Centering FTW Riders In Bike Education
In our Fall 2021 round of awards, the League honored 32 new and renewing Bicycle Friendly Businesses building safer streets and contributing positively to their local communities through encouraging and promoting the joys of biking. Coming in as a new applicant and a Gold-level awardee is Bike Fun of Madison, Tennessee, a nonprofit run by League Cycling Instructor (LCI) KJ Garner. Through Bike Fun, KJ, whom you may have met in our League Cycling Instructor Spotlight, is using her commitment to bike education to get more cyclists of all backgrounds riding.
KJ’s journey to launching a bike business started back in 2011. With a background in education, KJ found herself connecting with people seeking training and advice on bikes. After receiving her LCI certification and repeatedly being asked if she taught lessons, she made the decision to start Bike Fun.
After a few years in business, KJ converted Bike Fun into a nonprofit in 2020, a time when many businesses found themselves pivoting and shifting business models. In compliance with social distancing restrictions, KJ started providing outdoor bike instruction and she found it was a model she wanted to continue into the future, not just for safety but for the experience it provides — a wide range of areas where classes are held as opposed to a brick and mortar location.
Not having a brick-and-mortar location is in fact what makes Bike Fun stand apart from the “typical” Bicycle Friendly Business applicant, as well as the fact that it is one of only four all-volunteer-run organizations in the BFB program. Along with KJ, a small crew helps keep Bike Fun rolling, including volunteers from the local advocacy group Walk Bike Nashville. Together, they help more of their community get on bikes, especially those who probably would not use bikes as a means of transportation or recreation without instruction.
KJ also runs the only service in Middle Tennessee that focuses exclusively on bicycle riding by providing classes, one-on-one lessons, and small group rides for ages 3 to 93 (the youngest student has been four and the oldest 79 years old.)
“Bike Fun is all about rider confidence,” said KJ. And more confidence means bike riding, which is “a vital step on the way to creating riders that take advantage of more ‘traditional’ Bicycle Friendly Business amenities like bike parking, incentives to commute by bike, etc.”
A large part of what drives Bike Fun is making new riders feel supported and welcome — at clinics, at rides and at workshops. For example, KJ centers beginning and returning FTW (femme, trans, and women) riders with Bike Fun. She acknowledges that everyone has different backgrounds when it comes to bicycling and when you work with people who have had traumatic experiences on a bike, like many of her students, the best way to get them back on the saddle is to not rush the process and to make sure they know that bicycling doesn’t have to be taken so seriously all the time.
“Bike Fun will always strive to meet people where they are in their bicycle journey, knowing that their full life experiences impact the way they will interact with a bicycle and with educational settings,” said KJ. “Sometimes I will wear a tutu to emphasize that bikes are fun and I can be a little goofy…. we don’t always have to be so serious!”
One of KJ’s favorite parts of helping people gain the confidence and skills to ride a bike is seeing where their newfound knowledge takes them by bike. At the end of instruction, she gifts each individual one-on-one Learn to Ride student a graduation present that includes a bike bell, stickers, greenway maps, information on Walk Bike Nashville and a letter congratulating them on entering a new part of their bike journey.
What is KJ’s advice for any bike educators who want to start an organization like Bike Fun? Take advantage of local resources like a nonprofit incubator, which often provide technical assistance and fiscal sponsorship to 501(c)3 organizations, and always know how to promote your organization. For example, write a 5-minute elevator pitch that sums up your mission and the impact it will have on your community. KJ also suggests being involved in local biking initiatives and advocacy groups. Doing so can help open up opportunities to support bicycle riding in your community.
If you’re interested in learning more about the League’s Bicycle Friendly Business program, visit bikeleague.org/business. The next deadline to apply to the BFB program is June 15, 2022.