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Thursday, May 8, 2014 12:01 am

It’s how they roll


Remember the joy of pedaling and moving under your own power when you were a kid? The same joy can be had during the week, and not just weekends.

While most of us think of the bicycle as recreation or sporting equipment, there are some who ride to and from work, or conduct errands while riding a bike. Some may ride out of necessity. Others may do so for health or exercise. Whatever the reason, there seems to be a boon in bicycle commuting.

A 2009 National Household Travel Survey showed that bicycling’s share of all trips in the U.S. hit 1.0 percent, with 0.6 percent getting to work by bicycle. Though these numbers are low, they represent a steady increase in bicycle commuting. There is great potential for further growth as 50 percent of all car trips Americans make are three miles or less, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Joel Johnson is a Springfield resident who looks for opportunities to ride beyond the weekend. Although his commute is short (one mile from work), he also rides home for lunch, and runs errands by bicycle.

“It’s partly for environmental reasons,” says Johnson. “It’s healthy and an invigorating way to start the day.”

Johnson is not alone. Between 2000 and 2012, the bicycling commuting rate was up 61.6 percent, according to the American Community Survey. About three-quarters of a million Americans use bicycles for transportation.

Dave Lucas, a certified bicycle instructor and retired state worker who commuted for more than 40 years, is among that group.

“It was enjoyable and extraordinarily convenient,” says Lucas, who worked in downtown Springfield. “While commuting by bike requires some planning, the same can be said for driving to work. On the bike, I could leave from my garage and park at the rack located near the rear entrance of my workplace. Nothing could be easier.” 

Like Johnson, Lucas also experienced added benefits. “I found it relaxing after a stressful day at work.” Plus, he adds, he saved on parking, gasoline, car maintenance expenses and car insurance.

But, before you grab your bicycle and jump back on the saddle, heed the voice of experience and prepare. According to Lucas, bicycle commuting is not for everyone.

“You must be comfortable riding in at least moderate traffic, possess good bike handling skills and have a knowledge and willingness to follow the rules of the road.” Before beginning, he suggests taking the League of Illinois Bicyclists’ safety quiz at www.bikesafetyquiz.com. If your bike handling skills need brushing up, consider joining a local organized ride to gain experience.

The type of bike you ride is not as important as making sure it is in good repair and operates properly.  

Some other tips Lucas offers include:

  1. Route selection – Research to find the best route to work. It will probably not be the same route you take in your car.
  2. Clothing – The clothing you wear will depend on the weather, your job requirements and the distance you ride. Gloves, eye protection and a properly fitted helmet are highly recommended.
  3. Bike parking – All unattended bikes should be locked. An unattractive, inexpensive bike requires a minimal lock while a more expensive bike may require the best locks available. Two locks of different types are better than one.
  4. Safety – Nearly all riders and experts agree on this one – be visible and ride predictably. Never ride against traffic. It’s the most dangerous thing you can do on a bike. Wear bright clothing during the day and make certain that you have reflectors and working lights front and rear when riding at night.

Finally, Lucas provides a solid rule of thumb: “If you wouldn’t do it in your car, don’t do it on a bike.”

More and more communities, including Springfield, are working to make bicycling a practical choice for everyday travel by adopting long-range bike and pedestrian master plans. These plans are intended to improve the quality of life, while also helping to reduce congestion, as well as wear and tear on roads.

If you’ve been thinking of taking to the road on two wheels for transportation purposes, a good time to start may be during Curb Your Car Week, May 19-24. This is the seventh year for the event in Springfield, which includes a group bike commute led by members of the Springfield Bicycle Club. The ride starts at 7:30 a.m., Wednesday, May 21, from the Washington Park picnic shelter to the Old Capitol Farmers Market. For more event details, visit the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission website, www.co.sangamon.il.us/departments/regionalplanning/planning.asp.

Naomi Greene is a freelance writer and state employee who enjoys riding her bike.

Curb Your Car Week incentives and events

May 19-24 – Grab-A-Java will provide water stations and coupons (one per commuter) for free coffee at both shop locations.

May 19-24 – Free SMTD bus rides for people with bikes from May 19-24.

May 19-24 – Café Moxo will offer a free cookie to anyone traveling to 1-6 passport locations or a free 1/2 sandwich bagged lunch to anyone traveling to 7-9 passport locations.

May 21, 7:30 a.m. – Springfield Bicycle Club leads a group commute from Washington Park to the Old Capitol Farmers Market, downtown.

May 21-Oct. 31 – 10 percent off your lunch or dinner bill for those riding their bike to Maldaner’s Restaurant and parking it in front of the restaurant.

May 24, 8 p.m. – The Bicycle Doctor and Springfield Bicycle Club will give away bike lights and install them on your bike and will then host a group ride at 9 p.m. at the Capitol Complex Visitors Center parking lot, College and Edwards. (Bike lights will be given while supplies last. Bike must be present for installation. Night ride participants are required to have a light already present or installed at the event.)

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