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A movement for a million new riders begins in Portland

Joe Kurmaskie, speaking at the
“We are All Traffic” rally last November.
(Photos © J. Maus)

If any one person could be the spark that ignites a national cycling movement, it would Joe Kurmaskie.

Known to many as the “Metal Cowboy”, Kurmaskie is a nationally recognized magazine columnist (Men’s Journal, Outside, Bicycling), author of several bike books and a tireless speaker and personality who’s performed at bike clubs and corporations at hundreds of events from New York to New Mexico.

And he’s no stranger to big ideas.

When he needed a home for his non-profit, Camp Creative (which vows to “Leave no child left inside”), Kurmaskie somehow managed to secure a lease on Government Island — a state-controlled, carfree island in the middle of the Columbia River just miles from Portland’s city center.

“Think of this as the cycling equivalent to Woodstock — but in 50 states and upwards of 100 rallies all on the same day.”
–Joe “Metal Cowboy” Kurmaskie

When he wanted to wow his editors and publishers with a big idea, he saddled up his wife and three kids (ages 1, 7, and 9) for a 3,000, self-supported bike tour across Canada.

And now, spurred by a spate of tragic bike crashes in Portland last October (including two that happened less than a mile from his North Portland home) and inspired by U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s call for a “national movement” during a visit to Portland back in January, Kurmaskie is planning for perhaps his most audacious idea yet — One Million Bicycles.

The official logo (website will be launched May 1).

Kurmaskie’s plan? To enlist one million cyclists to unite in rides and rallies in cities across the country next summer and to collect one million bicycles to give away to new riders.

“Think of this as the cycling equivalent to Woodstock — but in 50 states and upwards of 100 rallies all on the same day. We’re trying to be positive agents of change by talking our talk through the rallies and walking our talk, or in this case, riding our talk.”

To make this change happen, he’s spent the last three months organizing and coordinating a “national day of action” that will happen on August 9, 2009 (which happens to be Bridge Pedal in Portland!) where rides and rallies will be held in every major city across the country (including a rally in Washington D.C.).

And the rallies won’t be just photo-ops for the media. Kurmaskie says the purpose of the movement is also to: support Congressman Blumenauer’s National Bike Bill, to call for a doubling of current funding for bicycling at the state and national levels, and to give away one million new and used bicycles — creating one million new (and returning) riders.

If you don’t think he can pull it off — think again. Kurmaskie, using his list of over 10,000 bike-related contacts culled over seven years of performing and speaking, says he already has confirmations from hundreds of bike shops and other organizations eager to participate.

In addition, he’s already got commitments to hold rallies from advocacy groups in scores of cities including; Seattle, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Tampa, Phoenix, and many others.

In a nutshell, the plan is to have people register for $5 online (website not live yet) or at their participating local bike shop, bike club, school, and so on. Then they’ll receive an online registration packet with a number, ride and rally location/details, a bike giveaway card and a pledge sheet.

(Why a $5 fee? Here’s the breakdown from Kurmaskie: For every dollar raised, 75 cents goes to the repair and tune-up of used bikes and the purchase of new bikes for the giveaway; 15 cents goes to promotional and ride/rally support; 10 cents goes to administration.)

On August 9, 2009, each participating city will hold rides to the rallies (there are also coast-to-coast and long distance group rides being planned to converge at the Washington D.C. rally). Each rally will include food, booths, a press conference, speakers, music, activities, presentation of our support for the National Bike Bill, and the bike giveaway.

The bike giveaway is the key focus of the project.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer called
for a national cycling movement
during a speech in Portland in January.

According to Kurmaskie, an estimated 25 million bicycles sit in garages and basements, unridden year after year. “We’ve gone from hunters and gatherers to hoarders and storers.”

Now, he says, it’s time to dust them off and give them new life.

To make it happen, Kurmaskie says he and his volunteers need all the help they can get. They plan to hire two positions soon and the official launch of the website and online registration will be May 1st. Until then, feel free to contact him via email (mtcowboy at teleport dot com) if you’d like to get involved. He’s also ready to answer your questions in the comments below.

For more about this exciting project stay tuned for the launch of, and read more details on Kurmaskie’s blog and read the Q&A with him below…

How did the tragedies in Portland last fall impact your involvement with this?

The rally we held in Portland last November after the rash of cycling deaths was the rebirth of my own grassroots activism. Then, when Congressman Blumenauer challenged the community to step up and start a national bike movement, I knew I could play a role in that movement…and this is what I’ve come up with.

This is a very ambitious undertaking, how can you possibly pull it off?

I think my connections to clubs, organizations and the industry, put me in a unique position to help bring this thing together. I’ve led non-profits, I’ve done speaking gigs all over the country, and more importantly there will not be a better time to take our stand and call for change and be that change we want to see. I don’t just want to do everything I can so that I can look myself in the mirror. I truly believe if we take this moment in time to stand together — we don’t have to agree on everything – but stand together for more bicycle funding, and to create more riders, we could be the difference.

Who are these rides/rallies for?

Everyone and anyone who rides or has every ridden a bike in any form or who supports the National Bike Bill and the ideas and actions of One Million Bicycles. We hope to get a broad base of people involved — families, businesses, schools, governments, civic groups, youth, retirees, etc..

You use the words “cycling rights movement” and “revolution”…is this is a militant thing?

No, not at all. Think personal, community and social revolution through example and large scale, positive action. We want to change the landscape, both politically and physically – so that it’s safer for everyone to use bicycles. We are doing that by showing our numbers, making specific measurable requests and by actually putting additional bikes under non riders and riders who haven’t pedaled in awhile.

Is this movement anti-car?

No. It’s pro-bicycle. We would like everyone to drive cars less, yes, but we are not a militant group, we’re you — that person who knows we can make a cleaner, healthier society by driving less and shifting our transportation choices to bikes some of the time. That person who knows it will help reduce the overall carbon imprint America places on the world for many reasons — foremost because our energy consumption and transportation choices are negatively impacting our quality of life, threatening our national security, and hurting the health of our environment.

Why do you think this movement will succeed?

The time is right for this. Too often a movement gets energized, gets people out in the streets, but lacks specific things for people to do. That’s how a movement takes hold. When you see and participate in shifting the priorities of a nation and the daily actions of communities – that’s real and lasting.

This will also be a broad coalition…We are reaching out to all manner of groups and businesses outside of the cycling world including, political and environmental groups, health and safety officials, and celebrities like Robin Williams, Lance, musicians, and others.


Stay tuned for more coverage of One Million Bicycles.