Who knew that heartbreak could be so good for the local cycling scene? Back in 2005, bike advocacy helped Mike Sule distract himself from the heartache of a tough breakup. Since then, however, Asheville on Bikes, the organization he subsequently founded, has become a well-known advocate on both local and state-level transportation issues.
In support of the group’s work, the ninth annual Bike Love celebration will take place Saturday, Feb. 13, at ISIS restaurant in West Asheville.
It’s not just about pushing for more bike lanes, either. Last year, the nonprofit helped get language removed from House Bill 44 that would have restricted municipalities’ ability to create bike lanes on state roads. Sule’s group played a lead role in assembling a coalition to defeat the bill. Partners as diverse as the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and Mosaic Community Lifestyle Realty came on board, and New Belgium Brewing Co. also put its resources behind the public relations campaign that urged residents to express their opinions to state Transportation Secretary Anthony Tata.
At the same time, Asheville on Bikes was urging the DOT to consider transportation alternatives such as cycling and walking when planning the Interstate 26 connector. A petition drive put pressure on the state, and the nonprofit helped keep the public informed about the status of the campaign.
Both of these issues reflect the challenges of local bike advocacy in the current political climate. “There’s only so much the city can do,” notes Sule. “To build a robust network, we really need our DOT to become leaders in active transportation.”
In the meantime, other Asheville on Bikes projects were delivering more tangible results to the community. In 2015, the city created its first protected bike lane, sheltered by a 3-foot painted buffer, and installed on–street bike corrals. The nonprofit advocated for these changes, made presentations to City Council and developed a design concept. Asheville on Bikes runs an after-school bike program as well: The group hired two instructors to give bike lessons at Asheville Middle School and hopes to expand the program to two more schools this year.
As far as Sule knows, he’s the only person in the state who’s employed full time as the director of a bike advocacy group. He’s assisted by a wide array of dedicated volunteers, including a board that he says contains “some of the smartest, most focused people sitting in a room.”
The Policy Committee, for instance, includes Vaidila Satvika, a project manager in the city’s Planning and Urban Design Department; Matt Fusco, a landscape architect with the U.S. Forest Service; and Sealy Chipley, the founder of Chipley Consulting.
All that energy and organization have been channeled into this year’s edition of Bike Love. A VIP networking session/beer dinner sponsored by New Belgium will get things going. A silent auction will feature dozens of items donated by local and national bike companies; the group’s Facebook page is updated daily, with new auction items added as they pedal in.
The event will also give folks a chance to buy discounted Asheville on Bikes memberships. Normally $20, they’ll be available at Bike Love (or online in advance) for $15. Besides giving the group a financial boost, memberships provide political credibility when speaking with legislators.
The music will begin at 9 p.m. compliments of The Digs, a keys/guitar/drum trio whose members have played in the likes of Ween and Eagles of Death Metal. Joining them will be vocalist Ryan “RnB” Barber. Instrumentalist, producer and DJ Marley Carroll, whose work has been featured in Rolling Stone, on NPR and elsewhere, will round out the evening.
And beyond the particulars, there’s a nice kind of symmetry at work here: Born out of a romance gone bad, an organization that’s helped foster Asheville’s growing affection for biking hosts a benefit event on the eve of Valentine’s Day. What could be more appropriate?