A holiday with handlebars

National Bike Month finishes in full force, as partakers dedicate May to spending quality time with an important life partner – their bicycle.

This Congressionally recognized month-long holiday promotes the pedaling pastime for group riding, learning maintenance and exploring trails.

The Tampa Bay area offers opportunities to get involved in bike-related activities both during and after May, however.

USF Bicycle Club president Jessica Brenner said that joining the organization can benefit any student.

“The main purpose of the bike club is to promote biking to students as a commuting option and as recreational,” Brenner said. “You know, basically just promoting bike safety and teaching people to bike properly on roads.”

Interested students can start by joining the Facebook group “Bicycle Club at USF” or signing up through Blackboard – this allows members to receive e-mail notifications about club activities.

“You can even just shoot me an e-mail,” Brenner said, “but signing up on Blackboard is usually the best way to go.”

The club mostly focuses on school rides, but over the summer, the group is working on a map with suggested routes for USF students to get around on and off campus.

Bike club members participated Saturday in a National Bike Month event called Hub Grub.

In this ride, more than a hundred cyclists got together and stopped at participating restaurants like Steffano’s Pizza and Ella’s over a 7.5 mile route – sampling food as they went along. The event was hosted by the Seminole Heights Bike Club, and Brenner said it was a huge success.

“There were about 120 people there in total,” Brenner said. “A lot of people were joking around, saying it was like we turned the town into Portland for a day.”

City Bike Tampa will hold its own Urban Restaurant Ride tonight at 6 p.m.

The group will depart from their rental hut on the Riverwalk, between the Tampa Convention Center and Marriot Waterside Hotel. From there, the riders will tour five different downtown eateries.

Participants must bring bike lights because the night’s ride lasts until 10 p.m.

Although riding on USF or downtown remains an option, there are alternatives. Hillsborough County offers trails and parks, including one close to campus.

The Upper Tampa Bay Trail runs more than seven miles through Waters Avenue and Ehrlich Road, while the 41-mile long Suncoast Trail begins at Lutz Lake Fern Road before stretching into Hernando and Pasco counties. Both these require about a 20-minute drive from USF.

Flatwoods Park, located on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard about a mile northeast of Interstate 75, is open every day from sunrise to sunset.

It consists of a seven-mile paved loop road for any biker looking to get away from Tampa’s urban atmosphere and drive into a wilderness experience.

Dana Putney, head volunteer and board leader of Tampa Bay Bike Co-op, said she recommends Flatwoods Park for beginner riders.

“Flatwoods has great trails,” Putney said, “and it’s a safe place to get comfortable with your bike.”

Tampa Bay Bike Co-op is open to the public and gathers Mondays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Wednesdays from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. It meets at 2512 Silver Lake Ave., at the intersection of Armenia and Waters avenues.

The community-run organization sells mechanical parts and educates customers on the ins and outs of their bicycles.

“People bring their bikes in and we teach them how to fix it rather than doing it for them.” Putney said. “It’s different from a bike shop – your bike gets fixed, but you’re the one fixing it and learning along the way.”

National Bike to Work Day was May 21. On this day, riders filled Tampa’s streets on their bicycles and traveled together to workplaces like Office Depot and Starbucks.

Although some people only practice this commute on the annual day it takes place, others like Putney take advantage of it daily.

“I ride my bike to work all the time,” Putney said. “I’ve actually met a lot of my community and friends by riding my bike.”

Putney said frequently biking has improved her from the inside out.

“I’ve definitely been a lot healthier since I’ve been riding my bike – but riding, to me, is a lot about peace of mind,” Putney said. “It’s really meditative.”

Bike thefts are a common occurence, however, and those chances can be amplified without taking preventive measures. Brenner said that a U-lock is the best way to protect your bicycle from theft.

Daniel Buccelli, a sophomore majoring in biology, said that leaving your bike unattended without a lock can result in disaster.

“I personally would never leave my bike lying around without a lock,” Buccelli said. “Why not just buy one? Buying a lock is cheaper than having to buy a whole new bike.”

For USF students like Ryn Shafer, a senior majoring in studio art, bicycling is not merely a convenience but a lifestyle improvement as well.

“Biking is a way more manageable way to get around Tampa; people rely way too much on cars,” Shafer said. “It’s also economically and environmentally the right decision.”

Shafer said she has always ridden bikes, but grew into an avid rider over her freshman year, when some new friends got her more involved with it.

“Exercise is a good thing,” Shafer said. “It’s good for you and it makes you happy.”