To Work on Wheels

Bike to Work Week geared to promote local pedaling

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth

KEEP THE SIGNAL STRONG. Matt Andrews, western region director for the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, is helping organize local events for Bike to Work Week, May 13-17.
KEEP THE SIGNAL STRONG. Matt Andrews, western region director for the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, is helping organize local events for Bike to Work Week, May 13-17.

If you’re like most people in the Chippewa Valley, your daily commute entails getting into your car and driving – almost always alone – to your workplace. Sure, a few of us hop on a bus or simply hoof it, but 87 percent of the time we let our internal combustion engines do the work. It’s the American way, right?

Yet once in a while – maybe when gas prices flirt with $4 a gallon, maybe when we can’t find a parking spot, maybe when the spring sunlight glints off the forgotten Schwinn in the garage – we consider how things could be different. What if, instead of fishing for our car keys in the morning, we instead strapped on our helmets and pedaled our way to the office?

Local organizers of Bike to Work Week, May 13-17, hope to tap into this nascent desire and turn more of us into two-wheeled commuters. In Eau Claire, the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin – aka the Bike Fed – is sponsoring a series of events that week to reward current bike commuters, attract new ones, and remind the rest of us to share the streets.

“Our (bicycling) culture here in Eau Claire has been slowly coming around, and I think we’re in a good position to increase that,” says Matt Andrews, western region director for the Bike Fed. In recent years, as 13 miles of trails have been fleshed out in Eau Claire, recreational bicycling has grown in popularity, and the city is putting up more signs and putting down more paint to promote bike safety on the streets, Andrews notes.

“Our (bicycling) culture here in Eau Claire has been slowly coming around, and I think we’re in a good position to increase that,” says Matt Andrews, western region director for the Bike Fed.

Jeremy Gragert, a Bike Fed volunteer and longtime two-wheel evangelist, notes that most recreational bicyclists exchange their pedal power for gas power when the workweek arrives. Because of that reality, “Part of the goal (of Bike to Work Week) is to get people to think about bikes as transportation,” he explains.

“The shift is really from recreational bicycling to utilitarian bicycling,” Gragert says. Gragert speculated that several factors account for the fact so few people – under 1 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates – in the Chippewa Valley commute by bike, including lack of available bike parking, low urban density, and a lack of designated bike routes on city streets.

And that’s where the Bike Fed comes in. The Milwaukee-based nonprofit group, whose goal is to “cultivate, motivate and unite a strong community of citizens as well as business and political leaders to move bicycling forward in Wisconsin,” is gearing up its level of activity in the Chippewa Valley – and that starts with Bike to Work Week. This national celebration will be marked locally with three Bike Fed-sponsored “commuter stations” in Eau Claire featuring free coffee and snacks, bike safety checks, and information on the Bike Fed. Those who bike to these events can also give input on improving the city’s bike infrastructure, such as how specific routes could be made safer – for example, the spot where the bike trail crosses Menomonie Street near the entrance to Carson Park. The week will end with a celebration from 5-8pm Friday, May 17, at the tap room of Lazy Monk Brewing, 320 Putnam St., which will feature refreshments, raffle prizes, and networking with other cyclists.

“The main thing is after wintertime is over to get people on their bikes again and to get new people on bikes,” Gragert says. “The goal of the Bike Fed is to get more people on bikes more often, and this is a seasonally advantageous time to do that.”

Andrews, the regional director, ticks off a list of other advantages to biking to work, including reduced pollution, less automotive congestion, and the mental and physical benefits of pumping the pedals: “Commuting to work by bike not only makes you truly awake and alert for the work day, but the average person loses 13 pounds in the first year of commuting by bike,” he says.

Young, male, and perched on a stylish bicycle, Andrews knows he fits the stereotype of someone who bikes to work – but he emphasizes that people of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds can benefit from doing so. “We don’t have a lot of people done up in gear,” he says. “We do have a lot of people trying to get from point A to point B, and doing it by bike.”

To learn more about the Bike Fed, visit wisconsinbikefed.org.

BIKE TO WORK WEEK COMMUTER STATIONS

KICK OFF EVENT: Tuesday, May 14, 6:30-10am.
Where: Volume One / The Local Store (On the bike trail at corner of North Dewey and Galloway streets).Sponsored by Volume One, this one features a kickoff party at 8am including free coffee/snacks, “local celebrities” riding in, local bike tees and info available, cool custom bikes on display including pedicabs, unicycles, tandems, vintage bikes. The Wisconsin Bike Fed will be on hand in full force.

Wednesday, May 15, 6:30-10am.
Where: UW-Eau Claire Haas Fine Arts Center (east entrance near footbridge). Sponsored by UW-Eau Claire Student Office of Sustainability and UW-Eau Claire Environmental Adventure Center.

Thursday, May 16, 6:30-10am.
Where: Dairy Queen (at Menomonie Street bike trail crossing). Sponsored by Dairy Queen.