Ambassador |amˈbasədər; -ˌdôr|
An accredited diplomat sent by a country as its official representative to a foreign country : the French ambassador to Portugal.
• a person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity: he is a good ambassador for the industry.
On the first of August the 21 Ambassadors were born. This is a team like no other, unless of course your city, municipality, local bike shop, uncle, cousin, friend from high school, neighbor down the hall, guy you knew, girl you knew, or some asshole who owes you money, has already created a commuter bike team, in which case on August 1st a team like another was born. Why, you may find yourself asking, does the world need another bike team? The world is full of bike teams; it’s brimming over with them, there is no room and yet there are always more, more, more. When do we say enough is enough? For that question I cannot hazard an answer, but I will say that for this new team I have a reason. It’s a good reason, and in this contemporary world of ME that’s all that matters.
You may or may not know that I work in a bike shop, 21st Avenue Bicycles, and if you have been lucky enough to enter our magical little retail realm, you probably noticed the distinct lack of high end racing equipment and accessories. True, all the employees are prime specimens of physical fitness, blessed with the competitive acumen of mountain goats in high mating season. Looking around the place you wonder, “where are all the cream bits, the flash, the gold, the choice cuts?” The shop is not completely lacking, poised in hi-viz areas are select high-end bits of gleam. Chris King headsets and bottom brackets are always in stock as is a rotating cast of titanium railed saddles and folding tires, but overall I would say that we don’t choose to tread water in the deep end of the bicycle technology pool. Not that our talented and very attractive mechanics aren’t up to the task—we have the skills and tools to do just about anything—nor are we bizarre mechanical luddites and curmudgeons opposed to futuristic flights of fancy. No, the lack of high-end gear boils down to the basic economic principle of supply and demand. Our goal at 21st Avenue Bicycles is to supply what is in demand.
We are the last intermediaries of supply, the final reach of production, from strip mining to cold forging; our bike shop is a terminal frontier, the Hadrian’s Wall of commerce, ground zero. We are the first to be impacted by trend, fancy, and consumer whimsy. The super majority of our customers are not interested in shopping for the industry’s precious pieces. These denizens who pass through our doors on a daily basis are commuters and urban riders, individuals without cars and those who choose not to drive them—people who ride their bikes through the rain, sleet, and hail. Our customers brave the fierce world while they leave their bicycles locked to cold steel poles, left subject to the starved, jaundiced eyes of the city’s bike thieves. The last thing these road warriors need is a flashy racing thoroughbred that requires constant mechanical attention and ever-vigilant protection. Their goal is a simple one: to get from point to point. Done.
Over the last couple of years, 21st Avenue has been lucky to help sponsor two badass race teams, Team Velo Dirt and Team Trusty Switchblade. The members of these teams are out there in the wide world mixing it up with the rest of you knuckle draggers. It’s true that most of the gals and guys on these two teams spend a significant amount of time just getting around on their bikes, but when it comes to spending their hard-earned dough at the shop, it’s fair to say that most items purchased have a high degree of bling. Not that there is anything wrong with bling, it just isn’t what the average 21st customer is after. I like the idea of sponsoring teams: they go out into the community and mix it up. Sponsoring a team for the common bike shop is much less about gaining a moving billboard and more about supporting the people who support you.
I developed the 21 Ambassadors as a way for bike shops and bicycle commuters to develop the same types of relationships that bicycle race teams enjoy. While racers train and race in their team kits, the 21 Ambassadors ride to work with their Ambassadors tool rolls. While racers show up to races hoping to best the field, commuters show up in bike lanes ready to assist a stranded fellow cyclist. One person commented that the Ambassador project is “exactly like a race team except couched in an altruistic endeavour.” And though this particular comment was couched in a negative rant against the virtue of the project, his assessment is spot on.
Onward you 21 Ambassadors, to the wet gray streets of Portland and beyond, equipped with the tools and knowledge to help your fellow rider amidst the rushing chaos of the callous streets, onward and Godspeed on your altruistic endeavour.