Rides, Community, Culture, Advocacy
I always say that my favorite thing about bicycling is getting to meet other people that are super passionate about bicycling. One of those people is Amy Easter. I’ve met Amy a number of times over the years at various advocacy events and was so excited to connect with her to talk about all the amazing things she and her husband, Jake Easter, are doing for bicycling in Winston Salem.
First a little background: Like many people, Amy grew up in suburbia where she rode her bike to visit friends or get soda and candy from the convenience store. But when she grew up and started driving, she set her bicycle aside and became a motorist.
It turns out, though, that bicycles remained a part of Amy’s destiny. Amy met her future husband, Jake, an avid bicyclist. It took a few years, but Jake eventually got Amy a bike and she started riding again. Amy describes herself as “not competitive and not particularly athletic” but she enjoyed doing something she felt was unique and fun and being able to get some exercise doing it. Realizing she could ride her bike to school at GTCC and save money doing so was an added bonus.
In 2009, Amy and Jake moved to Raleigh, which Amy describes as having “a great bike culture with a variety of social rides and other activities centered on bicycling.” For example, Oak City Bike Shop always had creative and interesting events planned and Oaks and Spokes put on an annual multi-day festival with many different activities. Through Crank Arm Brewery, Jake started Crank Arm rides, a no drop social ride that provides a great introduction to Raleigh and a welcoming environment for those who are new to bicycling. For Amy, their 5 years in Raleigh “really set the stage for the idea of bicycling as a social thing.”
Then in 2014, Amy and Jake moved to Winston-Salem. Amy looked around and asked herself, “where’s all the bike stuff?” Winston-Salem has thousands of people who ride bikes. Road cycling is strongly intertwined in the city’s history. But bicycling culture there seemed very disparate and disjointed. Amy wanted to bring the Raleigh bicycle culture to Winston-Salem.
Launching from a blog Jake had been writing for a few years, they started BeersNGears to bring the social aspect of bicycling to the city. In 2016, they put on the first annual HalloWheels Festival – a 4 day event including a scavenger hunt, group rides and a race.
The first Thursday night of each month is Open Bike Night, where the Easters open up their “shop” (ie. their garage) and put out bike stands and tools. People come by and bring bikes to work on or just to hang out. It gives them the opportunity to have one on one conversations with other bicyclists. Amy describes the gathering as “very meaningful because it empowers people to do things on their bikes.”
Following the Crank Arm model, about a year ago, BeersNGears partnered with the Fiddlin’ Fish Brewery for a weekly ride. Every week is a 10-15 mile ride (shorter in winter). It can be faster or slower, depending on who shows up, but no one is ever dropped. Between Amy’s organizational enthusiasm and Jake’s “amazing route planning skills,” the ride draws more and more people every week.
And that’s not all. BeersNGears has the contract to maintain Winston-Salem’s bike share fleet. They also own a rickshaw that they pull out for big events in town to give people rides and, a recent addition, a 15 passenger van with a trailer to haul 12 bikes, “to give people the opportunity to see other parts of the state by bicycle.”
But even all of that is not enough for Amy. A self-described “geeky advocate,” Amy wanted to advocate even more for bicycling with city government and found that BeersNGears maybe wasn’t the best name for an organization to partner with politicians. So BeersNGears then launched the Winston-Salem Cycling Advocacy Network (WSCAN).
WSCAN is designed to be a very open, welcoming and flexible network. Amy says: “whatever riding you’re interested in and support, you have a place in the network.” Amy wants WSCAN both “to be a collective voice” and “to provide value to people individually.” The idea of the network is to bring together like-minded people to help them complete their goals: “we know there are all these people out there who are doing great things or want to do great things, but don’t have the resources to get the word out or execute on events.”
The network, so far, is small, but growing and starting to become a force in the community. WSCAN holds a quarterly event called “Cycle Net” to provide a networking opportunity for people, all people, who ride bikes. The event is held at Footnotes and presents two short (10 minutes, tops) guest speakers to talk about anything bicycle related and provide a forum for “all bike people: road, mountain and geeky advocates like me.” The hope is “to address longstanding issues of the segregation within the bicycling community.”
As part of her mission to help grow Winston-Salem bicycling culture, Amy interacts as much as possible with local government officials. She is a big believer in individuals having facetime and relationships with representatives. “You can send a letter and nothing happens. But tell them in person – there’s a pothole that’s going to hurt someone – and it actually can get done. Sometimes it changes an internal process that helps prevent problems in the first place.”
Amy feels strongly that “other people should be empowered to do that and effect change. You have to make it easy for them to interact.” One goal with Cycle Net is to get that exposure by bringing local government officials to the meetings. She and Jake also blog about things that are happening locally, in order to make the information as accessible as possible. Work is underway to overhaul the WSCAN website for improved accessibility. They would like the new website to serve as a hub for information.
With all of the things they are doing for bicycling, you’ll probably be amazed to hear that Amy and Jake both have day jobs. Amy loves her job at Wells Fargo, in part because it gives her the flexibility to pursue the outside activities that she loves. Jake has his own mobile detailing business that he started back in Raleigh.
To make Winston-Salem a truly great bicycling city, it needs more people to become involved and contribute. So if you live in Winston-Salem, consider this your call to action. If you have two hours a week or a year, Amy has a role for you, in whatever area of bicycling you are passionate about.
You can contact Amy directly at [email protected]
Learn more about the Winston-Salem Cycling Advocacy Network and how to become a member: https://wscyclingadvocacynetwork.wordpress.com/join-the-network/
Visit http://www.beersngears.com for more information and updates on their events