Utica Bike Rescue Gives the community connections and healthy habits that will last a lifetime
by Alexandra Morales
Riding a bike for the first time was an experience I hope I never forget. The wind in my hair, my parents cheering me on, slamming into the back of my dad’s Ford face first after I forgot to brake… childhood at its finest. Most of my favorite memories growing up started on a bike, because that was my brother’s and my activity of choice. Riding around my neighborhood, exploring every street, was how I met some of my best friends in elementary school. I’m not sure what happened to my old bicycle, but it brought me memories and friendships that will stay with me forever.
Today, it’s easy to feel disconnected with others, both on a physical and emotional level. People connect more online now, which can be great, but as a result we sometimes miss out on chances to get some fresh air and form relationships with people within our local community. Matthew VanSlyke kills two birds with one stone with Utica Bike Rescue. As its founder and Executive Director, VanSlyke combines his knowledge of transportation with his passion for teaching and empowering others to create a growing community of bike riders, both old and new.
As a professional transportation planner, VanSlyke sees the world in terms of mobility. He takes immense pride in the improvements Utica Bike Rescue is able to have on people’s quality of life by giving them the freedom to travel independently. “In my line of work we spend a lot of time developing plans and projects that have delayed benefit,” VanSlyke says. “In contrast, the work that Utica Bike Rescue does provides immediate, tangible benefit to those who need it most.”
“If we simply gave things away we’d be doing our customers a disservice.” One of the key reasons Utica Bike Rescue is able to have such an impact is due to VanSlyke’s insistence upon teaching customers to sustain their own bikes, rather than simply giving them a handout. He continues, “We like to make sure that the people who receive bikes from us know how to keep it operational and enjoyable.” More recently, the mission of Utica Bike Rescue expanded to overall health and wellness. Soul Stop, which opened in Clinton last year, is a fitness and training studio that offers spinning and yoga classes, personal training, and bike repair workshops.
In speaking with Matthew VanSlyke, I’ve realized the many different things bicycles can provide a community. Utica Bike Rescue teaches local kids and families through the Bicycle Rodeo program, and utilizes volunteers to teach bike repair at their workshop. Overarching ideas of sustainability, wellness, independence, and transportation are all aspects of a much larger picture.
“…The bicycles we provide to folks honestly transform lives… When you travel by bike you’re connected to places in ways that don’t happen with any other form of transportation. I never get tired of hearing people’s stories about their first bike, an epic bike trip they went on or the collection of bikes they have at home. It’s something we can all relate to and the simple independence that bicycles provide is amazing. Being able to play a part in providing this for people is an honor and a privilege that I’m extremely grateful for.”
Like Matthew VanSlyke, I believe it is important to seek out opportunities for growth and change in trying times. Rather than hoping and waiting for someone to make a difference, VanSlyke took it upon himself to bring together like-minded people, both volunteers and customers, to work toward the common goal of experiencing life in a more sustainable, healthy, and connected way. It is inspiring to see someone as genuinely passionate about their work as Matthew VanSlyke create such an impact within his community.