By: Erin Madden
As an avid cyclist, David Wieser knew he wanted to get involved in making Winnipeg a more bicycle-friendly community. So, while away on a tour of duty in Afghanistan as a member of the Canadian Forces, he spent his free time establishing Bicycle Valet Winnipeg.
The program operates like a coat check at large community events such as Winnipeg Blue Bomber games, street festivals and the Red River Exhibition.
Cyclists can "check" their bicycles with Valet volunteers who watch over them, free of charge, until they return to retrieve them.
Wieser launched the initiative upon his return home from Afghanistan last summer, and the program has served cyclists at nearly 40 events in and around Winnipeg since then.
Wieser, a master corporal with the military, said he's been pleased with the initial success of Bicycle Valet Winnipeg but he's convinced there is still room for growth. But any future success will have to come through the hard work of new volunteers, however, as Wieser was transferred from Winnipeg to Petawawa, Ont., earlier this month.
Marissa Steindel, 25, is one of the volunteers who are looking to grow the program. She started volunteering about three months ago after learning about it online. She initially signed up to volunteer at one event, but quickly committed to lend a hand at more.
"I was so excited when I saw it -- it just made so much sense," said Steindel, a draftsperson at MacDon Industries. "One of the biggest deterrents to cycling in the city is knowing if there is a safe place to leave your bike and if it will still be there when you come back to it. Also, if you're carrying a bunch of gear with you and you're going to events, it's a pain to have to bring it around with you. When I saw Bicycle Valet, I decided I had to support it."
Fellow volunteer Sandeep Dhariwal shares that sentiment. She moved to Winnipeg last winter and took up cycling for the first time in her life. Within weeks, she was hooked. A volunteer with Bicycle Valet for the past three months, she said she quickly saw the importance of the program in the community.
"I volunteered (at my first event) and it was amazing. It was at Kids' Fest and seeing all these families come out -- families transporting their kids on these carriages -- it was just so inspiring," said Dhariwal, a 29-year-old facilitator with an inner-city youth mentoring program. "For me, volunteering with Bicycle Valet is about the culture and the people you meet and their mindset and how they see the world."
She said it's a great opportunity for people looking to meet new people -- both the clients and the fellow volunteers -- and for those who want to explore the city.
"A big thing is exposure to these events. We chill out on our breaks -- we get to go and see the events and often partake.
"It's a really good way for volunteers, especially those who are new to the city like I was, to see the city highlights."
Wieser said he hopes to see the number of events and volunteers continue to grow. He said cyclists have embraced the initiative, as have the approximately 20 volunteers who have donated their time over the first year. He adds that before leaving the city, through the support of sponsors, he was able to hire a part-time staff member to ensure the program's ongoing success, co-ordinating volunteers and events.
"I'm very happy that it will continue on in my absence and when I come back to Winnipeg, I look forward to seeing it bigger and better."
If you know a special volunteer who strives to make his or her community a better place to live, please contact Erin Madden at email@example.com