In terms of educating people about active living generally, and cycling specifically, youth are often seen as the 'low-hanging fruit'.
Because, if you're young, life is still pliable and ripe with possibility. Your world isn't set, and if you're open to new ideas, you have lots of time to implement them. Thus, for the 18-and-under set, the time is ripe to try cycling.
Few think opportunistically about ways to engage retirees and seniors, because...well, why bother? They've lived their lives, and they're unlikely to change. So they can just carry on, right?
It's interesting that the people from whom we have the most to learn in society are assumed to be the least open to new ideas. Or that because of that, they're done changing the world.
Instead, she is the living example of I-don't-see-why-not, having adopted cycling at the age of sixty.
I was in China in 2009, and I was looking at all these three-wheeled vehicles with ten feet of materials of some sort stacked on the back and the cyclist driving it.
And I was seeing the little scooters, and I was seeing all the traffic scenarios, and I just thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to ride to school?"
I just sort of got this idea in China. I don't recall having it before July 2009. In September, I bought the bike.
I had known Fiona for about four years, but never had a quality one-on-one chat. I knew there'd be some interesting stories, but this one seemed too easy. You saw someone in a different country carting around a load of textiles on a trike, and translated that to changing your life in Vancouver?
I've known progressive-minded, sixty-year-old, single women living in big cities, but none of them would have considered adopting cycling for everyday transportation.
Granted, it's a relatively limited sample. Still...
Fiona came with her family to Canada from England as a young child in the early 1950s. As she relates her upbringing, the pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place.
I'm very Canadian, and never even thought of myself as an immigrant until I was about fifty-five and someone said, "Oh you're one of the immigrants, are you?"
I guess so! Growing up, there is a certain psyche. You preserve things, you recycle things.
Coming of age in Vancouver in the fifties and sixties was a world away from what we today consider to be the privilege of west side lifestyle.
For one, her family lived in Shaughnessy, close enough to Prince of Wales Secondary School that Fiona could walk, yet they weren't wealthy ("I wore everybody else's dresses because there were five girls in the family and I was number five. You don't have the money for that kind of thing.")
Entire summer holidays were spent at Crescent Beach in Surrey, just an hour south of the city. And when she reached the age of sixteen and started to work, she bused to the Oakridge Woodward's, and then the Eaton's downtown. ("My family would never have been able to give any of us sixteen year olds a car — forget it.")
So what is it that brewed inside Fiona, resulting in this kind of change so late in life?
She chalks it up to something she started talking about the moment we sat down, something she likely recognizes in herself more easily than other advocates, perhaps because she retains some objectivity from having rolled into this cycling world so late in life — non-conformity.
It's a subtle social distinction, and it's something Fiona embraced when she came back from China — choosing not to try fitting into mainstream social lifestyles (whatever that may mean on any given day) in favour of life on the fringe.
The non-conformist isn't necessarily a rebel, isn't hurting others by wanting to do their own thing.
It was just like, I'm going this way. Non-conformity means basically you're resilient to the person who just doesn't see your way.
You become resilient to criticism. You've got your idea in mind and you're going for it. You don't need that buffer, that warm fuzzy to keep you going. You just have it in your mind you want to do something, and you do it.
When I got on a bike, nobody else I knew rode a bike. And nobody would even think about it.
At sixty, single and working as a full-time kindergarten teacher in Burnaby, Fiona's first challenge was figuring out how to cycle the 12km each way, to and from work, reasonably and safely.
I said in order to succeed I think I'm going to need an electric bike on the north shore.
Yellow jacket, yellow hat — I wore that yellow hat all year round at the beginning. I just said, "hey, you're going to see me. You're not going to say, 'I didn't see her', with this yellow hat."
And I made myself obvious. I decided I'm not doing anything tricky, I'm not doing anything outrageous, but you're going to see me.
How many times has that happened in an accident? You know, like the guy turning left in North Van just killed a forty-one year old. "I didn't see him, the sun was in my eyes." Oh yeah?
So that was my defence — I'm out there, I'm loud, you're going to hear me, or see me, and I'm going to act like a car. And I'm going to take the lane.
Eventually, with her house paid off and school politics encroaching on her personal life, Fiona retired only to find herself immediately occupied with a new life.
Riding over the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge everyday to work — the 1-metre wide sidewalks causing a host of problems to daily commuters of all kinds — Fiona found herself drawn to the newly formed HUB Cycling North Shore committee, and the BC Cycling Coalition, both fighting for change with the Ministry of Transportation.
I was thinking, "what am I going to be doing after retirement?"
When I joined this cycling group, I felt so comfortable. It was like, hey this is easy. And I didn't care what role I played. It was, I have the energy, or I have the resourcefulness, or I have the time to help and make things happen.
I like teachers — you laugh at yourself, they laugh at themselves, you'll have a great laugh together. I discovered that when I joined HUB, I like bicycle people.
And many bicycle people like Fiona.
Yet, at the same time, Fiona occasionally feels that she's being edged out. While she was elected for a third consecutive term to the HUB board in September 2017, she wasn't identified to HUB members as a 'preferred candidate.' And while she remains on the BCCC and Canada Bikes boards, she's not always given projects, those which often match up to her skills and experience as a teacher, her availability, and her energy.
I guess it's loosey goosey to invite people like Fiona on the list, because Fiona doesn't really have any experience, and she only got on a bike at sixty. C'mon, she doesn't really know anything. And she hasn't been around and done her homework.
That kind of thing. I'm not techie oriented. And I'm not walking around with a smartphone. That's a detriment.
But I represent that demographic that is getting back on their bikes
A non-conformist that's too fringe-y for the fringe?
The politics of the cycling advocacy — in Vancouver, across BC and within Canada — may shift and evolve, but I have a feeling Fiona won't. She's resilient in her non-conformity.
And she walks the talk. We can all learn from that.
I'm definitely of the ilk, "I'm putting myself out there so you see me. You better learn about me, because I'm part of the road."
And of course the Motor Vehicle Act says I am. I'm putting myself out there because I believe that the numbers [of cyclists] are going to do it.
Yes, protected [infrastructure] is wonderful to get people who are scared onto the bike. And maybe they'll become a bit more adventurous.