We like to think Vancouver was influenced by the Dutch, and perhaps the Danes, but well before Amsterdam and Copenhagen became the darlings of the global urban cycling rebirth of the 1960s and '70s, the British invaded.
They came to BC, and they brought their war-time thrift and middle class active lifestyles with them. And like Ron's parents — and those of more than a few others covered in this blog — they tended to go to one particular place.
I grew up in Victoria. From the time I was in elementary school, we always had bicycles.
Even way back then — partly because of the British background, partly just because of the size of the city and because there were no highways — it was a very easy city to bike around.
I was biking around right through elementary, junior high, high school, and up until university, and that was very common.
I moved over to Vancouver, and at that point the traffic terrified me by comparison to Victoria. So there was a period of maybe fifteen years or more where I didn't really bike at all.
How interesting, these stories of not just what got people into advocacy for the first time, but what got people back on their bikes after long absences.
By the 1980s, Ron was working at a government employee union office not far from Vancouver's city hall, and all it took for him to re-engage was an unplanned shopping trip at the local thrift store.
I happened to wander in the Salvation Army on 12th — I was just poking around, and they had some old bikes.
There was an Apollo, actually made by Kuwahara, a so-called racing bike. It was fifteen bucks, so I bought the bike. It needed a bit of work, it was no big deal, I could do that. A new toy.
This was not a deep analysis of what am I doing, and how will I do it. This was, "oh, that's interesting. That's a real bargain."
So I started riding around on that for a couple of years. And then not too long after that I got interested in recumbent bikes. And that got me really going on doing slightly longer distances, and not just around-town stuff.
So let's stop there and see if you've been paying attention on the roads. Because if you've been around Vancouver for a few years, you've seen Ron, even if you may not have noticed him. But it's hard not to.
He's a big guy. He rides a recumbent. You'll find him around Marpole area, or going over the Arthur Laing Bridge. And you may see him doing all this wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt (in the warm weather, that is).
And back to the recumbent thing — Ron is the pre-eminent expert on this type of bike, which may seem impractical, even dodgy and unsafe to the uninitiated, but there are a few things going for it. Or, in Ron's view...
Two things. One is comfort, because quite literally you can ride for seven or eight hours in a day, and at the end of it, nothing hurts.
Most people think of tiny, hard saddles as what might hurt, but it's not just that — a lot of people riding a diamond frame bike [ed. that is, a 'regular' bike], will feel it in their wrist, up their forearms and shoulders after a few hours.
The other thing is your view of the world — especially if you're using drop bars — is basically the horizon and maybe about fifteen degrees above it. Whereas on a recumbent, you're sitting back and it's all there.
In addition to being the resident recumbent (and cargo bike) specialist, Ron has been, for many years, a highly competent and reliable researcher, and computer and bike tech, ready and willing to donate his spare time to the advocacy community, without ever having taken on much in the way of a formal role.
At some point I became aware of what was then the VACC. Way back then, the VACC's infrastructure consisted of a mailbox at City Square. Really, that was it.
Then Bonnie was hired, and that really helped move things along, because there was actually a contact point. By the time there was an office and an Executive Director — the organization really started to have the capacity to do things, aside from making speeches.
Ron's role remained research, technical support and also photography — he was simply around a lot. But this is not the case of damning with faint praise. In the early days, with little capacity and big dreams, the contributions of volunteers like Ron — and specifically Ron — was crucial.
And he became aware of the value of the cultural component of urban cycling — that this was not just a matter of bicycles, concrete, signs, and signals, but of people who needed to connect. And to feel connected.
As the VACC became more structured and had more people, they got more into the serious advocacy and infrastructure stuff. But what was being lost was fun stuff.
Part of that was the funding, because they could get funding for the project, but only for that project.
So because I had been down to Portland for several years with their Pedalpalooza festival, which is entirely bike fun, a couple of friends and I started up Velopalooza.
Velopalooza — two weeks of bike fun that still takes place every June (Bike Month) in Vancouver, and which in some ways recaptures the bike fun expressed by earlier events and entities like The Bicycle People, Critical Mass, Bikesummer, Velolove, the World Naked Bike Ride, and Car Free Day, and which repositioned it all as a set of scheduled rides and events that is open for the public to participate in, and mold, shape, and organize themselves.
And ironically, while it started out by following 'the rules', it could be said that it evolved by regressing back to an earlier form of DIY-style activism.
There was a big learning curve in getting the thing going, trying to get city permits, and a variety of other things. Which we eventually realized was foolish and unnecessary.
We went through that in the first year, and in the second year we kind of didn't really apply for much of anything.
In addition to Ron's time and expertise in certain areas, he has also brought to BC's south coast a broadened view of what it means to do cycling advocacy. Now retired, he's taken enough trips down to places like Seattle, Portland, Eugene, the cities along California's Pacific coast to be considered an honourary member of many of these cities' respective cycling communities.
And so he brings back not just programming ideas, but new idealogical outlooks and challenges for our local movement to consider.
It bears the question — if not for Ron and a few of the community bike shops he mentions, who else is looking after these issues?
I think there's both some good and some bad in the way the VACC has evolved. The good is that it has been decentralized to these committees who do much of the actual legwork on infrastructure.
At the same time, I think what's been lost is a focus on issues like inclusiveness. For all of the work that's been done, I think HUB is still a very middle to upper class organization.
There's lots of white guys. It hasn't really gotten into the concerns and representation of low income cyclists. Groups like PEDAL and Kickstand work on that.
There's been a big push on this in places like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Detroit. I think there could probably be even more of a focus on that here.