News / Toronto

Bike Host program helps newcomers get in gear in Toronto

When Carlos Magbitang and his family emigrated to Toronto from the Philippines in 2013, he was surprised by how many bike lanes the city had.

"Riding bikes here in Canada is very different from the Philippines," he said. "It's very safe to go biking here. You have all the infrastructure and the rules already in place."

Magbitang used a bike to run errands back home, but was apprehensive about cycling in Toronto. So when he heard about the city's Bike Host program, he enrolled along with his two daughters.

Now in its seventh year, the program – run by the settlement organization Culturelink – pairs new immigrants with experienced cyclists who take them on bicycle tours and other bike-based activities.

Exploring the city on two wheels helped Magbitang and his family feel at home in Toronto and allowed them to get settled without having a car, he said.

Although Magbitang would like to commute to work by bike, his office is far away in Scarborough, so he takes transit. However, his eldest daughter has started cycling to school again since participating in Bike Host.

"She saves a lot of money on TTC fares and uses it to buy other things," he said.

Ajith Aluthwatta, a settlement worker at Culturelink, said encouraging newcomers to continue cycling after moving to Canada is exactly what the Bike Host program is about.

"You don't emigrate to Canada imagining you'll be a cyclist. You come here to establish a new life and sign of that success is owning a car," he said.

Getting new immigrants cycling early helps counter that "consumerist" narrative and encourages them to continue a practice that's good for the environment and their health, Aluthwatta said.

"It's also just the most practical way for getting around the city," he added.

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