May, with its warmer weather and budding flowers, is National Bike Month in the United States. There are dozens of events and activities to encourage people to get outdoors and on two wheels. One of the biggest events is Bike to Work Day, Thursday, May 15 in San Francisco. Other cities hold it other days during Bike to Work Week 5/12-16.
In San Francisco, California, it's another opportunity to raise awareness about the benefits of bicycling and another step toward making the City by the Bay a better biking city.
Susan King plans to participate in San Francisco's Bike to Work Day this year. But it will be routine for her, since she already bikes to work everyday.
"It's cheaper," she says. "It's faster. I travel on my own time. I don't have to wait for the bus. I don't have to cram on to the bus with hundred other people. I really do have my own space and my own freedom."
King says the bike commute also makes her more alert. "I get to work and I'm sharp because I've already had a workout."
King is a volunteer with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a biking advocacy group that wants more people to get that sort of workout. The SFBC organizes the city's annual Bike to Work Day.
"We set up 35 energizer stations around the city where bike commuters can stop, and they get snacks and encouragement on their way to work," the coalition's Rachel Kraai says.
The volunteers cheering on bike commuters at these stations will also be passing out information about the benefits of biking as exercise and a good way to get around. SFBC President, Leah Shahum says even those who already realize those benefits need encouragement, and that's what Bike to Work Day has been providing for the past 13 years. On San Francisco's major streets, she says, bikes outnumbered cars during last year's Bike to Work Day.
"We expect a lot more people to be riding to work this year with gas process as high as they are," she says. "I think a lot more people are thinking about a more affordable commute and great ways just to be healthier and to do good things for the environment."
The city's relatively moderate weather year round, Shahum says, makes San Francisco an inviting place for bikers of all ages.
"Not just your 20- or 30-somethings," she says. "We actually have members who are in their 70s who bicycle almost everyday around the city. We have folks who bicycle with their kids more and more often."
She says bicycling has become more than a weekend hobby for many San Franciscoans.
"A poll least November found that 16 percent of the San Francisco population is already bicycling regularly for transportation," she says. "That's about 120,000 people biking regularly in San Francisco already. So we're really excited about those numbers and of course want to boost those even higher."
To encourage more people to get onto their bikes, the coalition has introduced a number of programs in the city.
"We have free bike education classes on the weekends," she says. "We have what we call the 'Bike Doctor,' which is a bike maintenance session. And that's free, also. We have something called the 'Biking Buddy Program' where we actually match people up, maybe a new rider with someone who is a more experienced bicycle rider so they can get help getting on their bikes and learning the rules of the routes and such."
The coalition also has an active campaign to bring bicycling education into all San Francisco schools. SFBC's Ben Caldewell, who runs a bike program for kids in the city, says they teach students bike safety. "I'm also organizing Bike to School Day at our schools. I'm actually working on that with the school district to try to get the district to declare a district-wide Bike To School Day next year."
Caldewell says people who start riding early are more likely to keep riding and be advocates for biking as a safe, environmentally friendly way of commuting… and having fun.