Health & Fitness

Sacramento, get cycling: May Is Bike Month

A bike rider heads over the Guy West Bridge toward California State University, Sacramento, on Monday, April 25.
A bike rider heads over the Guy West Bridge toward California State University, Sacramento, on Monday, April 25.

In Sacramento, May is the month to think about riding your bike. No, you don’t have to squeeze into tight, shiny cycling shorts and spend $7,500 on a new carbon fiber race machine. You don’t have to sweat and gasp for air.

Any bike, any outfit, any time of day, any distance and any reason will do because it’s official: May Is Bike Month.

Indeed, come Monday, once the morning commute is in full force, no one will have to tell you about this popular annual campaign. Bikes should be everywhere – in the burbs, on the bike trails, heading to and from work, rolling up to bars and restaurants, coffee shops and grocery stores, lined up at intersections as if riding a bike is the best way to get around town.

More and more people are finding that it is.

Since 2005, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments has been promoting May Is Bike Month to show that getting on a bike helps lessen pollution, improve air quality and do all kinds of positive things for the body and mind. In the decade-plus since the popular campaign began, plenty has changed in and around Sacramento, including the re-striping of city streets to add many more miles of bike lanes and help make riding safer and easier.

With so many new restaurants, bars and coffee houses, along with new housing in recent years, the urban grid is bustling. As a result, parking is at a premium and automobile traffic can slow to a crawl at peak hours.

It’s that kind of urban evolution that appeals to Chris Schultz, deputy insurance commissioner with the state Department of Insurance.

“Many people I work with know I bike most places. I have a reputation for walking into a meeting wearing my reflective ankle bracelet because I forget to take it off,” said Schultz, who lives in East Sacramento and works downtown. “Many days, the only exercise I get is biking to work and biking home. It probably takes me 20 minutes to drive and park and walk in the door, and 25 minutes by bike.”

Schultz also has a cargo bike, so he can shuttle his 7-year-old daughter, Hazel, to school.

“It’s friendlier. People wave to us. We say ‘Hi’ to people,” Schultz said of the cargo bike excursions. “If we see a cat, she can get off the bike and pet the cat. You definitely don’t do that in the car.”

Monica Hernandez, who works at SACOG and helps organize and promote May Is Bike Month, rarely finds that her car is the best commute option.

“If I go fast on my bike, I can be at work and in the elevator in 11 minutes. On a normal day, it’s 15 minutes,” said Hernandez, who lives near the UC Davis Medical Center and works downtown. “It would take me 10 minutes to drive, but then I would have to park, pay for parking and walk from a parking garage to my building, which ends up taking almost 30 minutes.”

Hernandez says the month’s message is simple and resonates with all kinds of people.

“This is intended to get bicycling normalized as a transportation mode, get bikes on the roads and demonstrate to policymakers the demand while also helping improve air quality,” she said.

One of the month’s most popular features is logging miles on the biking campaign’s website. In the early years of May Is Bike Month, SACOG pushed for a Million Miles in May, which urged participants to collectively top the seven-figure mark during the month. In 2005, cyclists who registered on the website logged 476,164 miles. By 2008, the campaign became a fixture in Sacramento, including friendly competitions in workplaces. Registered cyclists ended up logging 1.2 million miles that May.

This year, SACOG is vying to break the 2 million-mile barrier for the first time. As of last week, 5,500 cyclists pledged to ride 1.2 million miles. Signing up takes only a couple of minutes, and there are no obligations. You can pledge whatever you wish: Some folks pledge 50 miles for the month; others 1,000 or more.

With all the bikes on city streets, it’s practically infectious. But SACOG is still trying to get through to more would-be bike riders.

“Even if it makes so much sense, it’s so easy and it’s so safe,” said A.J. Tendick, who has helped promote May Is Bike Month for years. “Just changing people’s behavior and getting them to deviate from driving is really hard.”

Part of that is because some people have an all-or-nothing approach to bikes. But Tendick and Hernandez say small steps are plenty. If you live far away from work and commute by bike, you can ride to public transit and put your bike on light rail or a bus. Or consider riding to a nearby restaurant or farmers market.

Fred Hoffman, longtime host and producer of three popular gardening radio programs on KFBK 1530 AM and KSTE 650 AM, is not only a master gardener but an enthusiastic cyclist who says riding a bike helped him lose weight and dramatically improve his health.

Today April 28 is his 65th birthday, and by the time you read this, Hoffman will likely be in the midst of a long bike ride. When he turned 30, he began riding his age in miles (plus one for good measure) every birthday and has done so every year since. Throughout the year, he averages about 100 miles a week and says cycling gives him great joy.

Hoffman gave up fast food and improved his diet after a health scare in 2012 that included trouble breathing and a diabetes diagnosis. He said he turned things around with diet and exercise.

“What motivates me is, when you’re done biking, you’ve just burned 700 or 800 or a thousand calories and I can have a big bowl of spaghetti,” he said. “When you’re counting calories, remember that it’s net calories, so if you ride more you can eat more.”

Asked if he has advice for those who want to try riding more, Hoffman advised moderation and incremental improvement. He also emphasized getting a bike that fits properly.

“Start small. Don’t buy a bike and go out on a 20-mile bike ride. Build up to it. If you do too many miles right off the bat, you’re going to be sore,” Hoffman said.

Blair Anthony Robertson: 916-321-1099, @Blarob