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‘It’s not called ‘Coast”: Zed Bailey on bringing new energy to Shift, starting tonight

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Bailey (in character, not his usual garb) at
Open Bike Night in January.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Zed Bailey doesn’t know if anyone will show up to Velo Cult tonight to talk about the future of bike fun in Portland. He doesn’t know because he didn’t put the event on Facebook.

Instead, tapping the low-tech xerocracy that drove bike-fun events in Portland ten years ago, he photocopied a bunch of neatly designed flyers for “Shift 3rd Wednesdays” from July through December and handed them out at PedalPalooza rides.

It was an invitation for more people who like bikes to get involved with Shift, the loose team of volunteer bike lovers responsible for Portland’s monthly Midnight Mystery Ride, for Breakfast on the Bridges, for PedalPalooza and, in many ways, for putting Portland’s bike scene on the map. It’s a ten-year-old organization in need, many of its organizers say, of a burst of new energy and direction — a burst of energy that Bailey says he’ll be working to create as its new facilitator, starting tonight.

The Shift business meeting at Velo Cult is 7 to 8 p.m.; after that there’s a social hour until 10 p.m. Everyone’s invited.

I met Bailey, 31, at Velo Cult yesterday to talk about his vision for Shift, his funnest bike ride ever, why Facebook might be useful but can never be cool, and of course to sit for some shots in Velo Cult’s free photo booth.

Why do you think Shift matters to Portland?
We’re often comparing ourselves to Copenhagen for numbers, and I think it’s a poor comparison. I think what we bring is the pedal party capital of the world.

You’re accepting the role of “facilitator” for Shift. What’s that mean?
I was nervous at first to step into that whole realm of things because I was afraid I was going to step on toes, and I have stepped on some toes. But I’ve been encouraged and inspired by Chris Fool, who was the former facilitator of this meeting but basically doesn’t have the energy to continue forward with it.

A lot of people who established things, they have kids now, and they have their own gigs going on. So we’re going to have to raise a whole new generation of people to carry that torch that goes back to 2002. There’s definitely this need to get younger people involved. [Or] not so much that we need younger people, it’s just that we need new passions.

How long have you been in Portland?
Off and on: three years.

Where were you before?
Salt Lake City, Utah.

What’s the bike scene like there?
It’s actually really tight-knit and vibrant. I’ve lived there for eight years. I started a blog called Saltcycle, it was just me posting various things. And over the years it’s grown to amass this huge community. [But] I felt like I wanted to come out to a place where I could quantify my efforts more.

Tell me about the first time you got on a bike, or got back on.
(A little embarrassed) I was a poor college student. I like many people started with a really awful bike. It was Critical Mass [in SLC] that actually changed my whole perspective of bicycling, in 2005 or 2006. Before that, I’d ride on the sidewalks. We’d have stereos and everything – it was more of a party, a real rich experience.

“We’re trying to reignite some of those original passions that people felt when they created rides like the Midnight Mystery Ride, the World Naked Bike Ride, all of these rides that are now classic rides, that continue on.”
— incoming Shift facilitator Zed Bailey

You say you want to improve “networking” in the bike community. What do you mean by that?
A lot of the networking’s not reality. It’s over the Internet, where it’s a pseudo-reality. I want to do face-to-face connections, where I can actually collaborate with people and see them. Social networks like Facebook aren’t a replacement for that reality, and people are longing for that. It’s my hope that we can actually move to create a network that’s local and sustainable and replaces Facebook for the cycling community.

That’s what we do in Portland. We do it better, we do it bolder, we do it local, we do it with more love. And you can’t do that with Facebook. I use Facebook, and I use the social networks, but I’m trying to push outward from that.

You said you stepped on toes. What happened?
I overreached and used the name a bit much, and I didn’t get the consensus of the community. [But] Adriane Ackerman, she came up to me and she said that she was inspired by what I was doing because it was that same origination of fun coming again. We’re trying to reignite some of those original passions that people felt when they created rides like the Midnight Mystery Ride, the World Naked Bike Ride, all of these rides that are now classic rides, that continue on.

What other changes would you hope for?
I think we need to be more creative, is what it comes down to. People get excited when there’s new things. People were really excited when me and Dan [Kaufman] did the Magical Midnight Mystery Tour. Instead of going from A to B, we went from A to B to C. I stood up and said “I am no longer the walrus!” And then Dan stood up and said “I am the walrus! Coo-coo-ca-choo! Coo-coo-ca-choo!” And took us to the next place. Anything can happen on the ride – that’s what excites people.

I sort of think there should be a Clue MMR. Some rider, nobody knows who it is, ends up missing or dead or something. And then you have to find out through a series of clues around the campfire.

We definitely need more costumes, though. I think that’s what stands out in Portland – people love to dress up here. It was Chuck Palahniuk who said in Fugitives and Refugees that we [Portlanders] lead three different lives. I think that’s true with the bicycling community – we use costumes to create alternate identites.

What was your favorite bike ride ever?
The Mormons have this day that’s called Pioneer Day — it’s probably bigger than their Fourth of July. We came up with this idea on this shoestring tangent … “Knights Nights of 1347.” We wrapped ourselves in tinfoil and I put on this soundtrack that was like, “All Your Base are Belong to Us.” All these people were waiting for the parade to come and we came in mass all through the city dressed as robots and we blew their minds.

What one thing would you ask people to do for the local bike fun scene?
Pedal to whatever you’re passionate with. If you’re passionate about coding and that’s your schtick, then make that your pedal. If you’re passionate about meeting people, then make that your pedal. The thing is, we need to be pedaling this infrastructure forward. That’s why it’s called Shift – it’s not called “Coast.” There’s going to be people who get heartaches, there’s going to be people who get sad, there’s going to be passions, just like any shift. But shift happens.

(Laughing.) I’ve got lots of little one-liners.

Qs & As edited for brevity. Shift’s monthly meeting is 7 p.m. at Velo Cult, 1969 NE 42nd Ave. in the Hollywood area, on the third Wednesday of every month. If you’re unfamiliar with Shift events, here’s a 51-second video Bailey made explaining them:

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