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Bike Swap promotes safe cycling for all

Calgary couple turn lifelong passion into community service for those who want to enjoy cycling.

Calgary commuters Laura and Chris Grant met while heading to work. But it was not only a convergence of soulmates, it was the mode of transport that grabbed their attention, as both were pedaling through winter snow.

“We were commuting to work into November and December,” said Laura, who recalls being intrigued by the fortitude of her fellow cyclist. “I said, that’s the man for me.”

Seventeen years later, the couple continues to gain traction while their Alberta Bike Swap attracts more followers. Bike Swap events are now regularly held in Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge.

But it's more than a chance to safely buy or sell a bicycle. The couple also provides fit-for-purpose software, which Laura designed, and needed safety information too. The website (albertabikeswap.ca) encourages tips like using a bell, riding single file, stopping at traffic stops, and, if cyclists can't leave the sidewalk to walkers, to “get off and walk your bike”.

Alberta Bike Swap was inspired by an incident in 2009, when Laura and a friend went to see a $10,000 full-carbon road bike in a seller’s unfurnished basement. The asking price was under $500.

“I said to my girlfriend, we need to get out of here, this doesn’t feel safe,” recalled Laura.

In another transaction, Chris was selling a bicycle out of their garage, but the person buying was looking at everything but the bike. Their garage was broken into a few days later.

“We started the bike swap because there was nothing really out there. We needed to create a safe space for people to find and sell their bikes in our province,” Laura said. Chris, an engineer, also fixed bikes and would sell parts. The idea to offer a community based, safe space for the sale and purchase of used bikes was a no-brainer.

Their first bike swap in Calgary saw 1,200 people log in. It has only grown since, with thousands showing up to consign or buy a bike in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge this spring. Bike swap events include a tech-check and recording of serial numbers; an important security assurance for customers.

Laura says the wild popularity is because “people have had so many bad experiences buying and selling online”.

Describing Bike Swap as a 'labour of love', the couple spends up to 20 hours a week on a venture that has tapped into their life savings. But as ardent cyclists, the pair says there's a personal reward in promoting the cycling lifestyle and providing a much-needed service. Half of all profits are donated back to the community, with the remainder going toward future bike swap events.

“We’re also funding safe cycling. We print bike safety cards, which are distributed for free. Everything is based on the Alberta Traffic Safety Act," Laura said.

Chris, who is a Cycling Canada ‘Can-Bike’ instructor, has also designed and patented a collapsible bike rack, which organizations can rent for their events.

Laura, who is turning 65, was an early adopter of bicycle commuting in the 70s. Then, while in her third year studying pharmacy at the University of Alberta, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and was forced to abandon her degree.

“Cycling has kept my MS at bay. I’ve kept my health for more than forty years,” she said, noting that people sometimes tell her their bike causes soreness or pain. She advises beginners and anyone to "Just ride. And get a bike fit properly for your body."

“It really does help keep an active life. Walking is bone on bone, while cycling keeps up your neural health, because there’s no impact on the knees."

“And if you no longer want your bike, give it away," she added. "There are so many people looking to buy.”

Go to Alberta Bike Swap at albertabikeswap.ca for information on how to volunteer or to find out about the next bike swap event.