Say hi to Mia, a driving force behind them all.
Not only has Mia played such an influential role in west coast cycling culture over the past 12 years, she has a great story. Like a few other advocates, she had to drift away from active transportation in order to fully embrace it, a journey that ultimately shaped her life as well as those of many in the region.
I rode a bike when I was a kid. I had a paper route, rode to school by myself, never wore a bike helmet — you know, the good old days. It was part of my life.
And then I stopped when I was a teenager. I came to UBC, and when I graduated from university I lived in Kitsilano, and I used to drive a kilometer and a half to work. I didn't think about that.
After working in Vancouver and taking time off to travel, Mia found herself back in Victoria in 2006, twenty-something and searching for a job.
It took me three months, and a friend said, "a friend of mine is coordinating Bike to Work Week in Victoria, and she needs an event coordinator." And I was like, Bike to Work Week, what's that?
What we know of today as the province-wide spring celebration of bike commuting, led by the Bike to Work BC Society across much of BC, and by HUB Cycling in Metro Vancouver, was in its eleventh year in Victoria. They needed help. And so Mia was hired. Only one final piece needed to fall into place.
I was like, "Oh, Bike to Work Week, I should probably ride a bike myself".
And so I went to my parents house, dragged my old mountain bike from the basement, pumped up the tires and started riding to work.
Oh my goodness — I had the epiphany of, "This is so easy and fun!". It made so much sense.
I met these people as an organizer, and I heard amazing, inspiring stories of how getting back on their bikes totally changed their lives. That was just something that resonated so strongly with me.
So I came back to visit my friends in Vancouver, and one of them asked, "Well can you do your job in Vancouver?" I said, "Good question!" So then I started looking into what Vancouver had for Bike to Work Week. And at that point in time there wasn't one.
It was late 2006, and had been over a decade since the Bike to Work Week events organized by B.E.S.T. All that survived by the time Mia arrived back in Vancouver were a handful of 'celebration stations' on the North Shore — a few hardy volunteers, tents and some bike maps.
Mia connected with John and Dave on the North Shore, and, in true bootstrap advocacy fashion, they decide to re-start Bike to Work Week in the region, this time under the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, or VACC. ("They said, well we don't have any money but we would love to support you in doing this. And so at that point I thought, okay, I think they just told me I can do this.")
More introductions to the local advocacy community eventually brought Mia to Gavin at Translink, which led to a $25,000 commitment. But it was still not a slam dunk...not yet.
When I started, I emailed all the MLAs and MPs in the lower mainland, and at the time Gregor Robertson was an MLA for Vancouver Fairview.
And he not only was the only one who got back to me, he invited me into his office and gave me a list of companies I should talk to. He said, this is a great idea, whatever I can do to help you get this off the ground, I'd like to do it.
I fundraised for five months before another sponsor came on board. By March I thought, "I don't think this is going to happen, there's not enough money here". It was this painful, slow burn.
And then the DVBIA came on board.
Then a few more. And then, cut to the chase — 2007 saw the return of Bike to Work Week to Metro Vancouver, and has been a success ever since. ("I think the fundraising total was $65,000 for that first year. I raised $250,000 for year two.")
It also represented a watershed time for the VACC, now HUB Cycling. Because when Mia, supported by Bonnie and the Board, raised that first $65,000, it represented over three-quarters of the organization's annual budget. It also brought newfound mainstream media attention and influence. And it brought Mia into the Vancouver cycling community.
The feedback was incredible.
That was when I met Amy Walker [publisher and editor-in-chief of Momentum Magazine] for the first time. She was like, "Who are you? Do you want to come and work with me at Momentum?"
It didn't happen immediately — Mia took some time to recover from the event and consider her next steps — but with more conversations and time, she agreed, joining Momentum, leading advertising sales.
She gave me a list of six hundred bike companies, and I started trying to sell ads. People asked, well what's your distribution?
The vision was, it's time to start taking it across North America because nobody's going to buy just Vancouver local ads.
We launched in eight cities, I think 25 or 30,000 copies. Ad sales were $16,000 an issue when I started, and I think my peak issue was $73,000.
Amazing stuff. And it only could have happened by Mia quitting Bike to Work Week and focusing only on Momentum, right? Um...right?
I did Momentum and Bike to Work Week at the same time. It was totally insane. And so Momentum was on the side of my desk, so it kind of suffered for an issue or two.
We were bi-monthly, and the winter was slow, but by May I had to devote all my time to Bike to Work Week. By the end of that year and the Fall Bike to Work Week I had to make a choice because I couldn't handle the work load between the two. So I jumped ship and joined Momentum, and for eight years Momentum got my full time attention and love..
Mia's sole focus on Momentum for a few years, alongside its international expansion, took her around North America, to trade shows, conferences and tours of Momentum distribution cities, where she got to see what made other, mostly American communities different from Vancouver.
I think they're fighters in America. We're much more complacent. Much more passive here.
We've also been very lucky here in Vancouver that our city has been very pro-bike for a while, from what I've seen, versus other cities. This is one of the safest cities in North America to ride a bike in. And has the most infrastructure of any city I've seen in North America.
Then came 2015, and what was the end of Momentum's print life. Not the end of the company itself, with its huge audience (via the web) and follower base (on social media), but the end of the twentieth century medium — ink on glossy paper, both a luxury and a questionable business model.
Mia found herself in transition once again. It was right around the time that the City of Vancouver, after many years of delay, was finally announcing the launch of its public bike share program, something that was only at the periphery of Mia's local awareness.
My opinion of bike share was that bike share and ciclovia are the two most transformative things a city can do.
I heard the announcement in February, I was just like oh, awesome, this is finally happening. And the next week, Josh Squire the CEO of CycleHop called me.
A little conversation, some meetings and — boom. Mia was offered the job as Mobi's first general manager.
I knew this was going to be a big challenge, but I'm not going to have an opportunity like this again. And this is something that I believe is going to transform my city. And so I jumped on it.
Normally when you launch bike share in a large metropolitan city, you have a regional manager with the experience who then comes into the city and will train the general manager.
Cyclehop is a relatively small company — having to quickly set up a business of this size in Canada has come with its share of challenges. But that's what makes it fun and interesting, and I get to influence the structure. I don't have a lot of people telling me what to do, which is nice!
Despite the prominence of Bike to Work Week and Momentum Magazine in the cycling community, they really were somewhat insular cultural institutions. You almost had to be cycling already, or know someone who cycled and would talk to you about it, to come into contact with them. And thus you might never have known of Mia.
But Mobi broke big in 2016, and you would have had to have actively stayed away from local news to not see her face, and hear her explaining how the public program works.
It's been a smashing success during its first eighteen months online, with the number of stations and bikes steadily expanding.
And for Mia, it has continued the expansion of her skills, experience, and personal network. One can only imagine where she can go from here.
This is my first experience working so closely with the city. It’s such a large organization and things take time to pass through the ranks.We joke about how you need a permit to apply for a permit.
On the other hand I also see how passionate our city is and how cycling is a core value staff and political leaders want to grow.
This program is such a high priority and so well loved. The city is so dedicated and passionate for cycling. It's awesome.