We sat down with Henry Raess from GO Bike Buffalo to talk about the organization, and what made him get involved with it. It’s no secret that GO Bike Buffalo is doing a lot of work in the Buffalo area, and that they are constantly working on making Buffalo a more bicycle-friendly city, but I really wanted to hear it right from them about what makes them do it.
Henry explained the situation that first got him riding on his bike as a primary method of transportation. No, it wasn’t just for fitness. No, it wasn’t just because he wanted to treat the environment a little better. No, it wasn’t because he was sick of dealing with car issues. No, it was each of those things, and a lot more. Henry found himself in a situation where his car was impounded, and he had to pay a lot of money to get it back. Turns out, the amount that he owed to get it back was around the same as the value of the car itself. So, he said “keep it”! Yes, he let them keep the car. Sure, there was still a fee/fine associated with that, but he felt like he had just freed himself from something! He thought to himself that there has to be another way to do this whole transportation thing.
Henry purchased a bike for $50 from his mother’s friend and just started to ride it everywhere. Not too long after, he found himself moving to Portland. He encountered a very bike-friendly culture there, which really opened his eyes to the considering biking as a primary form of transportation. During his time in Portland, he learned a lot about bike mechanics and began to focus on how to develop a biking culture in a city. He traveled to places like Minneapolis and New Orleans – both of which have made huge improvements in their cities to promote a more bike-friendly environment.
Henry returned to Buffalo in 2010, and had already noticed that things were changing here. There were more people riding, and there was considerable more bike advocacy happening in Buffalo. Henry applied for a job with Green Options Buffalo (the main company behind GO Bike), and was awarded the position of Outreach Coordinator. He quickly began working on workshops with local students, teaching them things like how to maintain or fix their bikes. Early on, GO Bike Buffalo had good programs like their Recycle a Bike Program. They also had a bike sharing program, which encountered some unfortunate issues, like vandalism and theft. Maintaining the bikes was also a bit of a challenge.
Pictured above: Justin Booth, Henry Raess, Nate Hill
As it was known at the time, Green Options Buffalo, which has its offices within the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, became involved in the Go BNMC initiative, and as a result, rebranded itself GO Bike Buffalo, to fit the GO theme of the project. They had some initial branding issues, but things are going really well for them now, Henry explained.
As for Henry’s story, it continues…
At the time we sat down for this interview, Henry was expecting a baby! He would really like to add a baby seat to his bike, so that he can continue to ride his bike. I asked him how he felt about the safety of riding his bike with a baby on board, as I know that I would be a little nervous if I rode with my daughter on my bike. He answered with this…
There are three main types of bike riders:
- 1% Strong and Fearless: ride anywhere, any speed (that’s him)
- 8% Enthused and Confident: use bike lanes and most streets
- 60+% Interested & Concerned: Want to ride more, but wary of traffic and riding on the road
He actually sees himself dropping from the 1% Strong and Fearless, down to the 60% once the baby comes! But he’s looking forward to figuring that out. Having a new child only gives him more motivation to advocate for a safer bike riding experience in Buffalo.
Biking Makes Sense
“Cars are such complex machines, with thousands of parts. A bike, you can see the parts, the mechanical systems, it’s easy to understand. Being able to coast and travel for miles with just a little bit of mechanical input from your body – you are just much more effective than a car that has to burn fossil fuels in order to travel the same distance. It’s the simplicity of the machine. It’s slightly easier than walking, requiring less physical effort than walking!” “It makes sense for the community, the environment and for your own physical fitness. 40% of trips in the US are less than 2 or 3 miles (source: USDOT). Less than 2% of those trips are made by bike. Almost all of our driving is little trips – so it just makes much more sense, if you’re physically able, to ride a bike the 3 miles and not worry about traffic, parking, gas, etc. You can also connect to the community a lot more by riding a bike”, Henry added.
GO Bike’s Community Outreach
GO Bike Buffalo’s Recycle a Bike program is currently in 10 schools. In this class, they teach middle school students how to fix bikes. It is all hands-on work, teaching problem solving and cooperation. These are “life skills and practical skills like putting a chain back on”, Henry explained.
He finds this work to be really rewarding because, “they’re kids and you’re instilling values in them”. Their goal is to “create life-long bicyclists – it’s fine if they have a car, or other modes of transportation, but you’re giving them life skills and they’ll always have those skills, if they need them”. GO Bike Buffalo also teaches the environmental and social impact of bike riding to the students in the program.
GO Bike used to focus mainly on education, encouragement and the engineering elements of creating a biking culture. But now, they really focus on the whole picture. This includes working with law enforcement, governments, schools, as well as holding and promoting events. With May being National Bike Month, they saw success this year in getting other people to host events. They published a calendar of community events and promoted them. Half were Go Bike events, half were events set up by other people and organizations. GO Bike just helped to spread the word.
GO Bike’s Community Workshop
Don’t let the name fool you. They aren’t in the business of fixing other people’s bikes. They’re teaching people to fix their own bikes. It’s all education based. You can become a member and they will teach you how to build or maintain your own bike. For more on the workshop, go here.
Henry, what would you tell a younger version of yourself?
Henry’s answer is basically the reason that we knew this was going to be a good interview for Yeah! Buffalo.
The State of Biking in Buffalo & The Impact of Biking on Local Buffalo Businesses
Henry has seen a lot of changes recently – in attitudes, and in the powers that be. Ten years ago, people would look at you funny if you asked about bike lanes. He stated that bicyclist tend to spend more money at local businesses than people who drive. They spend less per trip, but make more trips. “Studies are showing that it’s an economic advantage to have a bike friendly culture. 2015 was the first year that Mayor Brown rode his bike on Ride Your Bike to Work Day. It makes a difference when corporate, community, or city leaders embrace it. It validates it for the rest of the population.”
5 people on bikes – who cares
25 people on bikes – who cares
2000 people on bikes – hey, I should get a bike!
One Thing To Remember:
“Get on a bike and ride. There are some huge challenges in society – inequality (economic, racial), environmental problems, etc. Re-imagining our transportation and thinking about just the simple things can go a long way. We shouldn’t under-estimate that our ability to make a change. Biking is a way of incorporating more people into activities and can prove to be an equalizer in terms of transportation. It’s environmentally more friendly. You connect to the community a lot more by riding a bike.”
Henry doesn’t see himself leaving GO Bike, or bike advocacy any time soon. He really enjoys it. He has some other projects that he’s working on, but he doesn’t see his role changing with the organization. Has learned a lot of useful skills in dealing with governments and other organizations that have proven to help him in his other projects, and in life in general. We’re looking forward to seeing how Henry, and the rest of the GO Bike Buffalo organization bring about positive change in Buffalo. If you’re interested in what they do, and want to know more, please check out their website – http://gobikebuffalo.org.
It’s amazing what your car getting impounded can end up doing to change your life, and community.