Blame it on the Spandex mafia and the kick in caffeine. A group of local bicyclists who gather at Starbucks on Fridays came up with the idea of a Bike to Work Week here, to coincide with a national campaign that happens every May.

Steve Harvey, Stephanie Dunn and David Freece — the fitness fiends in tights — have enlisted the backing of Cowlitz on the Move and PeaceHealth to promote biking to work from May 11 to May 15.

“One reason is to promote exercise, and another is to encourage commuting by bike,” said Freece, 57, the director of the Cowlitz County Historical Museum.

“It might seem intimidating, but it’s not that difficult,” he said. “It’s physically, mentally and financially good for you.”

“You can bike to work in this community,” agreed Harvey, 64, who rides his Surly Touring Bike most weekdays to his job as director of the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Council of Governments. “We want to get more riders out there, where they can connect with their neighborhoods.”

“We also want to raise the awareness of motorists,” said Dunn, 54, administrative coordinator for the Cowlitz County Commissioners Office.

Dunn, who owns four bicycles and risks rain and helmet hair on her two and a half-mile ride to work, said Commissioners Axel Swanson and George Raiter plan to roll with the cause during Bike to Work Week.

Two more maybes are Longview Mayor Kurt Anagnostou and Longview City Manager Bob Gregory — although Gregory told them he refuses to wear Spandex, organizers said.

Longview and Kelso already has a cadre — devoted if small — of bike commuters.

Veterinarian Dr. A Russell Moore rides a Giant Sedona to work at the Ocean Beach Animal Hospital. It’s a three-mile trip each way, and Moore makes one stop on the way in to teach a Bible study course at his church.

“It’s the only consistent exercise I get,” he said, “and it’s a good stress reliever on the way home. … I’m ready to play with the kids.”

Aside from showing respect for the environment, Moore said riding the bike means his family needs only one car. “We save a whole bunch of money because we don’t have to pay upkeep and insurance” on a second car.

Dennis Perry of Longview rides an Easy Racer recumbent bike to work at Weyerhaeuser. The low-slung bike is a “matter of comfort,” said the cycling enthusiast.

“You don’t carry any body weight on your wrists, shoulders or neck,” said Perry, who last week rode his recumbent 77 miles from Santa Maria to Santa Barbara, Calif. “I was tired, but not in pain” after the 7-hour ride, he said.

He also uses a flag to increase visibility.

“With any cycling, you’re mixing a slow mode of transportation into an infrastructure” based on driving. “Go out there with that understanding,” Perry said.

John Gillen, 52, has ridden his bike to work daily for 23 years.

“I’m so close,” said Gillen. “Why would I ever start up a car?”

A purchasing manager at Weyerhaeuser, he bikes from the Old West Side to the Norpac plant, rain or shine. He wears rain gear during downpours, he said, “and I squint a lot. But it really doesn’t rain all the time here.”

Gillen started biking to work in 1980, stopping only when he lived in Castle Rock for a few years. As soon as he and his wife, Audrey, moved back to town, they sold their second car.

Like other bicyclists, Gillen rides for fun and health, he said, including the health of the planet. “I leave as small a carbon footprint as I can. …

“It also helps people become more aware,” said Gillen, who had praise for local drivers. Motorists “aren’t necessarily used to seeing bicycles,” he said. “They watch out for me.”

He has a flashing tail light on his GT mountain bike and bright orange reflective strips on his backpack and helmet. “Bike lights aren’t made to help you see real good,” he said. “They’re made for the cars to see you.”

Organizers of the Bike to Work week have set up registration on the Cowlitz on the Move Web site (www.cowlitzonthemove.org/) and encourage riders to check out bike safety guidelines and rules of the road on the state’s WSDOT site (www.wsdot.wa.gov).

Avid bicyclists for years, they’ve had their share of thrills and spills.

Freece has a nine-mile round trip between home and the museum, and in the summer of 2005, he rode 3,300 miles along the Lewis and Clark trail, from St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia River.

“I started riding with a helmet in 1982,” he said. “After 25 years, I had an accident that cracked my helmet open. So one time in 25 years. But that one time, I needed it.”

Cyclists have a name for people who don’t wear helmets, Freece quipped: “organ donors.”

At the bike shop inside Bob’s Merchandise, customers can check out the helmet that Bill Hallanger credits with saving his life. One half of the outer shell of the helmet was shorn off when a car collided with Hallanger, and he donated the sliced helmet to the shop to remind riders what’s at stake when ride bicycles in traffic.

Cyclists also apply caution when planning their routes.

Regulars said they avoid Ocean Beach Highway and other crowded thoroughfares. They recommend using side streets and wide, accommodating roads like Pacific Way and First and Third Avenues.

For a smoother commute, timing helps. Try early morning, and leave work earlier or later than rush hour, they said.

Organizers would like to see Bike to Work Week lead to more visibility, more respect for riders, and maybe some infrastructure changes — like bike racks or bike lockers.

“It’s a mechanism to get the word out,” Dunn said.

Those who try it for five days may discover they don’t want to quit.

Harvey said riding his bike relaxes him, the way golf relaxes some people. He remembers riding home in the rain after a night meeting. “There was hardly any traffic, and by the time I got home, I thought, ‘That was good.’ ”

Dunn likes trail riding, and has ridden her bike to Bellingham and zoomed down the fork lift trail at Whistler.

Riding to work can be a hassle for women, she said, because they dress differently for work than men do and often have errands to run during the day.

She sometimes has to give herself a pep talk, Dunn said. “Life is so hectic. It’s really easy to say myself, ‘Oh, I’ve got all these other things to do.’ Then I say, ‘OK, slow down. Ride to work.’

“And it energizes me. It makes my day go better.”

Washington State Law RCW 46.61.755

“Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle ….”

Get in the Spin

What: Bike to Work Week

When: May 11-15

Where: Cowlitz County

To register: Go to the Cowlitz On the Move Web site, www.cowlitzonthemove.org, and fill out the form.

Those who register will be entered in drawings for a free Go Green bike and gift certificates to Bob’s Sporting Goods, free bowling tickets and movie tickets, and coupons for Vernie’s Pizza.

Free bike safety checks will be available at Bob’s from May 6 to 8. Please contact Bob’s for more information. 425-3870.

Gear up

Aside from a bike in good repair, every cyclist should wear a helmet and take steps to be visible in all weather.

Bike lights, reflective tape, Velcro straps for pant cuffs and other gear is available locally at Bob’s bike shop.

A simple rubber band also can help keep wide-legged trousers from catching in bike gears.

Know the rules of the road

Review the Washington State Bicycle Commute Guide before riding your bike to work. It is available, along with many helpful tips, at the Washington Department of Transportation Web site: www.wsdot.wa.gov/bike/toworkmonth.htm

Go to the bottom of the page and click on Washington Bicycle Commute Guide for a pdf version.

Here are basic rules as outlined in the guide:

• Ride in the direction of traffic.

• Obey all traffic signals including stop signs and lights.

• Stay as far to the right in the travel lane as you safely can when moving slower than traffic, except when you are making a left hand turn or to avoid a right-turn lane when you’re not turning right.

• Pass on the LEFT. You may overtake a vehicle on the right if you are in a bike lane or using a right turn lane.

• Signal prior to changing lanes or making a turn. For a left turn, hold your left arm out. For a right turn, hold the left arm out, bend your elbow and point hand down.

• Allow three feet between yourself and parked cars in case someone inside a parked car opens the door.

• Ride in a straight line; avoid swerving or weaving.

• Do not ride on the sidewalk except to prevent an accident or in a situation where there’s no room to safely ride in traffic.

Help TDN tell the story

If you plan to take part in Bike to Work Week as a new way to commute, and you are willing to be interviewed about the experience, please call Erik Olson at eolson@tdn.com or 577-2510.

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