It’s been a rocky year for most of us, with a lot of our favorite two-wheel events canceled out from under us and even reliably scenic go-to destinations shuttered for an indeterminate amount of time. Sure you can still go for a ride at a safe distance, but the occasional solo canyon run to that now-closed excellent mom-and-pop burger joint in the middle of nowhere just doesn’t have the same punch it used to (ask us how we know). Fortunately, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and more than a few manufacturers have stepped in to offer up a much-needed change of scenery as well as a ride on their new models. Whether it’s a simple streetbike demo or a more involved trackday experience, these new initiatives are designed to get you on a new set of wheels and maybe boost your adrenaline back to prepandemic levels, even with public health and safety restrictions still in place. The fact that you can go out and demo a brand-new bike in 2021 is reason enough to look forward to a summer of good riding ahead.
Among the manufacturers touting long-term rolling initiatives this year are Aprilia, Kawasaki, and KTM. Some, like Kawasaki’s Good Times Demo Tour, are often run as street rides originating at a dealer, but make stops around the country with a stable of vehicles. For 2021 Kawasaki says it’ll have a wide range of products, with bikes from the Ninja 400 to the Ninja 1000 SX, and many others in between. The Tour runs from the end of March to the end of April, mostly in the south and southeast US. Get the deets at
BMW and Honda continue to offer bigger group demo rides at events like Americade and Daytona (as with the R 18 recently) or via appointments at individual dealers, but check with your local shop for availability; they can usually accommodate you. And of course, Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle are constantly running demo days; the firm’s websites will list events, as will local dealers. KTM’s big ride push for 2021 is the Ride Orange Street Demo tour which features at least six track locations sprinkled into an otherwise street-biased schedule, which runs through September, ending at the Americade Rally. The models called out include the new 890 Duke, as well as popular bikes like the KTM 200 Duke, 390 Duke, and 390 Adventure. For the schedule and more info
Aprilia’s program for 2021, dubbed Aprilia Racers Days, is more racing-focused and includes dates for nine circuits across North America, where riders can sign up for a more intimate trackday experience (for a fee). They’ll get the chance to ride the latest Aprilia models, like the RS 660 and Tuono 660 models, early on, but if they’re feeling a bit more big bore, the brand-new 2021 RSV4 will come online starting April, with the Tuono V4 following shortly afterward. Each event will be supported by Aprilia trained technicians as well as partners Pirelli, Dainese, and AGV to offer expert advice, with coaching, photography, and lunch included. If you’re looking to take your race game to the next level, you can also opt for individual instruction thanks to a collaboration with Jason Pridmore’s JP43 Training. The extra-cost program is limited to a handful of riders, and only at certain Aprilia Racer Days events (Laguna Seca, VIR, The Ridge).
Whether you choose the free street ride on a brand-new model or shell out serious Benjamins for a top-notch trackday, 2021 is already looking way better than last year’s pandemic-blighted season.
Many Americans learned to ride bicycles as kids. I still remember zipping around a cul de sac in my neighborhood, shrieking with glee and reveling in my newfound freedom after the training wheels came off. But those who did not have the opportunity to learn to ride during their childhood often face uncertainty or anxiety about learning as adults. Bicycle education programs help those who want to become cyclists overcome that fear while also addressing problems in their communities—from pollution to racial injustice.
And biking’s popularity has only increased during the pandemic: Bicycle sales skyrocketed in the United States in March 2020 as commuters sought to avoid crowded means of public transportation. Organizations around the world are using bicycle education to empower new riders and advocate for more sustainable, equitable, and inclusive communities.
In 2015, Germany coined a new term, Willkommenskultur, to describe the welcoming culture rolled out to greet arriving refugees, many of whom were fleeing the Syrian war. This culture led to an explosion of new volunteer organizations eager to address the needs of new arrivals. Few groups have had as lasting an impact (or as much fun) as #BIKEYGEES in Berlin. According to Annette Krüger, its founder, the organization teaches “women from all over the world” how to ride bicycles.
For immigrants to Germany, where about nine out of every 10 residents own a bicycle, learning how to ride means becoming part of a community. On bikes, women “can discover areas in their neighborhood” and experience “an improvement in independence, mobility, and security,” says Greta Aigner, a trainer at #BIKEYGEES.
#BIKEYGEES was awarded the German Bicycling Award in 2018 for its service to the community, its focus on women’s empowerment, and its promotion of sustainable transportation. Krüger and her team now give regular riding lessons in 15 locations in Berlin and the neighboring town of Brandenburg. She characterizes the courses as “two hours of happiness.”
“You don’t have to register,” she says. “You can come as you are. We only ask: Do you want to learn how to ride a bike? Or do you want to learn how to teach to ride a bike? We are all learning something.” Krüger’s advice to anyone looking to make an impact is to start now. “It’s so easy to change the world, but we have to do it,” she says, “and the bike is the perfect vehicle for it.”
Making a More Livable City
Like #BIKEYGEES in Berlin, many bicycle education programs in the U.S. work with immigrants who did not learn to ride as kids. Lana Zitser, a Russian immigrant who has spent most of her life in the U.S., says she only committed to learning in her 30s to set a good example for her 11-year-old son who was also learning to ride. She says that while her older brother learned how to ride when they were kids, her mother was “extremely overprotective” of her. “My girlfriends who also grew up in Russia don’t know how to ride bicycles either,” she says.
Zitser signed up for classes with an organization called Sustainable Streets, based in Los Angeles County. “I’m grateful for the experience,” she says. “Now I ride around the neighborhood with my family.”
Ron Durgin, co-founder and executive director of Sustainable Streets, says he loves empowering new riders like Zitser. He co-founded the organization in 2009 with the belief that turning more Angelenos into cyclists would mean turning Los Angeles’ urban environment into “a more livable community.”
“There’s this kind of mindset about Los Angeles,” Durgin says. “People come to Los Angeles, and they think they have to buy a car.” With millions of cars on its streets, people living in Los Angeles County are exposed to 60% more vehicle pollution than the average Californian, and a whopping 250% more than San Francisco Bay area residents.
Los Angeles County’s auto-centric urban planning also means its streets are less walkable and its residents have little access to parks or other public spaces. Across Los Angeles County, there is an average of only about 3 acres of parklands per 1,000 residents, which is a meager one-third of the national average.
“Whether it’s air quality, water quality, land use, [or] the way we allocate public space,” Durgin says, cyclists can have a big impact on city life. Research shows that cities with good bicycle infrastructure and more riders have higher per capita GDPs, less traffic and pollution, and happier citizens.
More than a decade after its founding, Sustainable Streets’ adult education programs have helped hundreds learn how to ride, understand the rules of the road, navigate their cities, and perform basic bicycle maintenance. The organization has also had great success influencing bike infrastructure. Sustainable Streets and its allies have lobbied the city of Santa Monica to improve bicycle parking and even establish a dedicated bike campus near its headquarters. At the bike campus, cyclists can practice riding and learn the rules of the road in a safe environment.
“It has always been a goal of mine to learn to ride a bike,” says Julie Maharaj, who attended an adult learn-to-ride class on the Santa Monica bike campus last year. “[The class] has definitely given me more confidence and a feeling of accomplishment,” she says.
Durgin says his best advice for other groups looking to start bicycle education programs is to lean on community partners. If you can’t find partners, make them. Sustainable Streets has gained favor with law enforcement officers, city administrators, and skeptical locals by inviting them on social rides. “We just tried to weave [them] in,” Durgin says. “There’s just a joy and a feeling of freedom when you’re on a bike and getting outside and socializing with other people.”
Leveling the Playing Field
Unlike Los Angeles, New York City is known for having its fair share of bicyclists. According to the New York Department of Transportation, nearly 900,000 New Yorkers ride regularly, and more than 50,000 depend on their bicycles to commute. But research shows that the majority of people who choose to commute by bike are wealthy and White. They are often drawn to bicycling for environmental or health reasons.
But for lower-income communities and communities of color, especially for people with disabilities or those who have health limitations, bicycling is not always so feasible or even desirable. Members of these communities often have to live farther from city centers and travel longer distances for work, often on roads that lack the infrastructure for safe cycling.
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