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His passion is the wheel thing

Winnipeg cyclist tireless advocate for active transportation

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When he goes on a canoe trip, Anders Swanson likes to be the one holding the map.

The walls of his apartment are covered in them.

Control freak or visionary, Swanson likes to know where he's headed.

And he knows where he wants to take Winnipeg: toward a full-fledged embrace of the bicycle.

Probably Winnipeg's most famous cycling advocate, his membership on the steering committee for Bike to Work Day, coming up Friday, is just the tip of the iceberg of Swanson's involvement.

He sits on six advisory committees for active transportation, including Manitoba's and Winnipeg's. He participates in seven environmental organizations, some of which he started himself, such as the Orioles Bike Cage, a co-operative where cyclists go to learn how to repair their own bikes.

His volunteer work is basically all he does outside his part-time jobs at the Natural Cycle shop and the Physical Activity Coalition of Manitoba.

"You get emails from Anders in the middle of the night all the time. I don't know when he sleeps," says Kevin Nixon, Winnipeg's active-transportation co-ordinator.

Curt Hull, who works on Bike to Work Day with Swanson, is another peer who sings his praises. "It's his quiet, infectious enthusiasm and how he brings energy into a room -- I've seen him light up a city council meeting," Hull says.

"He's pleasant to work with and funny, and he breaks up the gruelling agony -- he's got a good wit about him," says Janice Lukes, who sits on the city's active-transportation advisory committee with Swanson.

She says he understands that cycling is more than a "niche market."

"People generalize and think cyclists are spandex racer types. But they're not. They're the masses. And he gets it."

Lukes says Swanson has been effective at selling cycling to people who were what she calls "tough nuts to crack," such as Mayor Sam Katz and city Coun. John Orlikow.

Both speak highly of Swanson. "I'm a big fan of Anders, no question about it. That doesn't mean we're always going to agree," Katz says.

"He's an advocate. We have many advocates in the city. We listen to them all, and we take a balanced approach after that," says Orlikow, but adds, "He's passionate and committed and a good community member, for sure."

Swanson is a tall, burly, youthful 33-year-old and he has a thick, brown beard. He lives with his girlfriend in a spacious apartment downtown. A bike Swanson is working on sits upside down on the floor, wheels in the air.

But he wasn't always a cycling enthusiast. When he was 16, he wanted nothing more than his own car, and he would eventually own several -- but not anymore.

The cycling bug only bit him in 2004, when he bought a $25 bike to get to work and learned how to equip it for the winter. Beating Winnipeg's cold gave him a sense of accomplishment, and he was hooked.

Shortly after that, he applied to work at Natural Cycle. Senior mechanic David Geisel says the cover letter Swanson wrote was so convincing they had to hire him.

"He somehow touched on the cultural aspect of cycling and just made it sound as if nothing else mattered," Geisel says.

While repairing bikes at Natural Cycle, Swanson heard many stories from commuters. "You get into discussions with customers and every second one has a story about this or that close call or this or that pathway that floods or doesn't go the right direction or doesn't connect, and I guess a penchant for mapping was making me connect all these dots in my head."

He started, a website where people share ideas about what kind of cycling infrastructure they would like to see in Winnipeg and then map it out digitally.

One project led to another, and suddenly cycling advocacy was all he did. "It got pretty out of hand. All of a sudden there were so many trails to be built and events that people wanted to plan -- so anyways I started being on a lot of committees."

Seeing ideas being turned into real changes to the city's landscape, such as new bike lanes, helps motivate him to sit through so many meetings. "When you see it come out in reality and then you see little kids biking down there, big smiles on their face, then it's like, OK, maybe this is pretty awesome," he says.

Despite the bicycling inroads, it will be decades before Manitobans have the cycling infrastructure that other cities have, he says. "Even just to catch up, there's a lot of mapping and ideas and people to connect."

Put away the car keys... Friday is Bike to Work Day

BIKE to Work Day this year will feature over 20 "pit stops" spread out throughout the city where participants can meet up with each other and get free snacks, coffee, T-shirts and prizes.


Largest pit stop will be at Bonnycastle Park -- at the corner of Main Street and Assiniboine Avenue -- where there will be a live TV broadcast.



During and following the afternoon commute on Bike to Work Day, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., there will be a barbecue at The Forks with free hotdogs, veggie dogs or burgers for the first 300 cyclists and a prize draw.

To register for this year's Bike to Work Day, map your route and find a pit stop, visit

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2011 B1

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