Matt Dove, Director of YBike, the Bike Program of San Francisco’s YMCA

Leader Profile: Matt Dove

An interview with Matt Dove, Director of YBike, the Bike Program of San Francisco’s YMCA
Tell us a little about yourself and your work at YBike.

I really stumbled into this field. After completing a degree in Chinese Linguistics, I started interning as a Chinese Liaison for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. I was tabling for the SFBC at the first Sunday Streets, using a table borrowed from the YMCA. When they came to pick up the table at the end of the day, they asked me if I needed a job. I interviewed that day and decided it was too perfect, and so I started at YBike as a part-time bicycle instructor. I became the director in 2011.

Bicycles have always a part of my life. I started biking as a kid with my dad on rides all around Boston. I worked in bike shops in high school and well into my 30s. My work really brings together my passion for bicycles with service to my community.

Do you have a specific moment that made you want to work in your field?

The first day when I walked into an after-school program and 12 kids were standing in front of me, I was absolutely fearful. But, I come from a line of teachers and found myself falling naturally into that mode. It’s very rewarding to share something that has been a source of confidence and inspiration for me with kids of the same age. The kids who have been through my programs have the independence to bike in the city if they want to, so long as they have access to a bike.

What are some major issues facing your community and how does YBike address them?

The general perception that bicycling on streets is inherently dangerous has been a difficult issue to address. We have worked hard to provide outreach and statistics to make the case that bicycling makes sense. The reputation of our program, which has been running for over 10 years now, has also supported our work. Our program seriously considers risks and addresses them by teaching kids the skills they need in classrooms and school yards, before graduating to actual streets.

Are there any resources that have been particularly helpful to you?

Having a team with a collaborative culture and strong communication skills is important when working towards a common goal. Having League Cycling Instructors on our team has also provided a valuable perspective in creating new cyclists.

Tell us about a fun/interesting story from your work.

Two siblings with a condition that made them more prone to bone injuries than other kids attended our bike camp. Their mother encouraged them to bicycle as a safe way for them to get exercise. The kids eventually convinced their mom to bike to work by designing her route, biking with her to work, and picking her up to bike with her home. A while later she told me she was continuing to bike to work. It was great to see that her kids were spreading their excitement and knowledge to her.