We were so happy to recently discover Let’s Bike Stittsville and the great community led support they provide. We reached out to get to know Jeff, his story and how Let’s Bike Stittsville came to be! Here’s our full interview.
How long have you been riding a bike?
I have been riding a bike regularly for about 6 years now. A friend of mine gave me an old mountain bike that he no longer rode and I started to use it for a bit of exercise. After a few rides I found myself going longer distances and began to realize that I was no longer doing it as a quick exercise routine, I was riding just for the enjoyment of fresh air and clearing my head. In 2015, I made the decision to upgrade to a new bike that was a better fit for my riding style and have been riding that ever since. I ended up donating the old mountain bike to another resident in Stittsville in hopes it would do the same for him as it did for me. Last year while biking home from work, I was waiting at a light and my old mountain bike rode right by, it’s nice to know it’s still getting used.
What do you enjoy most about cycling?
There are two main benefits I love about cycling, 1) the improvements to my physical and mental health and 2) engaging with my community.
Since I started cycling there has been a big shift in my outlook on life and overall wellbeing. I have lost weight, I sleep better, I’m less stressed and my mental health has improved. The second benefit has been community engagement. When you’re on a bike in your neighbourhood, you engage more with the environment and people than you ever could while driving a car. Discovering hidden paths, new neighbourhoods, meeting new people and getting to areas that you can’t go with a car has been quite the eye opener. It is so much nicer biking along a wooded pathway than being stuck in a traffic jam.
What have you learned about cycling that you wish you knew when you started?
Just how easy it is to start. The first thing I had to get over was the stereotype of “cycling”, many people, myself included, prior to actually trying it have a stereotype in mind: someone wearing spandex, on a high performance road bike, flying down a road as fast as possible. That view can be intimidating as it was for me. Being overweight, the idea that I take up cycling seemed unrealistic because I didn’t fit the look, have the clothing or a decent bike. The reality quickly set in once I started biking, that the overwhelming majority of riders are everyday people doing everyday things. Parents and kids exploring, people running errands, exercising, going to work or school. I try not to use the term cyclist any more I feel it evokes the wrong visual. We are not “cyclists”, we are people riding bikes.
What are the biggest changes you have seen in the last 10 years when it comes to cycling in Ottawa?
The biggest change I have seen since I started has been within the past couple of years. Riding bikes seems to be much more popular than when I started and along with that comes a demand for better biking infrastructure. Unfortunately, the city’s response to such demands has been lacking and there is a real need to make biking safer. I live in Stittsville and one of the biggest obstacles I hear from people is that they don’t bike because they don’t feel safe. It actually inspired the development of our “Let’s Bike Stittsville” group (@stittsvillebike on Twitter and Facebook). Co-founded by Rochelle Buenviaje and myself, we are trying to advocate to make things safer in Stittsville as well as encouraging people to leave the car at home and ride a bike when possible.
What is your favorite cycling memory?
I think my favourite memory was when I accomplished a major milestone by riding my bike to work (Stittsville to Downtown). Previously, I was doing smaller rides around the community and going further distances. During that time, I was getting to work on the bus however, Stittsville had bus issues and I would regularly find myself waiting for a late bus or the bus just not showing. It was a combination of building up some endurance around my neighborhood and the irritation of bussing to work that made me decide I would just ride. I did a bit of map searching to figure out how to get there and early one morning I went for it. It was a great ride and adventure, so many new paths and parts of the city I never explored before. When I got to work, I remember thinking this is much better than the bus and I ended up not renewing my monthly pass. I now bike to work from about April until November and have saved thousands of dollars on bus passes over the years.
What was/is your biggest challenge? And how did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge is winter. Once the snow starts commuting via bike becomes more difficult. West-end commuters rely of a few key pathways to get there as safely as possible and they are not winter maintained. Once those pathways are no longer useable, it means my route to work would be on 80km roads, under less than ideal conditions and without any infrastructure to help keep me safe. That gets out of my comfort level. I try to work towards making things better by spreading awareness that not everyone can or wants to drive and there is a real need to ensure everyone can safely get around the city regardless of their mode of transportation.
Do you have a favorite path or route to bike in Ottawa?
Stittsville to Downtown via the Trans Canada Trail (31.4km)
- Grab a coffee at Quitters, need some fuel for the ride!
- Trans Canada Trail East until you get to Kichesippi Beer Co. If you’re thirsty, stop for a beer, I am a big fan of the Hefeweizen.
- Head North on Greenbelt Pathway and keep going until you reach Watts Creek Pathway.
- Head East along the pathway until you reach Carling. Cross the road to get to the Ottawa River Pathway.
- Keep heading East until Britannia Beach and feel obligated to stop a Beachconers for an Ice Cream (try the Peach Cardamom).
- Continue East along the Ottawa River Parkway and if you’re feeling tired or hot, take a rest or a quick dip at Westboro beach. There is also the new NCC Bistro at Remic Rapids a few minutes past the beach.
- Keep trekking East and cross Booth St. Mill Street is a minute away if you’re interested!
What inspires you?
Many things do, but a big one is people who are making a positive difference in their community. I love seeing new ideas that bring about equity and efficiencies that benefit our community and environment. Important things are rarely easy, there will always be obstacles in our way. We can let them stop us, or we can work around them. The latter is much more fun!