Sign up online to become a Bike Buddy or be matched with a Bike Buddy.
Last year, Jennifer Connors made the decision. She would start biking to work at the University of Washington. But she was too afraid to actually get on a bike and do it.
“I just didn’t,” Connors says. “I just dreamed about it for a year.”
Months passed. She bought a used bike. More months passed. She bought a brand new bike.
But she still hadn’t pedaled to work. Her home was not along a good transit route to campus, and commuting by bus took 45 minutes to an hour. But she kept “busing, Uber-ing and crying every day,” she says.
Finally, this April, she got the push she needed: She learned about UW Transportation Services’ new Bike Buddy program. The pilot program matches beginning bike commuters with experienced riders who live nearby and can show them the ropes.
‘It was the motivation I needed’
Bike Month 2016
- 7 ways to get ready
- Bike repairs are never far away on campus
- Start your bike commute with a Bike Buddy
- 6 things to know about bike-commuting with children
- Q&A: Why the Burke-Gilman Trail is closed
- Bike Buddies finding inspiration, friendship
Connors, a work control manager for Facilities Maintenance and Construction, took the leap and signed up. She was matched with a Bike Buddy who, like Connors, lives on Capitol Hill: Cynthia Stanich, a research scientist in the Department of Chemistry who has commuted by a combination of biking and transit for four years.
Stanich had seen Connors’ fear of bike commuting in someone else: herself, years before.
“When I first started biking, I was afraid,” Stanich says. “I didn’t know how I was supposed to handle the roads. I was afraid of making drivers angry. I was afraid of hills. So I figured I could show someone that it’s not that scary, and how to handle all those things, as well as, you know, make a friend.”
The two exchanged some nervous emails and settled on a day to ride to campus together: Friday, April 29. Two days before Bike Month. Stanich, eager to help, planned a route from Connors’ home and tested it a few times.
When the big day arrived, it was raining. But the two Buddies rode to campus anyway. The rain poured, but Connors’ fear of biking to work evaporated as she realized that she could do it. And if it weren’t for the Bike Buddy program, she says, she would probably still be waiting to try a bike commute, too afraid to take that first ride.
“It was the motivation I needed,” Connors says. “Now I’m like, ‘Why did I wait for a year and a half? This is so amazing!’”
A surprising response
Across the UW, more and more commuters are discovering that amazing feeling. In less than two months, 137 Bike Buddies have signed up to offer assistance to beginning riders. So far, Transportation Services has matched 42 Bike Buddy pairs.
UW Bike Buddies are scattered throughout Seattle, with some living as far off as Edmonds, Redmond, Kent and Bainbridge and Vashon islands. You can see for yourself on our map of Bike Buddies’ home neighborhoods.
“The response from Bike Buddies has been particularly inspiring,” says Ted Sweeney, Transportation Services’ active transportation specialist. “I expected 15 to 20 people, maybe a few more, to volunteer to participate. With 137 buddies, we are able to make some really great matches for people in most neighborhoods within 10 miles of campus, and many places beyond that.”
And those matches can do more than pair you with someone to guide you along your first bike commute. They also introduce you to another face you’ll recognize around your neighborhood – most likely, someone from an entirely different corner of this huge university, whom you might never have met otherwise.
New commute, new friend
Take Carol Bogezi, a Ph.D. student in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences who grew up in Uganda, and Adam Sherman, an assistant dean at the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance from Woodinville. They live two blocks apart in Ballard, but they’d never met before they were matched as Bike Buddies this spring.
Bogezi learned to bike last year, and she had biked to campus a few times during April. But she had some questions: Would she be safe? What’s the best route to take? Could she really commute regularly by bike? “I didn’t know anyone who biked to campus from my neighborhood,” she says. “I thought it would be inspiring.”
Then she was matched with a Bike Buddy, Sherman, who began biking to campus about a year ago after his first child was born so he could save time by getting his daily exercise during his commute.
“The match was perfect,” Sherman says. He taught Bogezi tricks that he’d had to learn the hard way, guiding her along a shorter and safer route to campus that uses bike lanes and showing her how to fix a flat tire. “There wasn’t this for me,” he says, “and I thought, ‘This would have been nice.’”
Sherman had signed up to be a Bike Buddy because he tries to do whatever he can to encourage more people to bike, hoping to reduce climate impact and encourage bicycle-friendly infrastructure. But the program gave him more than that: He met a new friend and gained a new connection to his neighborhood. The two made fast friends, and they’ve ridden to campus together several times, chatting the whole way.
Connors and Stanich have become friends, too, emailing each other to report on their Bike Everywhere Challenge performance. “I had no idea I would get somebody who was awesome and friendly,” Connors says.
Who among us isn’t interested in a better commute, or in a new friend? Sign up to be matched with a Bike Buddy in your neck of the woods, and you might find both.