Bikes have been a big part of Chippewa Valley culture for decades – but nothing like we see today.
It’s hard to nail down exactly how important a strong biking community can be to a place like the Chippewa Valley. This is because there are so many different ways to bike, so many different kinds of bicyclist, and so very many different benefits to be found when a city supports biking culture in all its forms.
From weekend enthusiasts to everyday commuters, from off-road trail blazers to on-road racers, from kids with streamers to retirees on recumbents, biking can serve any walk of life at any stage of life – and that’s exactly what we see in the Chippewa Valley.
“Biking brings people together and provides an outlet for people to connect,” says Sue Mcdonald, who’s active in the Chippewa Off Road Bike Association, frequenting the wooded trails in Lowes Creek and Pinehurst Parks. She’s also a coach for the Eau Claire Youth Cycling team.
“Between organized group rides, social rides, winter fat-biking, skill courses, and getting the youth involved, I think we’re on track to continue the growth we’ve
“The social aspect of biking is huge – people get out and about,” she says, “I believe riders are much more apt to participate in community events when they can easily access them by bike.”
A 2015 report from the University of California – incorporating over 520 studies from 17 countries – suggests that cities whose residents ride (as well as run and walk) see increased economic growth compared to areas with more sedentary citizens. Bike-friendly communities also have higher levels of mental health and well-being.
Eau Claire City Council President Terry Weld believes biking can form a strong thread in the fabric of Eau Claire. He says, “An active biking community brings so many benefits, including promoting a healthier culture, broadening the reach for those without vehicles, prompting tourism dollars, and reducing our carbon footprint.”
“All of this and more,” Weld says, “makes us a stronger community. A happier community.”
Aaron Salmon became addicted to the ease of bike commuting when he lived in Chicago. Since moving to Eau Claire five years ago, he’s become the chair of the city’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee. An active biking advocate, he says, “Bike infrastructure tends to increase nearby property values, helps create safer streets, and helps foster a stronger sense of place for neighbors in our community.”
So, were could we go from here? Jeremy Gragert, who represents District 3 on the Eau Claire City Council says, “We need to get more butts on bikes, particularly for environmental reasons, as the transportation sector is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.” A lifelong bicyclist, Gragert has been involved in bicycle advocacy for over 15 years.
Meanwhile, Salmon says, “I’d love to see our city commit to building more streets that are safe and comfortable for all ages and abilities – only about 10% of cyclists feel comfortable riding in painted bike lanes and mixing in with traffic.”
Sue Mcdonald is excited for the future. She says, “I think at this point in time biking is just exploding in Eau Claire. Between organized group rides, social rides, winter fat-biking, skill courses, and getting the youth involved, I think we’re on track to continue the growth we’ve already started.”