Bike to Work Week, Ventura County Style

This week, Ventura County celebrated Bike to Work Week. Astute readers will note that Bike to Work Week has passed, ably serving to illustrate two important points. The first is most important: Bike to Work Week is akin to approaching laughter or love. The chance to bike to work (or anywhere else) should be recognized, and if possible undertaken, every day of the year.

Nonetheless, the Ventura County Transportation Commission and Ventura County Air Pollution Control District, the organizations behind the week, should be applauded for bringing the bicycle to our attention. In the weeks leading up, both organizations provided interesting tips and tidbits of information about bike commuting. It may surprise you to know that an estimated 70 percent of vehicle trips are less than two miles. It may not surprise you that, "Bikes are an environmentally friendly means of transportation, cutting emissions from tail pipes, evaporation, gasoline pumping and oil refining, in addition to producing zero carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases. Plus, they don't contribute to noise pollution."

I'm guessing someone at the Air Pollution Control District is paid by the word, or perhaps also distributes their media releases on Mars.

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Along with those tidbits, Ventura County's Bike to Work Week included nifty fun. Bike-to-work commuters enjoyed daily bike-to-work pit stops at locations throughout the county, where they were treated to breakfast refreshments, giveaways, and free bike tune-ups. Participants were also eligible to win some great prizes, among them a new bike, gift cards, and a cell phone bike mount (this last prize sounds like a bad idea to me, but who am I to question the wisdom of government?). Yes, it is too late to cash in on this free swag, but this ably illustrates our second important point: We don't undertake our good deeds for reward, do we?

Ah, but sometimes biking to work rewards in a fashion that changes -- and so makes -- a life.

With honest disclosure in mind, I once rode my bike to work, but I don't anymore. These days, I choose not to ride my bike to work largely for safety concerns. I work downstairs and my bike handling skills are not up to snuff. But I have numerous friends who do bike to work. One in particular has been doing so for years. My friend Marty is now in his mid-fifties. Despite the demands of work and family (and the harsh-saggy realities of aging), he resembles a whippet. According to the International Bike Fund, folks who bike to work lost an average of 13 pounds in the first year. No doubt the IBF included Marty in their statistical analysis.

The substantial deluge of promotional messages touting Bike to Work Week in our county also included missives pointing out that our county is ideally suited for biking. I can verify this in spades.

For a time I rode with a group of recreational cyclists. It is true, these rides involved substantial suffering (endured by me, fighting to keep up), but it is also true that there are few places where you see dolphin and deer on the same bike ride. Ventura County (and if you are lucky to live in coastal Southern California) is veined with bike-friendly lanes and paths, not to mention off road trails that meander among all manner of glory.

It has been a long time since I chased the back ends of my fellow riders on Team Eddy (named after cycling legend Eddy Merckx). Now, pedaling Ventura County's lovely roads and trails at a more leisurely pace, I witness the myriad beauties, large and small, that make our county such a breathtaking place. Cocooned in an automobile at 65 miles an hour, you are apt to miss some of these nuances: the delicate bob of California poppies before an approaching rain; how cloud shadows wander the oak-pocked hillsides; how the fallen leaves from said oaks chase each other like happy puppies in the wind.

If you are already a cyclist, you know this. If you are not, I would encourage you to experience this and more, in this, the inaugural (and one-time) launch of Bike to Work Every Week that I am now instituting.

Yes it's good for the environment and dispensing with muffin tops, but it's also possible that a bike commute to work (or anywhere else) may, in an instant, change your life. Thirty years ago, I was commuting by bike to my summer job as a beach lifeguard when I passed an apparition running alongside the road. Had I been in a car, it would have been different. But I wasn't in a car.

I turned my bike around.

I married that apparition. And it has made all the difference.

Check out the new Bike Culture column by Krista Carlson on Departures, KCET's interactive social history project.

About the Author

Ken McAlpine’s latest book “Together We Jump” was praised by Sunset Magazine as “lyrical, evocative and deeply moving…a luminous American novel.” He is based in Ventura, California.
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