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May 132009

By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now

Paul Dorn knows that getting Americans to ride a bike to work instead of driving a car is quite the uphill battle. Even on a good day, he says, only a tiny percentage of the nation’s commuters use pedal power to get to their jobs.

He remains undeterred.

Given that this is national Bike to Work Week, it’s an apt time to pick Dorn’s brain on the subject. Between co-authoring a book (The Bike to Work Guide: What You Need to Know to Save Gas, Go Green, Get Fit) his bike commuting advice Web site and his commuting tips blog, he is well-versed in the subject.

“I’m fairly typical of most Americans in the sense that the day I got my driver’s license, the bike went into the garage. I didn’t really touch it again until my mid-30s, when I was living in San Francisco, and didn’t have a car,” he said. His frustrating mass transit commute took 90 minutes. So he hopped on a bike, cut the commuting time in half, felt healthier, stopped paying bus fare and just generally started having more fun.

He’s still doing it at age 48, (now living in Sacramento and working at The University of California at Davis) and hasn’t owned a car since 1992.

Of course, starting out in San Francisco helped. It’s a generally bike-friendly city, and Dorn (pictured at left) found¬† a supportive cycling community to tell him about equipment, routes to avoid traffic and other advice. He started the website in 1997 as a class exercise. “People started finding it and at the time there weren’t a lot of online resources on the subject,” he said. So he offered guidance in bikes and equipment, dealing with bad weather and traffic and now has a loyal following.

“I’m just trying to provide inspiration and information for people who might be traveling by bike.”

Bike to Work Week is the brainchild of the League of American Bicyclists (which traces its roots to 1880). The organization offers support, advocacy, resources, education and information to their 300,000 affiliated cyclists. It’s all about creating a more bicycle-friendly America.

To that end, they have a project guide for cyclists interested in organizing events and support for Bike to Work Week as well as Bike Month (which is now). Part of the guide includes suggestions for overcoming excuses not to ride your bike to work (if you say you’re too out of shape, they say ride at an easy pace, and try it on a weekend; if you say it will take too long, they respond that car commuters travel an average 10 mph, and you’ll eventually go faster on the bike; it’s too far, you say – then combine riding and mass transit to shorten your commute).