Cyclists are a frequent sight on Aurora’s trails, but, rather than just getting out for some fresh air and exercise, just how many are hopping on their bikes for a specific mission?
If you happened to see cyclists on these popular paths through May to July, the number of people who were pedaling to meet an objective might surprise: more than 230 donned their helmets and placed their feet on the pedals for Cycle Aurora, a new initiative that was aimed to get people up and moving, but exploring the community and local businesses at the same time.
Cycle Aurora was the brainchild of Aurora resident Jen Sault-Turla, who brought her idea to the Town. There was an immediate uptake as partners collaborated on bringing the event to life.
They brainstormed routes, objectives, and even challenges to make this much more than a ride around Town. Participants were encouraged to explore a new trail, check out a patio, and even visit local ice cream shops, sharing pictures of your cool and creamy scoops, patio dinners, or beauty spots with fellow participants. Adding to the fun? They could collect prizes along the way on various completed missions.
“When Shelley [Ware, Special Events Coordinator for the Town of Aurora] first talked about it, we thought we should order enough prizes for 50 people,” says Sault-Turla, having no idea at the time that the total participants would top 231. “This really resonated with the Town and I loved seeing the community spirit of Aurora come to life.
“More than 1,700 missions were completed and some of the ones that really spoke to me were the missions supporting local businesses. We had over 81 people complete the mission to go and support a local Aurora business, which is awesome. Another one was a trip to local restaurant patios and there were 100 trips to patios supporting local restaurants. Another mission was to write inspiring chalk messages around Town and there were 140 of those. It was so fulfilling to see it all come together.”
It was also fulfilling for Ware who said this was the perfect event at a perfect – albeit challenging – time for the community.
Launched during stay-at-home orders this past spring, Ware says things looked “pretty grim at the time” but a community engagement event tapped into people’s desire to get out into the community in a healthy and safe way.
“A local senior had no idea what this was, but she got into it herself, we had to work with her, but she ended up getting her grandchildren to ride with her – a very mature senior with her grandchildren, all physically safe during lockdown – that grandmother wouldn’t have been biking in May and this gave her the incentive to get out and feel secure in getting out,” says Ware.
This isn’t the first time the Town has attempted a cycling event. Previous efforts were planned as one-day-only affairs. But COVID prompted them to expand it to a one-month self-driven challenge and source out new apps to engage people electronically rather than in-person.
“Not only did we get Aurora more active, [we] were able to bring in part of the economy, which wasn’t part of the original dynamic to get people on the trails,” says Ware. “When you looked at the mission to find your favourite ice cream store or a tire shop to fix the bike, it brought in an awareness of local commerce and went beyond what we originally hoped and at a very high level of engagement during a very strict lockdown period.”
For Sault-Turla, one of the most fulfilling aspects of Cycle Aurora was seeing people push themselves even more on their bike – herself included. Over the course of the challenge, she biked on many of her errands, including the grocery store run. “
“It brought to light to me, and probably to other people who completed it, that it is not necessarily the destination but the journey along the way,” she says.
Given the success of Cycle Aurora 2021, the team is looking at ways to build upon the model for the future.
“This concept has so many legs to it,” says Sault-Turla.
“So many spokes,” interjects Ware with a laugh.
“One of the possibilities is expanding on the local business involvement,” Sault-Turla continues. “Shelley and I were walking about this as a way to support local businesses and it encourages local businesses to set themselves up to attract cyclists, to make sure they have a bike rack, participating and really welcoming bikers in. I think the support of local business and local businesses supporting cyclists is, I think, a really nice angle to expand on further.”
As much as the event was a success, Ware adds, Cycle Aurora also identified some gaps that need to be addressed.
“It brought forward some gaps in community development, such as places that don’t have bike racks,” she says. “It is an eye-opener to how people travel around Town by bike and where improvements can be made. You want a community with no gaps but this has opened the door to some more improvements.”
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran