With the arrival of warm weather, bicycle riding is again a popular activity and the season for biking events is in full swing. In addition to Bike to Work Week May 14-18, neighborhood bike rides are scheduled with municipal leaders around the area.
The Coulee Region Childhood Obesity Coalition and Safe Routes to School are sponsoring the second annual Coulee Region Wheel to School Week Challenge next week as well. Students and school staff are encouraged to join the challenge and compete for a chance to win the Silver Spoke Award, a new bike or other prizes.
While these rides are designed to promote bicycling as a recreational activity, some bicycle enthusiasts are promoting bicycling as a green way of life.
Cheryl Neubauer is among the more serious about biking and is among area bike commuters helping to boost Wisconsin’s 17th-place national ranking for the percentage of citizens who use bicycles to commute to work.
Neubauer rides her bike from her home on the east side of Nathan Hill in the town of Hamilton to her job at the La Crosse County Health and Human Services building, a 10-mile, 50-minute trek. “Why do I need to drive and have a car sit here in the parking lot all day when I can take my bike?” she said.
She said Highway 16 is not safe to ride, so she puts her bike in the car and drives to the Veteran’s Park in West Salem, then takes the bike trail to La Crosse.
“It’s not only a health thing,” said Neubauer, who will be 50 this year. “I love to hear the birds in the morning. It’s great to be out there. And it’s a stress reliever after leaving work.”
She hopes that transportation planners can install a bicycle lane or another connection to the bike trail. She said she would love to ride her bike from her home instead of having to drive her and the bike in the car to a bike trail.
Safety is also a big issue for Carolyn Dvorak who promotes bicycling as well as walking. Dvorak is doing her part to boost Wisconsin’s national rank as the 15th safest state for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Dvorak, who works from her Holmen home, uses her bicycle year round to go to the grocery store, the library, the post office and the hardware store.
Involved in the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, Dvorak is promoting the Share and Be Aware Program highlighting safety for everyone on the roads. In Wisconsin in 2010, she noted, one pedestrian was injured or killed every 7.1 hours and one bicyclist was injured or killed every 8.4 hours.
“It’s really time to call attention to sharing the road,” Dvorak said.
Her efforts are focused on teaching bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists their responsibilities. She goes to fairs, festivals, driver’s education classes and anywhere anyone wants her to give a class on transportation safety.
Onalaska Mayor Joe Chilsen plans to ride his bicycle to city hall as much as possible. He only lives six blocks away. But he plans to take the long way home each day in order to “decompress,” as he puts it.
Matthew Christen of Onalaska would like to see more people biking to do their errands within a two-mile area. He said 40 percent of transportation events are under two miles, with 28 percent under one mile.
“Our cars get the worst gas miles in the first two miles,” he said. “If we can get people confident to do the one or two mile errands, we would be happier.”
Christen’s biking enthusiasm began when he bought a bike to ride to his job as a science teacher at Logan Middle School. His bicycle riding became a science project for his students as they determined how much carbon dioxide he was keeping out of the atmosphere. The principal of the school got wind of it and posted his progress for all the students to see.
“In teaching eighth-grade science, it was a way to bring in the topic of global warming, green lifestyles and be a bit of a role model,” said Christen, who has since retired from teaching. “In the process, I adapted my way of getting to school and what I did in order to ride more often.”
Christen also wanted to see how long it would take him to pay off his $800 bike through savings on gas. He and his class calculated that he would have to ride 5,750 miles on the bike to pay it off.
With saving a pound of CO2 per mile ridden on a bike, Christen was soon having one-ton celebrations at school. It took him three and a half years to reach 5,750 miles.
He became an avid bike rider, even in below freezing temperatures. “I looked for ways to have more options to ride more often when I wanted and not let the weather affect my riding,” he said.
For more information about area Bike to Work Week events, visit the website at www.driftlessbicycle.org
For bike safety information, log on to www.shareandbeaware.org.