In recent years, technology has played a crucial role in connecting cycling communities both locally and globally. Our already rich history of cycling activism and activities has exploded due to social networking sites, and in turn, the voice of a community that has specific needs, demands and concerns is being heard louder and clearer than ever.
Fighting for cycling rights is nothing new to Montrealers. Vélo Québec has been on the front lines for years trying to forge a stronger voice for cyclists and has done great work in trying to normalize a tool that seems alien and strange to some. Their work has been crucial in showing that the arguments and points of view of cyclists are articulate and are not irrational rambles to be ignored. They've helped bring to light many important issues and are continually pushing for more respect and understanding for those who ride on two wheels instead of four.
In the past few years however, with the ever growing presence of social networking, different groups of people have started vocalizing a broader range of concerns and opinions relating to specific topics and a larger picture of the cycling community has been painted.
Now more than ever, the pulse of a community can be felt in a variety of ways and although many of the issues that we've seen and heard over the years have yet to be resolved, one things remains constant; the overwhelming desire for cyclists to network and share their experiences and knowledge. What social networks have done is increase the validity for the issues affecting those on the road. Now, instead of one person "complaining" about a pot hole or almost being doored, it's now a community of people vocalizing recurring safety concerns that need to be addressed. Knowing that we are not alone in our experiences has given more confidence to both casual and experienced riders alike.
There are a few solid examples of the positive effects that social networking has had on Montreal's bike community.
The creation of the Vélo d'hiver- Bike Winter Facebook group was originally formed in order for winter cyclists to share ideas, experiences and tips about riding four seasons and has since grown into a message board for a broad range of issues from bike paths to bike clothing and cycling events.
Throughout the creation of the newly formed Montreal Bike Coalition, the mobilization of people was being done through an already passionate online community and the transparency and openness of the organization played a huge roll in it's creation.
In the last few weeks, one issue has become the strongest talking point amongst even the most casual of cyclists; bike theft.
Bike theft has always been somewhat synonymous with Montreal's name and although it's been talked about, nothing has really changed. In other words, people still get their bikes stolen and rarely do they get them back. In fact, most people admit that they don't even report their bike getting stolen because they feel nothing will be done about it.
In the last month however, the tone has changed. People are getting pissed off and those who have been affected by theft are starting to vocalize and mobilize themselves.
The newly formed Vélo Volé Facebook page has boomed with members posting their stolen bikes daily and in a short time has reached almost 1500 members. What does this say about the issue?
Well, considering that the Vélo d'hiver group has been around for a couple of years and has reached just over 900 members, in just a few weeks, the stolen bikes group is one and a half times it's size and is still growing. There isn't a day that goes by that there isn't a new stolen bike posted. This group has shown the true ferocity of bike thieves in this city and in return, the emotional attachment cyclists have with their bikes and passion they have in trying to get them back.
What I have seen with this group is that bike theft is really not being taken seriously by the city or the police. People get their bikes stolen and it's treated like that's what's supposed to happen. Well, I'm here to tell you it's not supposed to happen and it's a disgrace that this is not something that is being addressed with a concrete plan.
Until the city starts taking a more proactive approach towards preventing bike theft, it's in our hands. Of course there are preventive measures to getting your bike stolen in the first place (See this article I wrote about protecting your bike) but what else can be done? How can we utilize our passion and build a better future for everyone who rides a bike?
I was approached recently about a project called Bike Watch and I feel like it couldn't have come at a better time.
Bike watch is a social networking application specifically for cyclists. Yup, that's right. The application is designed so that people can create a profile with their bike and connect with one another and it's main function currently helps connect us all in finding stolen bikes and returning them to their owners.
How it works
It's really simple, you make an account by signing up with your basic information and uploading a photo and description of your bike along with any specific details that might identify your bike.
Once you've uploaded your info, you now are connected to every other cyclist using the app. Why is this useful?
Because the main function of the application is that with a simple tap of a button, you can report your bike stolen and it sends a notification to every user with a display of your profile, bike description and any other details you chose to include in the report like time, location it was stolen etc...
This means that instead of having to do a post on Facebook and only have it shared amongst your friends and friend's of friends, you now have the whole cycling community aware that your bike was stolen with a description of every important detail.
What does this really mean?
Let's say your bike gets stolen and you hit the button, potentially there will be people in the area who might spot it moments after it happens and can keep an eye out throughout the day.
On top of the individual help coming from users, the application has a database of all the reports and can act as a tool for bike shops, pawn shops, craigslist sellers and buyers or anyone else who sees or deal with a lot of bikes.
Before buying a bike, you can check the app to see if any stolen bikes match the description and report it if needed.
When it comes to an application for cyclists, it really doesn't get much better than this. This is our application to build and use in order to improve the community for casual and serious cyclists alike.
On top of being a tool to fight against bike theft, it also has an integrated market place and message board for people to post items for sale or organize group rides and events.
I will be working with the Bike Watch team closely and helping them develop this with you all. This is just the first version and so we are looking for YOUR input to come out with the next version. Send any questions, comments or media inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Over the last year, I've seen the power and sense of community cyclists have in Montreal and I'm curious to see how far we can take it and what kind of difference we can make with this application.