tourists – on bikes for tours of the city.  And this is where us regular bikers come in: all that needs to happen to change some number of you skeptical friends into occasional, or hardcore, urban cyclists is for you to take ‘em out for a ride.

So here’s how the campaign works.  We launch a website to promote the idea and point to resources for getting bikes and riding safely.  Local bikers pledge to bring X number of friends out for a ride, preferably one that includes at least some actual riding on streets (though, by all means, choose the calmest, most-bike friendly streets you can find).  After the ride, fill out a survey on the site that asks you questions like how many people went riding, how many were new to urban cycling, where did you ride, how many miles, etc.  We publish stats on the site so people can see how many trips and bicycle-miles-traveled we’re adding to bike’s mode share.  It’s like a pledge drive, but instead of pledging to give money to someone who will do something good with it, you’re pledging miles ridden and new riders, and just by riding your bike, you’re contributing a bit to the cause.

The idea would be to coordinate with other organizations and campaigns.  Bike month in May – when people pledge to ride a certain number of miles and Bike to Work week occurs – would be about the time we’d want the campaign to be hitting its stride.  So, promote in the winter, a few rides in the early spring, really get cooking in May, peak in the summer, and see how many new friends we have on bikes come autumn and winter.

So, some of the challenges/details/issues/logistics/things that gotta happen:

  • Need a functional website to explain the concept, host links to other resources as well as the social media parts of the campaign, and provide a place for people to add their information, and begin hearing the stories of other participants through a blog
  • Where do new riders find a bike to ride?  This is a big one, but there are options.  The above linked Urban AdvenTours rents bikes, as do some other shops in the area.  MyBike and others rent bikes long term.  The city should be launching bike share this spring (an added benefit to this campaign would be giving a boost to the bike share program, which I’m sure it will need).  Craigslist and Ebay have cheap bikes, as does Bikes Not Bombs.  And of course there are many bikes to be found in basements and garages.
  • Coordinating with other rides: a great time to bring new people riding is at an event where there will be lots of other cyclists, and maybe even some professional/volunteer help.  From the city we have Bike Month, Bike Fridays, and of course Hub on Wheels.  Critical Mass last Friday of every month from Copley.  MassBike does a Spin Series, there’s the Charles River Wheelman, Sunday mornings on Memorial Drive in Cambridge, local shop rides, charity events, theme rides like the tweed ride, and on and on.  Or, just get some friends and ride some bikes and suddenly you’re reading a group ride.  AdvenTours, MassBike, and plenty of others have events calendars that list upcoming rides, and Boston Biker announces pretty much everything.
  • Where should you ride?  Use the city’s budding infrastructure to your advantage.  Mix in some of our great off-road paths (South West Corridor, Emerald Necklace, both sides of the Charles) with on road lanes and quiet streets.  Again, some of the above mentioned folks will have maps with suggested rides, and the city produces a bike map that rates the bikability of different routes.  While their main map was out of date last I checked, Rubel has a series of small maps for road rides in the city.  Check out MapMyRide, talk to friends, get on chat rooms; people love to talk about their favorite rides.

So I guess what I’m saying is, if you or someone you like likes Boston and likes bikes, you/they should drop me a line.  Ride safe.

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