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Culture » Source Spotlight

Courtney Van Fossan

Meet the bike activist and mom improving mobility, one bike ride at a time

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Van Fossan says that more and more, she is wanting to leave the car behind, especially for all those easy trips around town, "so there's not so many of us driving in cars alone," she adds.

Something as simple as riding a bicycle can help improve one's mental health— and can even bring a grown man to tears. In her life as a cycling advocate, and in her job at Bend Electric Bikes, Courtney Van Fossan has learned those things through personal experience. When it comes to electric-assist bicycles, commonly referred to as e-bikes, she readily admits, "I'm a convert. I'm a believer."

Van Fossan strives to ride her bike and ditch the car as much as humanly possible, riding even in the deep of winter with her kids. "My mental health is so much better, healthier, when I ride my bike on a daily basis. You can just zip downtown, and you don't have to look for parking. You get a little exercise and the freedom to get where you want to go."

When it comes to customers, "We're all over the place," she says, from younger families to older retirees. She recalls the time an elderly gentleman stopped in to test an e-bike and began to cry tears of joy when he discovered that he could still ride with the electric assist.

"We see a huge range of people walking in here. A lot of couples come in. Younger adults are coming to the idea that driving a car is not the way to go all the time," she says.

Van Fossan has been pedaling her cargo bike for about the past 10 years, converting to electric assist after moving to Bend five years ago. Though they now can ride their own bikes, seven-year-old daughter Georgia, and son Ike, age nine, still enjoy riding around town in mom's cargo e-bike. "They've been in the bike since they were tiny, so they are so bike savvy. They just absorb it," Van Fossan says. Her kids have observed how to ride in traffic and how to signal turns, alerting drivers to where they are going, she adds. 

"When they're old enough, I'll gladly give them an e-bike instead of a car. Having to contend with traffic—and learning that—makes you a better driver, as well." Ferrying around her kids on the cargo bike has fostered a special relationship with them, she says. "It gives you a really cool experience with your kids. I felt that bond with my kids, and I wanted that with older folks, too." 

Coming full circle from youth to the elderly, Van Fossan notes her recent involvement with Cycling Without Age, an organization founded in Denmark in 2012, now in 28 other countries. The program gives aging community members the experience of riding a bicycle by having volunteers pedal them in a battery-powered tricycle rickshaw.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Van Fossan won the Awesome Bend grant of $1,000, and also won the audience vote grant—two funds aimed at assisting community members fund their "awesome" projects—which added dollars for Bend's Cycling Without Age program. She just obtained her first rickshaw, on loan from California, and her first rider was her visiting 85-year-old grandmother. One recent evening, Van Fossan pedaled her grandma around the Old Mill, spying goslings and deer. Van Fossan says her grandmother still gets around OK, but that she wouldn't have been able to walk the paths on which they rode.

Van Fossan has been at Bend Electric Bikes since June 2016, and before that worked at Pedego Electric Bikes. Her business card reads, "Cultural Agent of Change Sales and Tour Manager." The shop's big annual family friendly celebration, carGo & Bend Disaster Relief Trials, is set for June. The afternoon will include obstacle courses, emergency preparedness, cargo bike test rides and live music.

Regarding e-bikes, she says, "They're expensive, but they are true transportation tools." E-bikes start at about $1,500 and can range up to $6,000-$7,000.

Van Fossan says that more and more, she is wanting to leave the car behind, especially for all those easy trips around town, "so there's not so many of us driving in cars alone," she adds.

Van Fossan recently joined Commute Options as a new board member, intending to bring a cyclist's perspective to the board. "I'm learning a lot, and the staff there is great. They're smart and they really know what they're doing."

Before moving to Bend, Van Fossan said she had a short checklist of what she wanted. Besides a community where she could walk or bike, she wanted easy access to nature for her kids and a little slower pace than Southern California. In Bend, she found all that. "I'm happy to live here where I can get around most everywhere by bike."


About The Author

Richard Sitts

Richard Sitts grew up in the midwest, mostly in Kansas. After earning a journalism degree from Kansas State University, he worked in various capacities at newspapers in Kansas, New York, New Mexico, California and Colorado, before arriving in Bend several years ago. Highlights included working as a bureau reporter...

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