May is National Bike Month, a 31 day celebration of life on two wheels — and an excellent excuse to save some money on gas.
For Jim Serene and the folks at CentreBike, the environmental and health benefits of bicycling are a year round peroccupation, one that they are committed to sharing with all of their fellow peddlers in State College.
Safety — the kind that goes beyond just wearing a helmet — is at the forefront of their efforts to advocate for more bike lanes, signage and path maintenance, especially now that warmer weather has arrived.
Serene, president of CentreBike, recently talked more about the group’s mission and gave some tips on cycling in State College.
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Q: How long have you been cycling? What makes you so passionate about it both as a mode of transportation and recreation?
A: I have been cycling all of my life. As a youngster just for fun, and later as a teenager, I delivered newspapers with a basket and panniers. Now, at age 66, I want to remain in good physical shape, and the impact of running injures my knees. However, I can bicycle all day and my knees are just fine. I love the free feeling when biking and almost at times, get the sensation that I am flying. With Pennsylvania hills to climb, my legs occasionally get the burn and ache of exercise, but it’s a good feeling to know that I can continue to exercise at that level.
I have a road bike for faster rides with friends, a commuter bike to ride to the grocery store and to various places in town such as the Schlow Library, and events at Penn State, and I have a mountain bike which I use occasionally to enjoy the back roads and non-paved trails. By bicycling, we can alleviate a lot of the air pollution, traffic congestion, and keep ourselves in shape as a side benefit.
Q: CentreBike was founded in 2000. What are some of the ways that it has helped to develop State College into a more cycle-friendly community?
A: The Centre Region Bicycle Coalition was created in 2000 by a group of concerned local citizens who wanted our community to consider transportation alternatives to the auto. Holland is a prime example of another place where bicycling has become the main means of transportation after they experienced years of traffic jams and auto pollution.
Q: Have people generally been pretty responsive? What are some of the challenges of trying to create a better biking infrastructure here?
A: Our challenges are the same as in most other localities. Primarily, the outdated notion that all transportation funds should be spent on motorized transportation, and a lack of knowledge about how a well-done bicycle infrastructure can help a community from an economic standpoint. Studies have proven that upper-middle income people are attracted to communities where they can travel safely and enjoyably by bicycle.
Due to the fact that we have so many independent small government entities (townships and boroughs), we rely on our Council of Governments to work on projects where there is overlap between these entities. Bicycle paths are certainly one of many issues. To improve our bicycle infrastructure, we should go through the process of tracing out each existing bike path, and then making sure that they connect in a safe and convenient way from one municipality to the other. This takes time and effort since each individual municipality votes to determine the extent of bike paths, bike path maintenance (winter clearing) and other bike related expenses.
Q: Are most of your membership longtime cyclists or do you have some people who do it for the exercise or recreation?
A: CentreBike was created as a tax-exempt umbrella organization for road bikers, mountain bike riders, commuters, and recreational riders. Most of our members today bike for exercise, recreation, and some out of the necessity to commute to work by bicycle for economic reasons. Doesn’t it make sense to get a little exercise, breathe some fresh air, let off some stress, and get to where you want to go? I have yet to read or hear about a bicyclist becoming a problem due to road rage. Yet, you read about it often in people who drive.
Q: Now that the weather is starting to get warmer, people may be taking their bikes out of the garage. What are some key safety issues they may not be aware of? Are there any concerns unique to this area?
A: Safety when bike riding should always be considered. First of all, your bicycle should be tuned up to have reliable parts such as the chain, wheels and so on. If you consider that just rolling down a hill can get your bicycle going 25 to 30 miles per hour, you do not want a part to break and throw you from the bike. So, the first key safety issue is to be sure your bike is in good condition and if possible, take it to a local bike store for a tuneup — definitely worth the few dollars spent.
The rest depends on your type of riding. If you only ride in town on paths, then remember proper etiquette by signaling to people when you pass, and be careful when coming around blind curves. Always wear a helmet.
If you ride the roads, bright, easily visible clothing helps motorists to see you. At dark, always have a taillight and, if possible, a headlight. If bicyclists expect autos to be courteous, we should remember to signal properly and to let the cars get by whenever possible. Drivers should be aware that bicycles are a legal form of road transportation, just like Amish Buggies, and bicycles have as much a right to be on the road as an auto. A state law was passed requiring motorists passing a bicyclist to leave no less than 4 feet between the vehicle and the bicycle. Many truckers do not realize that their vehiclecan create suction that pulls the bike towards them if they pass closely and at a high speed.
Q: What are some of the perks of cycling in a place like State College?
A: World famous BMX bicycling champion Jamie Bestwick is a resident of this area. We are fortunate to have someone of his stature to be a voice for cycling here. He travels the world, and recently stated that Centre County is one of the best places to ride bicycles in the world. We have relatively cool summers, clean air, beautiful scenery and a low population density. I, for one, find that most of our drivers are patient if they have to wait while we get out of the way, and in general we have good people in our county. Rothrock and other nearby areas provide some of the best mountain biking trails in the world. Good health, camaraderie, and the the ability to commute about town without getting in one’s car are a few perks of cycling here.
Q: Do you have a favorite cycling location in State College? What makes it so special?
A: I am primarily a road cycler. However, I used to commute from my home near Mount Nittany Middle School to campus. The Route 322 bike trail, while a little hilly, is a wonderful trail. At times, I just like to ride all of our trails in town for leisurely enjoyment.
Brush Valley Road to Centre Hall is a favorite for many, and with the new wide shoulder on Whitehall, the ride to Tadpole Road is as good as it gets. These are special because of the mild terrain, the fantastic vistas and the fact that most motorists expect to see bicycles in these locations.
Q: Where is the most challenging location to ridein State College?
A: Climbing is what challenges most of us. Take your choice, Rattlesnake Pike, Rock Road, up over Pine Grove Mills, or the Centre Hall mountain are challenges that most road bikers have done.
Q: As a method of transportation, is there anything that you think is unique to cycling in terms of the experience that it provides the rider?
A: Most bicyclists find that the exercise from cycling, and the wind in their face are rewarding. For commuters, we encourage businesses to have showers in the event that the rider gets hot and sweaty. Many businesses in town, such as Videon, are official Bike Friendly Businesses, and we hope to see many more.
Q: How can people get involved with CentreBike?
A: The easiest way is to look into our website at www.centrebike.org. Our group of volunteers (we have no paid staff), are doing all we can to improve the bicycle infrastructure in this community. We welcome and need new faces, new activists, and funds to assist our many projects. Our meeting schedule, past minutes, and current news are available on our recently updated website (thanks to volunteers Paul Rito and Anna Morrison-Nelson).