Smile Politely

A little bit of Portland comes to C-U

Dinner and Bikes, a traveling event that is personified by Portland, Oregon-based barnstormers Joshua Ploeg (vegan chef), Elly Blue (author, bicycling advocate), and Joe Biel (documentary filmmaker, author, bicycling advocate), will be coming to the University YMCA on Thursday, May 30.

The multi-media extravaganza begins at 6:30 p.m. and will include a gourmet vegan meal, a presentation about “everyday practical cycling and transportation equity,” and excerpts from Aftermass, a documentary film about the history of bicycling advocacy in Portland.

Sound delicious and captivating? Tickets are $15 each and can be purchased on the Champaign County Bikes website. Advance ticket purchases are highly recommended so that the Dinner and Bikes folks know how much food to buy.

After hearing about Dinner and Bikes from a friend in Michigan, local cycling advocate Valerie Sivicek decided to bring the event to Champaign. She also connected the group with her contacts in New Haven, Connecticut, for a future event. Sivicek noted, “It’s been really nice to connect with my bike friends across the country for this event. It’s neat to see the bike people network in action.”

“I hope that this event will be fun and inspiring,” Sivicek added. “It’ll be interesting for our own bike community to get a little taste of Portland bike culture, and possibly some new ideas.”

Elly Blue was kind enough to answer some questions by email:


Smile Politely: How did Dinner and Bikes get started?

Elly Blue (center in photo at right): Joe and I started touring because we had a lot of things to say about bikes. A lot. My motivation has always been partly to share ideas and inspiration, but mostly to learn about the bike movement nationwide — it’s all happening at once and there are broad themes that are the same everywhere, but each city is doing it differently in a wonderful way.

Joe and Josh have been doing book tours together for years, promoting Josh’s cookbooks along with other Microcosm authors. When we decided to do an annual tour together to talk about bikes, it seemed logical to add a food component to make the events (and the trip!) more fun for everyone. Josh’s food is incredible.

SP: How do you travel between events? Do you get a chance to do much bicycling while on the tour?

Blue: We rent a car, pack it to the gills with books and people, and drive. It’s pretty much the one time every year I am in a car at all, much less for hours a day, and I have to admit it is probably the only reason I haven’t forgotten what this part of daily life is like for most people. I wish we could bike more on tour. Next year we are hoping to be able to bring bikes with us.

SP: How does the menu vary from event to event? It must be tough to have adequate kitchen setups and do all the grocery shopping in different communities and different venues. Could you speak a little bit about the process from day to day on the food side of things?

Blue: It’s very different in every place. Josh is capable of doing a lot with a little — actually, I think he really does his best work under restricted circumstances. On one tour (before I joined in) he always shopped at convenience stores, and made incredible gourmet food out of cans. This time around he usually has better options. The best place we shopped so far this tour was a huge African wholesale market in Washington, D.C. Food co-ops are the ideal situation, though, and one of our goals for next year is to work more closely with co-ops and farmers markets.

SP: So, does this basically function as a book tour for Everyday Bicycling? Or, to rephrase, have you discovered the future of book promotion?

Blue: Yes and maybe. I haven’t done very many traditional book signing events, honestly, because wouldn’t you rather have a big dinner and a movie and a community-oriented hubbub?

SP: Do all three of you get a chance to do your things in adequate proportions at each location, or is there some give and take from night to night?

Blue: This is our third year doing this, and we’ve finally got it pretty well honed in. The real game changer this year is inviting Aaron to join us as the roadie. He’s an equal partner in the tour, but does all the behind-the-scenes parts.

SP: What’s been the city that you’ve visited that had the most surprisingly-strong bike culture? When you visit a community for the first time, do you feel like you have an accurate premonition about what sort of crowd/community you’ll encounter, or are you frequently surprised?

Blue: We are almost always surprised — and nearly always pleasantly. People from all across society’s spectrum are on fire for bikes right now; that’s the main thing — and it’s energizing to be around that.


Dinner and Bikes will be held at the University YMCA on Thursday, May 30 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 and are available here. Here’s the public Facebook invite, which you can and should use to invite your friends, etc.

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