The Bonneville Cycling Club Expands its Mission to Include Bike Commuting

The Bonneville Club commutes regulary and has accumulated over 15000 miles in it's commuter challenge. They also like to have fun! Photo: Robin Perkins

By Lou Melini

The Bonneville Cycling Club (BCC) has been a Utah fixture since 1976. The club is primarily known as a recreational and social riding club. The BCC puts on hundreds of rides annually for all abilities. The BCC has been very notable for large rides such as the ULCER and Little Red Riding Hood events. The club has donated tens of thousands of dollars to worthy charities as a result of ULCER and Little Red.

On May 1, 2010 the club added a “Bike Commuter Challenge” to show the community that the initials “BCC” puts back into the community more than just dollars.

Representing the BCC are some of the leading commuters in the Bike Commuter Challenge; Bob Renwick, Lawrence Bray (from Loa, Utah), Norma Blubaugh (from Cache Valley), Don (in charge of the ride schedule) and Mary Margaret Williams (current president).

Cycling Utah: I first want to say that as a member of the BCC since 1979 (and president in 1981), I am really delighted to see the BCC (bike commuter challenge) incorporated in the BCC (Bonneville Cycling Club). So why do you commute by bike? Tell me about your use of the bike as a means of transportation.

Lawrence Bray: I commute to save money, pollute less, and to fit more riding time into a busy day. Most of my commuting is to work and back but I can sometimes use the bike to replace the car for other trips. I ride to work when other logistical considerations allow and when the weather and road conditions are not too crazy. I live in the high country (7200 ft) in south-central Utah where it is usually a bit colder than the Wasatch Front. I have a little over a mile of dirt road each way on my commute as well as five miles of open (65 mph) highway with a fairly narrow shoulder. Happily, it is a very rural area (the nearest traffic light is 55 miles away) so traffic is light. I don’t commute when there is snow on the road but cold and dark are fine.

I live about 12.8 miles from where I work. It takes about 45 – 50 minutes to commute each way. If it were much shorter, it would have less appeal for me. About an hour ride each way is ideal for me. If it were much more than an hour there would be days where I would have to drive in order to meet other obligations. I lived in Heber City and taught at Park City High school for five years in the 90’s. That was a great bicycle commute in the spring and fall when the roads were clear.

Norma Blubaugh: When the guys at work asked why I started riding a bike instead of driving, my short, clever answer was, “The three ‘E’s: Economy, Ecology, and Energy”. I save a full tank of gas each month when I ride most days instead of driving. I use that savings to upgrade my gear for comfort and safety. My commute is 5 miles one way, and I usually take the bus about half way home (the uphill part of the trip). I commute to/from work, and also for light errands as time and energy allows, combining trips when possible, just as I do when driving. The Ecology aspect is obvious. It is a bit ironic that we are encouraged to drive less, which means walking or biking more, on days when the air quality is so bad we are told it is unhealthy to do so… The Energy aspect refers both to the desirable calorie burn and fitness benefits of cycling and to the enhanced alertness and energy level I enjoy when I bike to work. I enjoy it. Sometimes it’s the best part of my day, just me and the road. For me, bicycle commuting is one way to live my values and quietly serve as an example to encourage others inclined to try to make it work in their own lives.

I ride all year round, as often as family/work/social schedule permits. I can enjoy the ride down to about zero degrees with my current gear. I learned the hard, cold way to check the weather forecast every morning (minus 9 was not fun, even if I did get bragging rights at work). I will not ride on “Red Air” days, because I feel the difference in air quality when it gets that bad. I will ride in sun, rain, light, dark, hot, or cold as defined above when roads are clear enough so I won’t be forced into the uneven icy lane edges after a snowstorm. I do occasionally ride at night, and my early morning commute is dark several months of the year. I will ride more at night when I can add better reflective gear.

Bob Renwick: I bike commute for a number of reasons. Health: I do not gain and sometimes lose weight if I commute. I sleep better if I exorcise regularly.

Cycling is a lot less stressful for me than driving a car, as it is mentally and physically therapeutic. I also like saving miles on my car. I commute mostly for going to work, but occasionally, and more often, for errands around town like going to REI, the grocery store, post office, or shopping. I ride all year in almost all weather conditions, but I try to avoid rain downpours and snow packed or icy roads. I leave for work at 4:45 in the morning so I have quite a lot of experience with adverse conditions.

Don Williams: I commute primarily to work – and to club rides that are in between work and home. My commuting year normally starts in the mid-winter thaw like we saw this January and when work schedules permit. Because of project schedules, there is night commuting involved, there would be less if I got an earlier start – but I prefer to get to work in daylight, so I start later, but it makes the day a lot better. An average of once per week for the year is doable.

To start an active cycling season there is no better way than the mini-interval training that commuting provides. My first few days of commuting are a little restless until my body settles in to the routine of a brisk 1-hour workout inbound, sweaty clothes into a locker, followed by a hot shower, a full workday followed by a nice climb home. I’m fortunate that my firm, MHTN Architects remodeled our offices to LEED Gold standards two years ago, adding alternative transportation facilities consisting of secure bike storage lockers and a shower. Beats the old days of rinsing in rubbing alcohol when no shower was available.

Mary Margaret Williams: Commuting for me is a way to accomplish some of my life values: exercise, health, emotional well being, improve skills for riding in traffic, doing my small part in going green, in addition to decreasing air pollution. Furthermore, it saves dollars and gas. I have a 17 mile one way commute so the dollars add up. Riding to work creates a good mood to start the day. The ride home provides a workout so I don’t need to go out again. I enjoy passing other commuters along the way, sometimes counting how many people are out riding to work. I believe the best mileage for commuting is around 10 miles one way because the time it takes to ride is only a bit longer than if in a car. My commute requires a little over an hour one way if no mechanical problem occurs and depending on traffic lights which by the way can be annoying when you get stuck at those lights that bikes can’t trigger. Therefore, you have to either wait for a vehicle or walk over and push the walk button.

In addition to riding to work, when possible I make it a goal to commute to a club ride or out to dinner. Sometimes, I will stop by the store on the way home and pick up a few small items.

Participating in programs such as Clear the Air Challenge and BCC commuter challenge help motivate me to commute more often providing me with another goal.

Due to the early morning hours along with added travel responsibilities I have at work during the school year, it makes it difficult for me to commute while school is in session. Therefore, the majority of my commutes to work occur during the summer months. I will ride in poor weather conditions such as rain or snow but as a rule I don’t start a ride unless it is clear; Personally, I believe added risks of accidents are present with inclement weather conditions, however if cycling was my main mode of transportation, I would probably ride regardless. Riding at night is not a problem in fact I find it an exciting adventure and quite enjoyable. I do light myself up like a Christmas tree for optimum visibility.

Cycling Utah: Tell me about your involvement in the BCC. Also let’s discuss the Bike Commuter Challenge.

Lawrence Bray: I joined BCC in May 0f 2010. I am a native Utahn but began riding in 1983 in Alaska. Being a cyclist is a major part of my identity. I raced a lot in the 80’s and early 90’s but no more. I like the Commuter Challenge and I am surprised at the relatively small number of participants. I am glad BCC is putting some energy and support into it and hope the Commuter Challenge continues and thrives.

Mary Margaret Williams: I have been an active member of BCC from the first week we moved to Salt Lake City 12 years ago. During that time I have served on the Board in several positions including newsletter editor, member at large, vice president, and president. Belonging to a club provides many benefits including a great ride schedule; riding with others both for social aspect and safety issues: statistics indicate those who ride with a club have fewer accidents and are more skilled riders. Riding with others makes me push harder and improve my pace and skill.

Commuting has been a part of BCC for a few years, with the commuter challenge officially starting in 2010 for the purpose of encouraging members to commute more often be it to a club ride, work, store, or even to a friend’s home. The results are not for competition, but rather a challenge to accumulate miles as a club. One mission of the club is to provide opportunities for every aspect of riding for all types of riders and all reasons to ride; BCC advocates for safer roads and sharing the road therefore commuting fits right in with the mission. Due to rising pollution issues and gas prices, making commuting a priority is one of my goals as President.

Bob Renwick: I originally joined the BCC in 1984; George Orwell made me do it. I joined to learn new bike routes and get group motivation, but mainly to see new country and do longer rides where somebody new where they were going.

Norma Blubaugh: I joined the BCC last spring to support this cultural alternative in Utah. I was surfing the general topic of cycling, commuting, bicycle touring, etc., and found a link to the BCC. It was gratifying to see club photos on the site of other people who probably remember the first Earth Day

Cycling Utah: There has been a lot of debate regarding global warming. Also we have had another winter along the Wasatch Front with “red” days due to air pollution. How can the bike help with both?

Lawrence Bray: I believe the world would be a much better place and the human condition much improved if more people rode more bikes more often. Too bad our culture is so focused on convenience and expediency. I know Cycling Utah is not a forum for political activism, but there is no question in my mind that if the US Government is determined to intrude on our private lives, the state of our economy and physical health as a nation would be much better served by requiring every citizen to run or ride their bike for an hour a day than by imposing Universal Healthcare.

Norma Blubaugh: Until the air conditions are brought down to constant acceptable levels by other means (less diesel, more carpooling, better public transportation, etc.), I’ll continue to guard my own health by refraining from heavy outdoor aerobic activity on ‘bad air’ days. There would be fewer of these days if more people regularly biked and built air friendly practices into their daily routines.

Bob Renwick: There is a bit of catch 22 when the air is bad. One rides and helps reduce air pollution, but then you pollute your lungs more. That said however, I will ride on bad air days. I slow down a little to save my lungs and believe the overall benefit of not missing your exercise is greater.

Mary Margaret Williams: It is my opinion that everyone should do their part to reduce CO2 and assist in improving air quality. However, many people have jobs that make it difficult to commute, such as I do during school months. Promoting carpooling and commuting when possible is a goal.

Don Williams: Last spring I commuted 16 miles on a red air day with relatively high humidity – upon arriving at my office, a black film was coating all the leading edges of my bike frame. We’re breathing that stuff when the inversion sets in and that’s good enough proof to keep me commuting another day or two.

Cycling Utah: Don, you have been very involved as an officer in the BCC for most of your time with the BCC. Tell me about your membership, the BCC and the Bike Commuter Challenge.

Don Williams: I’ve been a member of BCC since moving to Salt Lake city about 12 years ago, and held office in the Club for 6 or 7 of those years. The Commuter challenge came about as a direct result of the Clear the Air challenge in July for the past 2 years. The Clear the Air Challenge is one month a year, great for keeping the energy level high, and posting some very impressive numbers in trips saved and lbs of emissions eliminated. However, the long haul is establishing a pattern of life-long habits that can make a year round difference, and what better way to start than with a cycling group.

Several of our most active commuters have not signed up for the challenge. Perhaps their personal level of advocacy is in those daily rides to work or shopping, but the BCC board is working to improve participation in all club programs through this year’s initiative of MORE 2011; More Members, More opportunities through heightened involvement of our membership, More riding, and exercise.

Current club membership stands at 300 and is steady. The Club’s articles express the need to promote all types of cycling, and commuting falls naturally into recognizing the needs and wants of our membership, while advocating improved road usage for cyclists.

Cycling Utah: Mary Margaret, you are the current president of the BCC. The Bonneville Club has done an exemplary job of raising funds for various causes. Tell me about some of the charitable work.

Mary Margaret Williams: Within the past several years, the Club’s primary focus has evolved toward giving to the Salt Lake and surrounding communities. By raising substantial monies for charitable causes such as “Women health issues” and the “Olympic Sports Youth Program”, BCC has been able to make a difference in the lives of our own community members.

BCC has contributed thousands of dollars to charities. These dollars come from our two major events Little Red and Ulcer. The recipients of our donations also take an active role in the event. For example, The University of Utah Genetics center provides additional fundraising as well as volunteers. As a result we assisted in raising $60,000 for University of Utah Genetics. The Olympic Park youth sports program provide over 50% of the volunteers as well as organizes volunteers. For this program we were able to give $9000 from our rides. In addition the BCC raised $500 for the Tour De Cure, and $1500 for the MS 150 in 2010.

Furthermore, we are able to increase safety skills of riders as a direct result of our bicycle skills classes and ride marshal program. BCC is proud to be able to contribute such great efforts to Salt Lake and surrounding cities in Utah.

(Editorial note: Both Don and Mary Margaret are “League Cycling Instructors” from the League of American Bicyclists, providing annual riding skills seminars.)

Cycling Utah: What are your commuter bike choices?

Lawrence Bray: I commute on a cyclocross bike with heavy commuter tires. The mix of dirt road and pavement has shaped my choice in bikes. A pure road bike was inappropriate for the dirt, sand, and sometimes mud of my loooong hilly driveway. I only have one bike now for the first time in 25 years. It works great for high-speed long distance road rides when I switch wheels.

Bob Renwick: Last spring Millcreek Bicycles shop in Olympus Cove built up a Gunnar Fastlane commuter and light touring bike for me.

Mary Margaret: I have a separate bike for commuting. My commuter bike has a bike rack and lights. It is a road bike but if my schedule changed
o allow me to commute more often, I would probably look into a true commuter bike with fenders and features made for the purpose of commuting. I wear a backpack that contains wallet, phone, clothes and shoes. In my bag on the bike rack, I usually pack my lunch along with a bungee cord, necessary tools and tubes for on the road maintenance. A must have for a commuting bike would be lights and a bike rack with a bag attached. I always wear Road ID tag and carry health insurance card.

Don Williams: I follow the tried and true philosophy of John Forrester, the founder of the Effective Cycling program for the League of American Bicyclists, John preached steel frame bikes for commuting, so 5 years ago when my 20 year old commuting bike frame cracked on my ride into work, I made it down the hill to a local bike shop and bought a steel framed cyclocross bike. The geometry was right, the handling responsive. The extra brake levers (found on some cyclocross bikes) come in handy when riding in traffic. The new hi-intensity strobe taillights can be seen from outer space, and makes one definitely more comfortable when riding home in the dark. A front strobe and a steady light mounted down low are my favorites for extended riding in darkness. Clip on fenders cut down on weight and the cleaning bill if you get caught in the rain on the way home.

Norma Blubaugh: My bike is a “tank” that I bought at a garage sale, so long rides are a workout rather than recreation. I added fenders and a rear rack with folding baskets to the sport hybrid bike. It already had a kickstand, which is very useful for quick errands in town. I carry a light duty cable lock to keep the bike from falling over when looped around a pole. Someone would have to be desperate to steal this bike! It is my only bike right now. The best comfort item besides a good frame fit is a gender specific seat 😉 Lights are not a comfort item, they are essential safety equipment.

Cycling Utah: What is the best part of being a member of the Bonneville Cycling Club?

Don Williams: Best part of being a part of any club particularly BCC – like minded individuals can share in the joy of cycling, share in the experience and pain of training, share in the enjoyment of supporting major charities with hundreds of service hours and a few dollars.

Bob Renwick: I like the group and the group experience. Riding with nice people and friends makes it easy to put in a lot of miles. I also like to ride in new areas and in BCC there are lots of really varied rides. You also get to learn a lot about bikes and how to ride safely and in a group.

Mary Margaret: The best part of being a member of BCC is having a ride schedule that provides something for everyone in addition to utilizing our rides to increase skills, reduce accidents, and promote cycling.

Norma Blubaugh: I’ve only participated in the BCC’s Commuter Challenge, so that’s the best part so far.

Addendum from column editor Lou Melini: Perhaps as a result of the commuter challenge, the Bonneville Cycling Club was awarded as Bicycle Club of the Year from the League of American Bicyclists, one of eight such clubs around the country. Congratulations on the hard work of the BCC officers and volunteers within the club.

Also I wish to apologize to REI employee John Higgins in the March commuter column. I misidentified him as “John O’Brien,” a different Aussie I once knew.

[Editor’s Note: The club has totaled 15000 miles and 14,277 lbs of emissions saved in its commuter challenge. Last year, the club mileage (non-commuter) competition surpassed 1 million miles cumulative over the last 10 years.]

If you have a suggestion for a commuter profile, have a commuter question you wish me to address, or other comments, please send them to [email protected].

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