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This post originally appeared on the Charlie’s Freewheels blog

I-HEART-TO

Research by the Toronto Cycling Think & Do Tank has taught us that bike campaigns aren’t enough to increase cycling in Toronto. While education does the work of inspiration, a number of barriers continue to stop people from actually getting on their bikes.

Barriers can be a lot of things. Would you ride your bike to a party if all your friends were driving there? If you couldn’t afford to buy a bike and maintain it? If you were scared of biking on busy city streets, even if there were bike lanes?

Identifying barriers and helping people overcome them is essential to building a strong and safe bike culture.

Students often start our program saying they’re afraid to ride their bikes through the city. Having to negotiate speeding cars, huge trucks and street car tracks is enough to make a reasonable person choose another way to get around.

Despite evidence that shows biking to be as safe, if not safer than driving, fear can be so strong that it triumphs over the benefits of biking.

While fear of biking mostly comes from experience, it is also exaggerated by the “prevalence of cycle and road safety training courses that focus excessively on cycling’s risks”, finds the Toronto Cycling Think & Do Tank. The language of our current regime of road safety courses contributes to fear as a real emotional barrier to cycling.

Charlie’s Build-a-Bike program includes road safety courses that use positive language to teach safety skills. And with group rides that encourage a supportive and fun cycling culture, we are helping them overcome their fear of riding by actively harbouring a love of cycling.

In fact, despite initial fear of cycling, we’ve seen a 70% rate of ‘regular bike usage’ (5-7 times per week) by program graduates, 6 months after completion of the program!

From the hundreds of students that have completed our Build-A-Bike program, we’ve learnt that a cycling culture of love – not fear – is essential for increasing biking in Toronto.

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This post originally appeared on the Charlie’s Freewheels blog

Photo courtesy of Raising the Roof

According to the Covenant House, there are at least 10,000 homeless youth in Toronto during any given year and as many as 2,000 on a given night.

Driven from home by abuse and neglect, homeless youth are more at risk of dying from suicide or drug overdose, and are more likely to be the victims of assault.

Many of these youth have dropped out of school and can’t get jobs because of their lack of education. Without job experiences and a chance to develop life skills, these youth have a difficult time moving forward with their lives.

Agencies serving homeless youth collectively advocate that young people need more job opportunities to sustain a secure and independent life. Employment opportunities are essential to alleviate youth homelessness.

Charlie’s has responded to this directive by providing vocational training for homeless youth. The rigour and structure of our Build-A-Bike program replicates the work environment, and in many cases, is the first step to employment for the homeless youth that participate in the program.

Charlie’s is a unique programming space, where students can overcome issues by focusing on a concrete project. We are a warm and welcoming environment, and the sense of belonging we foster is an essential “soft” contribution to alleviating youth homelessness. A past student we employed puts it well:

They hired me to be a “Shop Administrator”…. It was like jumping into the deep end of a pool. I grew as an individual, and learned a bit about myself… [which has] played a part in who I have become and the experience I have gained.

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We want to take this even further by hiring graduates of our Build-a-Bike program, giving them job experience to propel them forward. We plan to hire one teenaged participant to work with our staff to coordinate, promote and plan Charlie’s Rides for the spring and summer of 2015 and generate interest in Drop-In Hours with local high school students.

We also hope to hire one past graduate of Build-A-Bike programming to teach alongside our mechanic during class. Last year, just less than 10% of our annual operating budget was earmarked for honorariums for youth leaders.

Slowly, we will work alongside other amazing Toronto organizations to provide more employment opportunities for homeless youth. Every job opportunity, every honorarium counts!

Smarty Biky

A little comic/infographic I made for Charlie’s Freewheels Indiegogo campaign to put 50 youth on 50 bikes.

It turns out children who bike or walk to school learn better, as those who get to school actively are much more mentally alert than those who are passively driven to school.

A Danish study of over 20 000 children found that youth mental alertness was advanced by half a school year if they used active transportation to get to school. This is more benefit in mental development than having breakfast or lunch

*Source Egelund et al 2012 study of over 20 000 school children and research by PhD John Pucher of Rutgers Univesity 

I was pleased to participate in the first of Dandyhorse Magazine‘s #dandySANTA Q & A series. Read about my winter biking tips, which bike lanes I want Santa to bring this Christmas, and my work with Charlie’s Freewheels!

#dandySANTA: Daniel Rotsztain of Charlie’s Freewheels


Rotsztain in Moss Park nearby Charlie’s Bike Joint. 

#dandySANTA Q&A: Daniel Rotsztain

Photos and Interview by Jenna Campbell

Daniel Rotsztain is campaign coordinator for Charlie’s Freewheels that just kick-started their “50 Youth on 50 Bikes” fundraiser on Dec. 1. Charlie’s goal is to teach 115 young riders how to build bicycles in 2015. They’re collecting donations from businesses and foundations to fund 65 youths to build bikes, but need the public’s help to fund the other 50.

As a part of our dandy winter cyclist series [more details coming soon], we thought we’d ask Rotsztain what he’d like #dandySANTA to bring him for the holidays.

dandyhorse: If you could get a(nother) bike, what would it be and why?

One of those dreamy upright Dutch bikes – perfect for city cruisers and with big enough wheels to handle the snow that’s coming! I also spent half a year (biking) in Amsterdam. Anything to bring me back there, just a bit…

Q: What bike lane(s) do you hope dandySANTA will bring for 2015? 

Utopian bike lane: running alongside the boulevard in the middle of University Avenue. In Barcelona, they have a bike lane on a similarly scaled street, Passeig de Sant Joan, running all the way to their Triumph Arch.

Realistic: Extending Richmond and Adelaide lanes further east, so that we can get closer to a Minimum Grid.

Q: What bike gear do you hope dandySANTA puts in your stocking this year?

Back paniers that I can remove, so that I can put my bike on the front bus rack. Right now, with my milk crate, most bus drivers don’t allow my bike on the rack.

Q: What else do you hope dandySANTA delivers this year?

I hope that everyone will contribute to Charlie’s Freewheels Indiegogo Campaign! Charlie’s is an amazing organization that I work with that empowers youth in priority neighbourhoods with the knowledge of how to build, maintain and ride bikes around the city. Check out our campaign here.

Q: What is your number one tip for winter cycling?

The best streets to bike on in the winter, in my opinion, are those middle kinds of streets, the ones that aren’t major, or minor. Like Dovercourt. The snow is cleared by a higher volume of traffic, but the street is generally not as busy as the major arteries: Perfect for a winter ride.

At dandyhorse, we will be rolling out several more winter cyclist wish list profiles as we head into the holiday season. As part of these special profiles we will announce dandy giveaways with Soulpepper theatre (Win tickets to see The Conjurer) and Steam Whistle brewery (6 gift packs) on social media starting on Dec. 15. Keep an eye out for #dandySANTA here and on Twitter and Facebook.

Mobility Rings

Check out this map I made for Charlie’s Freewheels to publicize the impact their programming has on empowering youth in Toronto on the occasion of their Indiegogo campaign. It shows, quite simply, that your world it quite small if you walk everywhere, and you can farther, faster by bike. Bikes make the city smaller for everyone – and that makes opportunities for connection and engagement with the rest of the city.

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Exciting news, readers!

For the remaining days of 2014, I will be working with Charlie’s Freewheels to publicize their indiegogo campaign to put 50 youth on 50 bikes!

Charlie’s is an amazing organization in Toronto’s downtown east-side. They empower youth in Regent Park and Moss Park, two of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods, teaching them how to build and maintain their own bikes and how to ride them safely in the city. With lovely instructors and mechanics, an inviting atmosphere and drop-in hours Charlie’s also provides a supportive community, spreading positive messaging about biking in the city. You might have read about them in my Torontoist article from last month.

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Our campaign is mostly keeping to social media, but we’re doing our best to get conventional media like Now and the Toronto Star on our case to help us spread the word.

The campaign has been an opportunity to reach out to other bike organizations in the city, including Cycle Toronto and Dandyhorse Magazine, and other communities dedicated to sustainability (e.g. Evergreen), urban planning (e.g. Toronto Centre for Active Transportation), health (e.g. activeTO), youth homelessness (e.g. Covenant House) and youth advocacy in the city.

I’m most excited about the meme-side of our campaign. While going viral is more of an art than a science, making the memes has been hilariously fun, and a good opportunity to collaborate with the Charlie’s community to celebrate the amazing culture of the organization.

Please enjoy this selection of the memes and infographics we’ve already put out, and stay tuned for more!

Sohel_Smile BikeBoyzMen Mobility Rings