Bill Bender has been a part of the Spokane bicycling scene for many years, and yet many people have never heard of him. Modesty prevents him from tooting his own horn, but what he has done speak volumes. Bender, and the many volunteers he recruits and credits for making it all happen, have brought three community events to Spokane: SpokeFest, Summer Parkways and Kidical Mass.

Bender’s history with cycling goes back to his teen years. As tall and slim as he is, you’d never guess that he was once obese. At 13 he was five foot, two inches and weighed 190 pounds. Between junior and senior high school, he lost 60 pounds through exercise. Along with that, he began using a bike for transportation, which he continued to do through college and medical school.

Cycling remains a passion of his to this day.

About 25 years ago, he started riding with a few others in the morning before work. That group has grown to a pool of over 100 people, and now on any given weekday, 10-30 people show up at 5:45 a.m. for a fast, 20-mile ride. After his early morning ride, he cleans up and switches to his work bike for his commute. You may have seen him riding on the South Hill wearing a shirt and tie.

The Origins of SpokeFest

The idea for SpokeFest came to Bender while he was a member of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board. The board was not in a position to create an event, so Bender looked at models elsewhere. The successful ones had a nonprofit organization with a signature municipal bike ride and also became a financial and motivational source for bicycle advocacy within the community. Bender had no idea how to do this. His only experience had been as a rider in organized rides. So he spread the word and asked for people to get involved in the planning group.

Fortunately, those responding included a number of people with professional skill sets that covered many needs. Everyone in the group was a cyclist. There were a couple of attorneys, one of whom had been active in the planning and execution of Bloomsday. A fellow Bicycle Advisory Board member happened to be a major Bloomsday organizer. Another pickup from Bloomsday was the person who headed up the medical support. Outside of that, everyone learned by doing. The people have changed over the years, but the dedication has not. At the heart of it, there’s a group that loves cycling and enthusiastically pursues the organization’s goals.

The first SpokeFest took place in 2008 and attracted 1,200 riders. Last year there were close to 2,000. Along with becoming Spokane’s signature cycling event, SpokeFest also provides financial assistance in the form of grants to help children learn bicycle safety and maintenance. Since 2010, over $21,000 has been provided to various programs. SpokeFest 2015 is set for Sunday, September 13.

Summer Parkways: From Colombia to Spokane

Around 2008, Bender saw a video about Ciclovia in Bogota, Colombia. Ciclovia is a huge event where motorized traffic is banned from certain main streets from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday. Bender rounded up a new set of volunteers, and in collaboration with the city, the first Summer Parkways events took place in the summer of 2010. Summer Parkways has been held in several different neighborhoods, but the Manito-Comstock neighborhood is where it has really taken hold.

Kidical Mass: Bike Safety for Little Riders

Not long after putting Summer Parkways on the map, Bender heard about a movement called Kidical Mass with the goal of helping adults and children learn how to ride safely in traffic and feel comfortable doing so. Bender thought Kidical Mass events would be the perfect next step for neighborhoods. It takes little preparation and cost, and it provides an opportunity to partner with neighborhood groups. Kidical Mass events have been held in the West Central, Chief Garry and South Perry neighborhoods. This fall, over 50 cities, Spokane included, will do a Kidical Mass on the same day. Known as Kidical Massive, it’s intended to attract attention to kids on bikes and increase public awareness.

Many of you may not know Bill Bender, but if you rode in one of the first six SpokeFests, then you met him briefly at the end where he was high fiving every finisher. Although he stopped that last year because of the strain it put on his arms and shoulders, Bender is prominent at every SpokeFest, Summer Parkways and Kidical Mass event. So when you see him, thank him. But the best way to show your gratitude is to volunteer. And knowing Bender, he’ll give you all the credit. //