It used to be cool to get a car for your 16th birthday – or any other gift-giving holiday – but as of late, students would be more pleased with two wheels than four.
Nearly 40 percent of adults in the U.S. ride bikes, and bicycling is a powerful and influential force in American culture and economy, according to the American Automobile Association. There are also more bicyclists in the U.S. than skiers, golfers and tennis players combined, according to the National Sporting Goods Association.
Whether the growing interest stemmed from a rising concern for the environment or rising gas prices, people are turning to alternate transportation.
“I have run across a more divergent cross-section of cyclists,” said Jack “Ghost Rider” Sweeney, an electronic reference librarian from Central Tampa, who gives advice to bike commuters on bikecommuters.com.
“Before, all I ever saw around here were Lycra-clad racer types, but recently I’ve met a lot of kids who are into fixed-gear bikes, older folks who have taken up cycling for recreation – I am a member of the Seminole Heights Bicycle Club, and we’ve attracted folks from (ages) 7 to 70 – and the occasional bicycle commuter.”
“Diamond” Dave Japenga delivers court documents, architecture plans and other papers to the downtown area on his bike for Speedy Couriers. As a recent transplant to the Florida scene, he recently opened a Bike Co-op in the Tampa area.
“I just kind of threw the idea out there and let the momentum carry it. Fortunately, there seems to be enough like-minded people that this project will be a success,” Japenga said.
“The Tampa Bike Co-op is a cooperative group of people working together to make cycling education available and accessible and to build a cycling community in the less-than-bike-friendly city of Tampa,” according to tampabikecoop.wordpress.com.
The co-op meets on the first Monday of every month at Transitions Art Gallery at the Tampa Skate Park. The next meeting will be May 5 – during National Bike Month – and will feature workshops for beginners and veterans of the bike scene, as well as food and films.
Many feel that, as a result of the acceptance of car culture, there is a loss of community that needs to be restored.
“Bicyclists are genuine, and I think the communal aspect is what is appealing for new riders,” said Jeffrey Daines, a senior majoring in philosophy and participant in the bike co-op.
More than 87 million Americans ride bicycles, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, 32 percent of whom live in the South.
Although the numbers are impressive, thousands of USF students, faculty and staff live within a five-mile radius of campus, yet the vast majority – nearly 98 percent – commute to the campus via automobile, according to newnorthalliance.org.
This heavy auto-usage results in parking problems and traffic congestion in and around the University.
For the most part, the major roads surrounding campus have few bikes lanes or wide shoulders. Existing perceptions of danger and crash-risk are only made worse by national research findings deeming Tampa the most pedestrian/bike unfriendly metropolitan location in the United States, according to newnorthalliance.org.
Good news for cyclists came March 25, when the First District Court of Appeals ruled that the Florida State Department of Transportation is obligated to establish bicycle and pedestrian ways in conjunction with the construction, reconstruction or other change of any state transportation facilities.
“From this day forward, the Florida DOT has very limited discretion in determining when not to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians in roadway projects,” said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists.
Cyclists on the roadway are considered drivers of vehicles and are responsible for complying with the Florida Uniform State Traffic Control Law, according to Florida state law.
One incentive to commute to school by bike is that the Bay Area Commuter Services offers vouchers for eight free taxicab rides home per year with the Emergency Ride Home service for those who bike at least two times a week.
Health and economic concerns also serve as motivation to begin biking. Based on gas prices of $3 per gallon, the annual cost of owning, operating and driving a passenger car roughly 15,000 miles is nearly $11,000, whereas it costs roughly $120 a year to maintain a bike, according to the American Automobile Association. Also, only three hours of bicycling per week can reduce a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke by 30 percent, according to the League of American Bicyclists – active living is the solution.
Although the idea of riding your bike to school may be appealing, it may not be realistic for many commuters coming from the Brandon area and beyond.
In a National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportations National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the most cited reason for not bicycling was lack of access to a bicycle. The promising statistic, though, is that 52 percent of Americans would like to bike more, according to America Bikes.
The Tampa area does offer an abundance of shops and bicycle enthusiasts willing to aid new riders, however.
A newcomer to the St. Petersburg area, 66 Fixed Gear and Single Speed Bicycle Shop is becoming a popular shop for bike enthusiasts. The shop leads local rides in St. Petersburg and Tampa three days a week. Every Thursday, bikers gather at the Publix on the corner of Bayshore Road and Platt Street for a 10- to 15-mile steady ride through Ybor. For more information, visit 66fixedgear.com.
Seminole Heights Bicycle Club also sponsors rides every month for bikers of all levels. This Saturday, bikers will meet at 8:30 a.m and ride to Davis Islands and back. To get some face-to-face information, the organization will also have a table at the Earth Day Event at Lowry Park Bandshell this Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
There are several facets and layers of the bike subculture, and if a complete overhaul of your lifestyle sounds intimidating, the tools and knowledge to get started are readily available for bike needs at any level.
“This is the way alternative culture has been evolving. Cycling is a natural outgrowth of that because you can build a bike out of junk and get around a city. It’s very social and very punk rock,” said Alek Kostelnik, the owner of the Seattle-based 2020 Cycle. “People are emulating the messengers who represent freedom and independence. There is something very appealing in that.”