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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 18, 2006

Bikes favored for work commute

Advertiser Staff and Wire Services

Eric Negron drops off his bike at a free bike valet operated by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition in San Francisco. As gas prices soar, more Americans are choosing to ride their bicycles to work.

NOAH BERGER | Associated Press

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As gasoline prices climb to record highs, more Americans seem to be abandoning their cars and biking to work to save money at the pump. This week, as cities across the country celebrate National Bike to Work Week, advocates are promoting bicycle commuting as a way to trim transportation costs, get in shape and help the environment.

"Every additional person who rides their bike to work would start reducing our dependence on foreign oil immediately," said Tim Blumenthal, who heads the Bikes Belong Coalition in Boulder, Colo.

Cycling to work is just one way Americans are seeking relief from skyrocketing gas prices. People who normally drive to work are riding public buses and trains, working from home and carpooling with colleagues.

"People are starting to look for fundamentally different ways to travel," said Bill Wilkinson, executive director of the National Center for Bicycling and Walking in Bethesda, Md. The soaring price of fuel "prompts people to really think about where they live and how they get around."

Honolulu resident Carl Brooks commuted to work before gas prices started to rise, but now he's finding that he's using his bike more to keep gas costs down. It used to cost him $30 to $35 to fill up his automobile every 10 days or so when he drove to work, Brooks said. Now he's filling once every month and a half and it's costing about $45, he said.

On a bike he saves money, avoids road rage, and cut his commute time in half taking 10 minutes from Makiki to Ala Moana where he works instead of 20 minutes by car, he said.

"It's irritating when you're in a car and traffic," Brooks said. "On a bike I get to work with a much better attitude."

There are drawbacks to biking but the good outweigh the bad, he said.

Sales for commuter-type bikes are on the rise with as much as a 50 percent jump since the cost of gasoline has climbed skyward, said Wally Parcels, owner of the BIKEFACTORY in Kaka'ako.

Not only are the numbers rising but the type of individual that is purchasing that kind of bike is different, more conscientious and most often adults who have not ridden a bike for 20 years, Parcels said. Their reasoning is twofold, he said.

"It's not just all about gas," Parcels said. "It's about making the right decision and going back to something a little bit more healthy."

Also it's about the cost of driving where people are telling him that they spend more on a parking stall downtown in a couple of months than they would on the purchase of a bike, he said.

Once people have the bike, they use it more than just for commuting to work, Parcels said. They run short errands or to pick up a few groceries. People are changing their attitudes about bikes being a kid's thing, he said.

"In my 35 years in business, it's now an adult thing and kids are an accessory," Parcels said.

At McCully Bicycle and Sporting Goods, sales haven't been as dramatic but more people are making the switch, said Harris Habu, store manager.

"I do know of a few people that ride because the gas is so high but I don't see a real big sales in bicycles, not like when we had the bus strike," Habu said.

With the cost of a commuter-type bike $ 170 about the same as three fill-ups at the gas station, Habu said sales could pick up.

Bike shops nationwide are seeing more customers, said Fred Clements, who heads the National Bicycle Dealers Association in Costa Mesa, Calif.

"They have seen a surge in interest from the public about riding bicycles as a way to reduce the impact of high gas prices," Clements said. "People that already have bikes suddenly realize this would be a great way to save money."

About 20 million bikes were sold in the United States in 2005, one of the industry's best years ever, and retailers are optimistic that escalating gas prices will lead to record bike sales this year, Clements said.

Organizers are promoting National Bike to Work Week with a series of events aimed at getting drivers to try commuting by bicycle, if only for a day. Many cities including Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C., will host special events for commuters tomorrow, National Bike to Work Day.

Staff writer Eloise Aguiar and the Associated Press contributed to this report.