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Bicyclists ride through Glen Park together as part of the WeBike group, which includes all ages of people using different kinds of bikes. Submitted photos

Bike riding shifts into high gear with season, status, sporty challenge

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About 50 wheeled riders in the group WeBike pedaled off together from Veterans Park around 6 p.m. the night of Friday, April 26, for the first community bike ride of the season. Together, the leisure riders follow one of several four-to-five-mile routes.

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The bicycling season cranks up even more as the community group marks its first anniversary, plans for a local bike-related challenge during national Bike to Work week May 12-18, and celebrates a new status it helped accomplish.

WeBike rolls into second year

Core group member Ian Johnson, who works at UW-River Falls' Institute for Sustainable Community Development, said last year that a $2,500 grant helped found the club.

It designed a logo, spread the word and printed T-shirts, available for $15 at Crankworx, as well as organizing six community bike rides throughout the spring and summer months.

He said, "Friday's ride was fantastic! The weather couldn't have been better, and as a result people's moods were just right for the first ride of the season."

Johnson said the group of 50 who rode Friday represents a great turnout. The club has 64 people on its mailing list, not counting those who signed up at the recent ride.

The nonprofit WeBike advocates for biking fun, education and awareness plus promotes the activity as a sensible and eco-friendly mode of transportation.

The first community ride in April coincided with Earth Day. The remaining rides for 2013 happen on the third Friday of the month starting at 6 p.m. in Veterans Park: May 17, June 21, July 19, August 16, September 20 and October 18.

Johnson said most outings last about an hour, go at a leisurely pace and are not competitive. Routes include many parts of River Falls, such as parks, the White Pathway, Swinging Bridge, parts of the university campus and downtown neighborhoods.

WeBike also works toward the production of a color-coded bicycle map of River Falls to make finding the best routes easy for riders. The group's long-term goals also include advocating for bicycle-friendly items such as bike lanes and stands.

Bike club issues commuter challenge

WeBike member Tiffany Gaulke organizes a friendly contest for the upcoming national Bike to Work week May 12-18. Any place of business in River Falls with two or more employees can enter for free the River Falls Commuter Challenge.

The concept: Each place picks a team captain who keeps track of 1) the number of employees scheduled for each shift and 2) how many of them commuted to work via bicycle.

Teams will plug their numbers into an online tracker -- released to participating teams before the challenge begins. At the end of the challenge week, a team's best five days will be averaged to determine the final standings. Winners of the challenge will be announced May 20.

The contest offers two ways to win, says Gaulke. Teams can win the workplace competition by having the highest percentage of bicycle commuters or by having the longest individual commute.

Winners get recognition, bragging rights and some small prizes from "fantastic sponsors."

Places of business are categorized by number of employees: Two to six, seven to 20, 21 to 60 and 61 or more. Gaulke says the challenge encourages interdepartmental competition within companies.

Contest rules say the Google Maps Bicycle Router can help riders plot their trip and measure the mileage. Teams and individuals who want to participate should request a registration form by e-mail at: info@webikeriverfalls.org.

Spring-like status blooms in fall

As WeBike got rolling last year, former mayor Don Richards and many other biking advocates wanted River Falls to have the official status of being a Bicycle Friendly Community.

The League of American Bicyclists bestows the designation on cities committed to, "improving conditions for bicycling through investment in bicycling promotion, education programs, infrastructure and pro-cycling policies."

River Falls had applied for the status before but had work to do to meet the criteria. The city applied again and got news in late October: River Falls achieved the bronze-level of the Bicycle Friendly Community status.

A letter from that organization says the designation is valid for four years before renewal.

LAB President Andy Clarke cited the fact that River Falls is taking the 'simple steps' needed to make biking safe and comfortable...' He said the hillside trails in Whitetail Ridge Corporate, maintained by local club Kinnickinnic Off-Road Cyclists, "are a huge reason for the Bronze Award as well as biking programs provided by the Police Department, good maps and a new bike committee that hosts community rides."

River Falls is now one of about 240 American communities the LAB has designated as Bike Friendly, and one of eight municipalities in Wisconsin to earn the status. Other Wisconsin cities include Eau Claire, Fitchburg, La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee, Sheboygan County and Shorewood.

Learn more about the local club at its website: www.uwrf.edu/webikeriverfalls/. Get registration forms for the Bike to Work Commuter Challenge by e-mailing info@webikeriverfalls.org.

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