Albert Einstein once said, “Life is like a bicycle. To keep balanced, you must keep moving forward.” Trilby Cox and Chris Wiltsie, the Co-Directors of Bike Utah, understand the importance of moving forward whether they’re riding a bike or traveling through life.
Bike Utah is a non-profit program that envisions “[…] a Utah where complete networks of bike lanes, paths, and trails contribute to livable, healthy communities, allowing everyone to ride regardless of age, ability, race, or income.” By collaborating and working with government, organizations, agencies, businesses, communities, and the general public, Bike Utah helps develop active transportation plans, educate both children and adults, and increase safety through legislation, all while improving quality of life for residents and visitors through an increase of bike lanes, paths, and trails.
Bike Utah began approximately 18 years ago and was originally known as Utah Bike Coalition — which initially was just a board of bike enthusiasts in Salt Lake City trying to improve riding conditions for cyclists. Like all good things, their enthusiasm eventually caught on, and others wanted to join in the cause, including Chris and Trilby.
Chris joined Bike Utah in 2018 as they were ramping up into a much larger organization. Chris shares, “Throughout college, I did a lot of advocacy work around safe streets […] once I graduated, I worked for a social innovation consultancy where we would consult with local governments, and use the profits from those jobs to do innovation projects within communities.” Upon receiving his master’s degree, Chris worked for the government. “After that I worked at Bike Utah. I’ve always done work around what I’m doing now. I just kind of naturally evolved into that.”
Chris helped start Bike Utah’s Bicycle Education and Safety Training (BEST) program — the non-profit’s first big initiative. Chris explains, “BEST is an education program where we have coordinators who go around the state and teach students for about one week at each school how to safely ride their bikes.” Instruction is given both in-class and on-bikes. Bike Utah provides trained instructors, bicycles, helmets, and all other equipment for the duration of the program at no cost. The goal is to help as many students as possible to have an opportunity to learn how to safely and confidently experience their communities by bicycle. The BEST program reaches 3,000+ students across Utah each year.
In 2020, Chris continued to use his unique skills to help Bike Utah expand by offering technical assistance to local communities. He explains, “I help them find funding and plan out high comfort and high safety bicycle infrastructure or, as the government termed at the time, family-friendly bicycle infrastructure. The term family-friendly is broad, but a good portion of the work I do is helping communities plan out where these facilities should go and where they are appropriate. This could be anything from soft surface selection for mountain biking trails to a multi-use path — like a really wide sidewalk next to a river or it could be something within your town or city that makes it safe for you to ride to the grocery store with your kids.”
Trilby joined the team in 2020 as a Mid Week Mountain Bike Race director. She chuckles as she explains how she got involved, “For the first twenty years of my adult career, I worked as a geophysical engineer, specifically a seismologist doing data analysis for the University of California, San Diego.” Trilby was just getting into mountain biking as an adult — riding for herself and helping coach the South Summit Mountain Biking Team – when the nationally-funded grant project she was working on ended. She says, “[…] I was forced, you could say, to have a happy mid-life crisis and choose a completely different career path if I wanted to — and I did.”
Bike Utah started the Mid Week races in 2017 as a way for mountain bikers to get together and enjoy local trails. Trilby shares, “I like to think of it as a community party where we all ride our bikes on the same trails, and there’s a timing system that happens to be there. The focus isn’t necessarily on the race or competition; the focus is on the community. I think what makes the Mid Week community unique is that it’s for everyone. All ages, all abilities, all different backgrounds and riding styles. So many unique personalities come together and have fun riding bikes together.”
The Mid Week races are generally held on Tuesday or Thursday evenings and offer opportunities for both Cross country (XC) and mini-endurance riders. During XC events, riders are timed as they race on mountain bike trails in a loop. The mini-enduros have two stages of downhill racing; riders are not timed on the uphill portion but are timed on the two downhill portions of the race. Each event is divided into the following categories: 12 and under; Beginner; Sport; Expert; Pro; and Masters (riders 50+). Mid Week XC events also offer a free race for kids 10 and younger that are not quite ready for the main event; it is usually a small loop on the same trail that everyone is riding on.
There are several aspects that set the Mid Week series apart from other races; one of them is how broad the events are. Chris explains, “I recently was in a meeting where I was explaining the mountain bike series to somebody, and they were like, ‘Whoa! This is huge!’ It [Mid Week] is pretty significant in Utah because it goes across the state — which is different than what is going on with most bike races that are region specific.” Mid Week events run from May to August and take place within different counties and venues, including Soldier Hollow, Coyote Canyon Loop, and Round Valley. Trilby explains a few other things that distinguish Mid Week, “We don’t do podiums at the end of each bike race; instead we have a huge giveaway. We have sponsor-donated swag, and every racer and volunteer gets a ticket and an opportunity to choose something from our giveaway. We celebrate community. We celebrate the support of Bike Utah at the end of the night, and it’s not about who got 1st place, 2nd place, 3rd place, and so on.” She continues, “Another thing we do is give back. We host Dig Days, where we connect our riders with the trail organizations that maintain the trails we ride on. Anyone can help work on the trails — fix and maintain them.”
Perhaps one of the most unique aspects is their effort to create safe spaces and events where everyone can ride. Bike Utah partnered with the National Abilities Center and Wasatch Adaptive Sports, and in 2020, Mid Week introduced an adaptive category for bikers who ride tri-cycles or quad-cycles. Trilby shares, “We host several of our XC races in venues where the adaptive cycles can ride the same courses as everyone; however, not all venues have trails capable of having the larger wheelbase of an adaptive cycle ride on it. Our goal through hosting these races and having the adaptive categories, is to bring awareness to trail organizers and trail managers. Sometimes, with a few trail modifications, they can open up their trail systems to a whole new group of riders who wouldn’t necessarily be able to get out onto their trails.”
Over the years, Bike Utah has grown exponentially and experienced many changes; with Trilby and Chris behind the wheel (or handlebars in this case), the non-profit is gearing up for another transformation this fall. Chris explains, “Bike Utah has had three main areas of activities: education, technical assistance, and mountain bike races.” Although these three programs go hand-in-hand, they’ve run independently of eachother. Trilby shares, “[…] moving forward, they will be interconnected and offered to communities together versus independently, with the Mid Week series falling under the umbrella of our community outreach programs.” Chris adds, “We talked to a lot of people, and are pivoting to better represent what people in Utah have said they want for their transportation system, and what would get them to feel more comfortable and safe riding bikes. […] It’s all very preliminary. But as an example, previously we’d go into a school and teach kids how to ride bikes — independent of their infrastructure — so the kids would learn to ride, but their parents wouldn’t let them because their town or city’s not a safe place to ride. With this new model, we’d teach kids how to ride safely, and we’d be working with their community to help them plan out safe infrastructure that the kids can ride on, and get it built.”
You can hear the excitement in Trilby’s voice as she explains further, “Think of Bike Utah like a menu with something for everyone. We offer our education and safety programs, our technical assistance and city planning programs, and our community events whether that’s a mountain bike race with Mid Week or a speaker forum with our Spokes series. We are reaching out and asking communities, ‘How can we help with your cycling-related issues? Can we help your city government plan better cycling infrastructure so, after we teach your kids to ride safely, there’s a space for them to ride? What community engagement events can we offer?’” Chris adds that he wants the public to know that Bike Utah is not here only for the small tasks, but especially for the large and seemingly impossible ones too. The projects Bike Utah helps plan are serious undertakings. “We’re talking really robust stuff, like those multi-use paths that are separated by a huge medium, that is separated from the highway or maybe something with a concrete curb that separates the bikes from the cars.”
Chris and Trilby expressed that there is a lot of work to be done, but they are excited for the opportunities this new shift will create. Chris states, “Cycling is freedom in so many ways whether it’s commuting or taking your kids around town or biking to work or school; it’s important to have these high comfort and high safety facilities.” Bike Utah has played a significant role in thousands of lives; and they have boxes and boxes of letters from kids expressing their gratitude for teaching them how to ride bikes to prove it. However, Trilby perfectly sums up why Bike Utah is important, “There is a lot of work that we are doing to enhance the cycling experience for Utahans, particularly for people who maybe don’t always have the benefit of being cared for in a way that they may need, and we are doing that constantly. It goes back to our mission — it’s a pretty short and bold statement, and I think you can interpret that in a lot of ways, but — we are making Utah a better place to ride.”