Photo of Dave Meslin (Yvonne Bambrick and Craig Barnes in the background) by Vic Gedris/I Bike T.O.
Things of which we are fans: cycling advocacy, dancehall-laced DJ sets, jokes about benzodiazepine, tipsy city councillors. Last night we were lucky to find all of these in the very same room, at the first annual Toronto Bike Awards, hosted by the Toronto Cyclists Union. The Gladstone Hotel’s ballroom was standing-room only, packed with die-hard cyclists and the people who love them. While the City of Toronto has distributed Bicycle Friendly Business Awards for many years, this was the first time that a full evening’s worth of partying was devoted to recognizing the individuals and organizations that are working to continuously improve the state of cycling in our city. In addition to the City’s awards, the Cyclists Union inaugurated their own Golden Spoke Awards: one each for the outstanding city councillor, volunteer, and cycling advocate of the year. The Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation (TCAT) and I Bike T.O. gave out their own awards as well—proof of the breadth and depth of cycling activism in the city.
The most touching moment of the evening came when Dave Meslin, winner of the Golden Spoke for cycling advocacy, gave a heartfelt speech about the predicament of activist burn-out and described his own personal struggles over the past year. His speech revealed just how close-knit the community is: it’s not often that someone feels supported enough to get on a stage and discuss their work-induced psychological breakdowns. The openness with which he shared, and the warmth with which he was greeted, are true testaments to the spirit of generosity that pervaded the room.
The evening wasn’t just devoted to the distribution of shiny plaques or moments of grave reflection: other highlights included a reverse striptease (in which dancers started in their skivvies and demonstrated the proper layering on of winter clothing), a Clay and Paper Theatre performance, and a bike-geek activity known as Goldsprints (in which a crowd of your friends cheer wildly while you pedal very quickly and go nowhere at all). Add in a rather excellent set by DJ duo Dorian and Dorian, a stocked bar, and a giant cycling-themed cake and the result was an evening that showed just how far cycling has come in Toronto. There are still huge challenges, and the city is very far from where it could and should be, but last night was an occasion for some well-deserved celebration, and the sense of community and optimism was unmistakable. We are very glad to say that next year they’ll need a much bigger room.