Bicycle advocates chalk up successes of Bike Month

05/17/2012 12:00 AM

02/26/2013 8:24 PM

In the eight years since the "May Is Bike Month" campaign began, area cyclists have ridden millions of miles while demonstrating that bikes are, among other things, an easy solution to complex problems.

The organized effort has inspired many others to give it a try, and, no doubt, stirred up a little hostility as bicycles became a larger part of the transportation equation.

Folded into the campaign is Bike to Work Day, which is today, along with Friday's National Bike to Work Day.

May Is Bike Month has put on a variety of events, including a free bike maintenance class, a variety of prize giveaways and, on May 5, a free showing of "Breaking Away," the 1979 movie that captured the simple joy and romance of riding a bike. A big part of the program is the million miles challenge, in which cyclists voluntarily log their miles during May. The effort fell short of its goal in the early years but has routinely topped 1 million miles since 2008.

A.J. Tendick, who helps run May Is Bike Month via the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, says folks find all kinds of reasons to choose the bike as a transportation option, from saving on money on gas and parking to physical fitness, along with environmental concerns. The message is an easy one: Bikes are cheap, clean and convenient, and riding them is good for you.

"The beauty about biking is that, ultimately, it's something that's fun," Tendick said.

Whether this annual bicycle campaign has led to concrete changes and improved conditions for cyclists is more difficult to determine.

After the Lance Armstrong- inspired bike-racing boom leveled off a few years ago, Sacramento reflected the national trend of fixed-gear bike riding, along with the growth in beach cruisers for social events like pub crawls. Between those two modes, commuters use all kinds of bikes to get to work or school, pick up groceries, stop by farmers markets or go out to dinner at a favorite midtown restaurant without the stress of finding a parking spot.

Sacramento businesses and area governments have embraced cycling more than ever.

Two of the area's best pizza places – OneSpeed and Hot Italian – have made bikes a focal point of their business models. Ruhstaller Beer and Two Rivers Cider also promote bike riding as a way of life.

A fledgling bicycle delivery business, Edible Pedal, expanded into a full-fledged bike shop. Valet bike parking at major outdoor events, such as the downtown Concerts in the Park series, has become commonplace, sponsored by Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates.

This year, Sacramento's bicycling reputation received a major dose of prestige when it hosted the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. The three-day event attracted vendors and thousands of attendees from throughout the country to look at the best in handcrafted bikes, including those by award- winning frame builder Steve Rex, who operates a shop on E Street in midtown.

Bike racks – simple ones, cool ones, artsy ones – have popped up all over town in recent years. The city continues to revamp many streets to include bike lanes, while suburbs tout their new-and-improved "complete streets" designed with cyclists and pedestrians in mind.

On any weekday, thousands of commuters can be seen rolling into the city on bikes. The cargo bike – pricey, heavy-duty and ready to haul large loads – has become more prominent, too, as have the electric-powered hybrid bikes.

And if you look around on a sleepy weekend, you're likely to spot dozens of dapper folks on bikes enjoying the latest "tweed ride," taking in the sites, stopping in at bars and restaurants, and celebrating urban living at a civilized pace. Their bikes are often tricked out – not for speed, but for style.

The man leading those tweed rides, Rick Houston, is also a volunteer with May Is Bike Month. His hope: More motorists will continue to try riding for some of their trips. He says the bike-car divide – and the occasional hostility that bubbles to the surface – really shouldn't exist.

"Most people with bicycles have a car," he said. "Cars are great for certain things, but there are so many things you can do on a bike I guarantee that in 10 years, we'll have three times more bicycles in midtown that we have now."

Elle Bustamante, a 29-year-old mother of two, wants to play a role in the bike boom. She leads by example, deciding not long ago to do as much as possible on a bike – and show others just how easy it can be.

Two months ago, Bustamante started a blog, www. tinyhelmetsbigbikes.com, to share her adventures and encourage others to join in.

"I do everything on the bike," said Bustamante, whose two boys are ages 1 and 3. "We wanted to shift our focus away from the car and use our bikes as our main form of transportation."

Bustamante recently upgraded to a cargo bike called Yuba Mundo, which can carry over 400 pounds plus the rider. Along with her husband, Jose, she takes their children all over town by bike. Every so often, she'll get heckled by a motorist who suggests she's an irresponsible parent.

She doesn't shy away.

"Ninety percent of the people I talk to are so positive," she said. "They tell me I'm living the dream. I want to be a role model and show people it's possible, so I want them to notice me."

The same goes for Dawnie Andrak, who always seems to be having a blast getting around town on her bike. Her daily commute is two miles, and she does longer rides for fitness and for pleasure.

"Heck, it's just fun. I was coming home from the office on my bicycle the other day and stopped for a traffic light. There were four riders with me and two or three more at each of the corners. We all smiled at each other and a few even waved. Wonderful! And, how's that for 'rush hour?' " Andrak said. "I hope every month becomes bike month for at least a few more people because of May Is Bike Month."

Andrak and her significant other, Tim Bailey, are sponsoring a Food Chain Ride on Sunday. Starting in midtown at 10 a.m. at Edible Pedal (1712 L St. in the alley), cyclists will ride at a casual pace to Soil Born Farms, returning at 1:30 p.m., followed by a gathering at OneSpeed at 3 p.m. Everyone is welcome. For more information: www.foodchainride.com.

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