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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Two-Wheeled Wonders: Healthy and green, cycling connects us to places and people.

Dec 06, 2010 10:59PM ● By Linda Sechrist

Since author Ernest Hemingway first observed that the contours of a country were best observed from a bicycle seat, many things have changed. Yet, after listening to biking enthusiast Joanne Smallwood describe her fall cycling trips through New York City’s Central Park and the Czech Republic, it’s apparent that Hemingway’s observation still holds true. An avid cyclist for only two years, the Naples resident and business owner signed up to join an adventure travel group with 24 other riders who also enjoyed the breathtaking scenery between Prague and Vienna. In April, Smallwood enjoyed a spectacular display of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths while biking through Holland’s famous Keukenhof Gardens.

Smallwood is among a burgeoning number of individuals, both local and nationwide, who not only enjoy recreational riding through a park or on a trail, exploring local “contours,” but also group road rides on urban streets and practice rides to train for more strenuous trips that require building stamina and leg muscles. Notably, this growing national trend has even led Google to partner with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and add biking directions, bike lane data, maps of 12,000 miles of bike trails and recommended biking-friendly streets for 150 cities around the country to Google Maps.

Pedaling Towards Complete Streets

While bicycling may be the fastest growing mode of transportation in the Big Apple, here on the Paradise Coast, four wheels are still the norm. Joe Dubois, owner of Trek Bikes, with locations in Naples and Estero, reports that few Southwest Floridians use a bike to commute to work. This could be due to statistics offered by the Naples Pathways Coalition (NPC), a nonprofit advocacy group working for a fully integrated transportation network of sidewalks, bike lanes and multi-use pathways. “Collier County has one of the highest injury and fatality rates for pedestrians and cyclists,” says NPC Executive Director Michelle Avola. She notes that injuries and fatalities should be reduced significantly with the city and county’s current and planned increase in “complete” streets, designed to balance safety and convenience for everyone using the road: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public transportation.

“Users of all ages and abilities are able to safely move along and across a complete street, which includes sidewalks, bike lanes (or wide, paved shoulders), special bus lanes, comfortable and accessible public transportation stops, frequent crossing opportunities, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals and curb extensions,” says Avola, whose organization has collaborated with supportive city officials such as Naples Mayor Bill Barnett and City Manager A. William Moss to increase the number of bike lanes, sidewalks and pathways.

“We are working to ensure that individuals can be self-propelled safely and to get ahead of the increasing number of people who are looking to improve their health or reduce their dependence on a car, and others who cannot afford to own a car,” advises Avola, who adds that NPC is also working with Collier Area Transit on ideas for expanding space for storing bicycles, incorporating ideas such as Washington, D.C.’s self-service public bike rental program. “At key locations, ergonomic and lightweight bikes can be rented with a credit card, which means that no one needs to bring their bike on the bus,” remarks Avola. Commenting on the future completion of the proposed Gordon River Greenway Connection, with its many bike and walking trails, she notes that land and connectivity issues, as well as bridge alignments and funding, are among the current stumbling blocks impacting the future of the project.

Avola says that she is particularly proud of the number of private bike shops in the area. “We aren’t a huge city, but we have quite a selection of specialized bike shops that are a great help to cyclists at all levels, helping them find the right bike, fitting them properly so they don’t suffer with sore hands or saddles, and organizing regular rides and fundraising events,” she enthuses.

Exploring Local Contours

Craig Holland, a Naples resident and massage therapist, is a keen cyclist who grew up here back when biking was a children’s pastime. “Now there are large groups of adults riding,” he advises. “For example, when NPC does their annual bike brunch, we get more than 400 riders, compared to when we first organized a ride, which attracted only 100 riders,” says Holland, who, like Smallwood, enjoys riding in bike-friendly European countries. “You can ride from city to city without coming in contact with cars,” he emphasizes.

Holland also relishes a good ride at least once a year on Sarasota’s Legacy Trail, built along more than 10 miles of former CSX railroad track that stretches from the Palmer Ranch, in Sarasota, to the historic Venice Train Depot, in Venice. Another ride on his annual list is the 34-mile Pinellas Trail, which starts in Tarpon Springs and ends in lower St. Petersburg. “I once started in downtown St. Pete, rode to Glen Eden, went to an art show, ate lunch and rode back,” he recalls.

The avid cyclist also bikes the Suncoast Trail, a co-located multi-use path next to the 42-mile-long Suncoast Parkway that currently extends from Tampa’s Veterans Expressway to U.S. Highway 98, near the Hernando-Citrus county line. Locally, he favors rides in Pelican Bay, along Gordon Drive and Port Royal, and up and down Crayton Road and Gulf Shore Boulevard. “From Olde Naples to Fort Myers and back is approximately 55 miles, a great weekend ride,” he advises.

Making Wheel-Based Connections

Holland and Avola are pleased to see an increase in the number of individuals who choose to ride their bike to the library, bookstore or cafés and restaurants to enjoy a cup of coffee or lunch. “The average trip around town is less than a mile, so riding a bike will help the environment and make the experience healthier and more enjoyable,” says Avola, who recommends hooking up with a local cycling club to meet other riders and learn about new trails or routes. “Clubs are particularly helpful when planning a trip to a new place,” she says.

Smallwood, a member of the Velo Group, 20 road cyclists organized by Naples Cyclery, rides twice a week with her biking friends. “We have a great sense of camaraderie and are focused on safety and taking care of each other,” she says, noting that no one gets left behind on the 20-plus-mile rides. “I see that more people who are aging are focused on maintaining their health and staying fit with the kind of overall exercise that biking offers,” advises Smallwood, adding that several are in her group, including two women who turned 70 this year. The pair embodies legendary road racing cyclist Lance Armstrong’s suggestion that birthdays don’t matter much anymore—they are out climbing mountains and participating in an Iron Man competition.

Could it be that the contours of the world—whether local neighborhoods or far-flung destinations—are more inspiring when experienced from a bicycle? If so, then this two-wheeled wonder offers us far more than green transportation and healthy exercise—it connects us, joyfully, to places and people.
 

For information about local biking trails and tours, including Naples, the beaches, East Bonita, Pelican Bay, Alva and Caloosahatchee Regional Park, and area tours of the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail, visit www.TrekBikesFlorida.com. Also visit www.FloridaCycling.com.

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