Thursday, August 28, 2014

Grand Rapids' inaugural Midwest Climate Ride cruises toward success

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Rapid Growth Media
August 28, 2014

Photography by Adam Bird of the WMEAC team

This is no casual bike-for-a-cause event. Next weekend, the Grand Rapids team riding in the Midwest Climate Ride will bike from Grand Rapids to Chicago. Along the way, they'll raise money for several local organizations who are working to combat climate change right here in West Michigan. Zinta Aistars finds out what makes this group spin.

Emily Loeks responded without thinking when a friend told her about Midwest Climate Ride: “That’s crazy!”

And it was. Wasn’t it? A bike ride of approximately 300 miles (that’s 60 to 80 miles per day), from September 6 to September 9, beginning in Grand Rapids and finishing in Chicago, Illinois, would bring innovators, entrepreneurs, and everyday people together to support more than 60 environmental and active transportation organizations, locally and nationally, working in the areas of sustainability, renewable energy, climate change, public health, and bicycle advocacy. Some 150 bicyclists had already signed up to participate.

Two nights later, after a bit of tossing and a bit of turning, Loeks woke with a revised thought: “That sounds awesome!”

Loeks, the director of community affairs for the chain of family-owned movie theatres known as Celebration Cinema, trotted down her basement steps to look for her old bike. It was down there somewhere …

“I’m going to be riding that same bike,” Loeks smiles. “It’s been in the basement for about ten years, but I turned 40 this year, and I thought, well, why not? I’d always enjoyed riding.”

The bike got dusted off and tuned up, odometer attached and new tires put on. Loeks hopped back on her bike, and her 6-year-old son, Joshua, was watching.

“Joshua rode his bike along with me, and on his first time, he took right off!” Loeks’ pride in her son shines through.

Her pride in the cause that inspired her to get back on her bike shines through, too. A Grand Rapids resident, Loeks loves her city and her community. She serves on the boards of two of the beneficiaries of the Midwest Climate Ride, and she has chosen to raise funds for four organizations: Local FirstWell HouseGreater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition, and West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

Loeks says: “I care passionately about the place my children are growing up into. Climate change has become a hot button issue—but it seems obvious to me that climate is having an effect in our area. Science bears it out. We have to look to the long term.”

Looking to the long term is what Tom Tilma, executive director of Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition, does best. Seven team members from GGRBC will be on the Midwest Climate Ride.

“We advocate with and advise local governments with the goal of building a bicycle-friendly infrastructure,” Tilma says. Participating in the Climate Ride, he says, “benefits our work in Grand Rapids, benefits the economy, the health and environment of our area, and it underscores our commitment to make Grand Rapids a more sustainable region.”

Yet another benefit of participating in the Climate Ride, Tilma says, is ...


 Photography by Adam Bird.

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