You don’t have to be a Lance Armstrong-in-the-making to get in on bicycling. Valley Bike Month kicks off Thursday, and it’s the perfect introduction to cycling for a variety of purposes. The program is an annual project of regional transit system Valley Metro.
Groups of cyclists in colorful, skin-hugging jerseys and sleek helmets are a frequent sight on local roadways this time of year.
And it’s no wonder: Arizona was named the third most bike-friendly state in the country in 2008 by the League of American Bicyclists, and the group has designated Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa as Bicycle Friendly Communities.
But you don’t have to be a Lance Armstrong-in-the-making to get in on bicycling. Valley Bike Month kicks off Thursday, and it’s the perfect introduction to cycling for a variety of purposes. The program is an annual project of regional transit system Valley Metro.
“We promote all modes of alternative transportation — taking the bus or the light rail, carpooling, working at home, pretty much anything besides the traditional, one person driving a car to and from work every day,” says Suzanne Day, coordinator of the event.
“Bicycling is one of those things that we like to advocate, not only for transportation, but also for fun and fitness. Not only can they get you where you need to go, but it’s a healthful habit that’s got almost zero cost, and you have fun at the same time.”
Cycling is a pasttime Bob Prochaska of Sun Lakes couldn’t do without. The 80-year-old rides at least twice a week, even after suffering a cycling accident with a truck several years ago that initially left him paralyzed from the neck down.
Prochaska, who leads the Sun Lakes Bicycle Club on 30-50 mile Saturday-morning breakfast rides, has had to slash his annual mileage from 8,000 to about 3,000, but he still savors time on his road bike.
“I wanted to be the toughest 80-year-old cyclist around,” he said. “When I was younger, I rode with some people who where in their ’80s, and they were still really tough cyclists; they were an inspiration. My riding is different now from how it used to be, but I’m still riding. I’m getting to be an old geezer, but I’m trying to be fit,” he says.
During Valley Bike Month, beginning and advanced cyclists can participate in events all over the Phoenix-metro area, from easy rides in Chandler to challenging hill-climbing routes through the Tonto National Forest northeast of Mesa. This year’s focus is on safety, and many of the gatherings will include helmet fittings and giveaways and bike-safety expos.
More than 2,700 people participated in Bike Month activities last year, according to Day.
“In the last couple of years, and much more so this year, we’ve seen much more interest from cycling clubs and from the general public. Times are hard, and I think people just want to be part of something positive, something that makes a difference, even if it’s small,” she says.
For Prochaska, watching the scenery slip by at 12 to 17 miles per hour is a way of life.
“Cycling really made my retirement,” says the former General Motors electronics technician. “I don’t know what the heck I would have been doing otherwise. I thought I would golf and play tennis, but I never even got to that. I’ve met so many good people and had so many adventurous, tough rides. It’s been a delight.”