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Workshops demystify the bike commute

Group wants to show potential cyclists it's easier than they think
by:  L.E. BASKOW, Cycling downtown can look intimidating to a beginner, but the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s Michelle Poyourow says that with cars moving slowly anyway and drivers who are used to navigating busy streets, bikes and all, it’s actually rather safe.

Ever get stuck in traffic, gaze out your car window at bicyclists pedaling by and wonder why you're not biking to work instead?

Are you a bike commuter wannabe, but nervous about riding alongside cars, pedaling in the rain or taking extra time to get to work? If so, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (www.bta4bikes.org) has just the session for you this week. The group is offering bike commuting workshops that are suitable for novices as well as experienced bicyclists.

Bicycling can buoy your spirits, cardiovascular system and productivity at work. It can also cut down on expenses at a time when gasoline is approaching $4 a gallon. So why aren't more people doing it?

The biggest impediment to bicycling in Portland is not the weather, says Michelle Poyourow, BTA advocate and educator, but safety issues and fears about sharing the road with cars. Many motorists have a false impression of what it's like to bike to work, because the best biking routes are not the ones people drive to work.

'The most dangerous roads for bicycling are high-speed arterials,' she says. 'There's a whole network in Portland of low-traffic streets that you don't see if you drive.'

Poyourow maintains that downtown streets are very safe - though they can be intimidating to new bicyclists - because cars there don't move very fast, and motorists are accustomed to sharing the roads with bicyclists. Visibility is paramount, making good front and back lights for your bike more important than a safety helmet.

'A helmet does not keep you from getting into a crash,' she says. But good lights - and using your head - can.

Despite some highly publicized, tragic accidents in recent years involving bicyclists and vehicles, safety is actually improving for Portland bicyclists, Poyourow says. The number of bicyclists has continued to grow here, but the accident rate has steadily fallen in the past 15 years.

One basic safety tip is to stay in an even line, away from the 'zone' of opening car doors.

Pedaling in rainy or chilly weather isn't as daunting as it seems.

'Once you have nice rain gear and a pair of decent gloves and a hat, you're fine,' Poyourow says.

Carrying extra plastic bags is a good idea. They can prevent your seat from getting wet while your bike is parked, or protect your shoes from getting soaked while you're riding.

The alliance recommends that new bike commuters start out by riding with a buddy from work. An experienced bicyclist can share the best routes and other tips.

The extra time it takes to commute by bike can be exaggerated, especially if drivers factor in the time it takes to wait in a line of cars at a red light, circle around to find a parking space or fill up the gas tank on the way home.

For those going longer distances, bicycling can be combined with a bus or light-rail trip by putting the bike aboard. The alliance doesn't recommend trying to put a bike on MAX during the rush hours, though.

At the workshops, participants also learn the rules of the road, basic bike maintenance and other subjects. The group offers free bike commuting workshops at least once every two months, and a few dozen a month during August and September, thanks to a grant from Metro.

In addition to the one offered this Thursday, a workshop will be held at 5:30 p.m. April 4 at Powell's City of Books downtown.

Employers also can arrange their own on-site bike commute workshop, for a modest speaker's fee. Interested companies can contact Poyourow at 503-226-0676, ext. 13.

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BTA Bike Commute Workshop

When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 27

Where: Powell's Books on Hawthorne, 3732 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.

Cost: Free

More: After the workshop, at 7:30 p.m. J. Harry Wray, author of 'Pedal Power,' will discuss political and social changes that are making bicycling more popular.