Monday, May 14, 2007

As gas prices rise, more turn to 2 wheels

Kennebec Journal

Friday, May 11, 2007

OAKLAND -- Paul Denis is a bike guy who works in a bike shop, so it's hardly surprising that he commutes to work using pedal power.

But Denis, who works at Mathieu's Cycle & Fitness Store on Main Street, said the rise in gas prices is driving more people to go the non-motorized route.

"I wouldn't say it is huge," Denis said, "but I would say people have definitely done it. No question."

Denis said in some cases people come in to buy a new bike for commuting purposes, while others bring in the ones they have for a tune-up or more elaborate upgrade.

David Auclair of Auclair Cycle & Ski in Augusta is seeing the same trend at his shop. And he is convinced that this trend is only beginning to build.

"The more people that ride, the more it gets around that it is a good thing to do," he said.

But others in the business have yet to see a significant conversion to commuting by 10-speed.

"Most of us are willing to suck it up and pay the money to drive," said Stephen Nass of Kennebec Bike & Ski in Hallowell. "(Commuting by bike) is not the American mentality, which is sad to say but true."

Nass said one of the chief reasons people drive motor vehicles is that road systems in the United States generally are not constructed with bike travel in mind.

In fact, he said, areas that are more accommodating to bicycle traffic tend to have more bike commuters.

Jeff Miller, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, said he hears complaints about gas prices every day.

But he doesn't see pain at the pump convincing people to trade in their Toyota for a Trek.

On the other hand, he does think gas prices influence biking habits.

"I hear people saying that (bicycling) is good, healthy, fun, and I'm going to save some money doing it," he said, "so, absolutely, it is a factor for people."

Like Nass, however, Miller said giving up the car habit is not easy.

"I think that unless there is another big (gas price) shock like there was two years ago," he said, "that people tend to be slow at changing their habits."

Denis and Auclair said the trick is to get people to experience the joys of cycling.

People who become bike commuters to save money, Denis said, soon realize this.

"After a while it isn't about the money," he said. "It's about the fitness and the clearing of the head."

Denis has a seven-mile commute from his home in Fairfield. But when he goes home in the evening, he said, he often takes a longer route, so he can enjoy the pleasures of self-powered travel.

Auclair said Denis is hardly alone in enjoying his two-wheel commute.

"People love that bike ride," he said. "It is something to look forward to both in the morning and at the end of the work day."

Auclair said those contemplating a switch to bike commuting need to consider safety.

That means investing in a bicycle helmet, rear-view mirror, flashing red rear light and a front light that can serve both as a headlight and a flashing light, he said.

Nass of Kennebec Bike said wheel fenders are a wise investment to protect against spray from wet roads.

Both Auclair and Nass also said using pannier bags to store clothes and equipment -- some are even designed to carry laptops -- makes for a safer, more convenient commute, too.

Most important of all, Auclair said, is making sure your bike is in good condition and suitable for a daily commute. He said this might entail investing in better tires and certainly calls for getting a safety check.

Colin Hickey -- 861-9205

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