Nathan Bedsole (BA ’11) is an unusual addition to our series of alumni spotlights – for several reasons. First, as an undergraduate at Wake Forest University, he had no official affiliation to the Office of Sustainability. Instead, he devoted his undergraduate career to Wake Radio and, starting in the fall of his senior year, a job at Krankies, a coffee shop and music venue located in the Werehouse, a social hub for downtown Winston-Salem.
Second, Nathan is our first featured alumnus to answer the question where are you now with here; emphatically, intentionally here. He explains: “I like the movement that is going on downtown. Things seem to be moving in a very creative and energetic way, [as a senior I decided] I would like to remain a part of that after four years…once I had time to be fully involved in it, I didn’t want to go ahead and skip town. I wanted to commit myself to being here.”
Nathan found his niche as a cycling advocate in Winston-Salem. His affinity for cycling began during his sophomore year at Wake Forest, when he found himself without a car and with a desire to explore. He says “[cycling] was how I saw most of the city for the first time; how I figured out how to get around. I realized it was a bikeable city and cycling was how I wanted to get around.” He also recalls using cycling to clear his head, easing the stress of academic pressures.
This cycling affinity led Nathan to his current position as a founder and principle figure in the Winston-Salem Bicycle Co-Operative (WSBC), a volunteer organization dedicated to providing space and resources for bicycle maintenance, cycling education, and outreach events. Though Winston-Salem’s efforts are more recent, the bicycle co-op model is well-established in communities around the country and elsewhere in North Carolina. As Nathan explains, “the central idea [behind a bicycle co-op] is taking unused or unwanted bicycle parts, tools, and completed bicycles, and providing the space and opportunity to get them back into the community.”
According to Nathan, the concept of a Winston-Salem cooperative re-emerged in 2011 (there was a previous effort around 2005). The concept evolved out of a community loosely centered around the Werehouse, where both Nathan and Davis Bourland, another central figure in WSBC and a fellow Wake alum (MA ’12), worked as baristas. Nathan credits local artist, Andrew Fansler with drumming up early enthusiasm for the project. Nathan and Andrew met at the Werehouse when Nathan learned that Andrew, then a stranger, needed a pair of handlebars. Just having replaced the handlebars on his own bicycle, Nathan still had his old pair in the backseat of his car. He ran outside and fetched the handlebars, giving them to Andrew. Remembering this incident, Nathan jokingly terms their meeting “an ominous start to a relationship,” adding “somehow we knew.”
Andrew and Nathan’s initial introduction not only foreshadowed their future collaboration on WSBC, but also typified the manner of exchange the cooperative would come to embody. After exploring the initial idea through community meetings and surveys conducted by a team of volunteers (including Elizabeth Perkins (BA ‘09), a donation of thirty bicycles from Wake Forest University’s Reynolda Campus kick-started the project. Needing an immediate space to store the newly acquired inventory, Nathan offered his garage, which immediately became WSBC’s first official location.
From there, the bicycle cooperative grew quickly. Nathan explains, “everything was a donation; we had everything donated from stands to tools, to bike shoes, to helmets, to helmet padding. It’s wild the things that people had sitting around that were very easily appropriated for good use.” He goes on: “People finally had a way to get rid of things that didn’t involve just abandoning things that meant a lot to them…we were keeping things within the community.”
While located in Nathan’s garage, the co-op held weekly meetings called Workshop Wednesdays — informal gatherings where affiliates shared knowledge, maintained their own bicycles and rehabilitated donated stock. Recently, WSBC donated four rehabilitated bicycles to refugees from Myanmar who needed a means of transportation to and from work. The Winston-Salem chapter of World Relief, a faith-based non-profit that provides services to refugees and victims of human trafficking, facilitated the donation of the four bicycles, a few of which went to employees of ARAMARK at Wake Forest University Dr. Catherine Ross, the director of the Wake Forest Teaching and Learning Center, connected WSBC to World Relief. Dr. Ross, who has contact with World Relief through English classes she teaches to refugees, heard about WSBC from her son, a former professional BMX cyclist.
WSBC is currently in transition, both geographically (WSBC will soon is move to a new space on Canal Street), and fundamentally. Nathan explains, “At this point there are so many avenues this could take. I don’t know what it is going to look like, but, like with everything, you have those people who are there all the time…volunteers who will move and shape what is going on.”
During this transitional period, the co-operative has become temporarily events-based, most recently collaborating with the Winston-Salem Sustainable Resource Center, Whole Foods, Krankies, and the City of Winston-Salem to host a community bike-ride. Nathan describes the event as “an amazing convergence of really good things.” Seventy cyclists followed a route from Krankies Werehouse to the Piedmont Triad Research Park, around Winston Lake, and back to the Werehouse. After taking advantage of the first pleasant weather in weeks, cyclists enjoyed vegetarian chili and cornbread donated by Whole Foods.
This fall Nathan will return to Wake Forest to pursue a master’s degree in communications. He is “ready to come back to Wake,” and, while he is nervous about writing papers again, he is looking forward to student teaching and remaining in the city he has made his home. Whether he is heading to campus for class, downtown to Werehouse, or over to the Co-Op’s new space to work on renovations, he most certainly be getting there by bike. As he says “In this city, biking is a viable transportation option. It’s not just leisure it’s not just exercise; it’s not just sport. It’s a way you can actually get around.”
By Annabel Lang, Wake Forest Fellow for the Office of Sustainability