Earlier this year, a couple of cyclists from Austin Texas popped into Vancouver at the beginning of their tour down to San Francisco. Within every town they stopped, they hosted a social ride event where they would lead a ride around the city and end at a pub. The Texans were the flag bearers of a social bike ride group called BikeBot. Social rides are like a party on wheels. The idea is that they are relaxed and interesting forays through the city. Part exercise and part exploration, it’s about seeing the city from a street you may never have been on and taking a route you might not otherwise take, while meeting new friends who are out to do the same.
This kind of riding is big in Austin and other cities around North America. A friend and I went on the BikeBot ride in June and were blown away by how much fun it was. Afterwards we craved more, but alas at that time in Vancouver, our interests could not be satiated.
This, combined with the release of the Vancouver Foundation report on isolation and loneliness within the city, sprung us into action.
The Vancouver Foundation report spurred a lot of discussion on what an unfriendly city Vancouver is and how it can be hard to meet new people here. This puzzled us because in our experience Vancouver is full of creative, outgoing people…..so were all of these people also really lonely?
We saw a gap that needed filling. We needed a social ride organization that would also bring people out of the woodwork with the soul purpose of having a great time. We called the organization Bike Rides Society.
On August 1st we held our first ride; we made a group and posted an event on Facebook. It was a modest affair of 11 participants. We rode around dinging our bells, took a group photo and reveled in the endorphins afterwards at the pub. By all accounts it was a huge success. Within three weeks, we were getting triple the numbers we got on our first ride, word spread and people loved it.
Bike Rides Society now has been operating for a sold four months and shows no signs of slowing down. The group has grown to over 300 members and regularly attracts 25 people per ride per week. The Society has succeeded in building a small yet enthusiastic community. Every week, there are new people who come to check us out. Not everyone comes every week, but most people are return-riders or promise they will be out again with huge smiles on their faces.
Reflecting back on the Vancouver Foundation study on loneliness and meeting people, what we have found is just the opposite. Through our small experiment, we have found that people love to come out and meet new friends if they are given the opportunity. Maybe Vancouver lacks these types of opportunities? Perhaps other groups are just hard to find, over-programmed or too political? In any case ,it is not hard to make people feel welcome, the trick is to truly mean it.
An essential part of each ride is the group photo. It has become part of our weekly formula and essential to maintaining our original purpose. Each week we gather everyone up, smile for the camera and then post it on Facebook. It is like a little memento that people can take back with them and say that they were a part of.
You might think that a group of 25 cyclists meandering down the road might cause some traffic problems. In reality, this isn’t the case. Routes are carefully chosen to stay away from main arterials and stay on slower moving streets and bike paths. Our mission is not to make a political statement, so we obey all the rules of the road and show the upmost courtesy to our fellow road users. We also recommend that everyone show up with his or her required, helmet, lights and bell. The latter is essential for full participation.
So if you do find yourself in the mood to meet some new friends, come on out. Find us on Facebook or come down to our regular meeting spot at the southeast corner of Main and Broadway on Thursday nights at 8pm. Don’t worry if you are not an very experienced cyclist, we are in no rush and we wait for everyone. A slower pace also makes for better conversation.
Last, here is the Vancouver Foundation report on loneliness and isolation.
Andrew Cuthbert works as a GIS Analyst working in resource extraction. Seeing those industries as the basis from which almost every other industry stands spurred his interest in design and urban sustainability and planning which led to his involvment with Spacing Magazine and his continuing education. When not working Andrew can most likely be found on his bike taking in the sights and fresh air.