Bike Month events celebrate city's progress, potential

Grease up your chain, pump up your tires, roll up your right pant leg and hop on your bicycle--it's nearly Bike Month in Cincinnati. Get ready to roll.

Bike Month started all the way back in 1956 as a national event designated for each May. The League of American Bicyclists teams up with local organizations to promote riding, raise visibility of cyclists and get more people out of cars and onto their bikes. Queen City Bike, the local bike advocacy organization, is the driving force for Bike Month in Cincinnati. Through planning events, garnering sponsorships and involving local businesses, Nern Ostendorf, who started as executive director of QCB in September 2011, is busy planning her first Bike Month. 
"I've been gone since Cincinnati really started participating in Bike Month," says Ostendorf, who moved back to her hometown from Chicago. "I'm really excited for my first Bike Month."
For QCB, the planning for Bike Month is year-round. It comes in the form of advocating for a more bike-friendly city, with endeavors like Bike Friendly Destinations and urging City Council to push forward with the city's Bicycle Transportation Plan. The Bike Friendly Destinations program supports employers and businesses who encourage cycling to their establishments through incentives and the installation of bike racks and other amenities. 
"We kind of have to be that squeaky wheel that keeps nudging people to pay attention to cyclists," Ostendorf says. 
One of the biggest factors in raising awarenesss is visibility. The more people that are out on bikes, the more people will start to notice, and the more people notice, the more likely they are to get out and try riding a bike themselves. According to Ostendorf, group rides are somewhat of a slippery slope that can transform casual riders into commuting cyclists. Reser Bicycle Outfitters hosts a ride on Tuesday evenings. A community ride that attracts over 100 people in warmer month launches from Hoffner Park in Northside every Thursday, and most recently, the Urban Basin Bicycle Club pedals off from Fountain Square on Tuesday evenings. The Fountain Square group counted more than 20 participants on its inaugural ride.
"Last year there were a lot of rides starting from different places," Ostendorf says. "This year we have really tried to diversify our events and now have things like the bike swap and the bike prom." 
Glance at QCB's Bike Month calendar and it's easy to see the momentum. With events almost every day, and more often than not, several events each day, the city will be full of bicycle love in May, and hopefully beyond. Bike Month starts with the Kick-Off Expo at the Main Library, April 28, complete with bicycle exhibits, crafts for the kids and experts on hand to answer Bike Month-related questions. Next is the Bike Center's grand opening in Smale Riverfront Park, May 1. The bike center serves as a commuter station, complete with lockers, indoor bike parking and showers so commuters can freshen up before work.
Another effort to encourage bicycle commuting is the popular "Bike to Work Week." From May 14-18, commuter stations will be set up at Park + Vine on Main Street, Coffee Emporium on Central Parkway, the intersections of MLK Jr. Drive and Clifton Avenue, McMillan Avenue and Vine Street, the Cincinnati Bike Center in Smale Park, the Purple People Bridge, Pike Street Lounge in Covington and many more. Commuter stations will offer free bike safety checks, free coffee and refreshments, plus Bike Month t-shirts and encouragement on a commuter's trek to and from work. Morning stations are open 7-9 am and happy hour stations are open 4:30-6 pm.
"We decided to be both a morning and night commuter station because even the simplest thing like a cup of coffee can encourage someone to ride to work," says Dan Korman, owner of Park + Vine. "If someone rides their bike to work just once, they may see how easy it is and start doing it all the time." 
If commuting to work isn't your thing,many other events focus on the more recreational side of cycling. The "Know your Farmer, Know your Food Ride" on May 19 will travel to different food production locations in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, and feature a locally-sourced breakfast and lunch, free of charge to riders. On May 24, riders can celebrate the grand opening of Cincinnati's first bike polo court in Clifton and try out, or just watch, bike polo.
With a newly found sponsor found in Chipotle, QCB is hosting three Chipotle Family Rides that will include water bottles for kids and a card redeemable for a free burrito. Chipotle is also funding tokens, will be accepted at Findlay Market vendors, for riders who participate in the East Side Ride to Findlay Market.
"Chipotle approached us about being a sponsor," says Cheryl Crowe, board member of QCB. "That was the first time I had a company like that contact me. It definitely shows we are becoming more visible." 
Another event that will turn some heads is the Bike Prom on May 26, which is being sponsored by the City Department of Transportation. Put on your dress or tuxedo and join the group ride from Hoffner Park to Fountain Square for a prom picture, then head back to Mayday for Mobo's annual after-prom party and fundraiser. Still in the area after a long prom night? Join Ostendorf on the "Ride of Shame," a ride from Hoffner Park to MOTR Pub for Bloody Mary's and brunch. 
Bike Month rounds out on May 31 with the Streetfilms Film Fest and Party at the Emery Theatre. The film fest will show locally made documentaries and films by New York City-based Streetfilms. 
"We're want to keep thinking of fun ways to get communities involved and on their bikes more often," Ostendorf says. "There is definitely a difference in the way you interact with your city when you're on a bike rather than in a car with your windows rolled up."

Outdoor photos taken at Northside Slow and Steady Ride on Thursdays.
Indoor photo: Nern Ostendorf, executive director of Queen City Bike

All photos by Scott Beseler
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