Pedal Power To Be Celebrated Statewide May 12-16

May is National Bike Month, and for those with pedal power, Bike Walk Connecticut has proclaimed the week of May 12–16 as Bike To Work Week. The less ambitious might want to partake of Bike To Work Day, scheduled for Friday, May 16. Numerous towns around the state have organized celebrations of bicycling as a means of transportation, with specific dates and times found at www.bikewalkct.org.

There is no need to be a full-time bicycling enthusiast to make this sport a regular part of the work or play day routine. Anybody can challenge him or herself, even if bicycling is only a memory of youth.

At Sandy Hook Cyclery, 6 Glen Road (entrance at 1 Riverside Road) in Sandy Hook, owner Terrence Ford is working to improve bike culture awareness, he said.

“Bicycling had a massive surge in the late 1990s until about 2005,” Mr Ford said May 5. The popularity with recreational bicyclists, he continued, has leveled off since then.

An avid bicyclist, who bikes anywhere from a couple of miles to 100 miles every week, Mr Ford said there are a number of things that could be done to encourage the sport.

“We need bicycle seminars on how to safely be on the road. We need to educate potential cyclists,” he said, and local bike trails would inspire many to get back in the saddle.

He is doing what he can to involve families in bicycling, Mr Ford said, starting this spring when he plans to bring “a slew of bikes” up to Fairfield Hills, Wednesday afternoons, between 4 and 6:30 pm. The bicycles will be provided free of charge to anyone who wants to pedal around Fairfield Hills, he said.

“I’d like to do it every day but it will be just once a week, for now,” he said. He plans to set up the bikes near the soccer field, where people can sign out the bikes and return them when they are finished.

“I think, once I start this, it will have its own momentum. And if you give people a place to ride, it grows,” said Mr Ford.

Rhett Bridgman, who worked in the bicycle industry for many years with Mr Ford, was visiting Sandy Hook Cyclery on Monday morning. He had his own theory as to why recreational bicycling has fallen off.

“People are intimidated by so many bike shops. Many became elite and specialized, and almost pushed away people that had kept them alive. I think Terrance is on to something here,” Mr Bridgman said. “This is something that is needed: a place to fix and sell old bikes to community people.”

It is important that a customer feels comfortable in a bicycle shop when considering a purchase, and that he or she is comfortable with the staff, Mr Ford said. Customers should expect to be engaged by staff as to what kind of biking a person expects to do, and where they plan to ride.

At Sandy Hook Cyclery, Mr Ford said he takes those things into consideration, as well as a person’s potential as a bicyclist. “I want the make sure it is the smartest purchase for the rider,” he said.

As if on cue, Mark DeWolfe and his daughter Alexandria appeared at the yellow barn shop, seeking a recycled bicycle for Alexandria.

“We’re looking for a bike for her summer job, on an island, where it will be her transportation. We’re probably seeking a 16-week bike for her to get around on,” said Mr DeWolfe, who had been a long distance bicyclist in the 1990s, he said, when he biked all over the country, 100 miles a day, raising awareness about AIDS.

“I used to bike around Rhode Island with my dad, and up and down the streets in our neighborhood,” said Alexandria, but she is not an active bicyclist now.

It was all good information for Mr Ford, who quickly advised that Alexandria look for a “beach cruiser” with gears, a rack, and a basket.

For anyone looking to get back into bicycling, or anyone taking it up for the first time, Mr Ford said the best way to get in shape is to “start riding.” Make sure the bike is a proper fit.

“That’s the most important thing. If the seat and handles are properly fit, it optimizes power output. If you are uncomfortable after a ride, you probably won’t keep it up,” he said.

Check the tire pressure and brakes before setting out, too, he suggested, and wear lightweight breathable clothing for the most comfort. Ankle straps can be purchased to keep pants legs from tangling in the gears. “Or do it the old school way: tuck the pants into the sock,” Mr Ford said.

New bicyclists want to start out slowly. “Don’t overdo it,” he urged.


An Ideal Time For Bicycling

Monte Frank, an attorney with Cohen & Wolf in Danbury, has been bicycle racing since a student many years ago at Cornell University.

“I continued to ride and race since then,” said Mr Frank, who estimates he currently is in the saddle close to 150 miles each week. He is also a member of the Team 26 bicycle riders who have twice trekked from Sandy Hook to Washington, DC, to deliver the message to legislators there that work is not done regarding firearms safety issues.

He does occasionally ride from his Sandy Hook home to work, he said, but a lot of his riding is recreational, on area roads.

“I find [bicycling] to be an incredible stress relief. For me, it’s time to enjoy the outdoors and recharge,” Mr Frank said.

The weather has finally turned, he added, making this the ideal time to take up or return to bicycling.

“Just go out and start riding and enjoying our beautiful roads,” he urged. While busier roads can be challenging, the Newtown area offers “a lot of nice, quiet back roads. I like to go across Lake Zoar Bridge and head up toward Washington. There are phenomenal roads up there,” he suggested.

Mark Lurie, another Newtown bicycling enthusiast, had suggestions for anyone thinking about adding a bike ride to the prework hours. Mr Lurie started biking to his job as risk data manager at GE Capital in Danbury, five to six years ago, after finding a free bike at a roadside tag sale.

“I’ve always had a bike, but it wasn’t until about 2005 that I decided to start biking actively,” Mr Lurie said. “I’d developed a hobby of ‘recycling’ bikes. So I made this bike over into a single-speed bike and started biking to work,” he said. The nine- to 20-mile ride to work, depending on which of several routes he selects, is a good way to save gas and get some exercise, Mr Lurie said.

This year, his first work commute was in January. In February he was able to pedal to work a couple more times. By March, despite some 12-degree days, he was able to start his normal three-day-a-week trips by bicycle to work.

There is a certain amount of planning that goes into biking to work, he said. If he did not have shower facilities at his work place, it would impact how often he was able to take his bike to work, he said.

“Know your route and pick a safe route,” he recommended to anyone taking up on the Bike To Work Week. “Minimize the amount of time you are on the busier roads,” he said.

Be sure the bike is in good working order, and “Be seen!” he emphasized. Blinking lights on the rear and front of the bicycle are helpful, and Mr Lurie recommended that clothing be vividly colored.

“You want to be seen. It’s important that drivers know you are there,” he said.

Wearing a helmet is also important, added Mr Lurie.

Mr Lurie also reminded drivers that in Connecticut, there is a three-foot rule. Truck and car drivers must give bicyclists three feet of clearance when passing.


Plan Ahead

BikeWalkCT.org echoed several of the tips from local riders, for the less experienced bicyclist planning to pedal off to work May 16.

First, make sure the bicycle is in good working order. Tune it up or bring it to a local bicycle shop for a tune-up. Take the bike out for a spin before heading out on a longer ride, to make sure brakes and gears are working smoothly and the bike seat is comfortable. Many options for bike seats are available, if the saddle is not suited to the rider.

Special biking clothes are not necessary. Clothing should be suitable to the weather and suitable to bicycling. A change of clothes for work can be carried in a backpack or panniers.

Purchase a bicycle lock if the bike will be parked outside of the work place, or if plans include stopping for snacks or shopping.

Wear a helmet and have a bottle of water for rehydrating. Simple bicycle tools and a tire pump are desirable.

Check out the traffic along the planned route, and adjust for heavy travel periods. Maps of routes used by bike commuters in the state can be found online at the Bike Walk Connecticut website. A trial run at a less busy time for traffic may be useful.

Follow the rules of the road, traveling in the same direction as car traffic. Keep as far to the right as is reasonable, and in town, veer far left of any car doors that may open unexpectedly. Be alert to traffic and pedestrians at all times.

If bicycling is a new activity, take it slow. Do not be afraid to mix biking with walking, especially up hills. It may be advisable to check with a doctor before taking on this new sport.

Unless it is an exceptionally warm and humid day, or excessively rainy, it is most likely not necessary to shower upon arrival at work. A quick freshening up and change of clothes is all that is needed to greet the work day. If a shower is needed, allow extra time and check with nearby gyms as to whether shower facilities are available.

Bicycling is a good form of exercise, building up muscle and stamina, as ability increases. A 120-pound person, biking at 14 miles per hour, can burn more than 500 calories per hour. It is also an environmentally friendly means of transportation.

May is National Bike Month, but it does not mean a newfound hobby has to stop there. There are many more months in the year that are perfect to bike to work or bike to play. 

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