Meet Tucson’s bicycling power couple
Fittingly, for Troy Neiman and Kylie Walzak, it all started in an ordinary bike shop.
That’s where this Tucson bicycling power couple met for the first time.
Walzak’s bike needed a fix, and Neiman, an employee at the time, helped.
“I thought, ‘That’s the nicest guy I’ve ever met,’” says Walzak, who now coordinates Cyclovia Tucson, an event that closes Tucson streets to cars so cyclists, walkers, skaters and others can hit the road in a car-free zone. “But nothing happened for a couple of years.”
Fast-forward to a 2009 reunion at BICAS (Bicycle Inter-Community Art and Salvage), the start of a romantic relationship, the formation of Living Streets Alliance and the birth of their 8-month-old son, Clyde Neiman.
Walzak, 37, now works as the program manager for bike encouragement at Living Streets Alliance, and Neiman is an artist and shop coordinator for BICAS.
At the center of it all is their shared belief that bicycling as transportation is for anybody — for professionals, for families, for ordinary people.
“That’s how Cyclovia started,” Walzak says. “We wanted to create an event where we literally removed all barriers to bicycling — including the cars, temporarily — so that people could give bicycling a try again.”
Through his artwork at BICAS, Neiman, 34, has merged two lifelong passions — riding bikes and collecting junk.
As a kid in Madison, Wisconsin, Neiman found treasure in the piles of trash pushed to the curb.
“I would bring home a VCR and my parents would say, ‘We don’t need a VCR,’ but I would take it apart,” he says. “Then they would throw it away, and I would take it back out again.”
These days, Neiman turns scraps into art. He learned to weld during a yearlong class in Wisconsin and now uses that skill to repurpose old bike parts.
He came to Tucson in 2003, tagging along with a friend who wanted to visit the gem showcase. The city — and the funky bike racks on Fourth Avenue — piqued his interest. He snagged a bike shop job so he could stick around a bit longer.
He started volunteering at BICAS and about 10 years ago stepped into a paid position. The nonprofit salvages and repairs bikes and bike parts and teaches others how to do the same.
“It was a cool combination of things I was interested in, working on bikes and using unusable junk to make something into art,” says Neiman, who also works with ceramics.
One of his favorite pieces might be the BICAS saguaro — about 8 feet tall — made out of bike rims.
Tanya Rich, the former BICAS art coordinator, often points people to Neiman for his work. Rich is now youth program and exhibitions director for the Drawing Studio, and arts and culture coordinator for the Tucson Jewish Community Center.
“He is like color,” Rich says. “Anything that he is part of, he can beautify.”
Neiman’s work is visible around town — obelisks on University Boulevard, bike parking in front of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library, a park bench in the Barrio San Antonio Neighborhood. He recently contracted with the Los Reales Landfill for a public art project, Walzak says.
“He’s this bike alchemist,” says Nick Georgiou, an artist with a studio in Citizens Warehouse, just above BICAS. “The way he transforms unwanted, rusty parts into brilliant art is quite fantastic.”
FREEDOM TO RIDE
Walzak’s journey to Tucson’s bicycling scene started when she was a teenager in Flagstaff and discovered her mother’s dusty 10-speed.
“At 14 years old, finding out there’s this thing in the garage that can get you away from home is amazing,” she says.
When she moved to Tucson in 2006 to earn a master’s degree in education from the University of Arizona, she knew a little about getting around Tucson on two wheels.
Her father, Keith Walzak, was the city’s alternate modes coordinator in the 1990s and would show his daughter the best bike shortcuts on her visits.
“Even when I moved here, I was totally unprepared to get around on my bike,” Walzak says. “I found myself riding across Campbell Avenue, and my dad was like, ‘What are you doing?’”
She started joining the Tuesday night bike rides that still meet at the Old Main flagpole weekly and slowly learned the easiest ways to get around the city.
When she started working with BICAS as the education outreach coordinator in 2009, she noticed the basement bike shop was serving immigrants, youth and homeless people.
“Kylie was a student in the build-a-bike class I taught (at BICAS) and was excited about bikes,” says Ignacio Rivera de Rosales, who worked at BICAS when Neiman started. He now runs the Safe Routes to School program for Pima County.
“She went from being mechanically excited about bikes to saying, ‘There is so much more to it.’ ”
Through her involvement with the Tucson-Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Downtown Links Citizen Advisory Committee, Walzak met like-minded people who together launched the nonprofit advocacy organization Living Streets Alliance in 2011.
For its work toward making Tucson more accessible by foot, bike and public transportation, Living Streets Alliance was recently named Advocacy Organization of the Year at the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C.
Ironically, Neiman knew about the award before Walzak, through his contract with the Alliance for Biking and Walking and the League of American Bicyclists to make the awards.
So secretly in the couple’s backyard, Neiman made an award out of recycled bike parts to mail to D.C. for the ceremony. Walzak didn’t know.
“One of the biggest things that Kylie and that organization has brought to the table is making it something that is for all ages and abilities,” says Ann Chanecka, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian program coordinator. “They are advocating for it to be safer and easier for anyone to walk and bicycle.”
In addition to starting the biannual Cyclovia Tucson and collaborating on the Safe Routes to School program, Living Streets Alliance has organized family-fun bicycle outings, done surveys of neighborhood walkability and promoted streetcar safety.
“Just knowing them, everything seems accessible on a bicycle,” Georgiou says. “It seems like even when they got their house (in Menlo Park), Troy was always telling me he discovered a new bike route.”
With the birth of their son Clyde Neiman in July, Walzak and Neiman found bicycling everywhere less doable.
“We definitely drive a lot more, and I think that has made me gain more empathy for families out there,” Walzak says. “I feel like we are now like a lot of families in Tucson who are like, ‘Yeah, I love to bike but I can’t make it work. I’m juggling kids’ schedules and juggling my work schedule.’”
Still, both have flexible jobs and still manage to bike often. And when they can’t bike, they try to walk.
“We’re waiting for him to be bike-strong,” Walzak says of Clyde. “He’s going to be 1 year old soon, and that’s generally when people start with their kids and bikes.”
Walzak took Clyde on his first ride in a child seat strapped to the back of her bike a week ago. They went half a block.
“She rides a lot, even though she is a new mom now,” says Janet Miller, an artist and good friend of Walzak’s. “She advocates riding for transportation, and that’s what she does.”
Miller credits Walzak for inspiring her to lead silly, themed bike rides as circus performers or wearing tricorn hats and yelling, “The British are coming!”
Walzak and Neiman’s work “brings the joy of bicycling to all kinds of people,” Miller says.
Since meeting Neiman, Walzak has learned tinkering tricks she never knew growing up with a single mom.
Bike tours together around Arizona and down the West Coast taught Walzak an even greater freedom in bicycling: They could just ride, fixing their own bikes as problems arose.
“I fell into bike riding,” Walzak says. “Anybody — literally anybody — can get on a bike and take it wherever they need to go. There are tricks to the trade that make it easier ... and there are lots of resources in Tucson to learn those tricks, and that’s what drives me.”