Cyclists John Ryan, left, and Bill Watson, speak with Climate Ride's office coordinator, Mackenzie Cole, after finishing a 75-mile ride, Sept. 7, 2019. Ryan and Watson both participated in the longest distance ride, with the goal of raising money per mile to support Free Cycles.

A group of almost 50 people biked 15 to 75 miles Saturday, Sept. 7, in Free Cycles’ Climate Ride, an event meant to raise awareness of climate change and raise spirits.

“It’s not all doom and gloom,” Climate Ride’s office coordinator, Mackenzie Cole, said. 

Free Cycles and Climate Ride are two locally based nonprofits that have been around for more than 20 years. The organizations partnered last year to offer a tangible solution to the impact of climate change. In particular, they wanted to promote biking as a form of sustainable transportation. 

75% of Americans agree that climate change is real, according to a Yale study. But, believing in it is different than doing something about it. 

The participants biked three different routes: a 75-mile loop, a 20-mile loop and a 15-mile mountain-biking loop. Registration was free, but they were encouraged to donate or fundraise at least $10. An 8-year-old, Marissa Marie, went above and beyond, fundraising over $1,000. Marie’s aunt, Lindsey Stormo, said that one day the two of them went door-to-door for four hours asking businesses for money. 

Marie joined the mountain biking crew sporting a neon-green helmet, a climate ride jersey over a T-shirt featuring a cat in sunglasses, and an adventurous spirit. According to Stormo, Marie only learned to ride a bicycle for the first time a little over a month ago.

Emily Jensen, programs coordinator at Free Cycles, said that commuting by bike is a tangible way to work toward a better climate. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Missoula at 37%, according to Climate Smart Missoula. 

Every mile on a bike instead of in a car can save one pound of CO2 emissions. This number appears small, but Jensen said that in Missoula Valley alone, 2 million miles are traveled by gas-fueled vehicles every day. By 2045, Missoula’s Long Range Transportation Plan has a goal to triple the amount of people commuting by bike, bus, or foot. 

Climate Ride and Free Cycles aren’t the only groups working toward this goal, according to Jon Sand, program assistant at Missoula in Motion. They’re just two of many organizations in Missoula working toward climate solutions. 

On Sunday, Sept. 15, Higgins will be closed to cars from 5th Street to Alder Street, and open for bikers and walkers for Sunday Streets. There will be live music, a community-wide bike ride called “Bikeapalooza” and fitness activities on the bridge. Jensen said Free Cycles will be hosting a “festival of cycles” where people can come build bikes throughout the day. 

Sunday Streets is just the beginning though, Sand said it’s the kick-off to a week-long event called “Walk and Roll,” which challenges Missoula residents to pledge ditching driving for a week and get around by bike. People who pledge get special offers from local businesses. 

For trips less than 3 miles, biking is often faster than driving. In Missoula and on campus, it’s easy to get around on a bike, and it is much easier to find places to park a bike than a car, Sand said.