Pushing the Envelope

This article originally appeared in dandyhorse magazine volume 3, issue 1. Order this issue here.

by Amy Packwood
photo by Dana Lacey

Reba Plummer joined the Toronto cycling community in the mid-80s after answering an ad in a newspaper. The seasoned wrench at Toronto’s Urbane Cyclist—and 2003 Cycle Messenger World Champion (cargo bike racing division)—likes to say that she went from hobby rider to urban bike courier in one phone call. The rest, she says, is history.

“As a courier I learned that I could bike every day, year-round, in any weather and [since then] I’ve just always been on the bike. I bike pretty much every day, commute to work, go out on Sunday rides, go on holidays with the bikes.”

Now a member of Urbane Cyclist’s worker-owned co-operative, Plummer caresses the championship prize: an electric green Bilenky. “I’ve had them add some extras,” she says, pointing out the neon green paint, chain guard, curvy tube and electric assist. She’s also attached a handmade rack woven out of inner tubes.

Plummer’s time on the road made her aware of a few gaps in the services offered to couriers. She and her partner opened The Bike Ranch in 1990, which catered to Toronto’s bike messenger community. In 1995, she began designing, sewing and selling her ideal bike messenger bags under her brand name, Push the Envelope.

In 1999, when faced with finding a new space for The Bike Ranch, Plummer instead decided to join forces with Urbane Cyclist. It was a good fit. The 13-year-old co-operative is the only business model of its kind in the Toronto bike community. It has nine members, and six staff as members-in-waiting. “Each worker member is part owner, and all major decisions are made in a collective, non-hierarchical process,” she says. Urbane’s site boasts that “Co-ops aim to serve the needs of a community with integrity and a vision towards social justice and genuine alternatives to corporate culture and values.” It also enjoys a friendly and solid reputation among couriers, commuters and even the Toronto Police, who patrol on Urbanite bikes.

Plummer has spread her love of bikes and self-reliance to the broader community. In 2002, she worked as the mechanic / teacher with Open Roads, the funded version of what became the popular volunteer-run Wenches with Wrenches through the Community Bicycle Network. Although she didn’t start the woman-led bike repair workshops, Plummer has been integral to the success of the program and continues to volunteer.

Cycling activism, cycling business, cycling lifestyle, cycling hobbies, cycling holidays...what else is Plummer into? “Bikes, bikes, bikes,” she insists “I love bikes!”

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