Cultivating Conversations at BikeBike 2013
More than 300 individuals representing 80 organizations gathered in New Orleans for the 10th anniversary of BikeBike, revisiting the city where volunteers and organizers gathered at the first BikeBike, setting the wheels in motion for a cross-cultural exchange with biking at its center.
An opportunity to share ideas, stories, and support, the 4-day conference brought together a wide range of people and projects that represented the efforts of a collective bike community from across North America and reaching as far as Austria.
“They come from so many different areas and places,” said Vincenzo Loconte, “from places that are very religious and conservative to places that are very anarchist or liberal, very high-income to very low. You hear a lot of different experiences from everywhere.” Loconte, who volunteers at two Los Angeles coops (Bici Libre and the Bikerowave), shared his knowledge in education through a workshop on how to use the bicycle to teach concepts in science, math and other areas.
In an effort to support the broad scale phenomenon of community bike projects and promote a greater level of exchange, this year’s conference included a third day of workshops. Topics ranged from teaching the basics valuable to newer organizations such as how to acquire shop tools to knowing when to grow, to detailed presentations on how to take a volunteer who knows nothing about bikes and turn them into a confident volunteer, to creating better exchange between other organizations, from bike shops to local community groups and businesses, as well as within and among other projects.
“This year was part of a concerted effort to expand it a little bit, because the past few years it seemed like there wasn’t enough time,” said Victor Pizarro, executive director the New Orleans-based community bike project Plan B, the host organization for this year’s event.
“There’s nothing better than face to engagement,” said Momoko Saunders of Portland, Oregon’s Bike Farm. “Particularly around some of the more touchy subjects of privilege, of sexism, creating safe spaces.”
The topics addressed at BikeBike each year reflect the current goals and challenges of the various community bike projects that take on different forms in different environments. Accordingly, the focus has grown from solving internal organizational issues to building a network that can leverage shared knowledge and resources between groups.
“Global cross pollination is one of our long term goals,” said Pizarro. This theme reappeared in workshops throughout BikeBike, and built upon mutual shop-collective support, collaboration among projects, comparing notes on different cultural settings and facilitating national and cross-border exchange.
“A lot of coops are just setting up and they want the info from coops that are 10 years old, sometimes older that that, and all the experience that they’re learned and all the mistakes that they’ve made and try to make a better version of that internationally,” said JD Fairman. Before attending BikeBike for the first time this year, and signing on to see that attendees were provided with housing and loaner bikes, Fairman attended the Congreso Nacional de Ciclismo Urbano in Oaxaca in 2012, where he first met Pizarro as part of a group presenting on coops in the U.S.
“The fact that all these different aspects can meet and talk and go on bike rides—it’s pretty amazing,” said Pizarro. “It’s the in-the-flesh kind of organizing that doesn’t happen online. “
In between workshops attendees went on rides, ate local food, and danced to local live music together, all the while continuing to share stories and ideas.
“I wanted to find my peers who were struggling with the same things at the same point,” said Nona Varnado, “ and I also wanted to be able to share my knowledge so that people can get to where I am faster, and we create more of a peer group of people who are trying to, from the bottom up, create this sort of social change.”
While it was her first time attending BikeBike, Varnado, a key organizer of ArtCrank, L.A. Bike Trains and the Red5Yellow7 bike-art gallery in L.A., is no stranger to community bike projects, and facilitated seven workshops throughout the weekend. “It’s BikeBike—If you don’t do it, it might not happen,” she said.
Long involved with integrating bikes are art to elevate one another, Varnado presented on guerilla bike art to a packed house, sharing ideas and examples of ways to use art to advance goals within the community. This workshop was one of seven that she hosted or co-facilitated throughout the weekend.
“It’s hard to learn all of these things, because you’ve got to learn about bikes themselves, you’ve got to learn about the bike industry, you’ve got to learn about nonprofits and advocacy and how cities work. There’s just so much stuff to learn that if you’re just kind of trying to do good stuff it could take you forever—so this is kind of like a fast track–instead of trying to work really hard and bumble your way through the next 10 years, just go to BikeBike and figure it all out.”
By comparing models and sharing ideas, the trial-by-fire experiences of one organization becomes a learning tool for other groups. Coming out of BikeBike a few years ago, an online think tank of more than 600 contributors provides a forum for information sharing and discourse between annual events.
“A lot of progress comes in the time between two BikeBikes. It all starts off from an idea being shared and getting folks really excited,” said Loconte. “One of the most surprising things is always how that problem your organization is experiencing and battling over and having a lot of issues with and not finding a way to resolve – most other shops will have very straightforward solutions that you never thought of.”
BikeBike 2014 will be in Columbus, Ohio. For more information and resources visit bikebike.org.
About Krista Carlson
A regular contributor to the print edition of Urban Velo, Krista Carlson is a cyclist obsessed with bike polo, baking, pickles, and all things bike-y. She is a native Angeleno and is madly in love with the city and everything that makes it the beautiful, crazy place that it is.