Dinner And Bikes 2013: An Annual Tour To Grow The Bicycle Movement

There’s a lot of talk about bikes these days. From single speeds in New York City to nighttime tours in Guatemala City and the bike share in Paris, the discussion of bicycles as a real means of alternative transportation is taking hold in a big way.

But talking about bikes in cycle centric hotspots like Portland, San Francisco and New York is only part of the step. As with anything, getting more people on two wheels means getting people engaged all over the country. And that’s where Dinner and Bikes comes in.

The annual month-long tour is a traveling combination of bicycle inspiration, vegan food and pop-up bookstores that brings people together to get inspired about bicycle transportation. If you’re a bike junkie, it’s hard to resist.So what do you get from a Dinner and Bikes evening? A gourmet, vegan and gluten-free buffet dinner prepared by Joshua Ploeg, a presentation by Elly Blue on transportation equity and the everyday bicycling movement, and a near-complete excerpt from “Aftermass,” Joe Biel‘s forthcoming documentary about the history of bicycling in Portland. This year, they’re hitting up the Midwest and Northeast, with over 30 events from Michigan to New York. You can find the full schedule for May and June here.

Elly took time to answer a few questions about the tour and the inspiration behind it. And in perfect nomadic traveler form, she answered them on an Amtrak train somewhere between Portland and Chicago.

What was the inspiration for Dinner and Bikes?

In 2010, Joe and I did a tour called Bikestravaganza around the Western US. It was similar to what we do now, but just the two of us talking and showing movies about bikes. The idea was to energize people about bikes, show them a little of what we’ve seen is possible, and also let them know that Portland’s bike-friendly streets weren’t this huge, unattainable goal, but that in fact our achievements could easily be matched or surpassed by any city or town that wanted to. It went great, but one big problem was that the event was always during dinnertime. Everyone was hungry including us! We invited Joshua to join us the next year and it all fell into place.

Why bikes?

When I first started bicycling, it was liberating and it’s continued to be so at a personal level. Culturally, though, it’s about as good as it gets as far as a movement goes. With bikes, everyone wins and there’s no problematic temptation to put someone else’s happiness or livelihood secondary to your cause, as is the case in a lot of other social movements. Also, even when people are vehemently anti-bike, they usually change their mind once they start riding. So even when it’s polarized, it isn’t really. That photo of Senator Schumer smiling as he rides down the cycle track he fought so hard to prevent? That’s why I do it.

How do you decide which places you visit/where you host dinners? Why the central/northeast for the 2013 tour?

It’s an inexact science. As we go on tour, people’s friends in other cities hear about the events and get in touch to invite us to their town. I keep track of all the invitations in my spreadsheet, and then Joe and I go out to breakfast with an atlas and a notebook and create a route that we can do in a month that incorporates as many of those cities as possible. Then I set to work filling in the gaps. I believe the impetus for the Midwest/Northeast route is the result of invitations from folks in Michigan and DC. Next year I already know where we’re going: up and down the eastern seaboard, Maine to Miami. People should get in touch if they want to talk about doing a stop.

Having traveled around the country talking about bikes, how do you think the attitude towards bikes differs by region?

People who are deeply involved with their local bike scene read a lot of the same blogs and articles, so there is some unity in the movement. But local attitudes generally differ quite a bit, and in unexpected ways. A lot depends on the culture, layout and politics of a city. Some cities have a culture of being polite, so even if most people don’t understand bicycling, they don’t mind waiting a bit till it’s safe to pass the person riding in front of their truck. In other cities, there’s some kind of hostile force against it, maybe driving culture or city planning or the police – which oddly enough often has the result of catalyzing a far stronger bike movement.

What was the most surprising location you have visited in terms of their support for cycling?

Over the last four years, I’ve learned not to be surprised. Everyone’s got their stereotypes, like only big cities like bikes, or only small cities, or only liberal cities or secular cities or gentrified neighborhoods or cities with lots of young white creative class people. None of these things are true. People like bikes who have started bicycling already is the only generalization I can make. Once you get riding and have just the barest amount of community and infrastructure to support you, there’s no turning back.

Is it true that you travel only by train and by bike?

Nope, we rent a car to travel from city to city. If we’re lucky, we get to go on bike rides in some of the cities. I am still trying to figure out how to do it all by train, but we would pretty much have to have a source of funding from outside the tour in order to make that happen. I see it as an opportunity to not totally lose touch with the car-oriented reality of most of the US.

Any top tips for traveling by bike?

I’ve only been bike touring a few times, but I will say it’s important not to run out of water, and always to talk to people.

Check out the Dinner and Bikes 2013 schedule here.

[Photo Credits: Dinner and Bikes, Elly Blue]

How To Ride A Bike In Paris


Everywhere I travel, I try to ride a bike. It’s one of those weird obsessions that I have; the need to discover everything on two wheels. Be it Afghanistan or Amsterdam, game on.

Here’s the thing about riding a bicycle in new places: it’s like learning how to ride a bike all over again. No matter how used to the bicycle you are – at home in Portland I don’t even own a car – discovering a new city on two wheels makes you fall in love with cycling all over again. It’s a challenge. Navigating streets you have never walked down before, learning the ins and outs of local bike culture, figuring out how traffic works. There’s a flow to cycling, and each city has its own variation.

Paris is no different, and a few days into taking the metro I knew that underground transportation wasn’t going to be a sustainable option for me. Cram yourself into a few too many metro cars during rush hour traffic and you’ll be sprinting for an above ground office as well. Biking is a welcome solution.

Fortunately, Paris is equipped with the Vélib system, a well designed, and much talked about, bike-share system that boasts over 20,000 bikes around the city. Launched in 2007, the Paris Vélib system is the largest bike-share system in the world, used by tourists and locals alike.There is something freeing about being on a bicycle, the fact that you and you alone are responsible for getting anywhere. There’s a sense of accomplishment unlike any other when you have made it from point A to point B, successfully navigating a maze of bike routes and busy city streets.

Admittedly, I was slightly nervous and a little scared, so my first foray into the world of Vélib was with a friend.

“Just make sure you tell me where to turn!” The worst part about biking in a new city is your lack of navigation skills. I trust my ability to keep an eye out for cars and scooters, but trying to identify the names on the blue signs on the corner of every old Parisian building is something else entirely.

But then it occurred to me: cycling, much like traveling in general, is about giving up control. Accepting the fact that you will get lost, and that that’s OK. In fact, there is beauty in those moments when you find yourself in a place you hadn’t planned on being, and there’s a pure sense of accomplishment when you miraculously end up at your final destination with no help but from anyone other than yourself.

So I went alone, mapping out my route before I left, but remaining open to a bit of serendipity. Those first few pedals were freeing. I have been cycling since before I can remember, but this was different – a new feeling. I was learning how to ride all over again, and the thrill of it was impressive.

I managed to work my way through a busy roundabout, navigating around cars, buses and other cyclists more familiar with the ways of Parisian velo life than myself. I took a deep breath and pushed through. This was no Portland, and that’s what made it fun. Then came the time to find a spot to park the bike. Station one was closed due to surrounding roadwork and the next two were full. The fourth time was a charm, a reminder that once again, when you travel, you are rarely in control, and all you can do is keep going until things go your way.

And so with my first solo Parisian bike tour, I was addicted.

I pedaled down from Montmartre in the moonlight. I cruised by the Moulin Rouge, dodging a couple of scooters along the way. I manoeuvred my way around the mess of roadwork surrounding Republique. I sat next to a policeman at a stoplight, the policeman looking at me and rubbing his hands together to ask if I was cold.

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This was the real Paris. As the Vélib card says “La ville est plus belle a velo.” The city is more beautiful by bike. La vie aussi.

Want to check out The City of Lights on two wheels? Here is a basic guide:

Buy a pass

If you have traveled in Europe before you will know the frustration with a lack of security chips that all European bank cards have. This makes it difficult to use your debit or credit card in the Velib machines. There are, however, a couple of simple solutions to this problem:

  1. Buy a one or seven-day pass online. You will be given a code that you will type in every time you want to access a bicycle.
  2. Buy a Navigo pass (just the card itself, not the full metro pass) and put your Velib one or seven-day pass on it. Buy a Navigo pass in a metro station, and then you can add your Velib pass to it by purchasing one online. This allows you to forgo typing in your pass every time you want to pick up your bike, and you can just swipe your Navigo pass at the bike station.
  3. Buy a Vélib pass. If you are staying in Paris for an extended period of time, consider getting a yearlong pass. For 29 euros, you get a yearlong pass that allows you up to 30 minutes of free bike use each time you ride. For 39 euros you get the same thing, but up to 45 minutes each time you ride. You can pick up a card at the Hotel de Ville and then pay for it online and activate it at a Velib station.

Keep a map on you

Whether you download the PDF of the main bike routes in the city, or keep an electronic version on your smartphone, the map provided by the City of Paris is useful for navigation. There are over 200 kilometers of bike routes, and most of them are well marked.

Learn to use your bell

Many of the protected bike lines are right next to pedestrian routes. Don’t assume that the pedestrians will see you, or move out of your way for that matter. Make yourself heard.

Check that your bike works

When you arrive at a Vélib station, do a basic check of the bike before you take it. Make sure you can pedal it, that the brakes and lights work and that there aren’t any other major problems. You will notice that often bikes will have the seat turned in the opposite direction – this is the local Parisians’ way of telling each other that the bike isn’t functioning.

Be aware

This may go without saying, but you have to be on guard for pedestrians, scooters, cars and buses at all times. If you are ever unsure of where to turn, find a place to stop and pull out your map. Or just keep riding and go with the flow of getting lost for a few. You might just discover something unintended.

Resources

Vélib – English site
G
éovélo - a site that uses Google Maps to help map your route
City of Paris Bike Route Map

Bicycling in Paris: A New Version of this Option

Perhaps hopping on a bicycle to enter Paris in the Tour de France is not probable, but it is possible to hop on a bicycle for an alternative way to travel in Paris. Angela Doland, in an Associated Press article, presents what you need to know about a new bicycle rental program in Paris. The interesting thing about this version of transportation is that you don’t rent a bike for a day to ride around, but rent a bike to get from one point to another. Let’s say you want to go to the Louvre, but after that you want to head to a restaurant too far away to cycle to. You just drop off the bike and hop on a Metro. You don’t ever have to go get that bike again.

The bicycles are at various bike stations so if, later, you want another bike, you can get one. The draw back I see is that these are only available for people 14 and older and at least 5 feet tall. This makes this not an option for a family with kids. Because the bikes are the touring type and the seats adjust, they can fit a multitude of body types. They also come with locks, however you need to bring your own helmet. In the photograph with the article I read, people aren’t wearing helmets, so perhaps they are not required. Another thing I noticed was how cheap it is to rent a bicycle. A day pass costs roughly $1.36 except I’m a bit confused if that’s correct. Doland mentions that if you are going to keep a bicycle for more than a day, it’s cheaper to rent from a by-the-day estabishment. Maybe I’m missing something. Check out www.velib.paris.fr. for a list of the various bike stations. The site’s not in English yet.

Other cities the article lists with similar cycling programs are:

  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Brussels, Belgium,
  • Copenhagan, Denmark
  • Stockholm, Sweden
  • Vienna, Austria

Microlight Trip to Acoma Pueblo

Now, here’s one way to get to Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico. This You Tube video of Damien Beresford and Jeff Gilkey’s trip in their microlights is more of the landscape on the way there and back. I don’t think they actually stopped at Acoma. The effect of the shots of Damien’s microlight against the New Mexico scenery is surrealistic. Damien’s commentary along the way is laced with humor and landmark details. He has also included music to create a mood. He said it’s the longest ride he’s taken so far. This video makes me want to try a microlight flight one of these days.

Cyclo Ride: A Virtual Thrill

Riding a cyclo in Vietnam is a bit like riding in a baby stroller if you can remember riding in a baby stroller. Except, in a cyclo, you’re moving in traffic and not safely on a sidewalk somewhere. As more and more people have cars and motorcycles in Vietnam, it’s getting harder to find places to get a cyclo ride. Although in Hanoi, there are still places where they are everywhere. At Virtual Tourist, you can find cyclo riding tips and comments from others who’ve been there. Once I stood on a street corner taking pictures of cyclos going by and the things they carried besides people. One had a coffin. I can’t imagine that cyclos will ever go totally out, and they may just be money makers from the tourist industry like they are in Singapore.

Here’s a video posted by budlake on You Tube of a cyclo ride in Hue that did make me feel like I was on a cyclo. The person holding the camera had the right idea. Just keep the camera steady and let the movement of the cyclo do the work. The result is that the viewer gets an idea of what it’s like to move in Vietnam’s traffic at a slower pace than the other vehicles passing by.