Patrick Stephenson: The Bike Messiah

Colin Michael Simmons

Colin Michael Simmons

City Pages' People Issue celebrates men and women who make Minnesota a better place to live.

Patrick Stephenson brings people together with bikes.

In 2010, he and some friends came up with a simple idea: What if they committed to riding a bike every day for 30 days? They decided to give it a go. Stephenson set up a website with co-founder Zach Schaap. And 30 Days of Biking was born. 

The first year, around 300 people from all over the globe signed up. Tour de France winner Greg LeMond even tweeted his support.

“The response was stunning,” Stephenson says. “We set the tone by making it about joyfulness.”

Using the hashtag #30daysofbiking, participants could follow each other on Twitter. “The idea was that you could click on this marker and see what everyone was saying, and have this feeling of unity and community because everyone was talking about the same thing.”

Stephenson and his team, which has grown to 10 to 15 volunteers, want to make biking joyful and accessible to all. In 2014, they decided to work with Free Bikes for Kidz. For every 30 pledges, they would donate a bike to the organization, which provides bicycles to kids in need.

“When you set yourself a goal, it’s scary,” he says. “But you have to get that money. It gave a new urgency to it. Not only are we biking together, but we’re passing bikes forward to kids who need them — the next generation of bikers.”

They ended up donating about 500 bikes.

Stephenson has also worked with World Bicycle Relief, which provides buffalo bikes — hearty commuter machines used by adults — to people in Third World countries. They ended up raising $5,000.

Some 9,000 people joined 30 Days of Biking last year. In 2017, Stephenson and his crew hope to ramp up that number to 15,000.

In the meantime, Stephenson spreads bike love year-round with his Joyful Riders Club, a monthly riding group where he and 30 Days cohort Mario Macaruso lead a slow-roll, friendly ride. Past destinations have included dance nights, beach bonfires, and brewpubs.

“The moment that really struck me about the post-Thanksgiving ride was when we were biking back from the beach and everyone’s bike lights were trailing up the path,” he says. “I thought, ‘This is fun that we created ourselves. It feels magical.’ No institutional sponsors put this together. It didn’t require much. We just said, ‘Meet here and we’ll bike to this place and bike back.’”

This year’s 30 Days kicks off with a group ride on April 1.

“I think what’s really powerful is that idea of a shared experience. We’re doing this together. We’re in this together.... You might already bike every day in April, but the fact that we’re doing this together makes it more powerful.”

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