Amy Walker, co-publisher and creative director of Momentum Magazine
Momentum magazine co-founder Amy Walker talks with Granville Online before hitting the stage with David Byrne, Gregor Robertson and Erick Villagomez to discuss 'Cities, Bicycles and the Future of Getting Around' Sunday, October 24
When Momentum Magazine co-publisher and creative director Amy Walker takes the Vancouver Playhouse stage on October 24—for a forum entitled Cities, Bicycles, and the Future of Getting Around, with Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, UBC urbanist Erick Villagomez and ex-Talking Head David Byrne—one might wonder who has done the most to promote cycling for transportation.
Cities, Bicycles and the Future of Getting Around
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Vancouver Playhouse Stage, Hamilton & Dunsmuir St
Tickets | 604-990-7810
The mayor and his bike-friendly administration? Villagomez, with academic credentials and a deep understanding of urban design? Byrne, with his star power and the runaway success of his book Bicycle Dreams? Arguably, none of the above.
Walker’s contribution, helping start the magazine Momentum and showcasing bicycles as part of a sustainable, fashionable and practical lifestyle, is capturing hearts and minds in a way that politicians, professors and even pop stars can’t equal.
It all began roughly 20 years ago.
“I just decided to ride my bike to school when I was 16,” says Walker. “We had an environmental conference at my school (Ideal Mini-School) and I was introduced to this idea of riding bicycles as a form of transportation. I had been thinking of buying a car like the Dodge Dart with a slant six engine and planning my new mobility and then I just changed my mind and said, ‘Okay, I think I’m going to be a bicycle rider.’
“It really changed my life at that point. As a teenager you have all these emotions and hormones going on, and getting that exercise everyday… I felt clearer. I was lazy in a way: I didn’t want to have to go to the gym [to be healthy] and I realized I could get all these things at once.”
Fast forward to the late '90s. After three years in Ontario learning furniture design and coming to the realization that she preferred photography and graphic design over making furniture, Amy had an experience a lot of Vancouver cycling advocates can point to as their aha! moment. She met activist Carmen Mills, a long-time Vancouver proponent of cycling, car-free streets and ecologically minded living.
“Basically I was already making up ads and marketing for cycling in my mind. I had all this content going on in my head, so when Carmen said they were shutting down the Spoke n Word [a now-defunct Vancouver cycling zine] and were going to start it up again in a different form, I knew I wanted to be a part of that, so I went and met Carmen and after a year of talking about what we wanted Momentum to be, we started it up.”
'Momentum' mainstreams cycling for everyone
Momentum began as a local magazine with a broad focus on sustainable topics. Today, it’s distributed in major cities across North America, but the magazine has zoomed in on cycling as its primary subject matter.
“We decided to be very clear about what we are as a ‘brand’ in order to communicate to the bike industry that there is a market for commuter cycling,” says Amy. “I feel our success is working with the industry and telling them about this huge market—mainstream people riding bikes for transportation. It’s getting a lot better, but there still is a disconnect between the industry and some of those [commuter] customers.
“Does the 50-year-old woman who walks into a bike shop looking to start riding to work get the service she’s looking for? Not often enough. There’s still a cultural gap to overcome to serve that customer.”
Women, cycling and ugly raingear
But regarding the needs of women cyclists, Walker is reluctant to act as spokesperson.
“It’s like the question, ‘what do women want?’ Well, why don’t you ask one? Who am I to generalize about what cycling does for women?” she says. “I think it does a million different things. It offers us all a freedom from travelling inside cars and being stuck in traffic. It’s a way to be physical and healthy. One of my mom’s favourite things about cycling is the smell of cooking in the neighbourhood.”
Walker is more certain about what’s keeping women from cycling however.
“Safety. That’s what I hear a lot. And the other one is ugly rain gear. As much as I wish that wasn’t the case, I think it is a factor. At Momentum we don’t dictate what you should wear, but we do want to send a message that when you’re cycling you can show off your own great style. You can wear your regular clothes on your bike.”
It verges on heresy to suggest such a thing in Raincouver, but Walker is quick to point out equally rainy Portland’s success in merging cycling and style—with clothing that can withstand activity and weather without sacrificing panache.
“You see all kinds of this stuff coming out of Portland. There are a lot of cyclists and a lot of creative, crafty people who make really funky, cool, comfortable clothing that’s durable… so you can farm in it, you can ride your bike in it and you can still look like a cool chick.”
In North America, cycling is still pretty much a man’s world—twice as many men commute by bike than women, as opposed to equal ratios in Europe—but it’s changing. Women are the fastest growing segment of the cycling market. Amy Walker is one cool chick who can take some of the credit.
Chris Keam has worked as a writer and editor in Vancouver since 1989. In addition to cycling, he has a keen interest in sustainable living trends, parenting, media issues, current affairs and local history. You can visit his blog at www.chriskeam.com.