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3 things that might surprise you when bike commuting in Wenatchee

Lauren Johnson likes biking for exercise: “For me I like to be outside and see scenery and be out and about rather than being in a gym.”

By Sara Villalobos

If you’ve ever considered bike commuting in Wenatchee, you might just be onto something special.

We all know that biking is good exercise, and getting around on two wheels is good for the environment, but local commuter cyclists Dan Baber, Lauren Johnson and Craig Still experienced unexpected benefits that changed their lives and have kept them on the bike years later.

1. You may see the city differently.

Craig Still had been biking recreationally for about 16 years when he got the idea to try bike commuting to his restaurant, Garlini’s Napoletana, for a month.

“I just got a wild hair one day and decided I’m going to commute every day for a month,” he said. “That month turned into, ‘I love this and I’m going to do it for a whole year.’ I did it really solid for an entire year and during that process it ingrained in me that this is going to be a lifelong adventure for me.”

Craig found his city transformed when he got behind the handlebars, and was enamored with Wenatchee all over again.

“I noticed I was seeing my town all over again for the first time. I guess the thing that surprised me was how much of the commuting culture I completely fell in love with.

“I started in the fall and you just see things differently on the bike. You smell things you don’t normally smell. You get to witness mother nature at her best and also at her worst. I think we sometimes jump in our cars and turn the radio on and are really oblivious to nature and temperature and wind and the smell of cherry blossoms and wet leaves. You can’t get stuff like that in a car and I think as a bike commuter you begin to appreciate those things. “

For Craig, biking changed his daily commute from a mindless habit to a daily highlight.

“You really look forward to this experience and adventure that happens. I never thought in a million years that I would be so excited to finish my shift at the restaurant and ride home. I think a lot of people think, ‘I could ride to work but, oh my gosh, I’m going to have to ride back from work after a whole day!’ Maybe I’m just weird, but I get so excited for that all day. It’s the best part of my day every single day that I commute is my ride home.”

2. You may break unhealthy habits.

Before Dan Baber was a bike mechanic at Arlberg Sports, he had a job that kept him off his feet all day.

“My job before working at Arlberg was basically all driving. I was a semi-truck driver and I just felt I had put in too much wasted windshield time,” Dan said.

He enjoyed recreational mountain biking but still drove to get around town, until he had a mechanical issue that forced him to consider other options.

“My car at the time had broken down so I just started bike commuting for a couple of weeks. Then I really just liked the ease of bike commuting. Shortly after that I ended up selling my car and have just been 100 percent bike for the last six or seven years.”

Biking daily, Dan noticed that some of his old habits were slowing him down.

“When I was driving a truck I picked up a horrible habit of smoking cigarettes. As anyone can tell you, it’s not an easy habit to kick. When I started cycling it’s one of those things, they don’t really work together very well. That was actually what got me to quit smoking cigarettes.

“When I first started I would get winded and cough. I wasn’t able to ride the distances or keep up with some of my friends. That was probably one of the biggest health benefits from cycling I was able to get.”

He also noticed his food habits started to change with his new mode of transportation.

“When it comes around lunch time you maybe think about hopping in your car and driving some place like McDonald’s, but commuting on a bike you kind of know that’s not going to be good fuel for you. You steer clear of that because it’s in the back of your mind, and maybe choose something alternate to eat.

“Close to where I work there’s a lot of locally owned places to eat that I would end up getting a sandwich or something like that.

“With cycling just being in shape and then altering your diet around what you’re doing I would find that instead of being tired after work I would have the energy not only to ride home but to go for other bike rides as well.”

3. You may heal old wounds.

Lauren Johnson is a physical therapist who specializes in helping people stay physically active.

He was introduced to bike commuting in his teens by his then neighbor, Craig Still.

“I got a job at Garlini’s in East Wenatchee. The owner was actually my next door neighbor and he got me my first mountain bike,” Lauren said. “I started working for him and with the bike I just commuted back and forth between Wenatchee and East Wenatchee to get there because at the time I didn’t have a driver’s license.”

From those early years bike commuting became a practical solution in the various communities he found himself in.

“While I was going to physical therapy school in Seattle, biking was a much faster way to commute than to take a bus or drive a car because there was no parking so I just continued to bike through college. I basically stuck with it and I still bike commute.

“It started just as a way for a kid to get to and from work and then later it morphed into a good way to keep exercise in my life.”

Lauren found it more and more difficult to fit time for physical fitness into his working schedule. He turned to bike commuting as a way to ensure he stayed active.

“When you get into studying for school and working at a job it gets a lot harder to build in time to your day for exercise, so biking was the full package. Good for the environment. Saved me money. Good for my health.”

As a physical therapist, Lauren is always looking for solutions to help people feel good and stay physically fit. Biking is an option that he vouches for personally.

“My job as a physical therapist is to teach people exercises and encourage people to go to the gym. I’m always trying to find what are people’s passions in terms of health and exercise, things that are healthy to promote. For me I like to be outside and see scenery and be out and about rather than being in a gym.

“I’ve had lots of injuries and that’s what actually got me into becoming a physical therapist. I’ve gone through many phases of doing lifting and gym work. I teach people that stuff also.

“But for me, especially with knee injuries, you have to find what works for your body. Lifting doesn’t work well for my body. Every winter I would go through a phase where I’d try to get stronger but it would end up aggravating my knee. The bike was always solid and would always help and be more useful for my knee.”

These days, Lauren’s passion for cycling is as much about enjoying the ride as it is keeping pain and discomfort from old injuries at bay, and maintaining a consistent level of fitness.

“The days that I don’t ride are the worst days for my knee. The bike is one of the simplest ways to lubricate the knee joint.

“I don’t think it’s a fit for everybody, but there are very few injuries that cycling is a problem for. It’s low impact but it does a good job at keeping you pretty strong. For the vast majority of people who are looking to get fit or lose weight cycling should probably be number one on their mind.

“You need sustainability and the ability to repeat. It doesn’t need to be super-intense all of the time to lose weight. To be consistent is the best thing.

“So cycling is a really good place to start for that. If you want to lose weight, ride a bike.”

Sara Villalobos is a My City Bikes spokesperson and cycling advocate from San Jose, CA.

My City Bikes is the web and mobile public health alliance providing a toolkit for beginners taking control of their health through biking. For more information, visit mycitybikes.org.

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