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Bike envoy gears up for fun

Film festival, other events lighten up city's bike culture


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Filmed by Bike founder Ayleen Crotty launched the iconic  event in Portland 12 years ago. The four-day festival kicks off April 19 at the Clinton Street Theater.There used to be a time when cyclists in Portland would whoop and holler during videos of other cyclists blowing past stop signs, weaving in and out of traffic and disobeying the rules of the road.

Not anymore, says Ayleen Crotty, a self-proclaimed “bike culturalist” who’s produced dozens of bike-themed events, rides and festivals in Portland since 2002.

“We don’t do that here,” Crotty says. “We share the road. It’s actually how we’re living, staying alive, getting around to our friends’ houses, school and work. Nowadays we don’t have that in Portland, and we don’t need it.”

That’s not to say that the bike-obsessed in Portland take their cycling too seriously.

To the contrary, 38-year-old Crotty, who lives in Woodlawn, has made it her mission to make Portland’s bike culture as fun and quirky as possible.

While advocates lobby for more bike infrastructure and funding and entrepreneurs come up with new cyclist-friendly innovations, Crotty has found her niche.

“I stay focused on the fun and flair, and leave the advocacy and politics to others,” she says.

Working as a photographer and event marketer by day, Crotty has founded many of Portland’s iconic bike-centric events including “Breakfast on the Bridge,” “Midnight Mystery Rides,” and “Filmed by Bike,” a four-day film festival that kicks off April 19.

As someone who lives to tell a good story, the film festival in particular, is close to Crotty’s heart.

“I love the ‘wow’ factor, the element of surprise,” she says of the films that are carefully screened and selected by a 10-member public jury. “It’s an artistic endeavor, curating this event. I love creating an environment, giving people an experience — it’s really intriguing to me.”

The springtime tradition at the Clinton Street Theater this year will feature 45 movies from 14 countries — all with the aim of inspiring people to get out and take an adventure on two wheels.

Crotty’s most recent personal adventure was a two-month road trip across the United States last fall — a trip she photographed and will exhibit in a collection called “Americana.”

“I got three-quarters of the way around America, and (the sites) were so great, but I missed Portland,” she says.

Filmed by Bike this year will be a bit different than in years past.

As usual, it will kick off with a street party on opening night. There will be libations, music, awards and films to inspire.

But unlike previous years, the majority of the films will be international: 65 percent hail from countries including Latvia, Israel, Greece, Singapore, Peru, Ukraine, Slovania, Canada and the U.K.

Just 11 percent will come from Portland, which Crotty feels is fine, because Portland folks have contributed the bulk in the past, so “now they’re taking a rest,” she says.

The festival — which contributes a portion of the proceeds to the Portland nonprofit NW Documentary — also will feature live storytelling and a “bike confessional” booth in which people may unload some of their deepest and darkest feelings.

Crotty says she was inspired by National Public Radio’s StoryCorps concept, which interviews and archives everyday people’s stories.

“I feel like we’re capturing an important time in bike history in Portland and the U.S.,” Crotty says.

The independent festival is Portland’s answer to the New York City-based Bicycle Film Festival. That festival tours nationally (and stopped here in March) but doesn’t attract the same level of attention in Portland and was even canceled here for a few years.

Crotty isn’t surprised, knowing that Portlanders prize local people and events above all.

So how do films, street parties and funny costumes (or wearing sometimes nothing at all) translate to actual bike safety on the road? “It’s an interesting debate on the impact bunny ears can have on safety — it’s a really big impact,” says Jonathan Maus, editor of www.BikePortland.org, who’s watched the bike scene change over the past 10 years.

“So many people in this town started biking more often because those events were their gateway drug into it. They started riding, and the more people riding, the more safe the streets get.”

Bringing activism to Portland

Crotty isn’t a native Portlander, but like many 30-somethings (á la “Portlandia”), she came here in the ’90s with all sorts of creative endeavors in mind.

Raised in Chicago, she studied photography at the University of Ilinois at Champaign-Urbana. As a sophomore in 1995, she helped start that city’s Critical Mass ride, just as the movement was spreading nationally.

The purpose of the ride was to “let people know that bikers have a right to the road as much as cars do,” she told the student newspaper at the time.

Then Crotty came to Portland and joined up with Critical Mass, which was a huge networking ground for the cycling community, but “it was pretty clear our bike enthusiasm wasn't getting across to the people stuck in

their cars,” she recalls. “The goal was to get more people on bikes, but we weren’t achieving that when we were causing the delay on their way home.”

Crotty worked on the Ralph Nader presidential campaign in 2000 and got

involved in other political work but "the meetings were so contentious

and angry." In other areas of her life, she saw that everyone in the

bike world “was so fun and positive,” she says.

It got her thinking, “How can we do more fun stuff with our bikes?”

Crotty looked to bridge the gap between Critical Mass and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, the other network for cyclists at the time.

They met over beers and put on Bike Summer — a month of free activities — modeled after one in San Francisco.

In August 2002, 5,000 bike enthusiasts came out for bike-in movies, family rides, bike-repair workshops and other creative events.

The success of that event led to the formation of Shift, a loosely organized group of people who, like Crotty, work to make cycling fun, liberating, empowering and sustainable.

Their events include giveaways, social rides, educational bike tours, art bike parades and information-sharing meetings.

Bike Summer morphed into Pedalpalooza.

During the years she’s also helped to found events including the Worst Day of the Year Ride (which had to cancel one route this year due to a snowstorm); the former Multnomah County Bike Fair, and the KBOO Bike Radio Show.

She’s also been the site coordinator and marketing brains behind iconic events including Reach the Beach; the Mississippi Street Fair; the Portland Twilight Criterium; the Portland Century; Petal Pedal; Tour de Lab; Cirque du Cycling; The Night Ride; Jackson’s Ride the Gorge; Bike MS; Seattle Century; Ride Around the Sound; and Ride to Defeat ALS.

Maus, the BikePortland editor, says he’s made it his personal goal to make room for more fun events himself.

“Because I went more toward the politics and seriousness of news in a way, I sort of envy the clear-eyed, happy approach,” he says. “I wish I could get some of that back. Because people like her are keeping that fire burning, I can always participate in the fun events and do that.”