In our grant application for the Ohio EPA's Environmental Education Fund, which has helped us expand our focus from parking bikes to include educating people about bicycling for transportation, we emphasized the audience of "bike curious" event attendees. These are those who might happen by the corral and be reminded by the sight of all the bikes that they have questions about how to ride, or excuses for why they don't. And because we are there and accessible and not a bike shop that requires courage and intention to step into, they talk to us about it. We chat, we inform, we change some minds, we open people to the idea of getting back on their bikes. There is no better outreach to the cyclists of tomorrow than Yay Valet!, I'm telling you.
So that's some powerful magic right there. But there's another kind that maybe flies under the radar, the kind that makes being in the valet such a special experience. It's the life-changing and -affirming conversations among our volunteers.
Many conversations in the valet, as you might imagine, center around bicycling. And being among the valet community helps even volunteers you'd expect to be the hardcore-est of all cyclists (whatever that means!) knock out some of their thorniest obstacles to riding.
The large-bodied woman who thought she'd break a bike, who was scared of getting moo'd at by passing motorists: "No. No, you won't. And yes, you may, but you can call me to cry if it happens." (She started riding again.)
The woman who said to another, "yeah, but you're a hardcore cyclist and...(implied: "I'm not")": "I ride daily, but only a couple of miles at a time. You can do that, too." (She gave up shame and created access to riding more.)
The older gentleman who would have ridden to work but didn't have a route that felt comfortable in the dark: "Oh, I've gone that way before. I use this road and then the side street that feeds into the path and then it's just a little jog and you're there. Want me to ride it with you?" (They did.)
Other conversations are not about bicycling at all.
Two very shy persons staying an hour past their shifts to discuss a favorite video game.
Two women sharing their experience of transitioning from male to female.
A high school honor student and juvenile delinquent discussing normal teenage life.
Whatever the topic of the moment, being in the valet places you among a diverse, thoughtful group of people that includes all ages, races, gender identities, socioeconomic backgrounds, bodies, types of cyclists and more. It's good folks, working hard, talking and learning from one another. We ride more, and enjoy life more, from being together. Indeed, Yay Valet! offers a rare and unexpected—yes, even magical!—space for community in this world. Not just for cyclists. For all of us.
Wanna volunteer with Yay Valet!? Opportunities abound!