Axletree Ring Retrospective 2013

We’re starting a new tradition here at Axletree – The Axletree Ring Retrospective.

Each year, we’ll post a recollection of highlights, accomplishments, and changes we experienced as an organization. Here’s our first crack at it; we hope you enjoy.

For most of us at the center of Axletree, we regard 2013 as our first real year of operation.  Axletree existed as an entity in 2012, but it wasn’t until this year that we really got things rolling along.  In 2012, we worked on developing a mission and some basic infrastructure.  In 2013, we have taken our first tangible steps towards fulfilling that mission and, in full transparency, learned quite a bit about how we need to strengthen the infrastructure.  To show one measure of our success, Axletree and North Central Cyclery were recognized with a bike advocacy award by Trek Bikes.

As a startup Not For Profit, there are a lot of somewhat daunting tasks to face.  Just the mountain of paperwork we have to do to obtain and keep our status as an entity is a challenge in itself.  But fortunately, we have a dedicated cadre of volunteers who work to support the organization, and we have been fortunate to partner with a number of area businesses and community groups to continue forward with our mission.  We continue to see our goals fitting into the three words that outline the organization: Advocacy, Events and Awesome.  This year, we have made progress in each of these areas. Here are a few of the highlights of 2013:
DeKalb Bike Ordinance:  Axletree worked with the City of DeKalb (our home base, a community of 45,000 people), to develop, revise and then put into law one of the most progressive, fair and honest approaches to bike regulation that has yet been drafted anywhere in the nation.  This is an accomplishment we are intensely proud of: our bike ordinance is a model that can be adopted and used in nearly any environment.  It encourages safe, responsible cycling, and it encourages respectful interaction between all users of the road.  It also takes important steps to implement penalties for those who use motor vehicles as weapons of intimidation against cyclists.  You can read more about the Bike Ordinance, including its anti-harassment provisions, here.
Axletree Rider Pledge:  It’s very popular in the cycling world to talk about things like “owning the road” or “taking the lane.”  Some cycling advocacy groups work to do very high-visiblity, low speed bike rides that show strength in numbers, but which can also draw motorist ire by disrupting traffic flow unnecessarily.  That may or may not be the right approach—but it isn’t our approach.  We spent a considerable amount of time developing the Axletree Rider Pledge.  It’s more than just a set of rules for group rides; it is a written statement of our riding ethos and group culture.  There certainly are times when we occupy a complete lane of traffic (when it is necessary to do so for the safety of ourselves and others), but we don’t “take the lane.”  We share the road.  We try to be respectful co-users.  We work to encourage positive interaction with motorists.  We do simple things, like waving, not blocking turn lanes, and riding predictably.  We do complex things, like engaging the community, working on positive news coverage and revising bike ordinances (see above).  We do all of these things because we think they are necessary to further our mission, and to make our part of the world a little bit safer, and more fun, for cyclists.  You can read (and commit to) the Axletree Rider Pledge here.
Community Bike Ride:
We do a lot of rides throughout the year—some of which are pretty well known.  Some of our rides are hard and fast.  Some of our rides are cold and slow.  But one of our most important rides of 2013 was the Community Bike Ride we did this summer.  We assembled a group of community leaders from across DeKalb County, and participated in a bike ride that used much of the ‘central’ bike infrastructure in DeKalb.  The ride used bike paths that we’re accustomed to using, but it opened the eyes of many of our civic leaders.  For example, there are areas where bike paths hit roads and do not have any curb-cuts.  Riders had to stop, dismount, cross, hike their bike up the curb, and remount.  Is that a barrier to an active cyclist looking to ride?  It’s inconvenient, but it’s not a true barrier for us.  But what about for a youth trying to cycle across town?  What about for a senior citizen trying to remain active?  The community bike ride showed a ground-level view of where the community is succeeding and where we’re failing when it comes to being bike-accessible and bike friendly.
Public Bike Pumps:
If you’re an avid rider, you know to check your tire pressure before you ride.  But for many cyclists, tire pressure is all-too-easy to forget.  How many times do you see someone riding through town with flat or nearly-flat tires?  In some instances, the tires are flat because the riders don’t know any better, and in other cases, it is because the riders don’t have a bike tire pump.  In 2013, we paid for the installation of a bike pump (adjacent to a community bike map) on one of the busiest bike trails in town.  We also raised enough money to fund a second community bike pump that will be installed in 2014.  These are heavy-duty, bolted-down, steel pumps that will remain available for use for years to come—and that will enable people to ride their bikes, safely.  There are barriers to cycling everywhere you look.  Rather surprisingly, one of the biggest barriers is equipment.  We’re working to make sure that everyone has access to one of the simplest tools needed to make a bike safe: a bike pump, to properly inflate your tires.  The comment above to look at cyclists in your community is not rhetorical.  Start to look, and notice just how many low tires there are on the road.  Building a safe bike infrastructure means addressing all aspects of safe cycling.
YMCA Bike Rodeo:  When the local YMCA and a number of other community organizations talked about doing a bicycle rodeo for young cyclists (with a safety town-esque indoor cycling area and bike skills courses), we jumped at the chance to participate.  We provided a free safety-check on bicycles, where we did simple things like pump tires, adjust helmets, fix saddle height issues, and otherwise make minor adjustments to bikes.  I can confidently say that: a) the vast majority of helmets we saw on children did not properly fit; and, b) the vast majority of parents were unaware that their childrens’ helmets did not fit.  Our work to provide some very basic education on helmet fit is something that we’re proud of.  At worst, we made a bunch of kids a lot more comfortable in their bike helmets (and thus more likely to wear them).  At best, we may have helped prevent a serious head injury caused by a misaligned (or missing) helmet. Helping to make kids safe and comfortable on their bikes is a critical step to making kids want to spend time on their bikes.  Kids who spend time on their bikes grow up to become cyclists—and healthier people.  Win, win, win.
High School Adventure Club:
We also went out to DeKalb High School and met with the local Adventure Club.  We talked about safe cycling, the laws applicable to cycling, fun places to ride, and general bike-related chatter.  And surprisingly, with a group of teenagers, we talked about saddle height, helmet fit, and tire pressure.  The vast majority of attendees had brought their bikes to school…and the vast majority of bikes had one or more maladies that we fixed…brakes that were out of adjustment, tires that were flat, saddles that were pointed in such a fashion as to render the rider sterile…there were many little issues to fix.  More importantly, we made ourselves available and provided role models as responsible, successful adults who still ride bicycles.  High school may be a time of fixation on cars for many…we are working to keep teens active outside, as well.
World Bicycle Relief Support:  Through the events that we run and hard work that we undertake, we raise a modest amount of funds.  In 2013, we were proud to provide support to World Bicycle Relief, with a check we provided just a couple of weeks ago.  World Bicycle Relief is the kind of organization that we aspire to continue working with, trying to ensure that people around the world have safe access to appropriate bikes that can be used for a myriad of reasons ranging from work to leisure to sport.  We’re not funding them at the “brass plaque in the office” level, but for us to pony up a check to an organization and to provide the funding that we’ve worked so hard to raise—that’s a meaningful endorsement on our part, and it is to a group that is worthy of such support.
2014 Community Projects:  As a part of our 2013 budget, we have set aside nearly half of our revenue in a dedicated fund with a local, not-for-profit community organization, to fund more community activities in 2014 aimed at producing safe, happy cyclists in a safe, productive cycling environment.  We will have lots of good stories to report on next year.
The Rides:
It’s with some chagrin that I come to the rides last.  The rides are what Axletree is perhaps most known for.  The Gravel Metric—the brainchild of Tobie DePauw and North Central Cyclery—is at the heart of what we do.  The Night Bison ride–which nearly doubled in size this year.  The Hopkins Park Cyclocross race—which featured the best course layout yet (courtesy of our friends at Robots <3 Love).  The upcoming Blbbrbk, which promises to be one of the best fatbike events of the season.  And then there’s our regular weekly group rides, which have grown exponentially in availability (we’re offering a ride almost every day), size (we’ve had amazing turnout this year), and in some instances, speed.  When there has been a call for a new type of ride (slower, faster, longer, easier), we have developed such a ride and found leaders to head up the ride.  We’re working to meet the community demand for cycling.  Rides are what brought us together—common interests in riding our bikes.  Out of those rides, friendships have developed.  Out of those friendships, a common vision emerged, and Axletree was born.  And out of Axletree, we have produced so much.  We’re doing a great deal, and we’re going to keep doing more.
The Partners:  This 2013 retrospective would be nothing without a mention of our partners.  North Central Cyclery is the hub of our organization, and has proven to be a truly selfless partner, giving of itself without regard for its pecuniary gain.  We’ve also had amazing support from Northern Rehab, and from the fine folks at Frieders Law, LLC.  In addition, each of our volunteers—everyone who has helped to plan or carry out an event, everyone who has donated to the cause, everyone who has shared a common goal or shared a word of support—they are our partners as well.
The Axletree Pledge is an open call for like-minded cyclists to ride responsibly around the world, wherever you may be.  We continue to encourage others to adopt and follow the pledge.  Separate from the pledge however, Axletree is an inclusive group.  We’d love to include you in our 2014 plans, as a volunteer, as a partner, as a resource.  We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished in 2013, and we recognize that much of what we accomplish we do by leveraging the unique skills and abilities of our partners.  Together, we accomplish far more than we can do on our own.  Accordingly, we both humbly thank those who have helped thus far, and humbly ask for more help into the new year.  We’re working to have a balance—Events, Advocacy, Awesome.  We’re working to ensure that Axletree isn’t just a ‘bike club’ that serves our own needs.  To date, we haven’t used a penny of the funds that we’ve raised for any self-serving purpose.  We volunteer our time and effort, and we turn the fruits of our labor out to the community.  We’re proud of that, and it’s been a good year.
The challenge of 2014 awaits.

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