Bikes + Discovery

March 21, 2018 @ Fix Coffee + Bikes, Toronto
Recap by Katie Wittmann. Photos by David Keogh.

“A bicycle is something, and almost nothing”, shared Matt Pinder, Co-host of BIKE MINDS, as he kicked off Episode 3: Bikes+Discovery.

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He opened with a brief history lesson: When we look at Amsterdam today, we see the bicycle capital of the world – but even in Amsterdam, the 1960s were a time of car-centric planning. What changed the course of history was the way the people of Amsterdam pushed back. They resisted, they protested, and they formed strong countermovements. One such group, Provo, experimented with an early model of the now popular bike sharing systems. They placed white painted bicycles all around the city for people to use, completely free. In doing so, they depersonalized bikes and made them nothing more than another element of the city, like a bench or a sidewalk. They showed that a bicycle is something, and almost nothing.

In a similar vein, the BIKE MINDS series is not about bicycles, but about the people who ride them. The stories of the Episode 3 storytellers reminded us of the joy, relationship-building, and exploration that comes with riding a bike.

Alex Nolet

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Alex is a Transportation Safety engineer and partner at the consulting firm True North Safety Group. His family of four recently moved from Etobicoke to the Danforth area, where they decided to sell their car and use a cargo bike as their main mode of transportation.

First up was Alex Nolet, a Transportation Safety Engineer and family cyclist, sharing his journey to a car-free life. It was anything but straightforward, he explained. The urban form greatly impacted his ability to transition away from vehicle use, both in terms of where he lived and where he worked. His first few homes and jobs were in suburban, curvi-linear neighbourhoods, which made it difficult to travel by any mode other than a car.

“Trying to bike in such an environment is like trying to play tennis with a badminton racquet”, Alex explained. It wasn’t until he got a job in downtown Toronto and he and his family moved to the Danforth that they were able to swap out their car for a cargo bike. Now, he and his wife cycle the city with their two daughters (yes – even in winter), and they love it.

Caitlin Allan

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Caitlin is the Co-Director of the Toronto Bicycle Music Festival, and has been involved since 2014. Caitlin loves cycling far (slowly), and the joy that is found in a group bike ride.

The second storyteller, Caitlin Allan, shared the story of the Toronto Bicycle Music Festival (TBMF) and her experiences as Co-Director. She has long had a love affair with the bicycle, but it was truly confirmed when she moved to Toronto and attended her first Bicycle Music Festival in 2012.

The Festival features local, diverse, up-and-coming artists, whose sound is amplified with pedal-powered speakers that participants take turns riding. Last summer, the Festival expanded from its one-day event to include a four part Sunset Series in the months leading up to the big day. The last few years have seen a focus on exploring and animating spaces outside of the downtown core, with rides to areas such as Flemingdon Park, Bell Manor Park, Humber Bay West Park, and more! These joyous musical bike parades provide access to mini-concerts outside the core that many people would otherwise not get to experience, and help participants explore areas of Toronto they may otherwise not have discovered.

Sylvia Green

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Sylvia is an urban planning and engineering graduate, born and raised in Toronto. She has biked in 4 continents, and through her travels fell in love with the pace, freedom, and the feeling of intimacy with her surroundings when riding a bike.

Third up to the stage was Sylvia Green, a “plangineer” and founder of Your City in Motion. When Sylvia was younger, she used to bike to work along the Rogers Road bike lane, which she unhappily noted was always filled with potholes. Her pothole-filled route sparked her interest in civil engineering, so she could learn about ways to fix roads like Rogers.

Uninspired by her heavily quantitative education, she took to bike touring and found other outlets for her sustainability passion, before going on to do a Masters in Norway. She met amazing people along the way, discovered new kinds of bike infrastructure, and saw new opportunities for integrating cycling into the city narrative. She started a small project called “Cyclists of KW”, which captured the photos and stories of everyday cyclists on social media. Her project has since expanded to “Cyclists of Your City” and she captures the stories of people all around the world, including Copenhagen’s Mayor for Environmental and Technical Affairs!

Sarah Climenhaga

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Sarah Climenhaga is a community activist who started riding a bike at the age of seven and never stopped. Her background is in environmental conservation and urban policy, and her passionate belief in the importance of active transportation and good urban design for all spurred her to enter politics.

Sarah Climenhaga, a European family bike tourist, was the fourth storyteller of the evening, and took us on a 4,000 km journey from the Netherlands to Denmark. With her husband and three children, they biked for three and a half months, mostly next to rivers and through as many trails and protected bike lanes as possible.

They brought all of their camping gear, and didn’t plan accommodations ahead of time. They used the website Warm Showers, and were blown away by the number of families that offered to take them in. People made them dinner, baked them bread, and guided them through their communities. The generosity of strangers was incredible. And the routes they rode were incredible, too! They learned how it feels to be safe, supported, and celebrated. Sarah wants us to be able to feel this way in Toronto, and plans to run in the upcoming mayoral election.   

Ryan Whitney

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Ryan is an urban sustainability planner and current PhD student in Planning in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto. His current research focuses on the uptake of urban sustainability best practices in the context of equitable urban development in Latin America, with a specific focus on Mexico and Colombia.

“Cities have personalities”, began Ryan Whitney, a PhD student in Geography & Planning at U of T. Mexico City (where some of Ryan’s research is focused), is one of the largest and fastest growing cities in the world. It is also one of the most congested cities in the world, with significant air pollution and major mobility issues.

Now Mexico City is going through a bike revolution, with lots of experimentation in cycling infrastructure and programs. They have Ciclovias every Sunday, one of the largest bike sharing systems in the Americas, a new focus on climate change policy, and a mix of painted and separated bike lanes. The bicycle and sustainability are being packaged and sold as part of the city’s new identity. But the infrastructure is not being prioritized everywhere. There remains a significant disparity between rich and poor neighbourhoods. Ryan left us with the question, “What does bicycle planning mean for equity?”

Chris and James Potvin

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Late in the summer of 2017, 9-year-old James Potvin and his Dad, Chris talked about an end of summer adventure. A month later they rode 450 km from Whitby to Ottawa raising money for a local children’s centre and making national news.

The headliners of the night were Chris Potvin and his son James, sharing their story, “Saving a Starfish: The #RideJamesRide Story”. The Starfish reference comes from The Star Thrower, a well-known essay by Loren Eiseley. It describes an old man who comes across a young boy throwing starfish back into the ocean in an attempt to save them. He tells the boy what he’s doing is not making a difference, as there are miles and miles of starfish-covered beach. But the boy continues, and as he throws another starfish in, he says “It made a difference for that one”.

James is a high-functioning, autistic child. He manages to work through things until sometimes the jumbled confusion takes over. His world is like a lot of puzzle pieces that he can’t always put together. School and friendships haven’t come easily for James, and he’s often told “you can’t”. So last summer, when he asked his father Chris if they could bike from Whitby to the Giver 150 Park in Ottawa, Chris decided to show him the power of “I can”.

A friend suggested they use this 450 km journey to raise some money. Chris started with a goal of $1500, which would go to the Grandview Children’s Centre (where James has received support over the years). To help with fundraising, Chris asked the local radio DJ if he could mention it once on the air. The DJ did much more than that – he mentioned it many times, invited them out to events, helped get more media traction, and their story really took off.

During the trip, Chris and James stayed with several families, all of which had their own kind of struggle. One of their nights was spent with the grandparents of a Grandview child. The grandparents weren’t familiar with autism or how they could support their children. Chris was able to help them. Another family they stayed with had a boy with down syndrome, who taught James drumming (with sensitivity aids). With each family, they had an exchange of giving and receiving support.

When Chris and James rolled up to their final destination, they had a huge welcoming committee with lots of surprise guests. They ended up raising $10,800 for Grandview! The best parts of the journey were the people they met along the way, the fact that they finished it, and the confidence it has instilled in James. One year ago, he would barely say a word during conversations. Now, he’s speaking in front of audiences and enjoying it.

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Next summer, they’ll be biking to Coney Island and raising more funds for Grandview and an autism organization in New York. You can follow along and tweet using #RideJamesRide.

The #RideJamesRide adventure has made a huge difference in James’ life, and has touched the lives of many others, including children receiving support from Grandview. What can we learn from this inspiring story? Find a starfish, and make a difference.

The Spring 2018 BIKE MINDS series concludes next month with its finale event, Bikes+Identity, at Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works, on April 18th. Registration opens April 2nd at 9AM – don’t miss out!

Bikes + Lifestyle

February 21, 2018 @ Fix Coffee + Bikes, Toronto
Recap by Robert Zaichkowski. Photos by David Keogh.

Fellow bike blogger Matt Pinder and transportation researcher Michelle Kearns kicked off the BIKE MINDS bicycle storytelling series last month with a discussion about bikes and belonging. Tickets for the February 21 episode sold out within an hour. Over 50 people packed Fix Coffee & Bikes to enjoy some stories and free beer courtesy of Amsterdam Brewery. Michelle Kearns started by asking, “How can bicycles have an impact on your life?” She noted the speakers brought perspectives on a variety of bike lifestyles – including families, bike sharing, and suburban – and how lucky she is that her job involves studying something she is passionate about.

Bikes + Belonging

January 17, 2018 @ Fix Coffee + Bikes, Toronto
Recap by Derek Rayside. Photos by David Keogh.

Belonging was the theme of the first BIKE MINDS event (January 17), organized by Matt Pinder & Michelle Kearns. BIKE MINDS is a bicycle-themed storytelling event where guests share inspiring experiences, ideas and research related to cycling. Participants are invited to engage in thoughtful, inspiring, and inclusive conversations around a mutual appreciation for the bicycle. The evening was kindly hosted at Fix Coffee + Bikes, with additional sponsorship from Amsterdam Brewery. This highly anticipated event had a waiting list larger than the venue.

We heard stories of how bicycles had been vehicles to welcome newcomers to Toronto and Canada, and of how bicycles had strengthened and enriched existing communities in Toronto. An emergent theme of the evening was how bicycles also created senses of freedom and confidence. As keynote speaker Kyle Ashley said, “the heart of a bicycle is a person.”

Introduction: Matt Pinder

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“Why are we here tonight?” Matt Pinder, co-organizer of BIKE MINDS and the host for Episode #1, set the tone for the evening with a speech about the power of stories. He introduced BIKE MINDS as a series exploring cycling in the GTHA “not with statistics, but with positive and inspiring stories”.


Katie Wittmann & Ping Pang

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Katie Wittmann is an avid commuter cyclist and enthusiastic Bike Host mentor. She has been involved in the Bike Host program since 2013, and loves returning each summer. When she’s not biking for transportation, for triathlon training, or to show friends and newcomers around the city, she’s thinking about other ways we can get more people on bikes. Ping Pang is a recent participant in the Bike Host program, and was one of Katie’s mentees in the Summer of 2017. She moved with her daughter from China to Windsor, and then to Toronto in 2012. Since joining the Bike Host program she feels stronger and more confident, and recommends it to friends.

For the first story, recent Canadian newcomer Ping Pang spoke about how the Bike Host program by CultureLink had helped her integrate into Toronto and Canadian culture. She has made many lasting friendships through Bike Host, and cycling has given her the independence and confidence to go where and when she pleases.

Ping’s Bike Host mentor, native Torontonian Katie Wittmann, told of how teaching newcomers to ride had enriched her life and expanded her culinary horizons. She took us to Bike Host summer potluck picnics, with food and children from all around the world joyfully playing and riding around Toronto’s great parks and trails.

Katie also made a special mention of host venue Fix Coffee + Bikes, which donates fixed up old bikes to CultureLink so that newcomers can have a bike to take home.


Claire McFarlane

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Claire McFarlane is the co-founder and director of The Bad Girls Bike Club. She’s also a journalist and avid cyclist.

Next, Claire McFarlane, co-founder of the Bad Girls Bike Club, took us on a ride around Cape Breton island in Nova Scotia. We went up and down the mountains with her, as she overcame everything in her path, from rocky roads to mosquitos to wobbly brakes. With each new challenge, her confidence in her mastery of her bike and the terrain grew stronger.


Juno Stewart

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For five years the Family Bicycle Parade was Family friendly bicycle fun! Juno Stewart, Gillian Kranias and their children; Ursula and Allias put on a fun-filled parade to meet their neighbours. Participants paraded on a car-free bridge and ravine park trails on decorated bicycles and played bicycle games.

For five years, Juno Stewart took his love to the streets, organizing a family bicycle parade for his neighbourhood north of Davenport. Kids had a great time, riding in the park, decorating their bikes, and banging pots and pans. Grown-ups even had a race to see how slow they could go without falling over. He showed us everything we would need to know to organize family bicycle parades in our own neighbourhoods.


Erica Duque

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Erica Duque has explored and discovered the world by bike, riding in places like Ecuador, Vietnam and Australia.  She was introduced to the sheer joy of cycling in Toronto on her second day in the city.  She bought her first adult bicycle in Toronto, on the advice of a person she had just met.  They’ve been together since! She made her passion for cycling into her career and works as an Active Transportation Planner for the Region of Peel.  She loves Toronto because it’s a place for everyone from everywhere to do everything they love – including biking.

Erica Duque moved to Canada from Ecuador in 2005, and bikes have become her life in Canada: she is now an Active Transportation Planner for Peel Region. One of her first friends in Toronto took her out to buy a used bike. Their relationship has outlasted that lovely old bike by more than a decade. Biking is how she discovered Toronto — and now she even loves biking more than she dislikes winter (winter was a new experience for her), so she rides all year round.


Chris Spinney and Chelsea Mohler

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Chris Spinney is the Operations Manager for TRAILBLAZERS Tandem Cycling Club, a registered charity which provides recreational cycling to people who have limited or no vision the opportunity to cycle with sighted volunteers on our tandems (bicycles built for two). Chelsea Mohler has been a member of the club and has been enjoying tandem rides with the group for the past seven years.

Chris Spinney and Chelsea Mohler expanded our view of blind people and bikes. They are part of the Trailblazers Tandem Cycling Club, where sighted volunteers ride tandems with blind and partially-sighted people. The club provides the tandems and training, and everyone enjoys riding the great ravines and trails in the Toronto area.

As with Katie Wittmann from Bike Host, we heard how facilitating someone else’s experiences enriches the soul. Somehow it slipped out that Chris met his partner through Trailblazers, although he was quick to emphasize that it’s a cycling club, not a dating service — but that nevertheless his is not the only marriage to have originated in the club. Trailblazers has been bringing people together to see a better world through cycling for over thirty years, and is always looking for new volunteers.


Kyle Ashley

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Kyle Ashley is a 30 year old law enforcement professional, road safety advocate, and cycling enthusiast. Kyle shot to local “hero/fame” status by calling out offenders publicly, over social and conventional media, for one of Toronto’s largest public health issues – bike lane blocking. Most of the time, Kyle can be spotted patrolling the bike lanes of Toronto on his trusted partner, his bike. Kyle is a firm believer that two wheels can take you further than four ever could, and he credits his sense of purpose and belonging to his bicycle.

An enthusiastic round of cheering brought keynote speaker Kyle Ashley to the stage. Kyle transformed Toronto and the world this past summer with his dedicated public service as a Parking Enforcement Officer with the Toronto Police. Historically, Parking Enforcement Officers in Toronto have been deployed with objectives such as maximizing revenue (under the Ford administration), or reducing congestion (under the Tory administration). Kyle convinced his superiors to let him serve with a different objective: public safety. This transformed not only Toronto’s bike lanes, but also how many citizens relate to the police. Kyle’s message and lived example of kindness also transformed how many people behave on the street — for the better.

Kyle started with a playful spoof of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that had everyone laughing. He took us on his personal journey, of how bikes helped him find a place of belonging through public service. Once, at a time of self-doubt, his doctor advised him to pick up his bike and get pedalling — advice that the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment encourages all doctors to give to their patients. That pivotal moment led him to the amazing summer of 2017, from which we all benefited so much.

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As many readers know, Kyle is currently off Twitter and off the streets. He has filed a grievance. Kyle’s current situation and work this past summer have been covered extensively by The Toronto Star, CBC, Metro News, The Globe & Mail, NOW Magazine, and Dandy Horse. He has also garnered positive attention in other cities around the world.

Many audience questions focused on his situation and when he might be back on the streets. Kyle was obviously unable to comment on his grievance file, but one thing he said was surprising: even he does not know the origin of the complaints against him — not even specifically what the complaints were. David Rider has reported in the Toronto Star that a number of politicians who made proposals that Kyle was critical of have denied filing complaints, including Yvan Baker, Giorgio Mammoliti, and Denis Coderre of Montreal. For now it appears to remain a mystery as to who complained about Kyle’s service and what specifically they were complaining about.


The speakers at this first BIKE MINDS event inspired the audience with stories of how cycling helped to create communities, and how cycling connected them with others who had different life experiences: how bikes created a feeling of belonging. As Kyle Ashley said, “the heart of a bicycle is a person.”

BIKE MINDS will continue on the third Wednesday of every month until April, with a different theme each time. The next event is February 21st, and will share stories of how cycling integrates into different lifestyles. Registration opens Jan 31st at 9AM.