Cultivating a Community: CycleNebraska
Words by Caitlin Dumas
During these bitterly cold winter months, I catch myself daydreaming about summer days that start with a long bike ride and end with my toes in the warm grass, a cold beer in my hand, surrounded by friends.
If I were to do that now, I would likely freeze; but I may be able to make a sweet snow angel.
Being an Instagram addict and photographer, I have an absurd amount of pictures documenting these dream-worthy days. The more photos I took, the more I noticed I took photos to document the people around me instead of just me on my bike for the 10,000th time. While I feel as though I mastered the bike selfie; having, capturing, and sharing pictures of the community of cyclists around me is what I spent the majority of my post-rides doing.
Last year, there were a few months that my husband and I traveled every weekend. We traveled through rain, snow, sunshine and hail (the bikes are perfectly safe - hallelujah!) to Iowa, Kansas, and Colorado, but mostly throughout our home state of Nebraska. From downtown crits to small town tour rides, we explored our state by bike more than ever. Every day became a dream-worthy day, much in thanks to the people I was surrounded by.
As we traveled, Ben and I found ourselves a part of, and contributing to, a state-wide community we fell in love with.
As the connections continued to grow, photos were snapped, accompanying captions were written, and I found myself wanting to find a way to give people the same connection we were experiencing. My thought process was along the lines of "I take a bunch of photos, my close cycling friends take a lot of photos, so I bet cyclists I haven't even met yet also take photos! We can do something with this!"
And so, CycleNebraska was born on Instagram.
CycleNebraska was originally a simple way to share cycling photos, but now our purpose has grown.
Our mission is to cultivate a cycling community out of all the amazing things already happening in the state. We want to connect the cycling communities we've seen and been a part of, and provide a platform for a statewide community to be built. We believe cyclists, from metropolitan areas to rural areas, should be connected and have the opportunity to build and grow their own cycling community.
While our main form of communication is still rooted in imagery, what started two years ago as people just using a common hashtag on Instagram (#CycleNebraska), is now working to be the information hub for all types of cyclists in Nebraska. The Nebraska cycling community is a second family for both of us. But, to be honest, it’s hard to become a part of a community when the information is hard to find. That’s barrier we want and need to break down.
We've started an event calendar to allow ride and event organizers to submit their events to a statewide calendar. We've featured bike swap meets, road races, women’s rides, multi-day tours, and even helped highlight some of our Nebraska riders competing at Cyclocross Nationals. Unless it's a USAC sanctioned race, the only way someone used to be able to find information about rides or cycling events in Nebraska, in one place, was a website based out of Kansas. C'mon.
Too often, we hear, "I wish I knew about that ride!". With our CycleNebraska event calendar, we are helping people know what’s happening. We figure it creates a simple domino effect: The more people who know, the more who ride, and the more who ride, the more cyclists and cycling communities we have in Nebraska. And how can more bikes ever be a bad thing?
Having easily accessible information can be empowering. We want to empower growth, change and communities. It can be as simple as helping someone find a connection who can help them start their own group ride or event. Or for someone like me, where I’ve been able to connect with women cyclists not just in Nebraska, but beyond the state lines. Or maybe, it encourages someone to get involved in bike advocacy and infrastructure for their community.
In 2015, Nebraska ranked 47th in the nation for bike friendliness as rated by the League of American Bicyclists. When I learned this statistic, my stomach dropped. I knew I didn’t have the freedom to be upset by something if I wasn’t willing to work to change it.
CycleNebraska can change this. We can change this. There are organizations already working to change this like BicycLincoln, the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance, and more, but we should all be working to change this. We are stronger together. Connections through CycleNebraska help us get more people involved, and then our community becomes larger and stronger.
CycleNebraska is providing an avenue for growth, connections, inspiration and community. Because together, as a community, we can make a difference.