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People On Bikes

From My Heart and the Seat of My Bike – Looking Back at the First Bike 5 Cities

By Lisa Portelli, Bike/Walk Central Florida board member and Bike 5 Cities visionary | Updates by Eric Trull, BWCF Staff


It seemed like a good idea: show people where they can ride bicycles on bike-friendly roads.

So many people ask, “Where do you ride?”  To answer, our goal was to create a regional bike-friendly map and then have a ride to guide people looking for comfortable routes along these roads and trails. We knew the map would have gaps, but it would also be a valuable advocacy tool to continue our push for more bicycle-friendly infrastructure.

We couldn’t have predicted the demand for this ride assistance… (the first) Bike 5 Cities “sold out” in one week! On Saturday, May 6, 2017, we accomplished the goal with 250-plus riders who inspired us to do even more. Most of our riders were beginners, and many had never ridden 28 miles before rolling out of Mead Gardens.  They were brave. A big group ride was new to most of them too, making it an incredibly risky adventure because group rides require skill. We were happy to take on the challenge with these new riders in the interest of sharing our love of the sport.  At the Family-Friendly rides and events hosted in each city, there were dozens of children looking to have fun out on their bikes.  They rode trails or had police escorts through the neighborhood streets.

The 5 Cities Ride, the bike-friendly route map, and the push for awareness of the effort were all to further a loftier goal of encouraging our decision-makers to build more bike-friendly roads with slow speeds and special infrastructure like cycle tracks and trails.  It’s a great cause, and (the first) Bike 5 Cities proved it is what people want. It took a team; we had the best one.

The First “Team” – Host cities, volunteers, staff, and friends

Our Host City staff in Winter Park, Casselberry, Maitland, and Eatonville were incredibly supportive of the cause. We stopped to visit these cities along the route at events organized and hosted by local city staff and volunteers.  The elected officials in many cities came out to greet us! What a win to be able to show them the demand for comfortable cycling roads and trails as more than 200 people rolled into their towns.

Each community had a distinction.  Winter Park offered a great location with a party spot right off their Cady Way trail (which now connects to a much larger trail system in central Florida). Casselberry has a beautiful trail in a small “hometown baseball park” with a tranquil loop course thru the woods.  Maitland’s Mayor and elected officials/staff welcomed us as we rode in on the city’s marked bike routes to a blow-out party in the stunning tree-canopied Maitland Community Park.  Eatonville celebrated the short life of a young boy, Camari Dennison, by spending the day teaching children how to ride bikes safely and to always wear helmets. (Thanks to Orange County’s Walk-Ride-Thrive and FDOT’s Safe Routes to School programs for providing support in Eatonville).  Casselberry, Maitland, and Eatonville offered police support to get our large group through busier intersections, and Eatonville Police even escorted us through town. Thanks to all the towns who made riders feel so welcome with festive events as rest stops along the way!

To our ride volunteers, all of whom are experienced cyclists and many who are close personal friends, there are no words. We could not have done it without you.   All of you clearly understood how risky this was because you ride and yet you were willing to come along and help coach so we could reduce that risk. Most of you gave up your normal Saturday ride to join us in pursuit of a goal for a better cycling community.  You believed in this crazy idea, and we will never ever be able to express how much your support mattered to the safety of all of our riders and to this writer personally.  I admire you. Thank you.

Who are “We”? – The Team that Dreamed up the First Bike 5 Cities  

Jill Hamilton Buss, formerly with Healthy Central Florida, whose magic touch inspires hundreds of people to care about their health and the health of our community. Peloton Cyclist Club team, experienced group ride managers who provided professional ride support, SAG service and mechanical help. A special shout out to their mechanic, ‘Santa Paws,’ who stayed behind in Eatonville to do some repairs on the bikes owned by the Eatonville Police!

Finally, the dedicated Board and small but powerful staff at Bike/Walk Central Florida put dozens of hours into preparing for and coordinating the event.  We are inspired by the professional leadership of Amanda Day, our former executive director and a passionate advocate for safety on the roads. (Amanda continues to be a vital supporter of BWCF and BIKE 5 as the organization has evolved. In 2022, Amanda was honored with the “Best Foot Forward Lifetime Achievement Award.”)

Some say the best indicator of success is when your idea is copied.  On the day after our ride, the Florida Freewheelers, a local highly respected cycling club, conducted the ride on the same route again.  A simple FB post on their website brought out a dozen or so riders to try this beautiful route on central Florida’s bike-friendly roads. (Today, the Florida Freewheelers are a crucial partner, making the event a possibility. In addition, the Florida Freewheelers provide the next steps for people who have caught the “bike bug” after completing the Bike 5 Cities ride with a community of cyclists of all abilities, training groups, and more!) The power of a good idea…

BIKE 5 Today

It’s been some time since that first Bike 5 Cities ride in May of 2017. Lisa Portelli is still at the helm and is currently the Bike/Walk Central Florida Board Chair! The event has expanded tremendously with the support of much of the same set of BWCF Board Members, staff, volunteers, and partner organizations. Of course, we’ve picked up quite a few more along the way as well.

Whether you’re interested in riding, volunteering, or supporting the efforts of the coolest pedal-powered event in Central Florida, you can see what’s happening currently at https://bikewalkcf.wpengine.com/bike5/

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