Ask around most family biking circles in Vancouver who they should talk to for advice on riding with kids, and you’ll almost certainly be pointed in the direction of Lisa Corriveau, also known as Spokesmama. A fervent advocate in Metro Vancouver, Corriveau has built a name for herself as the person “in the know” when it comes to all things family cycling, but like most local “bike celebrities”, her entry into activism was not a clear path from the start.
With an educational background in Visual and Language Arts, Corriveau has enjoyed a career as a freelance writer since 2010, when she first started her blog The Sprog (named after the nickname for her then-unborn first child), and has since contributed to several organizations and publications. She used her blog as a platform to share stories of her life as a mom in Vancouver, including cycling, DIY projects, sustainable living, and how she made life without car ownership work for her family.
Her content was so popular it garnered her a top 30 spot on VancouverMom.ca’s annual list of top mom bloggers. Getting to network with other women who were using a blog format to share their stories, Corriveau began to think about rebranding – turns out ‘Sprog’ was a British colloquialism unfamiliar to most in of her audience. From there, the Spokesmama was born. “That was when I really decided to focus on cycling and car-sharing, and the idea of living car-free as the focus for the blog.”
Driving as an Occasion Instead of an Expectation
“There’s one thing that really scares people about car share,” says Corriveau, “And that’s figuring out what to do with the children and their car seats, but it hasn’t been that complicated, really.” She is proud of the fact that her children have grown up experiencing driving as an occasion instead of an expectation. But she also recognizes her role in helping others realizing the possibility of being a biking family. In June 2015, together with friend Tonya Louie and help from a neighbourhood grant, Corriveau organized the first Mount Pleasant Family Biking Festival, bringing together the local bike community to share their experiences biking with kids, show off their various rigs, and of course, some fun activities for the kids.
From the feedback she received, she grew the event to become the Vancouver Family Biking Festival the following year, including a focus on workshops to help people with more specific questions. These workshops, along with a Facebook group of the same name, allowed her to reach people who were newer to cycling or had maybe biked before they had kids and needed some inspiration. “The questions are usually about the gear,” Corriveau expands, “Front seat, back seat, trailer, cargo bike; what are the options, the advantages and disadvantages. There are a lot of little details that people just weren’t sure about or that you might not think of. I was able to speak to all of those things because I’ve used them all, so we could give people information that would save them from making choices they might be unhappy with.”
Passing on Her Knowledge to the Next Generation
Being able to teach people about cycling sparked a passion in Corriveau that, in 2016, brought her to becoming a certified bike educator for local advocacy organization, HUB, with the particular privilege of passing on her knowledge to the next generation of bike riders. “I was looking for work again because my kids were getting older and it just seemed like it would be a lot of fun!” she reveals.
Largely teaching in elementary schools, she spends two days with students ranging from grades three to seven, teaching them the theoretical knowledge about bike components, maintenance and safety on the first day, and then taking them out on their bikes to practice the practical skills in a makeshift course on their school grounds. The position takes her to schools all over the Lower Mainland, including an exciting journey to Bowen Island. “My commute was getting up before dawn, taking my Brompton downtown, catching the water taxi to Bowen, and then riding the ferry home. The second day we brought a truck full of bikes and spent several hours at a park a couple blocks away from the school with views of the water and forest around us. That was a particularly hard day at work,” she muses sarcastically.
Corriveau loves being able to teach kids the joy of cycling, and notes most of the students she meets are really excited to learn how to ride or to improve their skills. “They want that independence to be able to do it on their own, especially the older kids.” She notes that she will happily keep teaching for as her body will allow: “Unfortunately, I have arthritis in my hips, so standing and lifting things is difficult. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep doing it, but I really do like teaching. I get to talking about biking all day and they pay me to do it. That’s awesome!”
Cycling Is Still the Easiest Way to Get Around
After living with hip pain for nearly 20 years, a month before her 40th birthday Corriveau was diagnosed with arthritis in her hips, creating some interesting challenges, but nothing she isn’t willing to explore to stay mobile. Three years in from her diagnosis, she has been fitted with a cane and is learning about pain management, but she insists that cycling is still the easiest way to get around. “When I’m cycling, because I’m sitting and moving the joint without impact, it actually stimulates the lubricant in the joint. So if I’m feeling sore, and I go for a ride, it actually feels better, at least for a short period of time when I start walking again.”
“I think a story that gets ignored a lot is people who bike because they have mobility issues,” she reveals. “Biking is better for me and a lot of other people out there.” Corriveau points out that usually when we see people on bikes, we assume they are physically fit and capable and not that the bike is their mobility device. “There are a lot of issues that go with it.” She refers to how something as simple as bike rack placement and design can create massive challenges for people with mobility issues, namely that they are often design for “standard” bikes – road or hybrid bikes, and not trikes, cargo bikes, and adaptive bikes. Even the width of certain cycle tracks can become a challenge, especially in areas when bollards and dividers make the path even more narrow.
Refusing to Hide Behind Her Keyboard
But Corriveau isn’t hiding behind her keyboard, participating as an active member of the City of Vancouver Active Transportation Policy Council, a group of local leaders who regularly meet with members of council and the City’s planners and engineers to discuss proposed infrastructure, policies and plans. “I find it really interesting to get to see what’s going on in the city and have the opportunity to provide feedback and be consulted as an expert with fourteen other people.” As volunteers, the group brings their personal knowledge and experience to the table, providing their insights based on what it is actually like for them travelling through the city. For Corriveau, this includes highlighting her challenges cycling in Vancouver as both a mother and someone living with arthritis.
With both her kids now cycling on their own, Corriveau looks forward to more family biking adventures, and while she still has to haul them in her cargo bike from time to time, she can’t imagine life any other way. “Cycling up from the waterfront with my kids is getting really challenging,” she admits. “They’re almost 90 lbs. together, plus a similar weight for the bike, but I don’t do any exercise other than cycling so don’t want to give it up for as long as I can!”