Three years ago Leigh Anne Parry, the Plain Bicycle Project Manager and Anders Swanson, the Winnipeg Trails Association Executive Director, were in the Netherlands for a winter biking conference and had a vision for a culture shift in Winnipeg. “When we were in the Netherlands for a conference, we noticed that 90% of people were riding Dutch bikes. When we thought about where you could get them in North America, we couldn’t find anywhere you could. We wanted to make it accessible here.” said Parry.
The goal is to show people that you don’t need to be an athlete to bike around the city, “Now that we have a shop, we were able to order from a catalog out of the Netherlands. Our focus is to make cycling easy and practical for women and families in a way that’s not sports-oriented.” Parry said.
Both Swanson and Parry agreed that there are many deterrents for people in Winnipeg to not choose a bike as their method of transportation, “Our infrastructure doesn’t support cyclists so in that way we think they don’t belong on the road and they don’t belong on the sidewalks either. If your city’s not designing for it then people don’t think it’s a normal thing to do.” said Parry.
The Plain Bicycle Project focuses on encouraging the everyday person to use their bike for everyday ordinary things; a common misconception is needing a big, heavy-duty bike. “People are coming to us with the assumption they need knobby tires and a mountain bike and when you ask what they’re using it for the answer you get is ‘well maybe to go to the grocery store or just around with my kids,’ our idea is to translate Dutch cycling culture here into North America.” said Swanson, “When you have a culture of driving and a culture of chronic diseases, you really have to focus on modern physical activity and for most people, that has nothing to do with mountain biking. When you have only that type of biking culture available it hurts people.”
Winnipeg Trails Association is trying to reach the most vulnerable communities and help support them in practical ways, “When newcomers come here they want to blend in, so what do they do? Buy a silver Kia. They don’t see biking as a part of the Canadian identity and they want to blend in. We’re trying to support them and show them that biking can be a part of their lives. From a practical perspective we help them get groceries in a much more efficient way than taking a taxi or something.” Swanson says.
The biking culture in the Netherlands is so completely different than here Parry explains, “Biking isn’t even a question in the Netherlands, from personal experience you don’t even have to think while you’re biking there, you don’t have to worry about traffic or the route. You just get on your bike and go.”
Changing the culture around bicycling in Winnipeg starts with us, the everyday person, Swanson says. “The best act of advocacy work you can do as an individual is to dress like a regular person when you’re riding a bicycle. By that I mean the kind of clothes people get out of their cars wearing because when you do that it takes away the robot. We have a way to ‘othering’ people who are on bikes. It allows people to see themselves on a bicycle.”
The shop is now open on 267 Sherbrook, Tuesday-Friday 11-7 and Sunday 12-6.