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Commuters by the hundreds took two wheels to work and school on Thursday as part of the 16th annual Bike to Work Day in Sonoma County.

"We have 335, a little bit up from last year," said Santa Rosa transportation planner Mike Ivory, who was counting bicyclists at Santa Rosa City Hall, where booths were set up for food, drink and information. "The people who did come in were totally stoked. At 7:30 we had a crowd of 200 people here, a real party atmosphere."

The Santa Rosa City Hall refreshment station was one of 27 set up countywide for the annual event, which was organized by the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

"The thing that is really cool is we are seeing new people," said Christine Culver, coalition executive director. "A guy at the bike shop said someone bought a rack and bag last night so they could try Bike to Work Day."

The number of those bicyclists stopping at or passing by refreshment stations this year totaled 2,928, nearly identical to the 2,935 counted last year, said coalition organizer Sandra Lupien. Last year's figure was an

8 percent increase over 2008.

"It's hard to count participation, but it is good to see people are riding," Lupien said.

Some riders said they were using Bike to Work Day as an incentive to try getting to work by bike.

"First time," said Jan Lau of Windsor, who was at the Windsor Town Green refreshment station. "A couple of reasons: To get some exercise and help cut down on my gas costs a bit."

Patrick Clark, a technician at Brelje and Race Consulting Engineers, rode for the first time from his northwest Santa Rosa home to the office.

"It is definitely a different experience. You notice different things, you smell different things," Clark said. "It was fun today because the ladies at the rest stop make it fun. I think in the future the fun would go out of it, it would be routine, then it would be for environmental and health reasons."

Avid cyclist Mike Charleton of Windsor was riding with his daughters, Ellery, 7, and Callahan, 11, to school before going to work as a pharmaceutical representative, riding his bike to six doctors' offices in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.

"It is tough for me to do my job," said Charleton, who said he usually drives on his sales rounds. "Riding to work for me today, it's more of a symbolic thing."

Ryan Stashak is a regular bike commuter who said he likes the exercise he gets from an easy 20-minute ride from his Windsor home to his job at Redwood Toxicology near the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.

"And on the way home, being able to unwind for that 15 to 20 minutes is big for me," Stashak said.

Matthew Dudley of Santa Rosa is a daily bike commuter to his downtown Santa Rosa job with the Santa Rosa Symphony and to classes at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Dudley, who was at the Santa Rosa City Hall station, said he doesn't even own a car, that bicycling is quicker, more convenient and saves parking costs, particularly at the junior college.

However, environmental considerations are not the only driving force for bicycle commuting.

"If they are not doing it for the fun, they are missing out," Dudley said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com