“I ate gravel.”
Growing up in the Ohio Valley, Ray had understood the value of energy and its impact on livelihoods, families, and nature. “My Dad worked for the EPA so I learned how to be environmentally conscious.”
For both utility and recreation Ray biked the hills of the northern panhandle of West Virginia until the age of 17 when he crashed. “It was my own fault. I was riding on roads I knew without enough light. I ate gravel.” He broke his collarbone and punctured a lung. After that Ray wasn’t enthusiastic to return to his bike; and he didn’t, all through his college years at West Virginia University and into his mid-twenties."
“I had a lot of time on my hands.”
In 2007, Ray and his wife moved to Columbus. “She was in law school so I had a lot of time on my hands…a lot of time.” The extra time to himself and new-found friends, a group of retirees who were avid cyclers, were just the push Ray needed to get back on his bike.
He eventually found himself at a Monday night ride in downtown Columbus with nearly 100 other bike riders, including a woman who rode clad in a cowgirl outfit – skirt, hat and boots. Downtown Columbus, in a developing stage, wasn’t nearly the metropolis it is today. The streets were empty, quiet as the group of rowdy riders breezed past old, abandoned buildings under the night sky. “I had never ridden in a city so it was completely magical.”
“Every time…is an adventure”
Captivated by its energy and sense of community, Ray spent a year making personal connections with people whose passions ranged from food to history. Bikes were their common thread. Together, Ray and his new community helped evolve the ways people experience Columbus. One of those evolutions was Bike the C-bus.
Bike the C-bus was born out of Ray’s desire to get people out on bikes so they could really experience Columbus. “Every time you get on a bike, it’s an adventure. You don’t see the whole city unless you’re on a bike.” Although others will say Ray is a natural leader, he sees himself as the creator of tools to help others create their own experiences. “I think my attitude has been to support programs or events that help change behavior,” he says.
“I felt it was something I could do to help change for the positive.”
In 2011, Ray was approached by Yay Bikes! founder, Meredith Joy, about joining the Board. His natural leadership tendencies led him to become the Board President.
Having supported Yay Bikes! for a year prior, coming into leadership was an easy decision. “I felt it was something I could do to help change for the positive,” he says. “I see bicycling as the lowest hanging fruit to get people out of the car.”
“I don’t care if my name is on it.”
Over the past four years, Ray has helped Yay Bikes! through its infancy to the thriving organization it is today. Though, he will attribute every ounce of success as a group effort. “I just want the organization to succeed.” He’s passionate about inspiring people to make change. Whether it’s for their health, the environment or something else, Ray believes biking is the answer. “Being in this organization has shown me that small groups of people can make big change.”
Note about Ray from our Executive Director:
It’s no coincidence that the ascendancy of Central Ohio’s Golden Age of Bicycling (in my estimation: right now, into infinity) coincides with Ray George’s move to Columbus 8 years ago. Because regardless Ray’s insistence on remaining behind the scenes, and the fact that most people don’t realize it: all of us in Central Ohio’s cycling community owe a debt of gratitude to this man. If you’re not yet inaugurated into the Cult of Ray, well pay your dues; read up on Columbus Rides Bikes; check out Tuesday Night Rides, a gravel grinder or bike camping trip; and get with it. What wasn’t there before? He started it. I mean, can you imagine—Columbus DID NOT HAVE A CITYWIDE BICYCLE RIDE before Ray. And because that’s just who he is, he rolled up his sleeves, got to work and made Bike the Cbus happen. For 8 straight years and running! Unbelievable….
Then there’s the whole matter of Yay Bikes!, an organization that went from nothing to our region’s premier bicycle advocacy organization in just a few short years. Under Ray's leadership, Yay Bikes!:
- Launched a membership program that, 3 years later, boasts more than 850 members
- Hired 5 staff members and tripled our budget
- Brought Bike the Cbus into the fold, started Year of Yay! and created Ride the Elevator
- Prioritized the communications strategy that helped position us as the region’s thought leader
- Positioned the Board for its next transition in composition and leadership
But it is, as they say, the end of an era: after 4+ years as Board Chair, Ray George led his last Yay Bikes! board meeting last night.
We’d be devastated, of course, except that he’s agreed to stick around for a bit to serve as Immediate Past President on our Executive Committee, and he’ll carry on with leadership of Bike the Cbus, Ride the Elevator and other fun bike rides he will no doubt soon be dreaming up.
So things have changed, as they do, but some will stay the same. That’s right—you’ll find the two of us most Thursday mornings at Upper Cup Coffee from 7–9am just like always, dreamin' and schemin' and plottin' world domination. Come say hi!