June 14, 2019
A historian, educator and ukulele player, Marc Moscato's Buffalo Bike Tours provide a biking experience as unique as the city itself. Visit Buffalo Bike Tours for more information and to register for a ride.
Tell us a bit about Buffalo Bike Tours: why did you start it? What do you hope to do?
I started Buffalo Bike Tours because I saw an opportunity. When I moved back to Buffalo a year ago, I saw all these amazing bike things happening. There was GObike and Slow Roll, Sunday night rides, and Campus Wheelworks. At the same time, Buffalo has had a surge in tourism – there’s party bikes (actually motorized), tiki boats, segway tours, cruises, double decker buses – just about everything under the sun. But, for some reason, nobody doing tours by bicycle. That seemed like a missed opportunity, especially when you look at nearby cities – Toronto, Cleveland, Pittsburgh – they all have at least one bike tour operator.
I was underemployed at the time so it was really a no brainer – just do something I care about and that’s needed. I’ve worked in public history for the last 15 years, as Executive Director of Know Your City in Portland (OR), as a guest speaker for Road Scholar, and several other projects at the intersection of art, activism, and history. So with that, I started plotting out what a company would look like.
About 250 people showed up last summer. I used the winter to think about the best way to grow. I did some branding, added new tours, recruited a great team (Dan Regan and Tyler Madell), and invested in a fleet of bikes (which GObike did an amazing job of refurbishing – thank you!). This year, we’ve only had about 35 riders thus far with the lousy weather but things are picking up.
What should folks expect on a Buffalo Bike Tour?
To me, what we’re doing is almost like folk art. There’s a lot of emphasis on storytelling and song, sharing homespun foods, taking pride in Buffalo’s hidden gems. Those quirky things are special and something we should never lose as a community.
The best thing I can recommend is to ask the general public, which, in the last analysis, are the best judges of what they want – you can read our reviews on TripAdvisor (we take great pride in our perfect rating – 58 reviews in!).
In more practical terms, expect a 10-mile bike ride at a leisurely pace with stops sharing Buffalo stories, songs, food, and culture. We offer two history rides and two food tours which include a 5-course meal.
You started Buffalo Bike Tours with B-Side tours outlining lesser-known Buffalo history; can you tell us more about the inspiration behind the tour?
Well, history is shaped by those in power and we can infer a lot from just looking at the physical landscape. There’s a reason why there’s a statue to Christopher Columbus in almost every American city but almost no monuments to the entire history of the labor movement or people of color.
When most people think of Buffalo, they conjure up snowstorms, a losing football team, and chicken wings. If people know a little history, it’s usually the Pan American Exposition and Erie Canal. And while it’s certainly nice to see our splendid architecture, it’s also important to note that the city’s wealth was built on the backs of our working class. Buffalo’s story is really a tale of late capitalism. So I felt it was just as important to talk about those deeper critical questions about the city’s economic decline, institutional racism, and the visionaries who fought for our freedoms as it is our historic glory days.
In terms of specific inspirations, Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States”, James Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me”, and Paulo Faire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” were all texts that shaped my approach to ethnography, and locally works by historians like Marvin Rapp, Mark Goldman, Doug Ruffin, and Sam Magavern provided great source material. I’ll also say the B/Sides Ride was and will remain Buffalo’s only free/donation based tour. We don’t charge an admission – we just ask for a donation at the end in a hope to lower the barrier for participation. That inspiration comes from free walking tours I’ve taken in Europe.
Buffalo Bike Tours includes limericks and ukulele songs. Why did you decide to make the tours so playful?
I’ve taken a good amount of tours here in Buffalo and I’ve seen some situations where the guide is reading off an iPad for like an hour. I’m not naming names, but I find that to be pretty boring. I’ve tried to create an experience that is not just informative but also performative. So, yes, I sing songs, tell jokes, read poems, and try to break down some of our city’s negative preconceptions. One thing I’ve learned is that in order for people to lower their walls, you have to lower yours. And, if you’ve heard my singing, you know our walls are pretty darn low. So I’ve tried to strike a balance between some critical topics and keeping things lighthearted. I also have to give a shout out to my friends at Wild SF Walking Tours – they are a true pioneer in ukulele tours.
There’s a video floating around with you on an early Critical Mass ride. Did those early experiences of biking of Buffalo influence you?
We Ride Bikes! was made by my good friend David Gracon. I have mixed emotions when I look back at that time. I made the poster for the very first Critical Mass ride and I’ll own up to it – I was inspired by what was happening in San Francisco and wanted to bring that energy here.
What we were trying to do was start a conversation about the consumption of fossil fuels and car culture. In reality, getting on bikes is not going to stop global warming – people need to dramatically change their lifestyles. But it’s one small step to reducing carbon emissions, and that’s what Critical Mass was about.
I can’t say I condone blocking traffic – somebody could have gotten seriously injured or even killed on that ride. There are things I would have done differently to be sure – and I’ve got a ton of respect for things that came after Critical Mass, namely Slow Roll.
Sometimes we fail. You can’t be afraid to get back up and fail again. There are hard lessons in life and I’m still learning. But I’m still proud to have tried and I’ve definitely taken lessons from that time and applied them throughout the course of my professional and personal life.
You were in Portland for many years and then returned to Buffalo. What’s changed in Buffalo since you left?
I seriously thought I was never coming back to Buffalo. I left during the “red budget” days of Joel Giambra, when Buffalo was closing all the libraries and putting padlocks on parks, cutting everything public. It was a shocking and miserable time for the city.
I moved back a year ago to be closer to my family and because the rent in Portland was getting too damn high. Housing prices here have also risen, albeit not so dramatically. In general, I feel there’s more opportunity here. Buffalo reminds me of what Portland was like when I first moved there – a place where creatives could live for cheaply and make it their own. There’s also a higher percentage of immigrants and refugees who are making a positive impact on the city since I left.
That said, the cost of living has increased while wages have stagnated. It’s reflective of what’s going on around the country. There’s more coffee shops and service jobs, people with master’s degrees serving you food. I will say Buffalo has a little more vibrancy than before I left. It’s hard to tell where things are going. I don’t mean to be a wet blanket but while a lot of people talk of a Renaissance, the city is still losing population – since the 1950s. Some things have changed, a lot hasn’t.
Portland is one of the top biking cities in America: if you had to bring three things from Portland’s bike culture or bike infrastructure to Buffalo, what would they be?
Do you have any advice for cyclists just starting out or getting back on their bike after a hiatus?
What are you waiting for? Come on out to a tour and Dan, Tyler, or I will show you! We run tours 7 days a week out of the Hostel Buffalo-Niagara – all you have to do is register on our website or call me at (716) 328-8432. Don’t have a bike? We’ve got you covered. It’s super easy and our season will go straight through until Halloween. We hope to see you on a ride this summer – before it snows!