Catching Up With: Ayleen Crotty

By Üma Kleppinger

Among its countless bike-friendly accolades, Portland, Oregon, is also the home of the incredible Filmed by Bike, a film festival that showcases short films made by, for and about bikes and their riders.

Now in its 15th year, Filmed by Bike has developed an international following among movie fans and bike buffs alike. Festival director Ayleen Crotty has poured heart and soul into this labor of love, growing the festival from a tiny homegrown affair to a cycling cinematic adventure that draws attendees from around the country. We sat down to talk to Ayleen about the intersection of art, work and bikes.

You’re well known in the Portland bike community as a Jill-of-All-Trades. How did you get your start doing events in the bike world?

My first go at event planning was an Earth Day festival I produced in high school. I produced it through the environmental club and booked live bands to provide entertainment. People came from outside of my small town to see the bands and that made an impression on me about how to engage a wider audience of people.

Later, in college, I majored in photography but I specialized in interactive projects—experiential art pieces. I ran an art gallery out of my house and had bands play at the openings. That was the start of giving people an interactive experience. I would set it up but it was the people who came who shaped and formed the experience. I recognized early on that I can’t dictate what the experience should be. To me that’s what creating art is like. You set the stage and the atmosphere, create a vibe, you bring people in, and then you just watch how people interact with this art you’ve created. That’s how I think of events. I was drawn to it. I kept finding myself drawn to producing events because I understood how they worked.

Would you say it’s work born of passion or is it something else?

I just do what comes naturally to me. I can’t fake work. If I’m not into it I can find every way imaginable to skirt work without being obvious that I’m skirting it. So I’ve really distilled it down to focus on what I’m best at—finding these creative endeavors and events and making them better. Whether they are my own projects or someone else’s, building them up and promoting them is my real strength. I came up in a very Midwest family with Midwest work ethics and I’m all about getting shit done. I am self-employed, but I work for my clients. When I pull long hours I’m doing it for my clients. But also I want to feel good about the work I’m doing. The way I look at it is if I like the work I’m doing, it allows me to be more creative which in turn lets me be more driven to do more and better work.

Can you describe the Filmed By Bike festival for readers who may not have heard of it?

Filmed by Bike features the world’s best bike movies. We do it with a big, weekend-long film festival here in Portland, then send a collection of movies on the road to travel and be screened all over the world. We’re giving our filmmakers a huge audience where they’re able to get people all over the world to watch these films about bikes. We will never tell people to go out and ride their bike because it’s the right thing to do or it’s fun. But I still think the festival is a kind of advocacy because there’s almost no way people can leave the theater and not be inspired to ride their bikes.

You get all these different types of people in the theater that you don’t normally get together in the same place. You don’t know who you’re sitting next to until the lights go up at the end of the screening and you see a down and dirty bike polo punk is sitting next to a pristine, middle-aged lycra-clad roadie. It’s all types of people who come. It’s hard core bikers and people who are just bike-curious. And then there’s the whole Keep Portland Weird crowd, too, providing a sort of side-show of entertainment. The Filmed by Bike audience themselves are a glimpse into bike culture from around the world.

As one of the busiest, hardest working people I know in the Portland bike industry, how do you find a balance?

You know, there are places, countries and cultures where you don’t ask people what they do for work because it’s considered rude. I believe our work should not define us. I have friends who have jobs they go to and at the end of the day they close their office door and they go home and they don’t think about work. That’s really appealing in some ways because my work and my life are so intertwined that I’m always thinking about work and I’m always looking for new opportunities to do something better for a client, or for Filmed by Bike. There’s no off switch, ever. Even if I’m on vacation for three weeks I’m still going to be thinking work thoughts. Is that good or bad? I don’t know at this point it’s just how I live, but I do see the grass is greener side of my friends who get to turn work off at the end of the day.


What place does the bike have in your life? What kind of cyclist are you?

[Laughs] Well, because I am self-employed and work from home, I don’t really have a proper bike commute. I wish I did because I know about the benefits of bike commuting and what it does for your brain and how you see the city differently. The last time I had an actual bike commute I worked five blocks away from my house [laughs again]. So over the past 16 years I’ve never had a bike commute where it’s a daily routine. I find I have to work more to get out to ride. If I’m headed out to a meeting I think to myself… Is it worth gearing up? It’s tricky. I find I don’t ride as much as I’d like to, but I think most people would say that, so I don’t allow myself to beat myself up about that.

What I really love are night rides. I love riding across town to meet friends or in summer, even if they’re very far away in another area of the city. I know I’m going to love every minute of that ride. My favorite kind of riding is just cruising around the city at night on side streets through residential neighborhoods. I also love bike touring but I don’t do it as much as I’d like to. Really, I like all types of riding. There are some weeks where my bike might not leave the garage at all, and other times it might be just a quick ride taking the dog out for a run around the neighborhood.

You mentioned earlier that you’d like to do more traveling by bike and more riding in general. What kind of rides are on your bucket list?

I would love to return to the West Coast of Ireland. I did a photography program there during college and just loved it. We lived in a tiny farmhouse next to a castle and the Irish people are just lovely. Other than that, I think I’d love to tour the Italian countryside. I don’t even know where that would be exactly, I just love riding in the country and I love farm-fresh food and Italian food. I love exploring food cultures while physically exhausting myself on the bike. [Laughs] I mean, I know it’s been done before in literature, but I think I would love to write a book about food and riding because I love food and I love riding.


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