"I'm an experienced bike rider. It's easy for me to bike around town. But it can ge hard for others. They don't find it easy, and I want to be able to share that experience with them." — Brian PotwinM
any Bendites might think of Brian Potwin as "The Bike Guy," since he works for Commute Options and can often be seen riding one of his four bikes around town (each one has a specific purpose!). But Potwin doesn't find that moniker very fitting. Yes, he rides bikes, but bikes aren't his passion; they're just a vehicle (pun intended) for what he really cares about: helping people expand their comfort zones, especially when it comes to their own communities.
"I want to encourage a different way of looking at the world, of changing your behavior, and making new habits," Potwin explained. When it comes to commuting, there are many reasons why people might choose to drive, he says. Maybe they don't have everything they need to commute, maybe they don't know the best way to get around town on a bike, maybe they are intimidated by traffic or maybe they are just used to driving and haven't considered another option.
Sometimes they just need a little more information to make the leap from four wheels to two, and as the active transportation manager for Commute Options, this is where Potwin comes in.
"I'm an experienced bike rider," he said. "It's easy for me to bike around town. But it can be hard for others. They don't find it easy, and I want to be able to share that experience with them."
Teaching people how to get more comfortable on a bike happens in a variety of ways. When he started volunteering for Commute Options in 2008, he was a part-time instructor for the Safe Routes to School program. The program, in seven elementary schools and three middle schools in Bend, helps kids get comfortable on bikes. Commute Options provides the bikes and helmets for the kids and works in and out of the classroom through a series of 10 lessons.
"I was raised riding bikes and I really enjoy teaching," Potwin said. "Those two things fit together well with community education." The role seemed like a perfect fit for Potwin, and eventually he started working full time for Commute Options. His more recent project has been Bend Open Streets.
You may remember the event, which took place in September for the second year. A block of roads were closed to cars in the Maker's District for four hours, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to rule the road. Potwin was one of the major planners behind the event.
It's easy to think that Bend Open Streets was a big win for Commute Options and Potwin, but he knows that community improvements require the long-game approach. To him, Bend Open Streets is a small win—part of a bigger picture making transportation more accessible for everyone, especially those who don't have a car, either by choice or by necessity. A big win for Potwin would be dedicated funding for Safe Routes to Schools, so they could offer the program in every middle and elementary school in Bend.
"Bend Open Streets is meant to start a conversation," Potwin said. "It's a way to see the city in a new way."
This idea of allowing people to see the same old thing in a new way has bled into other parts of Potwin's life, too.
If you've ever been to a show where "bPollen" was performing, then you've been witness to Potwin's "side hustle," as his wife calls it.
If you ask him what kind of music he likes to play, his answer will be deliberately vague: "good music."
"I like to play music that I like to dance to," he specified. "If I'm playing something, it means I really like it."
bPollen was born out of what could have been a disaster. A friend was having a housewarming party and the DJ was late. Potwin had some music with him so he started playing, getting an enthusiastic response. He continued to DJ house parties, and eventually a friend of his christened him bPollen. She was actually shouting out "B Potwin!" but what everyone heard was bPollen. The name stuck. These days you can often find bPollen performing at Velvet in downtown Bend, as well as other special events.
Dj-ing might seem like an unexpected side project, but in addition to being entertaining and enjoyable, it's similar to his overall goal with Commute Options.
"I want to offer people a different way to see the world around them, whether that's through riding bikes or listening to music."