Bike to it, ladies: Local groups seek to get more people, especially women, biking safely

Andrea Cohen shows a group of women how to clean and then grease a chain during a "Ladies Only: Basic Maintenance for Winter" class at World of Bike in Iowa City on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016. -- photo by Lauren Shotwell
Andrea Cohen shows a group of women how to clean and then grease a chain during a “Ladies Only: Basic Maintenance for Winter” class at World of Bike in Iowa City on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016. — photo by Lauren Shotwell

Andrea Cohen hauled a fat bike onto a stand in the back of the World of Bikes shop Wednesday night to show a group of women how to clean, degrease and lube a bike during the winter.

“I have about five years of Iowa winter commuting, so I’ve gone through pretty much every form of winter torture,” Cohen said in opening the class, promising to help attendees avoid similar mistakes as they head outside this winter.

The demonstration was part of an effort to get more people, especially women, on bikes and to educate people about the rules of the road and bike safety. The class, “Ladies-Only: Bike Maintenance for Winter,” was part of World of Bikes’ Iowa City Bike Academy that offers clinics on things like bike maintenance, riding skills and bike safety.

Cohen went over how to degrease and lube the chain, make sure all the parts of a bicycle are moving freely and check for issues caused by the rust and corrosion that the seasonal mix of ice, salt, sand and mud can bring.

She also passed around biking accessories that can make cold-weather riding safer and more comfortable, like studded tires, layered gloves, bar mitts and clothing — pointing out both technical clothes available in the store as well as things people might already have in their closets. The key theme was layering, and the strategic placement of hand and toe warmers.

“The main goal of this class is mostly just demystifying winter biking,” she said. “Just get out and go. You can have all the gear and if you never get out there you’ll never use it.”

Misty Rebik walked into the class wheeling her recently-purchased fat bike after riding through the evening chill. She said that while she wasn’t able to commute to work, she hoped to get out a one or two times a week and enjoy Iowa’s winter weather.

“It’s easy to complain, but there’s so much to do,” she said of the chilly temperatures. “There’s an amazing bike community here and I wanted to be able to enjoy that.”

Rebik said that seeing other women such as Cohen riding their bikes and talking about cycling inspired her to “take the plunge.”

“It’s kind of intimidating, and it’s a predominately male sport, especially in the winter,” she said. “Just being here and being around other women is inspiring. We underestimate ourselves, I think because we don’t see a lot of women out there. They are making it more accessible”

Jennifer Bair, of Coralville, said she had been biking to work in the winter for about two years and attended the class in the hopes of picking up some tips on how to make the cold-weather excursions a little more comfortable.

She said her daily three-mile rides are a kind of built-in exercise for her day, and it helps to be prepared and plan ahead for the day’s weather. She encouraged people considering biking to work to “just go for it.”

“It’s fun,” she said. “It’s great to be outside and decompress after work. And it’s a great stress reliever.”

Kristine Waters, who also attended the class, said she already comes in to ask Cohen for advice all the time.

“People need to have cars, they are a necessity,” she said, “but if you have an option to do things that are more active and to be a part of the world, you feel more connected to the community. Biking brings everyone together — being active together, talking about bikes. It’s a great community.”

"Sharrows" on roadways remind drivers to keep an eye out for bicyclists. -- photo via  Bike Calgary
“Sharrows” on roadways remind drivers to keep an eye out for bicyclists. — photo via Bike Calgary

She bikes in to work and said she has found the Iowa City community very supportive of bicyclists, although she said she would like to see more trails, bike lanes and laws protecting cyclists.

“There are things the city and the state could do to improve, but Iowa City as whole does think about this and they do have bike lanes and invest in bike parking,” she said. “And most drivers are used to having bikes on the road.”

Spreading the word

Cohen, who works at World of Bikes and also teaches a bike touring class at the University of Iowa, said education is key to getting more people out on bikes.

“It can be intimidating to know where to start,” she said. “A lot of people have bikes, but don’t use them. My first year here, I didn’t use my bike because I didn’t know how to get around. For example, how do I cross Riverside? It can be scary.”

She said the first step to being safe and confident on a bike is to make sure that a bike itself is safe, with functioning brakes, and to pay attention while out on the road. Classes like the one on Wednesday night are one step toward spreading bike awareness.

“You need to drive your bike like a car to not piss off other cars,” she said. “When riding, follow the rules, stop at stop signs and lights and take responsibility for your riding.”

Liz Christiansen, director of the UI Office of Sustainability and a member of the UI Bike Advisory Committee, said it’s important for students and others who start biking in Iowa City for the first time to understand basic road biking safety and to pay attention to their surroundings.

“I see far too many people distracted by their music or cell phones, not aware of traffic,” she said. “Bicycling is very popular — trail riding and casual bicycling and taking trips with friends — but when you come to an urban area it’s important that you understand the rules of the road. And in Iowa City, the university is basically in the downtown, so you have mixed traffic. You’re not on a separate trail.”

She said there are a number of resources people can turn to if they are hoping to get out and bike more, including websites, such as the Office of Sustainability’s biking page, and resources from local bike shops.

Christiansen said the bike advisory committee first came together in 2012 in an effort to get the university a bike friendly status from the League of American Bicyclists. They were able to get an honorable mention in 2012, before getting the silver award in 2014.

The committee continues to work towards improving bike safety and bicycle support services, like bike repair stations, on campus, Christiansen said. Among the planned projects is a bike share program, which was first anticipated to come into effect as early as the spring of 2016 but then was delayed.

“We want to encourage people to have a lighter carbon footprint, to take public transit, to walk and bike as much as possible,” Christiansen said. “It’s healthy and lower cost.”

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