Article in today’s Boston Globe
Getting on a bike for the first time since she was 16 years old, 42-year-old Priscilla Power rode 5 miles to her Wakefield office as part of her company’s “Bike to Work Day” last month. Though she remembered how to pedal, the inexperienced biker detoured through a Dunkin’ Donuts’ parking lot to avoid a busy intersection.
So last week Power took an hour away from her desk to attend a bicycle-commuting workshop offered by her employer, the Wakefield-based environmental engineering firm Metcalf & Eddy | AECOM.
At the workshop, conducted by the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, also known as MassBike, a nonprofit advocacy group, Power and 27 co-workers learned the nuts and bolts of bike commuting. Power jotted down a few notes on what to look for in a commuter bike: fenders, to keep water from flying on rainy days, and smooth, not nubby, tires.
She also learned that during her first commute she was riding too close to parked cars. And she had every right to be in the busy intersection as much as the cars, said Shane Jordan, who led the workshop.
“By law in Massachusetts, [bikes] are a vehicle,” said Jordan, the director of education and outreach at MassBike. “You have all the same rights and responsibilities. Bikers are allowed to take the full lane.”
Company requests for commuter workshops have more than quadrupled since last year, said David Watson, executive director of the advocacy group. In 2007, MassBike held three commuter workshops. This year, the organization has conducted more than a dozen. Prices for workshops start at $175, he said.
“Our sense is that employees more and more are asking their companies what the company can do to help them reduce the cost of their commutes,” Watson said, adding that green initiatives and the health benefits have also accelerated interest in biking.
As an employer, Metcalf & Eddy has a responsibility to do something about environmental issues, said Constance Lapite, a senior scientist who organized the workshop. Promoting green commuting keeps employees happy and is just good business, especially with so many green-conscious clients, Lapite said.
“We want to make sure that people are [biking] safely,” Lapite said. “[We] don’t want to encourage people to jump out on the road and put themselves at risk.”
In addition to offering a MassBike workshop for employees, the Boston-based architecture firm Goody Clancy provides bike storage, shower facilities, and a company e-mail chain for employee bikers to share tips and supplies, said project support employee Sarah Wendorf. The biking culture at the firm pushed Wendorf, 30, who had not ridden a bike since age 12, to buy one and start riding to work in March.
“High gas prices have ushered in a kind of renaissance for mass transportation and certainly bicycles,” said Eric Bjorling, 25, lifestyle brand manager at Trek, a bike manufacturer based in Waterloo, Wis.
Sales of Trek commuter-specific bikes have increased 20 percent since last year, he said.
Some businesses have improved accommodations for two-wheeled commuters. Use of bike racks at the Prudential Center has increased this year, said Andrea Simpson, director of marketing at the Pru. Boston Properties added about 50 bike spaces bringing the total to about 200. More space for bikes is planned for this year, Simpson said.
After relatively flat sales at the start of this year, bike sales surged in June, said Tim Blumenthal, executive director of Bikes Belong Coalition, a bicycling industry association based in Boulder, Colo.
Gas, at over $4 per gallon, is the main driver, but growing awareness of climate change and concerns about obesity have helped make this year “the tipping point summer for bicycling in the modern era,” Blumenthal said.
“The public image of bicycling is changing for the better,” Blumenthal said. “More people are recognizing that bicycling is not just something you do as a kid. It’s something that can make a meaningful difference in your life in a variety of ways.”
Local bike shops say commuter-specific bikes are flying out the door.
Sales of bikes specifically designed for commuting have increased 10 to 12 percent since early April at Wheelworks, a three-store chain in Belmont and Somerville, said Clint Paige, the chain’s president. Sales of commuting accessories, such as racks, bags, lights, and fenders have grown 15 to 20 percent over the last five to six months, Paige said.
Heavy duty bike locks are also selling above the seasonal average at Kryptonite, a lock manufacturer. The company’s production of locks increased about 60 percent from June 2007 to June 2008, said Karen Rizzo, the business general manager.
Ready to join the two-wheeled ranks, Priscilla Power said she is planning to buy a sturdy new bike. With a boost from the workshop, she plans to start commuting by bicycle very soon, she said, armed with the safety tips she learned in her company’s conference room.
“Now I feel a little bit more confident going on the road,” Power said. “I’ll be biking back and forth [to work], 10 miles a day.”
Elizabeth Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.