Although Jack grew up in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto, in the 1940s and ‘50s, he still has memories of an early life in his birthplace, Germany.
When I was put on a bike the first time, I was totally petrified. Because the bike lanes on each side of the road wide enough to accommodate three cyclists cycling side-by-side. So there were three cyclists side by side continuously. The distance between bicycles was less than a bike length.
I grew up in that environment. Big boulevards with bike paths on both sides, and parking.
As an adult in Toronto — married and raising a family — Jack returned to cycling, initially for exercise.
I used to go up, work, and race home on the subway, change, and put my clothes on, get my bike out, and go on the waterfront path. I started cycling ten kilometres a day, and worked my way up.
I kept on thinking, why am I rushing home just so I can go cycling? Why not cycle to work and back?
So I decided I would do that in the summer time. I wouldn't take out a TTC pass. I'd just cycle, back and forth.
Bike commuting became cycle touring, with weekend trips turning into long weekend trips to Prince Edwards County, turning into week-long trips to Vermont. Today, he figures he has eighty thousand kilometres of touring behind him, his longest trip being ten and a half months.
There came a point, as his children grew and family life no longer bound Jack to old routines, when Jack became restless for something other than work.
I had time in the nineties. And I had to figure what the hell to do.
I looked around and said okay, what needs help. I was environmentally-oriented. And I realized that cycling really needed help.
At that time the City of Toronto had a bicycle advisory committee, but there was Metro Toronto which had nothing. In 1992, through the efforts of Olivia Chow and Jack Layton, Metro Toronto started up a bicycle advisory committee.
So I joined that and within a year I was a chair of the planning and network committee.
By the mid-nineties, Jack Becker was co-chair of the Metropolitan Toronto Bicycle Committee, alongside "the other Jack", the much-beloved City Councillor and eventual MP and NDP leader.
Jack stayed on until ’99, when work in the oil industry forced him finally consider leaving Toronto, and to establish a western base. (“It was a loss for us in Toronto,” says Chow, of Becker’s move. “His passion, his determination, his political smarts. Knowing how to work the political structure.”)
Hearing Jack rhyme off the Canadian cities he considered moving to, the attractions and drawbacks of each, reminds me of my own calculation in 1995, leaving Toronto and feeling like there was only one obvious choice.
Not the only choice, of course, and certainly not an uncomplicated one.
I wasn't sure whether I would stay here. There were three factors against it. One, Vancouver's not very warm. We think of this as hot - for a Torontonian who's used to thirty-five, forty degrees celsius….
The other thing is the rain. I love sun. So I wasn't sure I could handle rain.
And the third reason is they didn't really have an infrastructure for cycling.
With the intention of retiring in 2001, Jack made a test visit to Vancouver in January 2000.
At that time Marine Drive had the separated shoulders there with a white line on it, and there was one bike lane on Pender, down here up the hill.
And that was it. When I came here, the same thing - I said where do I want to spend my time. I thought, I've really done a lot of time on cycling, maybe I should do something else…
People who know Jack might smile at that. It’s not easy to imagine him doing something else.
Jack began to volunteer for the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition (VACC) Vancouver Committee, and soon joined the Board.
One of the very active activists at that time was Bonnie Fenton. She recognized that we had a desperate need as an organization to get our procedures documented.
And the deal was, if we want to run a program, you've got to put the front end effort in to raise money, to pay yourself basically. And that's sort of how the program started.
Although it formed as a Society in 1998, the decision to support a full-time staff position through program funds is how VACC would eventually grow to becoming one of Canada’s leading cycling advocacy organizations.
Jack’s work, with the rest of the Board, to support program development helped the organization actually become one.
And it led in part to the development of a regional cycling education program in schools and community centres, as well as the debut of Bike to Work Week in the Lower Mainland.
Whether it's Toronto or here, people take a very subjective advocacy viewpoint. They forget that what we're really doing. They were arguing from subjective basis. The reality is, cycling for transportation is a product.
Focus on that, from a marketing perspective, and design your programs — infrastructure, human programs, education, any program you need — to get them comfortable to get out.
Today, Jack is a Director of the BC Cycling Coalition, leads consulting projects in Calgary and Toronto, and continues to think about how best to spend his time…
I’m in it to grow cycling significantly.
One percent, two percent, that ain't it. It's got to be ten, fifteen, twenty percent growth, that's what I'm after.