As easy as riding a bike
For U of M student Dan Reihl sharing his passion for cycling with others is something that comes as naturally to him as taking a breath. So it was an obvious choice to volunteer with the Office of Sustainability and UMcycle to get involved with International Winter Bike to Work Day and the Jack Frost Challenge events.
“The majority of my volunteer work revolves around active transport, especially the everyday use of the bicycle” says Dan. Dan’s belief that everyone should be able to cycle anywhere safely and comfortably inspires him to advocate for the need for infrastructure that supports safe, comfortable and continuous movement for all, regardless of age, ability and season.
For the past two seasons Dan has helped to coordinate International Winter Bike to Work Day events in Winnipeg. An annual international event, started right here in Winnipeg, to promote commuting by bicycle in winter and the joys of winter outdoor activities and alternative commutes.
“When three of my female classmates this semester biked to school for the first time in winter on Winter Bike to Work Day February 9th, and I was the only male in the class to bike to school that day, it made me reflect on the gender differences in cycling around the world. While women are the majority of people cycling in cities like Copenhagen, Oulu, Amsterdam, and Groningen―where cities have reliable, safe and comfortable bicycle networks in all seasons, for every destination―this isn’t the norm in Winnipeg. My classmates who chose not to cycle that day didn’t reject the idea of doing so because of the cold. They rejected the idea of cycling because they did not feel safe cycling due to a lack of proper infrastructure,” says Dan.
The difference in cycling culture in other parts of the world was highlighted again for Dan while he was volunteering at this year’s Try Winter Cycling event, part of the Jack Frost Challenge, a weeklong challenge for Manitobans to get outside and enjoy winter activities in February.
“An international student from Kenya recognized my bike as being very similar to the Flying Pigeon (a Chinese utility bike and one of the most popular bikes in the world). He wanted to take it for a spin and was as much of a pro as one could possibly be on an everyday utility bike with a partially functioning coaster brake [it was -38°C or something and the brakes freeze up]. He returned the bike saying that where he was from a person knew that they had “made it” when they owned a Flying Pigeon. I think that is something to strive for; a culture of highly normalized cycling where having a bicycle like everyone else is celebrated. The Netherlands has this, Denmark has this, China has this, Germany is working on this, and I hope that one day Canada will have normalized cycling too.”
When asked what advice he would give to others who are thinking of volunteering Dan said “find a way to do something you would do anyway. I don’t even think of the times I’ve volunteered as work or even volunteering.” It’s as easy as riding a bike.