More Than a Mode of Transport

by Brent Baker
Bike Peoria

From basic maintenance to larger advocacy efforts, Bike Peoria has made the community more bike-friendly.

My journey back to cycling began several years ago when my front brake—the only one on the ’87 Raleigh Technium I had just purchased on Craigslist—exploded off the frame during my first ride. Luckily, I had enough road to coast to a stop, and miraculously, I found the newly separated pieces of the brake. Ever determined, I was able to piece it back together, but remained wary as I had zero knowledge to certify my handiwork. I decided this was just the excuse I needed to finally check out the Bike Peoria Co-Op I’d heard about.

Shared and Self-Sustaining
It was a hot afternoon in August of 2014, and the small shop seemed at capacity, with people working on bikes and digging through bins of dusty, salvaged parts; blues guitar rhythms floated between conversation and the clinking of tools. I was immediately taken with the small, intimate space. Sure, it’s a bit dirty and some would describe it as cramped—but there’s an undeniable appeal in spaces that are honest, purposeful and shared.

A volunteer named Mike greeted me with a handshake and complimented my bike; I thanked him and regaled him with the story of my harrowing bike ride, earnestly admitting that I had no knowledge of bike maintenance. “No problem,” he assured me. “That’s why we’re here.” He pulled over a stand and secured my bike in it, as I handed him my brake to look over. After assuring me the brake was working properly, Mike guided me on how to reattach it to the bike and adjust it properly. I was out the door in under an hour—with a functioning bike and a year-long membership to Bike Peoria Co-Op. I was hooked.

That was nearly four years ago. Over the hundreds of hours I’ve spent in the co-op, I’ve learned a whole new set of maintenance skills, helped refurbish donated bikes, spruced up my own rides, met amazing people, fell in love with the art and humanity of bicycles, and grown as a leader. So much so, I have now served as president of Bike Peoria—the all-volunteer organization that operates Bike Peoria Co-Op and coordinates regular education, empowerment and advocacy efforts in our city—for the last two years, and intend to continue for another two.

During this time I’ve seen it grow from a ragtag group of advocates struggling to keep the doors open, to a formalized nonprofit organization with about 100 paying members each year, providing regular programming and advocacy efforts along with other partners. As for that cramped workshop, it has become a self-sustaining operation that supports the majority of our programmatic efforts. But what does advocacy really mean? How is this really making Peoria more bike-friendly?

Advocacy In Action
Advocacy, in our eyes, is action—and this drives everything we do. By simply lowering the barrier of entry to cycling and getting more people on bikes, our community has become more bike-friendly.Bike Peoria

Through Bike Peoria Co-Op, we have refurbished and resold over 200 bikes, at an average cost of $72, to riders in the community—that’s 200 bikes not in landfills and back on the street. Through a partnership with Dream Center Peoria, more than 70 kids have earned bike maintenance skills through the Earn-a-Bike program led by one of our incredible volunteers, Mark Beiser. Through monthly workshops, we’ve empowered over 50 riders from how to fix a flat tire to the basics of adjusting gear and brake cables. We also host regular group rides along the Rock Island Greenway and in our West Bluff neighborhood—getting folks acclimated to riding in a variety of environments, and showcasing cycling as a viable mode of travel.

Last year, we were thrilled to support the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau in launching the CityCycle bike-share program in Peoria. What I’m most excited for in 2018 is the launch of a Bike-Friendly Business program, which promises recurring discounts and promotions for folks who ride to participating businesses. Stay tuned and keep an eye on your favorite local establishments as we look toward summer!

We also engage in more traditional advocacy efforts. Over the last two years, several of our board members advised the City of Peoria on its Bicycle Master Plan, which has been realized in about 10 miles of new and improved bike infrastructure along Sheridan, Adams, MacArthur and Wisconsin in Peoria. We’ve also contributed to the Bike Connect HOI plan conducted by Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, which focused on prioritizing multimodal connections among communities in Greater Peoria.

Most recently, in our work with the City of Peoria, we were successful in amending our motor vehicle ordinance to reflect those at the state level: adopting a safe, three-foot passing requirement and providing clear right-of-way guidance (protections in incidents of left- and right-hooks) when cyclists are sharing the road. This year, we have our eye on adopting several new ordinances that will make us as legally bike-friendly as our bigger brother, Chicago.

Bike Peoria

A Civic Experience
While I anticipated many journeys when making that fateful Craigslist purchase back in 2014, I had no idea that cycling would take me as far as it has. Without a doubt, I love all this work, but there is one thing that continues to amaze me: the diversity and generosity of people who ride bikes.

Cycling seems to transcend more demographics than anything I’ve ever experienced. On any given day at Bike Peoria Co-Op, someone is working on a $1,200 road bike, learning from someone who will make less than $1,200 that month. I am confident there is no other space in this city that connects people in a more intentional way. And this leads us to the most important aspect of this work.

For some people, “bike” is the dirtiest of four-letter words, especially if you’re in a rush to get to a meeting and there’s a person on two wheels sharing the lane. For others, it’s a lifestyle—a perpetual challenge to travel with only the power of their own two legs. Regardless of your persuasion, whether cycling is a necessity or a recreation—it is first a uniquely human and civic experience, and a mode of transportation second.

Indeed, Peoria’s early social and economic vitality were founded on cycling; yet this reality has devolved into a dehumanizing dichotomy of cyclists vs. drivers. Rather, our focus needs to be less on mode of transport and more about people as we work to create a city and region that accommodate how they navigate their lives. So, as you make your way around Greater Peoria, recognize that everyone you encounter on the road—on bike, motorcycle, car or truck—that we’re all people who simply want to return home safely. Let’s ensure that we all do. iBi

For more information, visit bikepeoria.org.

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