A day of contrasts - Building Community for cyclists

Yesterday was a day full of contrasts.  The city was doing a ribbon cutting for a new bike trail nearby.

It turns out that the bike trail was about a half mile from my home, so I invited friends to meet me at my house so we could ride over together and join the celebration.

The trip over was not uneventful. The bikes my friends were riding were simply not up for snuff, which is a topic for another blog post. Unfortunately, cycling is an activity which has high barriers for entry, and it's for that reason why community is such a vital need for cycling to be a viable form of transportation.

The bike trail was beautiful and I found community at that event. It helped that I showed up with my own community, and that I also knew someone running the event. Plus, it was a clear June day with a slight breeze keeping the temperature down. Seeing infrastructure being built is a positive development for our community.

Contrast that with the fundraising event that I went to later that evening. Our community has a community bike shop which sells used bikes and which also hosts an earn a bike program for kids. On paper, it seems like a great program.

I actually stopped by the store in the afternoon before their fundraising event. I wanted to see what kinds of used bikes they might have so that I could start creating my own roster of bikes in my garage to loan out to friends who are willing to give cycling a try. They had a nice Fuji Mixte for sale and I had them swap out the stem and I made a purchase and mentioned that I was going to their fundraiser that night.

When it came time for the actual fundraiser,  I wore my grey, bicycle-print dress. I took care and did my hair and make up so I wouldn't look disheveled. I even packed a a kit of balloons to have on hand in case an opportunity arose. And like a good active transportation activist, I insisted to my husband that we take the bus to get to the event.

Before the event, I told my husband that if it wasn't enjoyable, that we would leave. I was more than happy to have supported the organization by buying tickets for their event and I have had mixed experiences attending storytelling events.

The venue was Courthouse Square, a historic building in our downtown area. I had never been there and it turns out that t he event we were attending was on the 4th Floor. So, huffing and puffing, we made our way up, lured by the sound of live music from above. Once we go to the event floor, there was a long queau to get checked in.

While waiting to get checked in, I did see a familiar face. It turns out that a gentleman in a class which I'm taking was a board member for a group. We briefly chatted and I explained my passion for cycling and re-iterated my desire to get involved.

It seemed like the whole check-in process was all about assigning auction numbers and doing table seating assignments. The gal infront of me had bought her own table for the event and was upset that her invited guests were placed at a different table and so the check in process was slowed down even further. When it was my turn to get checked in, I wasn't assigned a table and I was even more unclear about what was happening that evening. I was given an auction bid number on the program, but that was it.

The venue was crowded and like with most events I've been to since moving back to the Northwest, not a single person spoke to me. I'm not a wallflower. I attempt to engage whenever I can, but like so many events, I couldn't even get another person to make eye contact.

I checked out the silent auction items, and didn't see anything that would bring me joy.  My husband and I found the food and did enjoy the Lumpia. I donated and got a glass of beer, but then, I just stood there like an outsider.

Someone got up on the microphone and made a statement about encouraging people to find their tables. Again,I was reminded that I didn't know where my table was and my social anxiety started kicking into high gear. I asked a staff person if he knew what was going on and we walked to the check in area to find out. I was told that since I bought my ticket earlier that week and it was an overflow ticket, that I hadn't been assigned a seat. I felt bad for even asking since they were still struggling to check people in and there was a line to get into the event.

At that point, I decided that I didn't want to stay at the event because I wasn't enjoying it. I want to be part of a cycling community. However, last night, I felt like a complete outsider. Maybe if I had whipped out my balloons and made more of an effort to reach out, then maybe it would have been okay. In the end, I'm really more comfortable in crowds when I'm working or in some defined role.

So we left. We went to a nearby barcade and played some pinball. We unlocked electric scooters and found more community doing that activity than I found at the bike fundraiser.

As humans, we crave community. There is a lot of talk at events about inclusivity and representation. However, at the end of the day, community is about belonging and making people feel at home. It is making eye contact and welcoming those who are just passing through.

With cycling having such a steep learning curve and serious barriers for entry - it's more important than ever for us to work at building that community, which is where I see a glaring vacancy which I hope I can help fill.


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