LABOR POWER RACING:  Lung Busters, Leg Breakers

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Labor's Mike Morrill A Poster Boy for Virtues of Bicycle Commuting

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Bicycle Commuting
Getting fit on the way to work ­ and saving gas ­ is increasingly popular.

The Monday morning alarm snaps 41-year-old San Clemente sales manager Mike Morrill out of bed before daylight at 5:30 to begin the morning routine of showering and shaving. Once dressed, he’s out the door at 6:30 to start his 22-mile commute to the office, a commute he’s been doing for 10 years. Unlike most of his work colleagues, however, Morrill doesn’t start his commute by cranking a car ignition switch. Instead, he pulls on his backpack and hops on a converted cyclo-cross bike with fenders and lights, and pedals north toward Irvine.

Long the province of kids, BMXers, road racers and mountain bikers, bicycles have become a viable commuting option for many Orange County professionals.

“Bicycle commuting is an excellent way to get exercise and to think,” Morrill explains. “It’s fun, it’s a challenge, and it allows me to train for racing while not using all my family time.”

Morrill does his 45-mile round trip bike commute 4-5 days a week, depending on his work and travel schedule. “I generally ride with a backpack that is designed for cycling,” he says. “I can carry two days worth of clothes plus lunch.”

His company, Shimano, a bicycle components company, provides a bike cage to park bikes inside and locker room facilities for changing. Shimano also offers a program that provides financial incentives for those who take public transportation, ride-share or bicycle commute.

Oil industry analyst saves on gas

John Bergman of Rossmoor has been bicycle commuting since he was 16 and working at a bike shop. Currently, the 46-year-old works as a volumetric analyst for British Petroleum, where he accounts for pipeline flow in and out of tanks and ships.

Like Morrill, Bergman uses his 12-mile commute time from Rossmoor to Long Beach to supplement his bike-race training. “I bicycle commute mostly to help get in the necessary practice time on the bicycle for racing,” Bergman says. “I also do it to get away from traffic, which I hate with a passion. It also helps keep down my costs of commuting to work.”

There seem to be more people riding to work now then ever before. Morrill says that he used to see 1-2 people per day on his ride to work. He now sees 5-10. Although the number of bike riders is increasing, it’s still a very small percentage of American commuters. Estimates suggest that more than half of all Americans live less than five miles from where they work but, according to Bicycling Magazine, only 1.67% of Americans commute to work by bicycle.

KC Butler would like to increase this percentage. Head of the nonprofit California Bicycle Coalition, his aim is to promote the bicycle as an everyday means of transportation and recreation. His tools are education and programs such as the California Bicycle Commute week in May. During the week, special activities will be organized by ride-share agencies, cities, counties, employers, bicycle advocacy groups, bike shops and others who support bicycle transportation including a Bicycle To Work Day.

Butler also works to educate California employers about the benefits of supporting their employees who bicycle commute. Not only is it a heart-healthy exercise for workers, but he also cites such statistics as the fact that 12 bicycles can be parked in the space required for one automobile. Traffic jams in the 29 largest U.S. cities cost commuters an estimated $24.3 billion each year. Driving consumes 43% of all oil consumed daily in the United States and produces 60% of California’s smog.

Fifty-two-year-old Anaheim Hills resident Jeff Rich, a program analyst for Boeing in Anaheim, doesn’t have to be convinced about the benefits bike commuting. “It’s a HUGE stress relief as well as getting daily cardiac exercise,” Rich says. “Because I put less than 5,000 miles a year on my car, my car insurance has dropped. Gasoline price hikes have no impact on me.” He’s been bicycling the six miles to work and back for 13 years, and puts more miles on his bicycle than he does on his car.

Equipped to commute

Bikes suitable for commuting are varied and many, but experts recommend they be sturdy and be equipped with fenders and lights, especially during the winter months. Rich rides a Lemond Zurich, a sturdy, steel-framed road bike designed by Greg Lemond. Bergman built his commuting bike from the frame up, starting with a Fetish Cycles frame and fork. Morrill’s winter commuter bike is the converted Cyclo Cross bike. “It’s heavier than a traditional road bike and extremely durable,” he says.

Most bike commuters reluctantly drive to work when the weather turns wet. Morrill, however, just rides to work like it’s not raining. “It’s really not as bad as you would think,” he says. “The fenders keep most of the water off you, and if you have decent gear it’s just an annoyance.” However, you do need to be more careful as the roads get very slippery, and be sure to use your lights so cars can see you.

Morrill wears standard bike clothing and layers for warmth. “Sometimes it is very hard to get motivated when it’s cold and dark,” he says. “I find that once you’re on the bike it’s easy ­ just getting out the door is the challenge.”

There is only one pitfall about bicycling to work, according to Jeff Rich. Cars.

“ You have to be extremely aware of your surroundings,” he says. “I have a mirror that attaches to my eyeglasses. I want to be aware of who’s coming up behind me at all times. Be it a car or another bicyclist.”

Bright clothing aids bike commuting safety. Drivers will notice you if you have a headlight on the front of the bike and a large red flashing tail light on the rear. Reflectors that strap to your ankle or reflective tape on your backpack is another plus.

California Bike Commute recommends choosing roads that have wide outside lanes or paved shoulders and driving the route during your normal commuting time to determine potential traffic problems. Also, make sure your bicycle is in proper working order. Not only should all the mechanical parts be in good repair (e.g. brakes, tire, gears) but the bicycle should also be adjusted properly for seat height, handlebars, etc. If you will be riding at night, you must have a light. If you do not have a helmet, borrow one or buy one.

Commuting by bike is fun, says Morrill. “I ride my bike because I enjoy it and I am lucky that I can ride to work every day,” he says. “It’s a great sense of accomplishment, it’s economical and it’s much easier than you think”

*** POSTED FEBRUARY 15, 2006 ****


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