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Pedal power aids health, environment

Northwest Guardian

Published: 03:17PM May 1st, 2014

The League of American Bicyclists declared May as National Bike Month in 1956 and since then bicycling enthusiasts around the country have piggybacked their message extolling the virtues of human pedal power with the arrival of pleasant, late spring weather.

It’s not an unconscious choice on their part.

National Bike Month is the perfect opportunity to promote the ecologic and health benefits of leaving the family sedan in the garage and pedaling your way to work in the morning.

your home and end that long, dreary winter’s hibernation in the soft light of a summer’s morning, unencumbered by a steel cocoon, bicycle advocates croon. It’s a message that seemingly grows more attractive every year as concerns over the cost of owning and operating a car rise, sedentary lifestyles are declared life-stealing and morning highway traffic jams turn interstates into states of siege.

Organizers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord recognize the benefits of bike riding and are actively promoting three bike-centric events this month designed to help you discover the benefits of a healthier, fitter way to beat the commuting blues.

The first event is the month-long, annual Bicycle Commute Challenge, an online achievement ladder aimed at both teams and individuals who want to chart their mileage and guage it against others’ recorded totals.

Do you bike to work on a regular basis? If so, you can easily sign yourself or a team of co-workers up to log your commuting trips at http://commutechallenge.cascade.org and compare your standings with other riders. Commutes can be round trip, one-way or even partway. How many days you ride to work is entirely your choice.

The second initiative is Friday, May 16, when JBLM will join with hundreds of other communities around the nation to observe National Bike to Work Day.

If you’ve never attempted a bicycle commute before, this is the day to try it.

Lest anyone balk at the idea of actually riding the entire trip to and from a home off-base, organizers are happy to point out that combining other forms of transportation such as busing or vanpooling is a great way to become part of the biking solution without necessarily being in the saddle from doorstep to desk chair.

Combining vanpooling with biking is a great way to get in a few miles to and from the workplace without having to brave off-base road traffic, according to Miriam Easley, Sustainability Outreach Coordinator, Versar, Inc., JBLM Public Works-Environmental Division.

“We have some guys come from Lacey, and they get on a highway and bike all the way here. There are some people who also vanpool, so it doesn’t have to be just you biking both ways, here and there. You could bike one way and take your vanpool home. You could bike to your vanpool, put your bike on a van – vans can have bike racks – and take the vanpool the rest of the way. We’re not necessarily saying the whole commute has to be biking,” said Easley. “It would be great if it is,” she added, “but you can do part of it in a combination.”

While the nominal Bike to Work Day is May 16, JBLM is also actively looking to make the installation more bike-friendly. Information booths promoting both the Bike Day event and the upcoming mass rides on Armed Forces Day will feature maps of on-base trails and bike lanes presently available to riders while organizers will be soliciting suggestions about how JBLM can become more bike-friendly in the future. Organizers are also planning on providing free snacks at the booths for those who do participate in Bike to Work Day.

The final event JBLM is promoting is a 13k/25k Volks Bike group ride 8 a.m. to noon on Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 17. Planners will have information about the Volks Bike route as well as National Bike to Work Day at two manned booths located at both the Lewis and McChord base exchanges May 13 and 16. For more information on the Volks Bike event, please see the JBLM Armed Forces Day website at www.jblmmwr.com/armedforcesday.

So why bike to work when you can drive?

“Exercise is a good reason,” said Easley. “Getting some fresh air is another.”

For Lt. Colonel Ronald Harper, 62nd Medical Brigade, exercise and the feel of that fresh air in his face as he commutes from off-base are prime motivators to mounting up and riding, even in sometimes soggy conditions.

But braving the normal rains of the local winter doesn’t bother the Oregon native as much as visiblity, or the lack of visibility does. “I’ve ridden in a couple of times this year since the weather has changed. And usually it’s more about when it gets light enough out in the morning to ride safely as opposed to the weather itself. I can ride when it’s cold, I can ride when it’s wet, though I prefer not to, especially over a longer distance,” he said. “I look at it as my chance to combine my daily commute with my daily workout. I’m on the bike, it takes me an hour to ride in, I’m getting a good workout at the same time I’m getting myself to work.”

“And,” he adds, “I’m avoiding all of that traffic frustration. I’m not that guy coming in gripping the steering wheel because I’ve been on I-5 coming up the Nisqually Valley stuck behind a semi-truck for the last half hour.”

Even though the weather can occasionally be uncooperative, Harper emphasizes the de-stressing therapy of a bike commute.

“You get to see critters to the side of the road, you get to wave to fishermen down by the river. You notice historical markers I didn’t see when I driving by. You see other bicyclists and you wave, or stop at a stop sign together to chat for a minute...there is no bad time on a bike,” Harper said.

As a veteran bike commuter, Harper is quick to point out that biking safely means observing the “see and be seen” rule motorcyclists have. Wear reflective gear. And a helmet. He notes that while Washington state does not have a bike helmet law, JBLM does. Harper advises novice, or would-be bicyclists, to get in touch with a local bike club before attempting long-distance riding to learn the rules of the road.

And if de-stressing before and after work isn’t enough to entice non-riders to try biking to work, consider how biking can not only lengthen your life, slim you down and make you richer.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the number one for reducing inactivity-related illnesses is switching from auto trips to walking and biking. And a sedentary lifestyle is the leading contributor to premature deaths among Americans, according to the California Department of Health. Regular bicycle commuters can also expect to lose an average of 13 pounds a year just by switching from the sedan to the six-speed to get to work.

Biking costs nothing at the pump, Easley points out. Trimming the use of one household vehicle to get to work can save you up to $340 a month, according to the City of Seattle.

When you commute on your bike, you also don’t have to deal with parking and traffic, said Easley. “Mad at being stuck in traffic? You are the traffic. You’re part of the problem.”

And that eternal struggle to find a decent parking spot in the morning? Easley points out that there are bike racks at almost every building on the base, especially the newer ones. Bike commuters don’t circle the lot looking for a good, or even open spot.

“You get a prime parking space when you arrive,” she said. “You’re right there.”