Jan 29, 2020 @ Mill Street Brew Pub, Ottawa
Story by Laura Mueller. Photos by Mark Davidson
The first-ever Ottawa edition of BIKE MINDS opened on Jan. 29, 2020 with a confession from event co-founder and host Matt Pinder to the sold-out crowd: BIKE MINDS isn’t just about storytelling – it’s an advocacy event. The launch of BIKE MINDS beyond Toronto featured a grab bag of tales, from personal reflections to trip recollections, and even a first for the event – a cycling-themed poem.
The evening began with a trip back in time on a Rocky Mountain adventure with Linda Collette and her friend, Denise. While the story took place 20 years ago, the sense of independence that Linda derives from cycling is still very much present to this day.
A mix of travel guidance, bike-repair advice and spectacle, Linda’s story did not fail to entertain. After recounting some of the iconic trails that formed the backdrop for the adventure, Linda scored some points with the bike mechanics in the room by explaining her MacGyver repair techniques, using cutlery to fix a flat tire and even replacing a bolt with a shoelace.
The climax of the story came when Linda described her friend flying over her and landing straight in the frigid Athabasca River – complete with a splash of water to the face for Linda to illustrate the point!
Denise began her story by asking the audience what their lives would be like if they couldn’t ride a bike. Far from a thought experiment, she was describing the reality of many women in her community – in particular, those who are newcomers to Canada.
As a cycling instructor, Denise was recruited by fellow Velo Vanier volunteer Rose Anne Leonard to teach women how to ride a bike. Rose Anne, who ran the Velo Vanier’s free bike-share program, noticed that very few women took advantage of the service. Determined to change that, she recruited potential students by reaching out to women when they came to collect their children after school. Soon, Denise found herself instructing a new type of student.
Her very first student, Esther, made great progress in a matter of hours. Since then, Denise has taught many more women how to cycle – following in the footsteps of the Netherland’s renowned Mama Agatha.
The 2019 Bruce Timmermans Award winner also garnered a lot of questions about her other volunteer cycling gig as a meal-delivery courier for Meals on Wheels, operated out of the Good Companions Centre. Click here for more information.
Paul inspired and entertained the crowd with his TED Talk-style tale of following his heart – a.k.a. the boundary of the City of Ottawa.
Aiming to inspire, Paul encouraged attendees that if they were attending BIKE MINDS, they too were the kind of people who could bike the 300 km perimeter of the city in 24 hours. In fact, he’s looking for people who’d like to do just that this coming summer.
It will be Paul’s second time making the trek. The odyssey began in 2017, when he mapped out a route that closely followed the heart-shaped boundary of the city’s limits. An avid trip mapper, he posted the route to a local cycling group on Facebook, but didn’t get any takers.
Fast forward 638 days and Paul found himself home alone with a free weekend. Thinking the journey might take 48 hours, he set off from the Prince of Wales Bridge, heading west. Along the way, he couldn’t help but notice the irony of the Ottawa welcome signs, which promote Ottawa as a bike-friendly city – in rural locations devoid of any cycling infrastructure. But, the signs do send a message to drivers to share the road, and to Paul, that seemed to be working.
When he reached Ashton Village west of Ottawa, Paul was ready to throw in the towel, but a hot meal got him back in the saddle and he kept going until his bike lights burnt out at 1 a.m.
After a few hours of sleep, he was back at it, hopping barriers and exploring parts of the city that would be impossible to traverse by car.
If you are interested in joining Paul to repeat the journey this summer, you can get in touch with him via Instagram @paulmsg. If you’ve biked the perimeter of Ottawa or another municipality, Paul encourages you to use the hashtag #loopyourcity to share your trip.
Jay treated the crowd to a creative interlude and a BIKE MINDS first – the performance of an original poem.
To open, Jay reflected on the parallels between riding a bike and reading poetry – the pleasure, vulnerability and joy, measured in moments. Jay thinks of poems while riding his bike.
The poem Jay wrote and performed is called Machinery of Joy.
Next up was Chris Bouchard, who recently moved to Ottawa for a job in academia following a decade-long career in active transportation planning in the City of Toronto.
While they worked with brilliant minds in Toronto, Chris noticed a gap. Even the most perfect transportation plan would not get people home safely because transportation is a social process.
That’s where the machinery of government comes in – something that Chris is now studying and writing a book about.
One story Chris reflected on is a network of cycling trails that were built not with the support of a pro-cycling mayor, but rather, under the leadership of Rob Ford. The mechanics of how different governments are implementing cycling infrastructure is now the focus of Chris’s work as a researcher at the University of Ottawa.
Chris came to urbanism from a very interesting starting point, having hand delivered Jane Jacobs’ manuscript for Dark Age Ahead while working as a bike messenger.
Shawn’s story, entitled “My Journey of Self Discovery: Cycling at the Speed of Life” detailed a journey from childhood to transportation engineer and author, illustrated by photos.
As a child growing up in the east end of Ottawa, Shawn experienced the freedom of getting around on his own by bike, and celebrating cycling by displaying his elaborately decorated bike in a local bike parade.
But like many teenagers, he soon traded his two wheels for four and lost touch with cycling for a whole decade. Eventually, while working as a highway engineer at the provincial Ministry of Transportation, Shawn took a temporary posting in Thunder Bay. There, he rediscovered his love of cycling through a 4km commute, which he often extended by taking the scenic route.
When he returned to his office in Toronto, Shawn tried biking to work, but felt something was lacking. He formed a bike users group at his workplace and felt the success of a few wins: indoor bike storage was added, and the group held lunch-and-learn sessions for other interested staff.
Shawn wanted to do more to influence his colleagues and his profession. He made the leap into an active transportation role in York Region, where he was able to see the implementation of his big idea for a median cycling facility to protect cyclists from highway ramps.
Now back working in Ottawa, Shawn also published a book, called Happy Trails, which details 40 biking and hiking adventures in and around the Greater Toronto Area.
Cécile’s story opened with a description of observing Car Free Day by making the nerve-wracking, 15 km trek to work by bike for the first time since moving to Aylmer five years prior.
She never considered herself a motorist. In fact, Cécile works at a transit agency. But she had been driving to work every day for one reason – her 18-month-old son.
Cécile detailed a struggle that many parents face – the search for affordable and accessible daycare. When she was offered a $7 per day daycare spot for her youngest son, she jumped at the chance – only to later discover how difficult it would be to take him there by bike and get to work on time.
Eventually, Cécile decided to make a change – she gave up the affordable daycare spot for a more convenient (but more expensive) option. That allowed her to get back to commuting by transit, giving her time to read books en route, which she thinks led to a promotion at work.
Later, when their car needed to be replaced, Cécile’s family decided to get an electric cargo bike instead. This big improvement in her quality of life all started with that one Car Free Day bike commute.
The Ottawa volunteer team was proud to host this debut event but needs your help to keep the series going! Submit your story today and be featured at one of our next events.