[clic aquí para español] A beat up rented van pulls up to a dark alley and backs up to a loading dock. Doors open and 10 large boxes slide out and are stacked in the back and the van lurches off into the night. This was step one in helping to start “Biciclamos!”, a fledgling slow-roll bike club that will operate out of the basement of the ACLAMO Family Center in Norristown.
In June, we held a great bike ride in Norristown with ACLAMO along the Schuylkill River Trail. This ride was notable for a few reasons: Several participants either didn’t know how to ride a bike, or hadn’t ridden since they were kids; and none of them owned bikes. When we decided that we would pursue doing Circuit Trails rides with community groups, ACLAMO quickly came up. Brenda Hernandez Torres, our Community Engagement and Partnership Coordinator, is friends with an ACLAMO employee.
ACLAMO was quite enthusiastic about the idea, but had no bikes, and many novice riders. This highlights just one way that social equity work in the bike movement is not easy. We did not let these obstacles get in our way though. We organized a “learn to ride” event, and reached out to bikeshare company Zagster to borrow some bikes for the ride.
We then made two trips to Norristown: one for the “learn to ride” event, another for the ride itself. For comparison, this is a great deal more challenging for us than our traditional “Explore The Circuit” rides, where we simply show up at a time and place, and registrants do the same, with the bikes they own. As in many other aspects of life, the challenging things often are much more rewarding: our first ride with ACLAMO was wonderful. There is nothing quite like being behind someone who just barely knows how to ride as you depart, who by the end is a confident rider.
It was during this first ride -where we explored some side streets of Norristown and a few miles of the Schuylkill River Trail- where the idea came from the participants: “We should start a club!” They started throwing name ideas around until somebody came up with “Biciclamos!”, a portmanteau of the names of our two organizations, which also sounds like saying “let’s ride bikes!”
This is when the real work began. Bicycle Coalition is not a bike club, nor do we own a fleet of everyday bikes. Luckily, our Regional Planner Leonard Bonarek had recently facilitated the donation of dozens of used bikes from Zagster to Neighborhood Bike Works (NBW). After many phone calls and emails, he arranged for NBW to donate 10 of these boxed, disassembled bikes. We then arranged to pick these bikes up from NBW’s storage facility and deliver them to Norristown along with a new bikes the organization had won through its participation at our recent Suburban Forum.
In another fortunate coincidence, we were able to deliver the 11 bikes to ACLAMO during its “posada,” a traditional Mexican celebration of Christmas. We were warmly greeted with food and dancing, and entertained by Leonard’s attempts to speak Spanish. Someone passed around a sheet of paper and nearly everyone in attendance signed up to be contacted about future rides.Brenda says “Raise your hand if you are interested in signing up to start going on bike rides.”
Afterwards, Leonard and Brenda stored the bikes in ACLAMO’s basement, and went through them to determine what repairs/parts each would need. We organized a bike build & potluck for BCGP and ACLAMO members to meet up and get the bikes in working order. After this, we’ll need to host another “learn to ride” class, and then we hope to have our first ride be on The Circuit’s “Opening Day for Trails” event in April.
After that, we hope Biciclamos! will build the capacity to do basic maintenance of the bikes, and will begin to organize its own rides that we can tag along with!
Through advocacy and education, the Bicycle Coalition leads the movement to make bicycling a safe and fun way to get around for anyone in Greater Philadelphia. We’re a member-funded organization, and we can’t advocate for building out the region’s bicycle network without your support. Join or donate today to partner with us and make your ride better.