Glen Byle bikes to downtown Trail

Why a family man in Trail traded his pickup truck for an e-bike and hasn’t looked back

Glen Byle is a family man, active church member, and the only biomedical technologist in the West Kootenays who specializes in ventilator repair and maintenance. While the COVID-19 pandemic has made working from home, and sometimes working less, the new normal for many people, it has been an especially busy year for Glen. Adding to his already full life, during the recent BC election he was also campaigning in the Kootenay West riding as the Conservative Party of British Columbia candidate. It all relates to his efforts to be intentional with where and how he spends his time, his money and his efforts to have a positive impact.

Glen grew up in Langley. After he finished college and worked in the Lower Mainland for a few years, he moved to Trail not knowing that this is where he would meet his now wife Katie and raise a family. The affordability and accessibility that living in Trail offers their family is big for them. 

“I don’t have to do a lot of driving, I can do most things I need to do by bike or walking fairly easily,” says Glen. “I don’t have to worry about money so much, and we can still enjoy a lot of things like eating out and going to fitness classes. Stuff we might have to cut out if we lived somewhere that had a higher cost of living.”

Glen and Katie and their children

Katie and Glen share a love of exploring. During the early years of their relationship they frequently toured the Lower Columbia in Glen’s Ford F-250 or Katie’s sedan. Soon after they started dating, they both bought Honda CBR 600 motorbikes that allowed them to venture further afield with more freedom and ease. But the draw of the mountains was also strong for Glen, and before long mountain biking became a new passion. After years of post-work rides around Trail, he soon found himself pining for the slicker, more fluid looking bikes that other trail users were zooming by on.

So in 2016, he scoured the family budget, looking to pull money from somewhere that would make a new mountain bike purchase possible. But it was out of reach and there was no extra money to be found. Not wanting to borrow money, Glen was ready to accept that a new mountain bike just wasn’t in the cards for him. Then for the first time he had the thought that maybe he could sell his truck. 

Rethinking transportation

Purchase price and depreciation aside, the Ford F-250 was drawing a large amount of money each year from their family savings. The more he thought about it, the insurance, maintenance, and gas costs for their two vehicles seemed excessive and unnecessary. More importantly however, an opportunity was presenting itself: if they sold his truck a new mountain bike was in his reach. 

“I told Katie that if we became a one vehicle family I would be the one to take the brunt of the difficult trips by bike; the late, the snowy, the rainy ones.” So she agreed. If the Byle family found that their minivan allowed them to do all they needed to, then in a few years time, with their new pot of savings, Glen could get his new bike and ride in the mountains more often.

In the meantime, the money from the truck would be used to buy a fat tire electric bike. The electric bike would make the transition easier especially during the fall and winter months when it’s not ideal to use a normal bicycle. While Glen was determined for his scheme to succeed, letting his truck go wasn’t easy. 

“Selling my truck felt like giving up the ability to get work done fast and easy. It also felt like giving up an image of strength, capability, and productivity,” he admits. “I still miss that about my truck, but a big reason I could give that up was because I was going to use the extra money for bikes for me and my kids, for fun, adventure, and health.” 

Biking in Trail

It’s been four years now since the Byles sold their truck. They remain a one vehicle family and have managed to save around $5,000 a year since the truck left their driveway for good. They have been able to buy local, good quality bikes for the whole family, and they walk or bike together more often when they’re headed to the park or school. Now that he does most of his daily trips car free, Glen’s perspective on transportation has shifted. 

“The main reason I switched from my truck to a bike was for the cost savings. But now that I’ve done it for a while, on the days that I have the car and have to run the kids around town, I really notice the health impact of sitting in a car for such a big part of the day.”

The benefits of biking

Being a very active person already, Glen didn’t expect to notice the difference the daily trips made to his health. Not long after he sold his truck and began commuting by bike regularly, he became more and more aware of how different he felt at the end of the day. He felt calmer, had more energy, was able to deal with stress better, and felt less lethargic than he did on the days he was driving his family car around. 

“I think the main health benefit might be mental,” he says. “With one car I don’t have to worry so much about gas prices, insurance prices, or unexpected car repairs. I also worry about my impact on the planet and if I can be proud of how I leave things for my kids. With one less car, I worry about that a little less.”

While the personal benefits are notable, a big barrier for many interested but yet to be converted cyclists is the uncomfortable fact that getting around by bike can be more dangerous. Glen is well aware of and follows the rules of the road while riding his bicycle. He has also reinforced these lessons to his children. His worries for his family’s safety have brought to light a new concern about their future and freedom to wander safely and independently.

“To be able to raise my children in a place they can explore, go to the park or to their friend’s houses, and be active and to be able to do that safely is kind of big for me.” 

In 1972, Glen’s father, Ron Byle, regularly roamed around his hometown by bicycle. He was eight years old, unchaperoned and free, the tire tread well worn from the ten kilometre trips he would take to the local grocery store and back. Today, nearly fifty years later, while Ron Byle’s eight year old grandson is starting to venture out on his own in Trail, the scarcely one kilometre long outing to a neighbourhood park or a friend’s house hardly echoes Ron’s own childhood experience. 

If you ask your own parents or grandparents, you will quickly learn that the Byles are not alone in feeling troubled about this phenomenon. Recent studies suggest that children spend half as much time outdoors as their parents did when they were young. Ian Janssen, a Professor of Kinesiology and Public Health at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, has been studying how declines in exposure to nature may deprive young people of experiences that are positive for their mental and physical health. In a study he co-authored in February 2020, adolescent participants admitted that they would rather stay indoors and on a screen than spend time outside. Why? Because they felt safer.

“This begs questions around why some young people feel that nature is not a safe environment, and why, when they are out in nature even for short periods, they experience feelings of unease and loss of control,” Janssen’s study states. “Possible hypotheses for such phenomena include adult messaging surrounding the perceived safety of outdoor spaces.”

The biking bandwagon

Communities in the West Kootenays are mindful of concerns like these and are taking steps to make their roads safer and encourage residents to drive less and walk or bike more. Around 600 vehicles a day make the trip between Trail and Rossland, the ski resort town ten kilometres southwest and 583 metres above Trail. Trail’s larger employers, such as Teck Metals Ltd. and the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital, have many employees who live in Rossland, and the Rossland Sustainability Commission has been working hard to support commuters in considering an electric bicycle for their daily commute.

They are promoting and improving the South Kootenay Green Link, a safe, direct and easier route from Rossland to Trail for e-bikes that can handle off road terrain. The link makes use of an existing wagon road and quiet residential side streets, is off the busy highway, and with recent financial support from Trail’s Le Roi Community Foundation, is now equipped with wayfinding signage. Alex Loeb is the volunteer who has been championing the South Kootenay Green Link since 2018.

“I was really surprised to learn about the number of people interested in using an e-bike to commute to their workplace in Trail,” says Loeb. “As we explored the connector route concept, everyone got excited about it.” While paving and snow plowing are not in the current plans for this project, some upgrades will be made to ensure that the trail is able to accommodate a greater variety of bicycles.

Other communities in the region are taking action to ensure that safe active transportation options are available and encouraged. In their official community plan, one of Warfield’s infrastructure goals is to move people around conveniently and safely in a way that contributes to the health of residents and reduces emissions. To help achieve this goal, they have reduced their legal speed limits through town to 30 km/hr, making it safer for those who walk and bike.

Towns not much further from Trail like Castlegar and Nelson are making an effort to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050 and are building cycling infrastructure along their busiest shared roadways. New Denver is building a footbridge that will provide a safe alternative for school children crossing Highway 6.  

Glen applauds the immediate and meaningful actions communities are taking. He also believes that the individual can affect local change when they are intentional about what they choose to spend their money on.

E-bike sales surge

“If I’m spending less on cars and more on bicycles, then I am supporting an industry that has a more positive impact,” Glen clarifies. “Money makes the world go round. The industries I support with my wallet are the ones that will keep going.” Local retailers such as Gerick Cycle and Sports, Pedego, and Revolution Cycles are witnessing this boom in e-bike sales first hand.

“It’s definitely been one of our busiest years,” says Caleb George, a bike mechanic and salesperson at Gerick Sports in Trail. “We have sold more e-bikes this year than any other year. Part of it is because of COVID, but e-bikes also help everyone get outside, even if you’re elderly or not the most fit.”

Buying his e-bike to lessen his own environmental impact and giving up some comforts along the way has been a journey for Glen Byle. He also tries to go meat-free three days a week, chooses to use oat milk and other plant based products when the choice is there, and he has been updating his house to make it more energy efficient. While Glen firmly believes that an individual can affect local change, he is at the same time aware of the politics at play, and that was one of the reasons he ran for the Conservative Party this fall. 

“There seems to be a vocal anti-climate science movement in political right wing and Christian communities, both of which I am involved with, that in my mind goes counter to right wing and Christian values,” Glen acknowledges. “Doesn’t the political right wing take pride in working hard and making their country great for future generations? Isn’t Christianity about helping others even if it comes at the cost of personal comforts?”

Being uncomfortable is something that as a cyclist on the road, Glen has become more acutely aware of. With several years of motorbike experience behind him, Glen knows how to be assertive on the road to protect himself from drivers. But the idea of relying on other road users to keep him and his family safe makes him uneasy. He avoids cycling in sections of Trail that would help make his commuting life easier, especially along the highway, because they’re too dangerous. Cycling along the highway is also a non-negotiable when it comes to his children. But on Sunday mornings, when the highway is quiet enough to brave the five and a half kilometre commute from his home in Shaver’s Bench to his local church near the Waneta Junction, you might see Glen pedaling by. 

“When I learned to ride a motorcycle, I learned to never trust that another car driver will see you, to always be prepared for oncoming traffic, and to ride in the most dominant position so someone doesn’t pass unsafely,” heeds Glen. “But as a cyclist who tends to go slower than most drivers, I am stuck trusting that they will keep me safe.”

He understands how cyclists can be seen as a nuisance on the road, but he wishes drivers would be more patient and show as much respect to users like him on the road as they do to other drivers. Expecting drivers to adapt on their own accord may not be the best approach for ensuring the safety of cyclists and other vulnerable road users in communities like Trail.

“Designing safer roads and separating cars and bikes where possible seems like an easier solution  than expecting drivers to change their behaviour” he suggests.

With the recent uptake of electric bicycle sales in British Columbia, steps to improve cycling infrastructure quickly may be on the horizon. This past February, Trail city councillor Colleen Jones proposed that Council launch an internal e-bike loan program for staff. Council supported her motion. 

“This idea made so much sense to me,” Jones affirmed. “I was hearing from city employees how much they enjoyed cycling to work and back and thought that not only did it promote the health of staff, but would also address parking issues.”

Trail modelled its staff e-bike loan program after the City of Nelson, who has since expanded its program to local homeowners, allowing them to take out a three to five year low interest loan that they pay back through their monthly hydro bill. Because Nelson Hydro is a city run utility, the option to extend a program like this to residents in communities like Trail may be more complicated, and Councillor Jones is watching the program with interest.

“I’m unsure how many employees have taken advantage of this program so far but if it turns out to have taken off, I would definitely consider expanding the program to residents of Trail,” she says.

As more and more people see cycling as a viable transportation option that also provides immense health benefits, offers substantial personal savings, and has less environmental impact than a vehicle does, Glen Byle believes that Trail will start adapting to the needs of road users like him. He recently became the Trail representative for the regional cycling advocacy group West Kootenay Cycling Coalition and is working collaboratively with the City of Trail to reduce speed limits on busy residential streets like his. When asked if he misses his truck, he admits that there are days when he wishes he could simply hop in a warm vehicle and quickly drop off his children at school.

“Most of the time,” Glen adds, “it’s just nice to know we have some extra spending money and that me and my kids are getting exercise every day. I’m definitely glad I made the switch.”