Photo: Michele ZebrowitzElly Blue is on a monthlong Dinner & Bikes tour around the western U.S., along with Portland bike filmmaker Joe Biel and traveling vegan chef Joshua Ploeg. This is one of her thrice-weekly dispatches from the road about bicycle culture and economy. Read them all here.
Boulder, Colo.: Sarai Snyder comes up to me after our recent Dinner & Bikes event and introduces herself as the proprietor of Girl Bike Love, a blog that covers bike news, culture, and gear with women in mind. We chat for a while about our writing and the specifics of our work. “Of course, the underlying goal,” she tells me, “is world bicycle domination.”
Need I be reminded? The question of how to achieve this is in the air everywhere my compatriots and I have stopped on this tour. And while there doesn’t seem to be one secret recipe for building a bike friendly city, blogs like Snyder’s are a key lever for pushing bicycle transportation past its tipping point.
San Diego’s bike blogger is Samantha Ollinger, the proprietor of BikeSD.org, which serves up news, features, editorials, and an events calendar. This year has marked a turning point for the city, Ollinger told me: “Last year, every time I saw someone on a bike, it was someone I knew. This year is different. I want to stop them and ask them what they’re doing.”
She believes her blog has had a role in the increase in ridership. She recently left her job as an accountant so that she can do more bike work. “I have grand visions for San Diego,” she said.
Her counterpart in Tucson is Mike McKisson, who founded TucsonVelo.com two years ago. When we first met, he introduced himself as “the Jonathan Maus of Tucson,” referring to the founder of BikePortland.org, which has been a media force in Oregon’s largest burg since 2005 and serves as inspiration for many other bike blogs. (Full disclosure: BikePortland.org is also my former employer.)
McKisson brings a sports nut’s obsessiveness to his work. He blogs in the hours before and after his day job as an adjunct professor at the University of Arizona’s journalism school. He’s built an all-encompassing site for the city’s bike goings-on — and there’s plenty to write about. I joined him on a bike ride and was wowed by the number of bike lanes on Tucson’s wide streets, the connected off-road bike trails, the growing system of bike boulevards, and the sheer number of people on the roads.
McKisson showed these off proudly, but like many of his fellow bike bloggers, he’s seen enough in other cities to be hungry for more. “We have all these bike lanes but only 2 percent ridership,” he said, and then launched into a detailed account of the city’s transportation funding politics.
McKisson says a big part of his work is simply letting people know about events and getting people to meetings. City officials track his blog as well: He recently reported on a botched repaving project that left the edges of the road broken and rippled. “I wrote about how the project had made the road worse for bikes,” he said, “and the city made the contractor go back and fix it.”
Provo’s most active bicycle advocates also run BikeProvo.org, which contains everything from calls to support a new bike lane to a long interview with a local cartoonist who publishes a mini-comic about bikes.
These blogs are more than just media outlets; they’re also community builders, and sometimes those communities stretch well beyond the city limits.
Back in Boulder, Sarai Snyder, a marketing professional who once ran a bike shop in northern Kentucky, writes for a national audience. She founded the Girl Bike Love blog two years ago as a side project. In the last six months, it has started to blow up. Now she’s looking to make it her full-time job and even add more writers to her team.
Like others of her ilk, Snyder is fairly bursting with plans and ideas. At one point during our conversation, she turns away briefly to talk to a board member of the local bike collective about the best day of the week to start a happy hour for women who bike. (They decide on Thursday.) She segues from this into an idea that seems to have just hit her — a monthly Twitter chat — before getting back to the blog talk.
“My goal,” she says, “is to give women enough information to walk into a bike shop and make educated decisions — not to tell them what to buy.”
And that’s what makes the bike blogs work: They take the energy and momentum of a small community and amplify it, empowering people not just to make good choices about what they buy — but also to put pressure on the government, traditional advocates, and individuals alike to always work harder for cyclists.
Watch out, world: World bicycle domination is coming.