Given Calgary’s urban sprawl, lack of bike lanes and sometimes frigid winters, making the city more bike-friendly has been a long uphill climb. Council approved a $28-million cycling strategy last June, but applauding this move pits hope against experience: it’s the fourth strategy the city’s unveiled since 1977.
However, given the growing awareness of cycling as a cheaper, greener and healthier means of transportation, and the advances already made in this latest strategy — i.e. more bike lanes, the hiring of a new cycling co-ordinator, preliminary talks about bike sharing, etc., etc. — there’s reason to think things may be different this time. What better way to celebrate this ray of hope than with bike-in movies, a bike polo tournament or a bike prom — just some of the more than 28 events scheduled so far for Cyclepalooza. The 10-day festival, which debuted last year, seeks to increase cycling’s profile and popularity and create a greater sense of kinship amongst Calgarians who bike.
Although the city’s 2006 survey found at least 400,000 Calgarians ride bikes some of the time, this number includes both occasional users and hardcore, all-weather enthusiasts. It’s hard to appeal to both of these groups, but when Colin Sproule checked out Cyclepalooza last year, he found it had done precisely that.
“It was meeting a lot of really great people in the cycling community,” he recalls of his experience, “and meeting a lot of other people that were not necessarily ingrained in the bike community, but were interested in riding bikes. I met a lot of great people that way and ended up attending quite a few events.”
Sproule has gone from participant to organizer this year, leading events including a potluck picnic and ride with the help of his “Bush Porn Babes” bike gang and picnic advocacy group, and serving on Cyclepalooza’s steering committee. But while the steering committee is organizing an opening bash (followed by a so-called “Hangover Ride” the morning after) and a closing party, it’s playing little part in any of the other events. Individuals, groups and businesses organize their own activities, reflecting the do-it-yourself ethos Cyclepalooza shares with its older counterparts.
“The model takes after Pedalpalooza and Velopalooza,” says Sproule, “similar festivals that have happened in Portland and Vancouver. And this ‘Palooza’ model, so to speak... it’s kind of an open-source take on a festival.”
With events ranging from a bike brewery crawl to a 40-kilometre ride, Cyclepalooza features lots of variety, although many of the offerings involve food (as the festival’s website notes “people bond better when filling their faces in close proximity to one another”). But if the do-it-yourself approach is partly a matter of philosophy, it’s also born of necessity, something Richard Zach, a Cyclepalooza organizer and vice-president of advocacy group Bike Calgary, hopes will change.
“It would be nice to have a bicycling festival, to have something like Cyclepalooza in Calgary sponsored by the city and sponsored by more businesses. Perhaps along the lines of Bike Month in Toronto or Bikeology in Edmonton, where the city itself is very much involved in putting on the kinds of events that, in Calgary, are still up to the citizens themselves to put on.”
A lack of sponsors, of course, isn’t Cyclepalooza’s only challenge. Calgary has just 15 kilometres of dedicated bike lanes, in contrast to Vancouver’s 40 and cycling mecca Portland’s almost 300. Even as Calgary’s latest cycling strategy promises to be better than its predecessors, putting it all into place won’t be quick or easy. But while Sproule’s aware that change will take time, he’s optimistic about the future.
“I think that probably the city itself may have some catching up to do,” he says, “but I think the citizens of Calgary are showing strongly that they’re interested in biking as a means of transportation, as a means of recreation, so I think the city’s definitely getting ready to embrace biking as it becomes more popular.”