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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Dinner and Bikes Traveling Roadshow delivers on food, fun, films, and more

Dinner and Bikes Traveling Roadshow delivers on food, fun, films, and more
By:  Michael Lander

Joe Biel and Elly Blue greeted an audience of about
70 people on their Dinner & Bikes Roadshow Tour
in Memphis, which was held at the Revolutions
Bicycle CoOp on Wednesday, May 25, 2015.

Entertaining, enlightening, and inspiring may be just a few of the words to describe the
Dinner and Bikes Traveling Roadshow that rolled into Memphis on May 20, 2015.

The cyclist-centered roadshow troupe crisscross the country telling stories and showing movies about bicycles and the culture surrounding it.  They also serve up
gourmet vegan food along with a healthy portion of some very thought-provoking topics for their audience to digest.

The Dinner and Bikes Traveling Roadshow is made up author and filmmaker -
Joe Biel, author - Elly Blue, writer, radio host and blogger – Aaron Cynic, and Chef Joshua Ploeg.  The four of them are currently on a West-Midwest tour of the U.S.

Their Memphis event took place at the
Revolutions Bicycle CoOp, located at the First Congregational Church on 1000 S. Cooper St. with about 75 people in attendance.

The Dinner & Bikes Roadshow Tour with Joe Biel
and Elly Blue is often very enlightening and
informative, but it can be just as entertaining
for those who attend their two hour event.

Like in other cities that they visit, Biel and Blue led the Memphis audience in a thoughtful and interactive discussion that covered a wide range of issues and topics that impact bicyclists today. 

In addition to the discussion, Biel and Blue also presented eight short films that the two directed and produced, which highlighted people and groups who, through cycling, have brought people together to improve their neighborhoods.

Through the discussion and films, Biel and Blue seek to inspire and encourage bicycle activism in neighborhoods everywhere and to promote the development of a strong and supportive cycling community across the U.S.

“We don’t see ourselves as promoting cycling as much as promoting a bicycling community,” Biel said.

“We have found that in most places the communities are separated by social isolation, differing ideas, or slightly different areas of interest within cycling and we find that over and over our events unite these groups into the same room for the first time,” Biel added.

John Paul Shaffer of Livable Memphis and Wendy Wider-
Burroughs of the Shelby Farms Conservancy spoke
briefly with the audience, some of whom were
still eating their buffet style gourmet vegan meals
that were prepared by Chef Ploeg.

The need for those in the cycling community to coalesce and to support one another may be especially important when they run up against those who do not share same the values as they do about cycling.

“It comes down to finding your community, finding support in them, and moving forward together.  Without that, it’s hard to maintain excitement against a monolithic culture that destroys everything in its path,” Biel said.

For Biel, one of the biggest threats to cycling comes not only from those who oppose cycling, but from those who want to spend all their time arguing with others about it.

“Getting lost in endless debates or arguments like those involving
vehicular cycling verses building infrastructure…. are nothing but divisive, keeping us from moving forward together as a community,” Biel said.

Even with the negatives that cyclists and their communities face, Biel finds many reasons to be optimistic, especially with the individual gains that have been happening all over the world, including places like Memphis.

Throughout the two hour event, Joe Biel and Elly Blue
pose questions and lead audience members into a
discussion as they explore ways in which cycling
could be a solution for problems in a city, where
it can enhance accessibility, interaction, and how
it can help bring a community together.

“I am really impressed by where Memphis is at.  When I visited in the 1990’s through 2004, it felt like there was something of a black cloud of despair hanging over the city, but that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.  It feels like things are moving forward in the right direction in Memphis and it’s doing a much better job of moving forward without leaving people behind than most cities, especially cities of its size.  The gains in bicycling are truly inspiring and I don’t know of any other urban area with that kind of ridership growth,” Biel said.

In other places around the country, Biel has also seen a positive impact that people-powered, grassroots bicycle movements have had on helping to reshape and redefine communities.

Audience members in Memphis were shown eight
short films that were directed and produced by Joe Biel
and Elly Blue.  Much of the discussion for the event
centered on issues that were presented in each of these
films.

“In almost all of the places that we’ve visited, we’ve seen social change come from
groundswell – people who are passionate about bicycling (who) create grassroots, street-level activist movements that allow advocates to ask for a bit more and push city leaders to enact the world that we want to see and live in,” Biel said.

Over the years, Biel has been to many cities across the U.S. and has been touring with his books, music, and films since 1995.  Blue joined him on the tours in 2010 and they have working together ever since.   Biel jokingly said that after they found themselves getting hungry on their tour, that is when they decided to start bringing Chef Ploeg along with them.

“Between conferences, festivals, a one month tour in the summer, and various other events that people ask us to do, we are generally on the road for more of the year than we are at home,” Biel said.

Some of the films that were presented to the Memphis
audience were inspiring, like the one man who, with
his hand-cranked tricycle, has not let his disability to
stop him and others who have shown that cycling
knows no boundaries or barriers and it can be done
and enjoyed by everyone.

When touring with the roadshow, life for Biel, and the others fall into a familiar pattern and routine.

“While we are on tour, we wake up around 7 a.m. and Elly, Aaron, and Joshua go jogging, while I catch up on my email.  We eat breakfast around 8 a.m., hit the road by 9 a.m., and we usually arrive at our destination by 1 p.m.  We immediately go grocery shopping and Joshua is cooking by 2 p.m.  Later, we set up the venue for that night, perform from 7 to 9 p.m., and try to get in bed by 10:30 p.m. and the next day we repeat the cycle all over again,” Biel said.

One of the best parts of traveling the country, for Biel, is meeting people and laughing about some of the funny experiences that he, Blue, Cynic, and Ploeg have had over the years.

Joe Biel and Elly Blue are naturals in front of a crowd
and they are extremely talented and gifted writers
who tirelessly promote and advocate cycling and
cycling communities throughout the U.S.

“In Austin, in 2012, our car’s electrical system caught fire and we came back to horrible smells and smoke.  When we opened the full trunk, mysteriously, the only things that were destroyed were our t-shirts that proclaim ‘Every Car a Murderer, Every Bike a Love Affair.’  Fortunately, our audiences were twice as excited to buy the ones with the fire damage,” Biel said.

Other than having a good time and a lot of laughs, Biel and Blue have both enjoyed literary success.  Blue has written “Everyday Bicycling,” “Manpressions,” and “Bikenomics.”  Biel has written “Make a Zine,” “CIA Makes Science Fiction Unexciting,” “Beyond the Music,” and “Bamboozled.”

Together, they manage
Microcosm Publishing, which is a mid-list publishing company that has published over 350 books over the last 20 years.  In addition to this, Biel has produced and directed five feature-length films with “Aftermass” being the most recent one.

Sylvia Crum is the executive director for the
Revolutions Bicycle CoOp, which promotes
cycling and it provides cycling services and
materials to the indigent community of
Memphis and was the host for the Dinner
& Bikes Roadshow Tour.

Biel and Blue are both avid cyclists and, for Biel, the bicycle was an escape for from a less-than-ideal home life.  After realizing the cost of how much a car was costing him, and following two near-fatal car accidents, he became car-free at the age of 20.

“Today, I own half a dozen bikes, including a Brompton folder, a homemade front-loading Tom’s Cargo Bike, a chopper, a single-speed track bike, and a pair of drop road bikes,” Biel said.

Blue owns an Xtracycle cargo bike, a Brompton folder, and a yellow Schwinn cruiser.

To learn more about the Dinner and Bikes Traveling Roadshow, you can visit
http://dinnerandbikes.com/ and http://www.therivardreport.com/dinner-bikes-food-film-and-bike-activism/.

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