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Photo: Mevan Babakar
Years ago, a 5-year-old Kurdish refugee received a bike from a kind man in the Netherlands. Recently, Mevan Babakar, now an adult, tracked down the man known only as Egbert to express her lasting gratitude.

As we break our hearts over what is happening to today’s Kurdish refugees, it may be time for a story about the beauty that can occur when refugees are treated with respect and compassion. The story is also about the good side of social media.

Megan Specia reported at the New York Times in August, “Memories of a brand new bicycle — and the mystery man who gave it to her when she was a 5-year-old in a Dutch refugee center — have played out as vignettes in Mevan Babakar’s mind for most of her life.

“Ms. Babakar, now 29, said the generous gift from a man whose name she couldn’t remember had shaped her childhood. On Tuesday, she suddenly found herself reunited with the man whose face had flickered through her memories for more than two decades.

“And it all began on Twitter.

“ ‘I was a refugee for 5 yrs in the 90s and this man, who worked at a refugee camp near Zwolle in the Netherlands, out of the kindness of his own heart bought me a bike. My five year old heart exploded with joy,’ Ms. Babakar wrote in a post on Twitter, before pleading with the internet to help her track him down.

“The photo she shared — a fading snapshot of the man that her mother had kept — was among a handful of belongings they had from that time. When he gave her the bike, she said, it made a lasting impact.

‘I remember feeling so special. I remember thinking that this is such a big thing to receive, am I even worthy of this big thing?’ Ms. Babakar said. ‘This feeling kind of became the basis of my self-worth growing up.’

“She and her parents fled Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s brutal crackdown on the Kurdish population in the early 1990s, which included a gas attack on a village near their home. Their journey took them to Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia — where her father stayed behind to work for the next four years — and eventually to the Netherlands. …

“Ms. Babakar took a sabbatical from her technology job in London this summer to retrace the journey, and visited Zwolle to spend a few days attempting to piece together her scattered impressions of her time there. … While there, she wrote a Twitter post that she described as a ‘last-ditch attempt’ to learn more about the man who had struck up a friendship with her and her mother, and gave her the bike.

“Within hours, Arjen van der Zee, who volunteers for a nonprofit news site in Zwolle, saw the photo and recognized the man.

“ ‘I looked at the picture and immediately knew this guy who I had worked with in my early twenties,’ said Mr. van der Zee. … Mr. van der Zee made contact with the man’s family on social media, and they put the two in touch.

“ ‘He started to tell me that he remembered Mevan and her mother,’ Mr. van der Zee said. ‘He said he always told his wife, if there were people he wanted to see again in his life it was Mevan and her mother.’

“They quickly scrambled to arrange a meeting with Ms. Babakar, who was due to travel back to London in the coming days. …

“ ‘He was, I guess, equally overwhelmed,’ Ms. Babakar said. ‘It was like seeing a family member that you hadn’t seen in a long time. It was really lovely.’ …

“Ms. Babakar was ‘incredibly humbled’ that her story had resonated with so many people around the world — both fellow refugees and those who just felt touched by the tale. … ‘I think it’s really easy for people to forget or to feel really powerless in the face of these big, abstract problems that we hear about all the time,’ she said. “It’s really a comfort to remember we are all very powerful in the way that we treat others. Especially in the small acts, we are powerful.’ ”

More here.

 

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Photo: FNRttC /Night Ride Cycling UK
UK participants in the Friday Night Ride to the Coast enjoy the casual pace. Smaller, more family-oriented night riding can be found in cities like Cleveland.

I’ve been meaning to write on this topic for ages — ever since I started seeing Mary Ann’s joyful Facebook posts on cycling at night with friends, family, and like-minded strangers in Cleveland.

In an article by Sam Walker at the Guardian, we learn that night cycling is a thing in England, too, but for more miles.

Walker writes that the Friday Night Ride to the Coast is a “carefully organised event run by the ‘Fridays,’ a club devoted to the singular cause of safely delivering you at a conversational pace from the Smoke to the sea. They do this every month from spring through autumn, requiring only third party insurance and an annual membership fee of £2.

“The FNRttC, as it’s known to veterans, has been spreading the joy of night riding for almost 15 years, flying quietly under the radar of most cyclists. …

“It was started by Simon Legg, who spent a decade escorting thousands to Brighton, Whitstable and other destinations with decent transport links. When he retired he entrusted his legacy to a group of seasoned ride leaders who take turns as mother hen.

“The distance ranges from 55 to 75 miles, and popular routes can attract more than 100 participants. There are tail-end Charlies and human waymarkers, sometimes recruited on the spot, to ensure nobody is lost or left behind.

“Rides begin at midnight with a chat about safety and etiquette, jokes optional. Mechanical problems along the way are met with expert assistance, though you’re advised to give your bike a thorough checkup beforehand. …

“It’s a great social mixer, but there are also opportunities for solitude as you pull each other along on an invisible stretchy rope. Punctures are a communal affair. ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ one of the minders will more or less transmit to the front, and so all will wait, grateful it wasn’t them. This time. …

“We ride at night because it’s there, conveniently out of the way of the usual routine. Less traffic is a bonus, but magic moments are made of more than this.

“There’s the moon, for a start: those times when it paints the road silver and the mist mysterious, inviting you to dabble in poetry. When not moonstruck, the darkness itself is the draw, a coverlet silencing the day’s concerns, yet granting permission for thoughts to drift forever out into space. …

There are bats and badgers and other nocturnal creatures clocking in, which helps rouse you out of any stupor you may have been falling into. Hills become easier. Shrouded in mystery, their summits mere conjecture, they are far less daunting.

“But possibly the biggest draw is the intimacy of cycling with people all on the same mission, getting a buzz off their energy, their tired happy faces in the morning’s light a mirror of your own.

“ ‘Why are you doing this?’ I’ve asked fellow riders … Answers ranged from: ‘I’m getting miles in to help with Paris-Brest-Paris’ – a 1,200km jolly – to: ‘My friend talked me into it.’ There were plenty of dreamy shrugs: ‘Why not?’ … For some, it’s an answer to a question they may not even have been aware they’d been asking themselves.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Could food delivery by bicycle be the wave of the future? Wayne Roberts, Canadian bicycle delivery maven from grade 7 to grade 12, thinks so.  Here’s what he wrote recently at the Torontoist.

“Bicycles never used to be thought of as central to the food system, but the Internet has allowed this particular wheel to be reinvented as a prime tool for localizing food systems while reducing traffic jams, cutting global warming emissions, and providing jobs.

“This innovation comes to light on account of Uber’s recent decision to reduce the fee it provides to UberEats bicycle couriers,” which has caused  controversy.

“But there’s another issue that got revealed here, which is the transportation system best suited to strong neighbourhoods and a vibrant and resilient food system. …

“The trip that’s a real killer from a space, energy, and hassle point of view — even worse than the short trip from the local warehouse to the local retailer — is the brief car trip from the customer’s residence to the retailer and then back home again. …

“If you want to calculate the embodied energy involved in moving food, the energy to move a two-ton car four miles to bring back 10 pounds of groceries is by far the most polluting trip any grocery item from anywhere has ever been on. …

“Putting food stores and restaurants back on main streets that are walking distance from densely populated neighbourhoods could be good for many reasons: good for fitness, getting to know neighbours, and building neighbourhood cohesion, which in turn is good for child safety and local response to emergencies. …

“To be resilient, cities need to localize as many services as possible to make them independent of outside control when it comes to the basics of life. Getting access to food is one of the basics, and the means of doing that should be as localized as the food and companies that get it customer-ready.

“The last mile needs to be in the hands of the people who live there.”

More at Torontoist, here.

Photo: Kat Northern Lights Man from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

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Who can resist a farmers market at this time of year? They are such joyful places.

Saturday we went with Erik and the kids to the Hope Street Farmers Market in Providence. It’s in a good-sized park where there is a playground as well as farmstands, crafts, live music, samosas, tacos, flowers, raw juices, fish, sausages, granola made by refugees …

After his grilled cheese and his Del’s lemonade, our 3-year-old grandson chose the little green and orange pumpkin below. It’s now on his dining-room table at home. His sister, when she wasn’t sleeping, worked hard at inspecting everything on the ground and trying to put it in her mouth.

A few words from the website on extra offerings that might interest backers of other farmers markets: “For your convenience, here are some of the unique features of the Hope Street Farmers Market: The Bicycle Valet at the Saturday morning market, run by Recycle-A-Bike, a volunteer-based community organization that connects people with refurbished bikes, provides practical bike knowledge, and advocates bicycle use by safer, more confident cyclists. Anyone can drop off their bike while shopping and know that it will be safely watched and sometimes even tuned up, for a small fee, while they shop. http://www.recycleabike.org gives a full description and mission of the organization.

“Knife Sharpening while you shop is another new feature of our Saturday market. You can drop our your knives (wrap them carefully and mark them with your name please!) to be professionally sharpened for a small fee while you shop.

“Live music at the markets features local musicians or acoustic bands playing every Saturday and some Wednesdays, so feel free to bring a blanket, buy your picnic lunch or supper and enjoy the entertainment.”

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This sweaty-looking athlete leaning into the turn at Cooneymous Road is John. He has just done the swimming part of New Shoreham’s triathlon in the ocean, and now he is into the first loop on the hilly biking course.  He will wind up with a run on Crescent Beach. Fingers crossed that the tide is out and the sand is hard.

Beautiful day for it. The peanut gallery has experienced our share rainy triathlons, and one that was cancelled because of thunder and lightening.

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TreeHugger frequently covers biking. And since my four-year-old grandson has mastered all but the braking on his new two-wheeler and expects me to start biking with him, I think I better cover bikes, too.

Here is an article by Derek Markham from the TreeHugger website about a new bike that aims to combine the best of two worlds.

Writes Markham, “When you go from riding a skinny-tired road bike to a mountain bike with fat tires, it opens up a whole new world of cycling, even if you don’t ever leave the pavement. With fat tires (and perhaps some suspension), your bike can float right over bumps and cracks in the road without rattling your teeth, hopping up or down curbs is almost effortless …

“But even with these advantages, there are still riding situations that can bog down a mountain bike, such as sandy and snowy conditions, and if you really want to go where most people don’t, then a fat bike is the next logical step.

“Fat bikes, with their extremely wide (4″) tires, can make a sandy wash or a gravel road as easy to ride as a packed singletrack (well, almost as easy), and riding in and on snow and mud can be something you seek out instead of try to avoid. But those big fat tires also take some extra effort, and if your thighs aren’t quite up to the task of pedaling a fat bike through and over slush, snow, sand, gravel, or mud, a fat bike ride can be grueling. However, when you add the power of a 500W electric motor to a fat bike, such as Biktrix has done, a virtually unstoppable Juggernaut is created.” More here.

Hmmm. An upstoppable Juggernaut might impress my grandson, but I am pretty sure he doesn’t want me to be as impressive as he is. He told his dad Saturday, “You need to be slower than me.”

Besides, the electric part reminds me of mopeds, and I really don’t like mopeds.

Photo: Biktrix

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Photo: Century Cycles 

In September, Mary Ann participated in the Neocycle night ride in Cleveland with 1,500 other cyclists and shared photos and enthusiasm on Facebook.

Joshua Gunter covered the story for the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Glowsticks and headband lamps replaced headlights in eastbound lanes of the Shoreway on Saturday evening, when about 1,500 cyclists took over the road for the first NEOCycle Night Ride.

“The unique ride, which started at Edgewater Park and featured the Detroit-Shoreway, Gordon Square and North Coast Harbor neighborhoods, was a highlight of the weekend-long NEOCycle — Cleveland’s newest cycling event and the Midwest’s first urban cycling festival.

“Cyclists as young as 8 joined the casual ride, whose full tour covered 15 miles, or two laps of the 7.5-mile course.”

For tips on getting ready for a night ride, check out Ohio-based Century Cycles, here.

Photo: Joshua Gunter.The Plain Dealer 

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