June, not May, is 'Bike Month' in Wisconsin

Fickle weather prompts moving events

Poet T.S. Eliot famously called April the cruelest month. But for Madison-area bicyclists, May can prove far more depressing.

Look at the month we just had: One morning might have offered clear blue skies, light winds and warm spring temps while the next day was cold, wet and downright nasty.

It’s a weather issue that has long plagued efforts here to schedule “Bike to Work” events designed to encourage newbies to give up their cars for a day and try pedaling into the office or classroom. But nothing seems to guarantee crummy weather like planning a bike commuting event.

Consider last Friday, May 19, which was deemed “National Bike to Work Day” by the League of American Bicyclists, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group. The League also designates May as “Bike Month.”

Several nice events were scheduled around town, with free coffee and donuts on the Capital City Trail and Waunona Way courtesy of the Monona East Side Business Alliance.

But almost on cue, a chilly rain fell much of day Friday, leaving only the hardiest of bicyclists on the roads. You had to feel for the volunteers—not to mention riders who braved the challenging conditions.

So given the fickle Wisconsin spring weather, bicycle advocates here have bucked the national designation of May as “Bike Month” and scheduled their events for June 3-11, when even if the rain falls, there’s at least a chance the temperature will be above 60 degrees.

“It might be a little confusing but our bicycling community is pretty engaged,” says Wisconsin Bicycle Federation membership director Martha Laugen. “I don’t think it dilutes things very much.”

In fact, the Bike Fed has got a jam-packed schedule for “Wisconsin Bike Week” in June.

Commuter stations offering coffee and snacks to cyclists along popular routes will be operating much of the week with a full schedule available here.

And if you think bicycle commuters are all veggie-crunchers, think again.

One of the most popular Bike Week events is the 5th annual “Bratcakes” scheduled for Wednesday June 7 on the John Nolen bike path from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Last year, Saris Cycling Group served up over 900 bratcakes and is looking at topping 1,000 this year. (By the way, bratcakes are billed as a Wisco twist on breakfast: a bratwurst wrapped in a fresh pancake topped with syrup.)

Meat is on the menu again Thursday June 8 for the 11th annual “Bacon on the Bike Path” also on John Nolen Drive. Sponsored by Planet Bike, it’s breakfast on the bike with fruit, donuts, juice, coffee and Nueske's bacon for all bicyclists.

The Bike Fed also has some evening events for Bike Week.

Monday, June 5 is “Women’s Night” from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Brittingham Park. Organizers are planning a group ride while vendors will be on hand showcasing bikes and accessories. “It’s about promoting access and getting women more comfortable for any kind of reason,” says Laugen.

On Wednesday, June 7 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Hotel Red at Regent and Monroe Streets is the spot to try out “E-bikes.” Representatives from Trek Bicycles will be on hand to explain the new technology that blends pedaling with motorized assistance.

Electric assisted bikes remain something of a niche market in this country but have been growing by leaps and bounds in Europe and Asia. Germany has seen a tripling of e-bike sales to over 400,000 per year while e-bikes now make up over 10 percent of the 18 million bicycles in the Netherlands.

A Dutch survey shows the average distance traveled in the Netherlands by commuters on a standard bicycle is 3.9 miles, but that increases to 6.1 miles on an e-bike. The survey also showed that e-bike ownership is particularly popular among people 65 and older.

The U.S. e-bike fleet is estimated at over 200,000 but is gaining popularity in New York and other cities are as food delivery vehicles.

Trek offers a line of e-bikes using the "Bionx" system where riders program the controller to determine how much help the motor will give, from 25 percent to 200 percent of the rider's power. This ensures a minimum level of rider participation and helps the bikes comply with European laws mandating some human effort before the motor kicks in.

Regulators in the U.S. are still trying to figure out how to deal with e-bikes and whether they should be allowed on designated trails or roadways. The Bike Fed is backing legislation in Wisconsin modeled after a statute California which allows e-bikes with motors under 750 watts.

It’s a good discussion topic while chewing down a bratcake on—hopefully—a nice warm morning during Wisconsin’s June Bike Week.

Mike Ivey writes the Footloose blog for madisonmagazine.com.

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