Ditching your car to commute by bike isn’t as onerous as you might fear, say those who have made the swap.
Many people, particularly women, are slow to take up cycling because of safety concerns. But Gary Helfrich, the executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, said the odds of a serious crash are small. He cycles daily to Santa Rosa from Camp Meeker. He likens fear of cycling to fear of flying.
“Your brain is ignoring all the statistics saying how safe this is.”
According to the California Highway Patrol, there were 178 bicycle collisions in Sonoma County in 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
Of those, five were fatal and 23 resulted in severe injuries.
Helfrich suggests that if the weather is bad, you’re daunted by the distance or concerned that some legs of the journey might take you on unsafe roads with no shoulder or bike lanes, try a hybrid journey.
His trip normally takes him along Graton or Green Valley roads. But he feels less safe on Graton Road after dark.
So in the winter when the sun goes down early he may park in Graton and then cycle along the West County Trail to Sebastopol and on to Santa Rosa, on the safe and easy Joe Rodota Trail that parallels Highway 12. On foggy mornings he takes Green Valley.
“There’s nothing wrong with driving part of the way and then putting your bike on the back of the car. You’re still getting exercise,” he said.
He also recommends leaving yourself time and taking it slow and easy so the experience is relaxing as well as invigorating.
“Your commute should be the nicest part of your day,” he added.
“Why would you ride as hard and fast as humanly possible on the way to work? Give yourself enough time. It’s both a physical and a mental re-set you get to do. Enjoy it.”
Create a route that feels comfortable for your safety zone.
The coalition has a map ($12 at bikesonoma.org) that shows primary and secondary road routes, paved and unpaved bike paths and trails, and locations of a variety of services and facilities in Sonoma County, Napa Valley and Northern Marin. It features detailed views of cities.
Shaun Ralston commutes every day to his job as marketing and communications manager for Sutter Health.
He cycles from his home in the McDonald Avenue area to one of several Sutter locations, including the new hospital being built at Mark West Springs Road.
“I like it in the morning. Many times I can see the sunrise and it’s beautiful,” said Ralston, 44.
He was part of a six-person team fielded by the Bicycle Czar of Santa Rosa, that came in second in the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition’s Team Bike Challenge in May.
More than 50 teams signed up and kept track of their trips, miles logged and more. His team was bested only by The Pawl Bearers, a group of six guys from JDS Uniphase in Santa Rosa, but they racked up the most miles – 3,694.3.
He finds it ironic that “people rush in their cars to go to the gym so they can work out for an hour on a spin bike” when they can simply ride to work.