How bike share changed one woman's life

By: Stefani Cox

When you ask Ella Best what bikes mean to her, you can see right away how they changed her life. It’s all about community.

Ella is a busy woman. She’s founder and president of the nonprofit Don’t Shoot-I Want a Future, as well as the mother of two daughters, and a Girl Scout troop leader. Ella has also been an Indego bike share ambassador, where she worked to build community relationships through Philadelphia’s bike share system.

Using bike share has helped Ella connect more deeply with family, friends, and her community. It has also improved her health and helped her better navigate the city.

Adopting bike share

Ella first got into bicycling through a friend from work who was already an Indego ambassador. The friend nominated Ella for the 2016 program, and she was accepted.

While Ella already knew the basics of biking from childhood experiences, becoming a part of the ambassador program gave her the tools she needed to feel confident, and to do regular city riding.

“They gave a class teaching how to make signs for right or left, and so forth,” says Ella. “And they talked about making sure you stay in the bike lane when you’re riding the bikes.”

Knowing bike safety rules opened up a whole new world of possibilities for Ella when it came to bike riding and personal relationships. She began to ride regularly, and she started to use bicycling as a means of connecting with her friends and family.

Since she became an ambassador, Ella has taken rides with her nieces, her sisters, her husband, her grandchildren, and many friends. Biking has been a healthy activity that they do together to stay connected and have fun in the process.

Getting healthy

Another aspect of regular bicycling that changed Ella’s life was the health benefit. In fact, riding for exercise is one of the main reasons Ella is so passionate about bikes in the first place.

She started to do part of her work commute using bike share. “I did that for my entire Indego ambassadorship, and I lost 22 pounds,” says Ella. Not to mention that she’s happy to save on gas in the process.

Getting healthy was also another means of connecting with family and friends. Ella’s sister uses the bikes for exercise as well, and now they have common fitness activities and goals to talk about.

Leading with bicycles

Aside from the benefits to Ella’s personal relationships and health, bicycling has also helped her build deeper community connections.

Everywhere Ella goes on bike share, she encounters people interested in what the bright blue bikes are for and how to get access to them. She’s been happy to explain to curious neighbors what the bikes are all about and why she enjoys using them so much. In the process, she’s building new relationships.

“I would be riding, and people would stop me to ask me about them,” says Ella. “I would explain it to them, and even give them my phone number if they wanted to sign up. You have to network with people that aren’t in your circle.”

Ella has also incorporated the bikes into events that she coordinates as head of her nonprofit. For instance, she helped organize a ride focused on homelessness:

“We did a ride along where we fed the homeless in Center City. We found the areas that were high targets for homeless people, and we packed breakfast sandwiches and took it to them. We did that on Indego bikes,” says Ella.

Another community event she helped organize was called Eating Healthy. “We took the Indego ride, and then when we got back to the event it was all detox water, fruits and vegetables, and tall salads,” she says. “We had a friend come to do line dances for people, and another friend came and showed people how to do self-defense.”

Bikes are critical to making these kinds of events happen, because they facilitate travel as a big group to various community points of interest. At the same time bikes are a highly social, relaxed, and enjoyable mode of transportation.

When asked what her favorite part of bicycling has been so far, Ella is direct in her answer: “Connecting with the people.” It seems that there’s nothing like a bike for building community.