STANISLAUS COUNTY — With three Stanislaus County cities adding Bike to Work Day events this year, organizers hope more people will get off the fence and get on their bicycles.
Modesto's annual event began in 1997 and has grown from dozens of participants to 100-plus. This year, it will be held Friday, as will Turlock's first Bike to Work Day. Next week, Oakdale and Patterson launch their inaugural events. All are tied to National Bike to Work Week, May 13-17.
"It's pretty exciting a lot of the smaller communities have gotten on board this year," said Kari McNickle, a regional planner with the San Joaquin Council of Governments. "It's a result of coordination between the cities, the businesses and the bicycling enthusiasts."
Every year since Modesto launched its Bike to Work Day, participation has increased, McNickle said, but there's a long way to go to get more people pedaling more often. One group to win over is the "concerned but interested population," she said. "It's the portion of the population that would consider biking to work but have concerns about safety, time, whether they'll get sweaty."
To a great extent, safety is in cyclists' hands: Follow rules of the road; be aware of traffic; use a helmet and reflective wear; and ride a bike outfitted with reflectors and lights.
As for time, lots of people regularly hit the gym, so getting a workout on the way to and from the workplace could replace some of that, McNickle said. And the sweat? Some workplaces have showers, and some gyms and fitness centers offer just a "shower membership," she said. She suggests that reluctant riders "start small, try getting dropped off at work and riding home. Try it on a day off, just as a casual ride."
Every rider finds his or her own motivation.
Dennis Rubalcaba of Salida posted on The Bee's Facebook page, "I ride to work every day from Salida to Ripon. All due to the climbing cost of gas, plus it was a way to lose a few pounds. I've lost 20 since the first of the year." He said his daily ride is "about 13 miles round trip, and I'm coming up on two years."
Turlock resident Dan England, a senior civil engineer for the city of Modesto, was driven to biking by his daughter's need for his car. For more than two years, his day has begun with a 1½-mile bike ride to the bus stop. The bus drops him in downtown Modesto, where he takes a short bike ride to the office. It's not a lot of exercise, but he's doing his part to cut auto emissions. And he's spending less on gas. "I think about that all the time. There's definitely a cost savings."
As for a health benefit, "I'd like to think there is," said England, 50. "In good weather, about once a week I ride home all the way (11 miles) for the exercise and enjoyment."
The goal of Bike to Work Week is to encourage commuters to try biking (or walking) to work. By pledging to ride instead of drive one day a week, commuters are eligible to win prizes and enjoy the rewards of a car-free commute. Here's a look at local events:
Friday's celebration is at Tenth Street Plaza from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. All bicycle commuters will get a continental breakfast, and the first 150 to arrive will get a free T-shirt. Cyclists who really want to make an entrance can join the police-escorted Ride With the Mayor, which will begin at 7:15 a.m. at Plantation Coffee, at Floyd and Roselle avenues.
Bike your way to the Friday Farmers Market for prizes and giveaways. The celebration is from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in front of City Hall, 156 S. Broadway.
Join fellow bike commuters, get freebies and visit vendors behind the Oakdale Bicycle Shop, 445 E. F St. The event is from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
There will be prizes, refreshments and vendors downtown on May 16 from 7 to 9:30 a.m.
Refreshments and vendor gifts will be offered in South Park downtown on May 17. Hours are 7 to 10 a.m.
For more on the events, visit www.valleybikecommute.com.