Pioneer Valley Baystate Bike Week active in its 14th year
GAZETTE FILE PHOTO . Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — Starting about 7 a.m. this morning, a whirlwind of bicyclists from around the Pioneer Valley are expected to descend upon the Hampshire County Courthouse lawn.
There, the cyclist can grab a free bagel and coffee and continue to work on their bikes. Others may linger to discuss routes, gear and techniques with fellow bike commuters. First-time commuters will have the opportunity to learn more about bicycle commuting and get advice from experienced riders.
Commuter Breakfasts like this one form the backbone of Pioneer Valley Baystate Bike Week, held from May 11 through 19 this year. Communities throughout the Valley are holding more than 50 events this week, including bike clinics, rides and film screenings.
Now in its 14th year, Pioneer Valley Baystate Bike Week is coordinated by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, MassBike, a nonprofit cycling advocacy group, and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. It began as Bike to Work Week, organized by James Lowenthal, President of MassBike Pioneer Valley, and Catherine Ratté of PVPC. Over the years, Bike Week has expanded to include recreational and family activities.
Baystate Bike Week is a statewide event put on by MassBike and MassDOT. The third week of May each year is also designated a national Bike to Work Week by the League of American Bicyclists.
The week is “a celebration of bicycling and a call to potential cyclists to leave their cars at home and try biking,” Lowenthal said in a telephone interview Monday. “We want people to realize how fun it is.”
Last year’s Bike Week drew about 1,200 Pioneer Valley participants, according to Josiah Neiderbach of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Bike Week’s Pioneer Valley coordinator. He said he expects closer to 1,500 participants this year.
There are also events in Amherst, Chicopee, Easthampton, Greenfield, Hadley, Holyoke, Northampton, South Deerfield, South Hadley, Springfield, West Springfield and Westfield.
Neiderbach said a principal reason he expects an increase in participation is that there will be more events in Springfield than in previous years. Two Commuter Breakfasts will be held there, on Wednesday and Friday, at North Riverfront Park. The Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club will host a Family Fun Festival Saturday, with bike decorating, face painting and other festivities. Sixty-minute bike rentals are free all week at the North Riverfront Park, and the Springfield YMCA is offering free showers to all bicycle commuters this week.
In Amherst, Bike Week organizers are reaching out to community members of all ages with a Bike Rodeo for kids this afternoon and a Bicycle Clinic for Elders at the Amherst Senior Center Thursday. A film festival on Thursday evening in will showcase examples of bicycle-friendly infrastructure in cities around the world.
“Having visions of what’s possible helps guide us in our own decisions,” Karen Jones, who organized the Amherst events, said in a phone interview. She said factors such as the availability of transit options and bike racks on buses have made the Valley more accessible for bicyclists.
Jim Montgomery is on the Pioneer Valley MassBike Board of Directors and is organizing the Northampton Commuter Breakfast for his second year. In a phone interview, he said one of MassBike’s proudest achievements was successfully lobbying to get a bicycle-related question on the Massachusetts driver’s test several years ago.
Lowenthal named the development of rail trails as another improvement for Pioneer Valley bicyclists.
Jones, who has been involved with Bike Week in the Pioneer Valley since its inception, said she has seen biking in the area increase dramatically over the years. Lowenthal said he did not see many bicyclists on Northampton’s streets when he moved here in 1997.
“Now there’s a huge, thriving bike culture,” he said. MassBike’s efforts are not the only factor, he said, but “I’m certain that we played a role.”
More information on specific Bike Week activities is available on the MassBike Pioneer Valley website, or at baystatebikeweek.org.