Q&A: Meredith Joy of Yay Bikes!

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From the August 21, 2014 edition

Deciding to become a bike commuter was a no-brainer for Yay Bikes! program director Meredith Joy. The decision to help others become bike commuters as well, was all heart. Joy and her cohorts at Yay Bikes! are dedicated to encouraging commuter cycling through a people-centric approach. Through hands-on riding groups like How We Roll, to large-scale inclusive bike tours, like the seventh annual Bike The C-Bus event on Aug. 30, Joy and Co. are working to make the transition from vehicle to bike a smooth ride for everybody.

Yay Bikes! is relationship-centric. When I started using my bike for transportation, I couldn’t find any bike groups dedicated to commuter cyclists. I tried to reach out to other commuter cyclists and find information, but it was difficult to get connected. It felt very lonely, and I could see why people get discouraged. Most bike groups I found were more focused on infrastructure than community, so my husband and I decided to start Yay Bikes! Infrastructure is obviously very important, but we focus on creating a community of cyclists and fostering meaningful relationships.

There is a steep learning curve when becoming a commuter cyclist. When I first started cycling, there was basically no information available on how to get started. So like most people, I just did what I thought was best; I stayed as far to the side of the road as possible, or I'd attempt to merge into traffic from out of nowhere. It turned out the things I was doing were actually putting me in danger. Invariably, people don’t know what to ask or where to start. That’s why our How We Roll groups can be so beneficial. Learning the safe way to ride can increase your confidence and turn commuter cycling into a totally different experience. People have anxiety about personal issues too. They worry about getting the right bike for them, or looking like an asshole while they ride it in public. Once you know how to do things correctly, all the other anxieties melt away.

I think the best way to experience Columbus is on a bike. Since we focus primarily on commuter cyclists, all of our programs are city-centric, urban adventure rides. Riding through the city not only expands your mind map, but it also allows you to experience everything around you. You forget your perception changes when you spend most of your commutes in a car. People forget what it’s like to be outside in the world and experience it with all your senses. Human beings were meant to use their bodies to get from place to place. It really makes you feel alive.

There are no shortcuts when it comes to making commuter cycling safer. I think people underestimate how much of an investment program design is. It’s a huge time and resource commitment to run some of our programs, but it’s what actually helps people become more confident riding city streets. Our How We Roll groups have to be kept small to ensure everybody gets the attention they need, and with all the stops, it can take a few hours. But in the end, it’s worth it, because no brochure is going to make societal change.

Photo by Meghan Ralston