There’s a new organization in Chicago helping new riders get accustomed to riding on city streets. The organization is called Chicago Bike Buddies, and it was founded by Kevin Swanson (pictured below). Recently, we asked Swanson a few questions about his fledgling organization and who it serves.
What inspired you to begin Chicago Bike Buddies?
The inspiration came from a group in Sao Paulo, Brazil called Bike Anjo. This group would set up new cyclists with those who had experience navigating the streets to help with best routes, how to remain safe and remind new riders how fun cycling is.
What sort of training goes into becoming a Bike Buddy volunteer?
We select experienced cyclists to serve as buddies and make sure that each buddy is teaching and demonstrating legal and safe riding. Our volunteer trainings last about an hour and most time is spent discussing different situations: like staying out of the door zone, hand signals and the rules of the road.
We teach defensive cycling and how to be predictable and visible. We also give out the Safe Cycling in Chicago pamphlet and the Chicago Bike Map.
What do the buddy rides usually encompass?
Buddy rides always incorporate a conversation component and a riding component. We discuss why each person has requested a buddy, what they hope to get out of the experience. We emphasize the rules of the road, go over the safety pamphlet and look at the bike map for the best routes.
But since each match is different, the buddy rides are always different. For example, last fall one person told me that her buddy took her to practice loading her bike onto the CTA bus rack because she wanted to know how to do it.
What are the top issues new riders face?
I think the biggest issues are confidence and nervousness. New riders often ride close to parked cars and have a hard time asserting themselves on the road. Left turns on busy streets are also tricky for new riders if changing lanes is new or they're not yet familiar with a box turn.
Also, some riders show up with bike locks that aren’t adequate or helmets that aren't properly adjusted — so we help with those things, too.
What are the goals of Bike Buddies?
When we started Bike Buddies, we weren't thinking too much into the future. At this point, we are just working to help as many people as possible. We want to get more folks on the road and make Chicago a better city for cycling for everyone!
Active Trans guest blogger Maureen Foody contributed this blog post.