by David Lehmann
One of Mesa County’s greatest and most underappreciated natural resources is its bikeability. We’ve got mild weather much of the year and our mostly level terrain in the valley makes it relatively easy to get around by bicycle. So why don’t more people bike? That’s been a question that’s confounded me for years. The benefits of cycling are so numerous that it almost seems illogical not to.
Studies have shown that most of our trips by car are for distances of less than 3 miles – an easy distance for most people to ride a bike. Why do we feel compelled to bring along a few thousand extra pounds (our cars) every time we take a short trip? It’s so inefficient! I read somewhere that a bicycle rider gets the equivalent of 1,000 miles per gallon if you convert the calories burned to equivalent gasoline.
There are many rewards from bicycling:
- The health benefits are widely known. You burn calories, so it helps you lose weight and stay fit. It reduces the chance of cardiovascular disease and many other ailments. And cycling helps us deal with stress, so it’s good for mental health.
- Cycling also doesn’t pollute the air and contribute to global warming like driving does.
- A bike takes up much less space on the roads and parking lots, so we cyclists lessen traffic congestion.
- Bicycle infrastructure is much less expensive to build and maintain than roads made for cars. And there is less impact on roadways from bikes since they’re so much lighter than motorized vehicles, so biking even saves tax dollars!
- You can save thousands of dollars a year by riding a bike. You don’t have to make car payments, or buy gas or auto insurance, or pay for car maintenance.
So with all these benefits, why don’t more people ride bikes? Surveys have shown that the primary reason for not riding is the feeling that it’s not safe. Where protected bikeways (physically separated from car traffic) have been provided, biking increases dramatically because people feel safe. Unfortunately, due to budget limitations, we’ll probably never have a system of protected bike paths that extends to every location in the valley.
The good news is you can ride a bike safely on existing roads in Mesa County if you follow a few simple guidelines.
First, obey all traffic laws. Not only is it unsafe, but it really angers motorists when they see cyclists running stop signs or otherwise violating the law. Of course, when you’re driving a car be sure to follow the law yourself (remember to give cyclists three feet of space when you pass them).
Second, do whatever you can to be seen on the road. One of the most common causes of bike/car crashes is that the driver didn’t see the cyclist. Obviously, anything you can do to improve your visibility will make you more noticeable to motorists, Wear bright colors – really bright – like neon orange or lime green. Buy an inexpensive brightly colored vest that fits over your clothing if you’re not into biking-specific apparel. Use bright lights on your bike even in the daytime. Really bright daytime lights are available at every bike shop in the Valley, and they aren’t that expensive.
And, of course, always wear a helmet. It just doesn’t make sense not to.
Another tool that should be on your safety checklist if a mirror. I don’t feel comfortable biking without one. You wouldn’t think of driving a car without mirrors so why not use one when you’re biking? I like the kind that fits on the brim of a mountain biking helmet.
So if you’re still uncomfortable riding to work or to the store, try checking out routes on your bike on Sunday when there’s less traffic. And it might help to find a more experienced rider to go with you for more tips on how to ride safely in traffic. With a little practice, you’ll find you can enjoy riding anywhere in our Valley!
Oh, I almost forgot perhaps the most important reason to ride a bike: It’s fun! The low gears on modern bicycles make it easy to climb our little hills in town. I feel like I’m flying when I ride! The sights, the sounds, the smells are so much more noticeable and enjoyable when you’re on your bike.
So face your fears and get out there and enjoy all the benefits of safe biking!