Hollywood’s Velo Cult teams with Bicycle Transportation Alliance to promote bike commuting in Northeast neighborhoods
By Jamie Caulley
For the Hollywood Star News
On a hot August evening, approximately 100 bicyclists gathered over pints and panniers at Velo Cult bike shop, 1969 N.E. 42nd Ave., to celebrate the start of this month’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) Bike Commute Challenge (BCC). Velo Cult, an avid supporter of the BTA, hosts a monthly happy hour for the non-profit group whose focus is promotion and advocacy of biking and bike-related issues throughout the state.
September is traditionally a month consumed by kids going back to school and adults busily harvesting from their backyard gardens, yet the BTA believes it’s the ideal month to hold their largest event of the year. While other cities in the United States focus on similar challenges in May (National Bike month), the BTA chooses September with its historically dry days, warm daytime temperatures and crisp mornings, all of which help to make an easy transition for new bike commuters or seasoned commuters looking to increase their ride time.
Stephanie Noll, deputy director of the BTA, states 2,000 of the 12,000 BCC participants last year identified themselves as new commuters. Of those participants, about 50 percent say they continued to ride more often after the BCC than they did previously. That is good news for the BTA and the success of the challenge whose primary purpose, as Noll explains, “is to get more folks riding bikes, more of the time.”
Francine Ecova, BCC participant and regular bike commuter, explains that she participates because, “it’s fun, easy and gives me a bit of exercise.”
The biggest intimidation factor for new commuters is believing that bike commuting will be too hard. “People who have not bike commuted before imagine themselves bike commuting along the same route that they drive or ride a bus on,” says Noll. “When they contemplate that, it seems intimidating. Ninety percent of the time, there is a more comfortable route.”
Besides softening the idea of bike commuting with beer and friendly staff, the BTA also supplies bike maps, route-finding assistance and workplace educational seminars. Noll estimates they do more than 60 bike commute workshops a year around the Portland metro area helping workers learn commuting laws, bicycling skills, basic bike maintenance and how to combine biking with mass transit.
Velo Cult, the one-year-old bike shop located in the former Hollywood Antique Mall, can help bicyclists get prepared for the BCC with commuter gear, bike service and an inspirational setting. Owner Sky Boyer says that, although the shop currently offers only 5-10 percent of its anticipated inventory, that inventory is growing quickly.
“Currently, we have all the basics. We just don’t have the cool stuff yet,” Boyer explains.
Velo Cult, which is receiving national attention for its unique combination of bike shop, bar and venue, is already stocked with twelve rotating beer taps, a drop-down stage for music, a screen for showing old films and select bike races, as well as an in-house custom frame builder — Cycles J Bryant.
As more people bike commute and participate in the BCC, Noll believes that employers will become more aware of the benefits of a bike-commuting workforce. The BCC “raises the profile of bike commuting for workplaces, (helping them) understand the benefits of having a bicycling workforce and how that translates to healthier, happier and more engaged employees,” Noll says.
BCC participant Kristen confirms this idea. “Either I can take the bus and fall asleep, or ride and feel inspired,” she says. She also encourages her coworkers to participate because “it helps to build community.”
Anyone interested in joining in the BCC can sign up at bikecommutechallenge.com. Teams consist of workplaces that can be defined from one person to hundreds. How the workplace is defined is up to the participants. Portland New Seasons stores compete in teams by store, creating friendly competition within the company.
Commuter miles are logged on the BTA website. Each week, a random prize drawing is held for local bike shop gift certificates, bike lights from Portland Design Works and backpacks from Columbia Sportswear.
In October, the BTA will host an all-participant party sponsored by Hopworks Brewery and Hot Lips Pizza, celebrating the spirit of the contest and awarding plaques to the top companies in various categories, although, according to Noll, for the winners, “it is largely about the glory.”