Show up, help out ??
There’s a good chance you’ve seen Jason Plum pedaling around Traverse City, whether he’s hauling his kids on a cargo bike or coaching a group of young riders in Norte’s Mountain Bike Team. Jason is most definitely a “bike guy” — he rides his bike year-round.
Jason Plum served four years on Norte’s Board of Directors, from 2016 to 2020, helping make important decisions that shaped the non-profit you see today. We recently sat down with Jason to get his thoughts on coaching young riders, what makes a community bike-friendly, and what it was like to be a part of Norte in its early days.
You returned to Traverse City in 2013 after living elsewhere for several years. How does it feel to be back?
It’s interesting to see the changes. I grew up riding my bike all over town. It’s how I got to work. It’s how I got to school. It was just what we did back then. Everybody knew how to get around by bike. Parents were busy working, and if you wanted to get somewhere, you got yourself there. That was just kind of the norm. So we’d ride bikes to friends’ houses, to go fishing, to go to work, and we’d ride bikes to school.
Do you think things have changed in Traverse City since then?
It’s definitely changed. It may be hard to recognize for some people, but if you spend time doing it, I think it’s easier to see the incremental improvements and the considerations that people give you, like waving you through at intersections and giving you space as you go on down the road. I think that’s due in large part to the visibility of more bike riders on the streets, particularly the groups of kids that are out during Norte programming. It’s hard to get upset when you see a whole group of kids going down the road doing something fun.
When you’re riding a bike, you get to know your community on a different level. Do you think that’s true?
That’s absolutely true because you can’t have the interactions from a vehicle that you can have on a bike. You can’t say hi to the guy walking his dog and learn the dog’s name, and you can’t say hi to your neighbor because you’re going too fast and they can’t see you behind a car window. On a bike, you’re more likely to ride through a quiet neighborhood or pass by your friend’s house. My kids know where all their friends’ houses are and all the ways to get there. You have the time to see people, and people have the time to see you.
Your return to Traverse City coincided with the foundation of Norte by Ty Schmidt and his family. When did you first come into contact with Norte?
My daughter Beatrice, who is now part of Liderato (Norte’s Youth Council), is the same age as Ty’s son. And so we would ride the bike train to Eastern Elementary School, and we got to know each other. At that time, it was just the core group of founders. It was a garage operation.
After the early bike trains, how did you stay involved?
It progressed into community bike rides and get-togethers with like-minded people. And not too long after that, the board was formalized, and Norte went from the garage operation it had been to the structured non-profit it is today.
I was invited to join the board in 2016. I am an engineer by trade. I never had any experience running a non-profit or being on the board of anything. But with anything that you would like to see get better, you need to show up at some point. So whether you’re an expert or not, you need to show up and be involved and put in that time.
You served on the Norte board during a time of significant change.
These were really the formative years. We spent a lot of time sorting out the structure. How do we maintain what has been created and developed so far? How do we sustain that and support the organization? The big concern was how we would get the programs to be self-sustaining while being responsible with grant dollars and donations.
If you want something to thrive, you need to show up. Showing up to help — whether it’s getting the kids off to their first program or website design or fundraising or coaching — if you want these programs to be available for your kids and other kids, help.
You’ve continued to help by becoming a Norte coach. What do you get out of coaching?
You get to show kids a lot of stuff. There’s a lot of first-generation mountain bikers out there, so my job is to help them be more comfortable when they’re out there in the woods. It’s fun when you see a core shift in their capabilities. They learn that they can ride their bike in the woods with their friends, and it’ll be fine.
Do you have a coaching philosophy?
I like to keep things interesting because if you do the same thing every day, they’ll get bored with it just like anything else. So maybe I will say that today is Ladies’ Night, and the girls will lead the ride today, and we’re riding at their pace.
They start to learn how they like to ride from day one, and they figure out their favorite places to go. They know exactly where they want to go by the end of it, and they know all the best trails to get there. And they know what jumps they can take and what they can’t take. So it gets easier, and they go faster every week, and they have more fun every week.
What would you say to someone who has never coached before but is maybe thinking about it?
You don’t have to be fast. You don’t need to be proficient at lubing a chain and changing a tire. Having someone there that’s willing and pleasant and happy to work is by far the most important step.
We get a lot of volunteers who show up and say they don’t know their way around. They don’t know how to fix a flat. That’s great, no problem. We’ll show you all that, and we’ll help you learn your way around. Showing up is 99 percent of getting the job done.