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Bike Month: The perfect reason to start cycling to work

Pedal powered activities planned for May

Staff Writer
Austin 360
John Jolly rides to his South Austin home from his office, in background, at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality near I-35 and Yeager Lane on Wednesday April 14, 2010.

Take your pick: Stuck in gridlock traffic in a car on MoPac Boulevard or zooming down the hike-and-bike trail, knocking out the daily workout on the way to the office?

Really, who wouldn't rather pedal a bike to work?

We know, it's not always possible. But whatever your excuse, there's probably a way around it, at least some of the time.

Live too far away? Try a combination bike/bus commute, or drive part way and cycle the rest. No shower at the office? Clean up with baby wipes or drop by Mellow Johnny's bike shop, which offers showers for $1.

May is National Bike Month, and Austin is gearing up with a slew of activities to get you started.

Not only is biking good for your body - a 140-pound person burns about 400 calories an hour pedaling at a moderate pace - it's gentle on the environment. Fewer cars on the road mean less gasoline consumed and less exhaust in the air. And it takes a motor vehicle off already congested roadways.

It also makes for happier co-workers. Because if you ride your bike to work, chances are you'll be smiling when you get there.

Meet two Austinites who commute on their bikes:

Eileen Schaubert, 46

Employer: Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop

Also relevant: Board member of the Street Smarts Task Force, the Bicycle Advisory Council and the Urban Transportation Commission

How often do you commute: Three or four days a week

Trip distance: 4.5 miles each way

Route: 45th Street at Shoal Creek Boulevard to Fourth and Nueces streets

How long does it take: About 25 minutes by bike versus 15 minutes by car

Bike: A cyclocross bike, which is like a beefy 10-speed

Showers: Available at work

How long commuting to work by bike: Two years

Why do you do it: ‘Partly because it gives me a chance to decompress on the way to work or back home. It's a chance to be outside. I get to see what's going on in my neighborhood. I was riding home the other day and discovered that my neighbor was 8 months pregnant.'

Other motivation: Mellow Johnny's employees have to pay $15 a day to park in the bike shop parking lot, so it's cheaper to ride a bike.

How do you make it work: ‘Primarily I carry stuff in a messenger bag, but if for some reason I need to drive downtown, I bring it the day before. I have a small locker at work where I keep a spare change of shoes and clothes, and I have extra toiletries there.'

What's the hardest part about bike commuting: ‘ You have to be thoughtful about what you're hauling. If I have two or three activities during the day, I have to think pretty carefully about what I'm bringing.'

When don't you commute: ‘ If it's pouring rain, I'll take the bus or drive in.'

Thoughts on cycling to work: ‘ It really is about reconnecting with my little world and my community, and for me it's just so relaxing. There are times when I'm riding that it's kind of a political statement: We can change our habits, it's not that hard to make small changes. It's also a really nice way to get exercise.'

Advice for rookie commuters: Schaubert is a master instructor for Street Cycling 101 and leads a weekly scout-a-route group ride at 8:30 a.m. Saturdays from Mellow Johnny's so commuters can learn the best cycling routes through their neighborhood. ‘Really get to know the bike laws. That's going to help you feel a lot more confident about which routes to take, making good choices for your own safety and getting along with other drivers.'

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John Jolly, 47

Employer: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

How often do you commute: Twice a week, sometimes with riding the bus

Trip distance: 21 miles each way

Route: Brodie Lane south of William Cannon Drive to Interstate 35 near Yager Lane

How long does it take: An hour and 15 minutes to work and an hour and 35 minutes home (a slightly different route), versus 30 minutes to work and 45 minutes home by car

Bike: A friend's hand-me down road bike

Showers: Available at work

How long commuting to work by bike: More than 20 years; this particular commute about two years

Why do you do it? ‘It just feels good — not always during the ride but always afterward. It helps with gas expenses, greenhouse gas emissions, all that. But I don't think I would or could do it if it weren't fun enough. I do a lot of yoga, but this is the only extended heart-pumping aerobic work I do.'

How do you make it work: ‘I keep everything I can at work and carry my lunch and a few extras in a waist pack. I can do it and still live a normal life. I have three kids at home and it's safe and it's fun.'

What's the hardest part about bike commuting: Getting up at 4:30 a.m. and leaving at 5:45 a.m. in order to get home by 6 p.m. to spend time with the family.

When don't you commute: ‘Often the rain will keep me off the bike. However I usually have two days per week that are scheduled bike days, with no ability to make them up later if rain occurs, so I try to get out no matter what. The other thing that restricts me is that 4:30 a.m. wake-up time. Sometimes I'm just not ready to face the day that early. Those days then become driving days.'

Favorite part of commute: Zipping up Brodie Lane in the darkness and zipping down South Lamar Boulevard when there are no cars on it.

Thoughts: ‘You have a whole range of rides from poor ones where you get wet or someone passes too close to you to really ecstatic rides. One day I was riding home, thinking "Why isn't everybody on their bike? If they were, everybody would be smiling right now."'

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Traffic Skills 101

Learn tips and skills to make you a safer, more confident urban cyclist with a Traffic Skills 101 class. Taught in two sessions — a four-hour Friday evening classroom session (usually at a REI location) and a five-hour Saturday morning on-the-bike session. Classes are tentatively scheduled for May 14-15; May 21-22; June 18-19; and June 25-26.

You can find more information at www.austin cycling.org .

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Commuting tips:

1. Make sure your bike is in good working order. Start with a basic, inexpensive tune-up.

2. Flat tires are the most common problem. You might want to use puncture-resistant tires and tubes. Carry a pump, tire levers, a spare tube or two, a patch kit and an all-in-one multi-tool. Consider taking a class at an area bike shop.

3. Use a bell to announce yourself to pedestrians and other cyclists.

4. Use racks, panniers or seat bags, a backpack or messenger bag to carry your stuff.

5. Roll your clothes, don't stuff them. It's more space efficient and helps prevent wrinkles.

6. Leave a change of clothes at work.

7. Fenders help keep you and your bike clean if it rains during your commute.

8. If your office doesn't have a shower, keep baby wipes handy to freshen up.

10. Lock your bike carefully (secure the frame, wheels and any easily removed part to an immovable object). U-locks are less easily broken.

11. If your commute is too long to tackle at once, drive in one morning, bike home that afternoon, and then pedal in the next morning.

12. When commuting by bike, the shortest distance to work might not be the safest or most enjoyable. Plan your route. A great resource is the Austin bike route map sold for $2.50 at area bike shops.

13. Use front and rear lights when it's dark. Being visible to motorists enhances your safety, and it's the law.

14. Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as other road users. That means riding with, never against, traffic, stopping at stop signs and lights, signaling turns and staying in control. It also means that you have as much of a right to the road as cars do, so if paths or bike lanes aren't available, assert your position in the middle of the lane. By taking the lane, drivers are less inclined to try to squeeze past and endanger you. This practice is legal and safe.

15. Assume that drivers can't see you. Ride at least 3 feet to the left of parked cars (getting doored is no fun) and use caution at intersections.

— From Bicycle Sport Shop

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Schedule of events:

Bike Month Kick Off: City officials, nonprofits and bike-related organizations celebrate the beginning of Bike Month with live music and festivities from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday at City Hall Plaza, 301 W. Second St. It's also a last chance to register for the Austin Commuter Challenge.

Bike-in Book Swap: The Austin Public Library system and Yellow Bike Project host a book swap from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in the parking lot of the Terrazas Branch Library, 1105 E. Cesar Chavez St. Make bicycle panniers, or saddlebags, from recycled buckets or kitty litter boxes. Plus refreshments and information booths by the Austin Cycling Association, Yellow Bike Project and League of Bicycling Voters. Free bicycle route maps.

Yellow Bike Project Grand Opening: Yellow Bike Project officials show off their new headquarters at 1216 Webberville Road from 3-8 p.m. Saturday. Shop tours, Austin Bike Zoo appearance, performances.

Austin Bike Poster Show: Twenty-five posters that promote cycling as transportation in Austin will be chosen for display May 6-June 5 at Frame Corner, 5601 Adams Ave. Judges will select a winning poster that will be used by the City of Austin's Bicycle and Pedestrian Program to promote cycling in Austin. Posters will be available for sale, with a portion of proceeds benefiting Lamar Middle School's Safe Routes to School program.

Bike to Austin Community College and Bike to the University of Texas Day: College students are encouraged to pedal to school on May 3.

Mechanic: A bike mechanic will be on hand from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. May 14 at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road. Bring your bicycle by for a quick once over by a bike mechanic.

Political Pedal: Bicycle alongside local politicians. Meet at 5:30 p.m. May 14 at City Hall Plaza, 301 W. Second St.

Bikes & Books Tour: Austin Cycling Association certified ride leaders guide riders on a safe, premapped tour of three of Austin's north central branch libraries, helping to show cyclists how safe and easy it can be to get to multiple library locations by bike. The tour starts at 9 a.m. May 15 at Recycled Reads, 5335 Burnet Road, and includes visits to North Village Branch, Old Quarry and Yarborough libraries.

Bike to School Day: Students are encouraged to pedal to school on May 19.

Bike to Work Day: Adults are encouraged to pedal to work on May 21. Free breakfast will be offered 7 to 9 a.m. at Whole Foods and REI Gateway, 9607 Research Blvd.; Shoal Creek Boulevard at Far West; The Peddler, 5015 Duval St.; Wheatsville Coop, 3101 Guadalupe St.; Freewheeling Bicycles, 2401 San Gabriel St.; Thunderbird Coffee, 2200 Manor Road; Whole Foods and REI downtown, 525 N. Lamar Blvd.; Mellow Johnny's, 400 Nueces St.; City Hall Plaza, 301 W. Second St.; CapMetro's Plaza Saltillo, Fifth Street at Comal Street; Bike Texas, 1902 E. Sixth St.; Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, 221 S. Lamar Blvd.; Flipnotics Coffeespace, 1601 Barton Springs Road; Bicycle Sport Shop, 517 S. Lamar Blvd.; One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road; Bouldin Creek Coffee House, South First at Elizabeth streets; Banister Lane at Casey Street; Yellow Bike Project, 1216 Webberville Road.

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Downtown Bike Station:

Don't have a shower at your office? Stop at Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop, 400 Nueces St., and use their facilities. For $1, you get use of their shower and dressing room (including hair dryers), shampoo and towel. Plus, you can leave your bike parked there all day at no charge. Bike station open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. For more information, call 473-0222 or e-mail info@mellowjohnnys.com.

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2010 Austin Commuter Challenge:

How hard-core a bike commuter are you? Find out in Bicycle Sport Shop's 2010 Austin Commuter Challenge.

Register a team or do it alone and compete for bragging rights and prizes.

The competition is scored based on the number of trips. Any trip you take by bike that you'd normally take by car counts. Distance doesn't matter; each one-way destination is a trip. Rides taken with the sole purpose of getting exercise.

Enter either the 30-day team or individual challenge or seven-day family challenge. Last year, 300 cyclists competed, logging a total of about 28,000 miles. For more information go to http://www.austincommuterchallenge.com. Deadline to register is Friday.