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New Santa Rosa bike rentals, advocates, encourage visitors to skip the car

Andrew Hampsten, a retired professional road bicycle racer, returns to the Astro Motel from a ride in Santa Rosa, on Thursday, January 18, 2018. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

MELODY KARPINSKI ,

Buying a car used to be a hallmark of adulthood. Yet today, the renaissance of two-wheel transportation is surging. Reducing environmental impact is not the only driving force –– instead it’s a trend mixed with a desire to return to the outdoors and create sustainable community within urban environments.

Nearly 40 percent of all bike trips in the U.S. are less than 2 miles, and the number of bicycle commuters in the U.S. grew by more than 62 percent between 2000 and 2013, according to the League of American Bicyclists.

“People want to live near where they work and they don’t need a car to do much of their daily commuting,” said Eric Anderson, a long-time developer and Santa Rosa resident. “The growing trend of ‘urban’ cycling is really related to the growing trend and shifting demography of how and where people live.”

Anderson is one of the key developers in the newly opened Astro Motel on Santa Rosa Avenue, which caters to cyclists. Guests can rent bikes from the hotel, have existing bikes fixed at the motel’s in-house bike shop, or even have them shipped ahead and assembled in their rooms when they arrive.

The Astro also provides bike rentals, a particular brand called Shinola Bikes The American-made bicycles are town-style, making them potentially more appealing to a broader tourist base.

“We love Shinola Bikes because they have been reinvigorating the American brand by returning to standards where American manufacturing began,” said Sam Hamby, the day manager at the Astro. “They source the highest-quality materials and are individually hand made in Wisconsin and assembled by hand in Detroit.”

Hamby pointed out that riding a bike allows guests to explore more of the community.

“(They) can go where cars can’t go and slow down their pace, and be able to experience more of their surroundings without being distracted by the responsibility of driving a vehicle,” said Hamby. “It’s safer for them –– and getting on a bike really brings out the kid in all of us.”

The motel is located down the street from an entrance to the Prince Memorial Greenway and less than half a mile from a conjoining entrance to the Joe Rodota bike path, which extends to Sebastopol.

Anderson noted the ease for cyclists to get around Santa Rosa, but believes there are still ways for the city to improve.

“It’s all very localized and compact –– all the elements are here, all of the dots are here –– they’re not just necessarily connected,” said Anderson. “But they could easily be connected with the right kind of encouragement and motivation.”

It’s an element the city of Santa Rosa is responding to.

“One of the top priorities for Santa Rosa is creating downtown housing and a 24-hour downtown,” said Mayor Chris Coursey. “It’s creating an environment where they don’t just come downtown, they live there, shop there, play there and are entertained there.”

Coursey sees improving Santa Rosa’s bike infrastructure as a part of that.

“We want to make sure you don’t have to get on a bike path to go places and that’s about making our streets safer, too,” said Coursey. “There’s a lot of places where we’re expanding bike lanes, and there’s still more work we can do.”

Santa Rosa is also continuing to define itself as a cycling destination, and hosting a variety of cycling events like the Amgen Tour of California, the freshly minted triathlon Ironman Santa Rosa and pro cyclist resident Levi Leipheimer’s charity GranFondo ride has only added to this defining characteristic.

Cycling tourism is also on the rise, creating a market for hospitality enterprises like the Astro and other local businesses including cycling as an element in their business plans. Cycling participants spent $83 billion on “trip-related (bicycle tourism) sales” in 2016, according to a study released by the Outdoor Industry Association.

Glenn Fant, who opened the cyclist-friendly bar/cafe/bike shop hybrid Trail House on Montgomery Drive last year, said one aspect of this is driving an increase in his rental bike business.

“The days of stand-alone bike shops are going away and providing more of an experience is necessary,” said Fant. “Santa Rosa is already a cycling destination, and places like the Astro and Trail House have never really been done around Sonoma County before.”

Like the Astro, Trail House is also situated close to cycling destinations with their proximity to Howarth, Spring Lake and Annadel parks. Trail House also provides bike rentals to tourists and locals alike, an aspect Fant notes is critical.

“We’re seeing a huge upswing in the rental business here at Trail House,” said Fant. “We had always rented bikes at our other stores (NorCal Bike Sport and the Bike Peddler), but the moment we opened Trail House closer to the parks our rental business increased times 10, so proximity is key.”

And for cyclists? They’re on board.

“It’s really more fun to get on the bike than to get in the car,” said Andy Hampsten, a former cycling champion who frequents Sonoma County. Hampsten stopped into town to lead a ride from the Astro to West County to kick off the Astro’s grand opening last week.

“You can experience your surroundings more intimately on a bike than when you’re driving,” said Scott Zaret, a cyclist from Kentfield who came up for the ride at the Astro. “You’re more engaged in the present, and it’s better for your mental and physical health.”

The ability to blend exercise with relaxation and the community aspect of cycling draws people in, says Hampsten. It’s also an important factor in the development of any urban environment.

“Part of (cycling) is just trying to get people to live in the moment, and it’s a really good opportunity for people to get off of their phones,” said Hampsten. “But the real wealth is people getting to know each other.”

Creating community can be easier in an aesthetically pleasing environment that Wine Country has to offer.

“I just fell in love with Santa Rosa as a cyclist –– the terrain is really wonderful,” said Hampsten. “The climate, the flora and fauna are very similar to my second home in Italy, and it’s really remarkable to me how much it reminds me of the Mediterranean climate.”

However, Coursey notes that part of identifying Santa Rosa as more than just a place to ride your bike through the vineyards is being a city where you don’t have to drive everywhere.

“It’s about riding your bike downtown, using it to get to the restaurant and not having to get in your car while you’re here,” said Coursey. “That’s important on a number of levels.”

Anderson agrees.

“The growing trends in cycling are really related to the growing trend and shifting demography of how and where people live,” said Anderson. “Santa Rosa is incredibly well positioned to fully realize the urban vision.”