Encouraging bicycling, one rider at a time

Published on Thu, Jun 16, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The rains and overcast skies of winter have almost given way to the lush greens of summer and a sun that stays up long past most toddlers’ bed times. Summers in Whatcom County are spent outside, and one of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors is on a bike.

While Galbraith and Chuckanut mountains offer the thrill of mountain biking, the streets and roads of Whatcom County are bike-friendly for recreation – and transportation. To make biking for transportation more attractive to the average person, the Whatcom Council of Governments started everybodyBIKE.

Program coordinator Ellen Barton started everybodyBIKE in 2006 alongside Whatcom Smart Trips, a larger initiative encouraging people to leave their cars at home and bike, bus or walk to work to school. She said the idea came to her while she was applying for Federal Highway Administration grants for improved bike trails across the county.

The focus of everybodyBIKE is education on bike safety and how to incorporate biking into a daily routine, Barton said.

Transportation surveys show the majority of trips people make by car are less than two miles in length.

“Such a distance is very doable on a bike,” Barton said.

Events such as Bike to Work or School Day help to show those who may not necessarily bike regularly that biking a few miles is not difficult. Especially in rural parts of the county, emphasizing small trips to the store or to a friend’s house is the best way to get more people involved.

“Little trips are the key,” Barton said.

The target audience for these events is people who thought they would never ride a bike, so showing the fun of riding a bike is important. Recreational biking is the entry point for most people, Barton said. Once they’ve ridden in a group, they are more likely to bike on their own in the future.

Bike classes

Becoming a honest-to-goodness bicyclist is not hard, and everybodyBIKE offers beginners and experts alike numerous classes that will teach them the rules of the road and the basics of bike maintenance. The program’s First Gear and Fixing to Ride classes are offered monthly and are part of a four-part course that is offered four times per year.

Participants in the First Gear class learn the basics of riding bikes alongside motorized traffic and how best to be visible for the safety of both bicyclist and motorist. Motorists tend to only remember bicyclists who break the rules and generalize that behavior to all bicyclists, Barton said. This creates a negative stigma around bicycling in general and could drive the average person away from bicycling for transportation.

The Fixing to Ride class teaches simple bike repairs and adjustments for better bike fit and smoother riding. Specific topics include changing gears, maintaining brake and gear cables and fixing a flat tire.

Barton suggests newbies to the biking world take at least the First Gear class to get comfortable riding alongside traffic and pedestrians.

When it comes to choosing a first bike, Barton said one of the first things to consider is comfort. There is a wide range of bikes that are made for transportation.

These bikes are typically designed to be easy on the rider’s wrists and to be ridden by people who are not wearing athletic gear, Barton explained.

Once bike and rider are ready to go, everybodyBIKE program coordinators also host regular group bicycling excursions. Bikers will find 13 Summer Rides events happening throughout June, July and August.

Each ride has a theme and includes stops at Bellingham’s bike shops or museums. Every ride is free and only requires registration on the everybodyBIKE website.

For a full list of 2011 everybodyBIKE events and information on how to register, visit www.everybodybike.com. The next First Gear class is scheduled for Tuesday, June 21, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Sehome Village REI.