Sunday, July 24, 2011

Open Letter to Mayor Sam Katz

There's lots to say about cycling, cyclists, and bike paths and the like these days. If it is coming from me, chances are it will be pretty critical. I was made aware of this open letter via Twitter, and after reading it couldn't help but shake my head. I'll stand with the cyclists on this one.

To make perfectly clear, this was not written by me, and was also not written as any kind of "guest contribution" for my site.

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Mr. Mayor,

My name is Jean-Francois Ravenelle, and I am the President and General Manager of Gord's Ski and Bike.

Excuse me if I feel the need to bring this recent situation to your attention:

First off, I'd like to preface this letter with the following: For the record, I fully support the men and women of the Winnipeg Police Service. I think they are doing a phenomenal job and should be commended more often. This is not an issue with the WPS, this is an issue with people like this officer who decided, for whatever reason, that biking on 12 feet of sidewalk is deserving of threats and intimidation tactics.

We have been hosting Nightly group rides in the city for the past 10 years under my leadership. Our bike club has a membership of over 300 members and these members include members of Winnipeg's Police and Firefighting services as well as people of all walks of life who simply wish to ride our extensive network of paved and unpaved trails... respectfully using roadways to connect said trails... Sometimes using short portions of sidewalk to access these trails.

The "cyclists" on these rides are not zealots, we wear very little spandex, we are responsible citizens that practice safe, COURTEOUS, off-road biking along the rivers and pathways of Winnipeg. Our groups vary in size between 10 and 40 riders and we enforce the use of helmets, safety gear as well as the respect of property and laws. We promote safe, responsible and sustained cycling as well as maintain trails and offer education to cyclists throughout the city.

Our latest experience with a member of the Winnipeg Police Service was at about 7:30pm July 20th near the Maryland bridge at Miserecordia. There an officer was doing laser speed enforcement on the north side of the bridge (pointing his 'gun' towards the northbound oncoming traffic, we rolled by (coming up Cornish avenue) going down to the trail that begins under the Mariland bridge... We rode on 12 feet of sidewalk and because of that, this officer took exception, told everyone to get off their bikes and walk towards him (at that point we were on the lawn of the Cornish Library, waiting for other riders to join us and making sure that the path ahead was clear of pedestrians, as we always do).

He then pointed out that if he so chose to, he could very well issue citations for all 28 of us ... He asked who the 'group leader' was and I stepped up. I listened to him calmly as he was clearly upset and agitated with us. Probably because someone in the group had humorously yelled "sneaky" a few minutes earlier as they rode by (presumably because he was crouched behind a recycle bin with his laser gun 30 yards away from his car that was parked in the Miserecordia BFI bin parking lot).

When we asked several questions in order to make certain that we could ride away without breaking any more laws, we were clearly informed of his by-the-letter interpretation of the HSA. But to be informed that bike tires "killed grass" and thus we would not be allowed ride our off-road mountain bikes off-road was a shocker... almost as much as to be told that no bikes are allowed to ride on city property (in this case next to the Cornish public library) as this would constitute trespassing. This Officer clearly implied that bikes should only be ridden on asphalt and more particularly on roadways.

The officer was wearing his WPS uniform with a safety vest over it, we could not see his number but he had blond hair clean-cut hair, about 5'8", told us he was a bike patrol officer who was putting in overtime doing traffic control that particular night... Reminding us, once again that it was illegal to ride on grass, that we should only ride our bikes on the road with cars (he added that paved trails are for pedestrians only)... we mentioned kindly and politely that we were simply just trying to link bike trails. To that he added "these are not bike trails, if you ride on property, even if it's city property you are trespassing".

He kept on saying "I'm exercising restraint, I could write every single one of you for $111 for riding on the sidewalk".... Then, as he was giving his speech to everyone, a drunk individual on a bike rode by on his bike, cursing us for blocking the sidewalk (something that we were ordered to do as we were on the grass in front of the library before that officer decided to separate us from our bikes)... Mid-sentence the officer then chose to run after this cyclist, grabbed him by his backpack and wrestled him off his bike... talked to him for a few seconds and then walked back towards our stunned group to resume his lecture.

The officer was clearly agitated by this entire episode.

I remained calm, shook his hand at the end of our "chat". We had 27 witnesses that were present during this exchange ... Many have come forward offering to voice their concerns that this kind of behaviour does nothing but further fuel the growing issue that is Bike vs WPG.

This issue could have been handled MUCH differently and with a much more positive result. Instead this officer chose confrontation and intimidation as a tool to enforce a law that is clearly flexible.

As a business owner, bike rider and concerned citizen, I am worried that this is just a small indicator of what is turning into a contentious and dangerous issue... one that is on the cusp of reaching a boiling point... One that makes people think twice before hopping on a bike, one where zealots are taking control of the issue, one where the simple joy of riding a bike in this city is dismantled by people like this officer, who's ill temper and zeal to enforce questionable laws to the letter will turn this city into the opposite of a bike friendly municipality.

I will be sending this email to as many councilors and media outlets as I can, to whoever can help spread the word... with the hopes that cooler heads will prevail and that something good can come of this.

Not all "cyclists" are activists, not all "cyclists" even like that descriptor as we don't own safety vests or anything made of hemp, in fact many of us own nice cars, we practice "cycling" as a recreational sport, not a lifestyle, we are business owners, physicians, police officers, firefighters, government employees, students and parents, we just like to ride bikes in a respectful fashion and most of us don't commute to work simply because it's not safe to do so yet in this city. We'd like our voice heard.

Oh, one last thing, and forgive me if I conclude this email tongue in cheek... I don't know if anyone at city hall or at the WPS knows this interesting fact: The sport of biking is not limited to asphalt.

Thank you for your time.

Jean-Fran├žois Ravenelle |
President, General Manager

Gord's Ski and Bike |

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Super Grandpa: cycling across Canada in less than 14 days

A Winnipegger hailing from East Kildonan is trying to break a world record. Cycling across Canada in 13 days and 9 hours.

Arvid Loewen has been grinding it out on the bike as an ultramarathonist for over 15 years. He boasts a resume that boarders on the insane. And he does it all for charity, good causes, for orphanages in third world countries, and for fun. If you're spending this much time in the saddle, there must be something you're enjoying about it.

Arvid Loewen is currently being sponsored by the fine folks from Bikes and Beyond in Elmwood, where he has taken his business for years. One of Arvid's more humourus endeavors involved racing the employees of B&B as they took turns for 24 hours...Arvid vs the store.

Bikes and Beyond has also pledged towards Arvid's cause. If the record is broken, B&B will buy the bike back and mount the world record-breaking machine in the store.

This time it's not just for a good cause, its for the record books too. The current record stands at 13 days, 9 hours. As I sit on the steps of the Legislature typing my draft of this piece, he will roll into Winnipeg about 18h ahead of the calculated average (though this is a bit deceptive...) He's cranking over 500km a day down the Trans Canada Highway.

The charity we're talking about here is Mully Children's Family. Arvid has been cycling in support of MCF for 5 years now, founding the non profit Spoke Impact. In 2005, Arvid cycled across Canada on a tandem bike with an orphanage child, one of three, from MCF with him.

I chatted with Arvid about the orphanage and his humanitarian work using his cycling craziness as a fundraising platform.

For Arvid, the Guinness Record is a secondary goal and a tool to promote his fundraising drive, which he describes as "aggressive." At $400 000 so far, he's putting they money where his mouth, and heart, are. Since 2005, over $1.5 million dollars have been raised for MCF by Arvid, Spoke Impact, and Grandpas Can.

Arvid actually quit his job a few years ago to concentrate full time on Spoke Impact and fundraising for NGOs like MCF. He has visited MCF in Kenya twice now, and remarked on the incredible change between his first and second visits. They now harbour 2000 orphans, they have a giant greenhouse, fish farms, and water dams. More impressively, 7000 kids have "graduated" from the shelter and are equipped with the tools and knowledge to be independent people.

If you can even imagine doing 500km a day on a bike, a cycling ultramarathonist has big mental challenges. For inspiration, Arvid carries a few pictures with him. Of Lilian, a girl from the orphanage, 8 years old weighing 16 pounds, a hauntingly skeletal figure staring hopelessly at nothing while sitting on the ground. On the flip side of Arivd's little photo carrier is Lilian again, healthy, with bright eyes and a beaming smile.

It would be hard not to be inspired by that, knowing that your efforts and work have made such an incredible difference in an impoverished country.

Though the project is still under Spoke Impact, the name for this venture is "Grandpas Can." He says this to show that grandpas can be leaders and can help make the world better. Arvid's grandchildren will sure have something to be proud of. They're even on his custom-made cycling shirts, which look pretty sharp with the Spoke Impact logo, the website name, and on the back, a group photo of Mully Children's Family.

The good work done by MCF doesn't stop at kids, but it ventures into being stewards of the environment as well. Director Charles Mully's has been planting trees, a lot of trees, to help recover forests that have been destroyed by deforestation or logging. Remember that in Canada, we take these sorts of things for granted. Not everywhere in the world requires logging companies to re-plant forests. There are similar stories of such tree planters throughout the world.

You can follow Arvid Loewen's journey at If you want to donate and help the fundraising drive, follow the appropriate links on his site.

His crew is on the Twitter, who have been essentially live-tweeting the journey with a bit of humor, too.

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A brief career retrospective of some of Arvid Loewen's ultra marathon cycling events. He had a hard time at first as anyone does with long-distance events, but with perseverance and experience, he's become a veteran pro.

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1995: Furnace Creek 508. A 508 mile trek through Death Valley. Arvid would not finish.

1995: Paris-Brest-Paris 1200. Dropped out.

1998: 24 hour race in Alaska. Dropped out after 480km.

1999: Paris-Brest-Paris 1200. Finished. The event now draws over 3000 riders.

2000: Furnace Creek 509 finished.

2001: Iowa Firecracker 500. Finished, which qualified Arvid for the Race Across America.

2005: Across Canada on a tandem bicycle, carrying a Keynan orphan from MCF.

2008: Race Across America. Arvid would finish 1st in his age category, in 11 days, 3 hours and 19 minutes.

2009: Tour for Life. Arvid began on the same day as the Tour de France, and his goal was to ride triple the distance. For 23 days he rode around Birds Hill Park, Highway 59, North Henderson Highway and the Perimeter. He compiled nearly 8000km and came just short of his goal of tripling the Tour de France.

Has completed the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200km twice.

Show your support for Arvid, his cause, and MCF, by following his journey via his website, on Twitter, or by making a donation.