We spoke to Christopher McGarrell, the founder of ManDem Cycling Club, for the first part of our Bike Month series presented by MEC “Breaking Barriers to Biking.” ManDemCC may have started as a running joke that Christopher had with friends this summer, but their fun and inclusive group rides are breaking down barriers to riding a bike.
Parry Sound. That’s where Christopher McGarrell had to go to purchase his new bike this summer. It was more than a two hour drive to pick up something that helps him have fun, get some exercise, keep his spirits up, and move around the city. He considers himself lucky to be able to make that trip; a lot of people can’t.
Christopher told us that the biggest barrier to riding a bike is access; for Christopher that meant buying a bike outside Toronto. Many others want to ride a bike but can’t afford hundreds of dollars to get their first ride. This problem has only been compounded as bike shops across the country sold out of stock early in the summer and have continued flying off the shelves as soon as bikes become available. When people are able to find a bike that works for them, it’s often far away or out of their price range with the lower priced bikes selling out first. DIY bike shops and refurbished bike sellers that would normally help people gain access to a bike at a low price point are similarly in short supply.
When you can find and afford the right bike for you Christopher says confidence is another big barrier; confidence in your ability to ride and just how far your bicycle can take you. This is something that he is helping people overcome through ManDemCC.
Christopher said that he’s been around bikes for his entire life. He rolled with his friends on the streets and trails around Guildwood Park in Scarborough growing up, but ditched the bike as teen when cars became more central to his life. Years passed before the idea to start riding again grew in his mind. Seeing photos of the awesome times his friends were having on bikes rekindled his interest and he wanted to be a part of that. On a trip to Amsterdam a few years ago he rented a bike and was hit by a wave; he was like, “Whoa! All those emotions come through you. It’s just that feeling when you’re just coasting and you're with your friends and you’re having a good time.” That camaraderie and encouragement from friends t got him back on a bike for good.
Now Christopher says that when you first start riding even 15km may seem like a long distance which you would normally think about driving or taking transit, but once you get out there and actually try riding a bike you quickly find you can do a lot more. He’s even looking at upgrading from the bike he purchased just this summer because riding has become almost a daily event for him. In a matter of months he’s riding 70km with ease.
Christopher keeps all these things in mind with ManDemCC and is setting a good example. He wants everyone to have that same “Whoa!” moment he did and it shows. Before the rides he makes sure to let everyone know how far they're going to be and the slow roll pace they often take. He posts pictures of people having fun and encourages anyone to join in. He’ll also share other people’s posts of longer, faster rides he often attends.
We headed out for a sunset ride with Christopher and ManDemCC, and in between making time for us and his lifelong friends, Christopher talked to everyone there individually. He made sure the diverse group of strangers felt welcome and comfortable, and when the ride began people were smiling and happy. Whether people were riding on aero bars, commuter bikes, or scooters, they were being respectful, not just of the group, but everyone else in the area. People were gaining confidence on their bikes by doing it in a place where everyone could feel accepted and learn good habits from the others around them. Christopher is helping people get into cycling foremost by building a community that accepts them no matter where they are in life.
Follow ManDemCC on Instagram to join them on their next ride. #RollWIthTheManDem
Photos by Nicholas Jones and Ry Shissler
Written by Ry Shissler