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Here's to You: 'Dr. Bike' shares cycling's joys and provides education

Diane Pittman showed people how to run a blender with bike power last summer at the World Day of Play/Bike Bemidij event the Lake Bemidji waterfront.

Many of you know me as Diane or Dr. Pittman, or you've seen me traveling through town on my yellow recumbent bicycle, hauling all kinds of things in a BOB (Beast of Burden) trailer. I run Shifting Gears Bicycles, a ministry of People's Church that helps low-income people get bicycles. Many of you have donated used bikes to the cause.

I commuted by bicycle to my first job more than 40 years ago, and I still replace more than 2,000 miles car miles annually by cycling to work, to church, to shop and to visit. I am a family physician concerned about the prevention of obesity and diabetes, and I've seen people's health improve when they start cycling. I love to cycle, and, just as much, I love to share the joy of bicycling with others.

Bemidji has seen remarkable growth in cycling in the past couple of years. The newly paved Paul Bunyan Trail has inspired many locals to get out on bikes to enjoy our beautiful scenery and get healthy exercise. With trails extending to Walker, Park Rapids and Brainerd, long-distance adventure beckons, luring pedal-powered tourists to visit and spend money in our town, boosting our local economy.

Active Living, Community Education, Shifting Gears, Bemidji State University, Parks and Recreation and many businesses have teamed up to sponsor family-oriented bicycle events. Road and highway projects have included new bike lanes, and Share the Road signs have sprung up everywhere.

The price of gas, climate change concerns and the desire to get out of the "tin can" of the automobile motivate commuters. The front page of the Pioneer has featured photos of cyclists in all kinds of weather, controversies over bicycle parking, and the story of a young child whose life was saved by her helmet. Bemidji now has two full-service bicycle shops and a bicycle club. As a lifelong cycling enthusiast and advocate, I am delighted.

At the same time, the increased number of cyclists poses challenges to pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike. For example, motorists who fail to yield or pass in unsafe conditions and cyclists who travel on the wrong side of the road or fail to stop at traffic signals can make bicycling difficult and dangerous. There is a lot to learn and think about as cycling becomes more popular for recreation and transportation in our community.

In this column, I'll educate cyclists and noncyclists alike on what we can do to make cycling safer in our town, give want-to-be cyclists the information and inspiration to join us, and introduce our children to the joy and independence of going places by bike. I'll talk about helmets, safety, bike maintenance, commuting, riding in traffic, carrying stuff, charity rides, trails, teaching kids to ride, and how to choose and maintain a pedal-powered vehicle. I'll keep you updated on cycling news and local events. You are invited to join the conversation on my blog at .

Please join us for the first Bike Bemidji event of 2011 from 3:30-7 p.m. Thursday, April 28. The event, a bike rodeo for kids of all ages, will be held at Nymore Arena, located at Second Street and Pershing Avenue Southeast. It will be under cover, so we don't need to worry about the fickle April weather. And if you haven't gotten your bike out of the garage yet, make sure to air up your tires. You don't want your first ride to end in a pinch flat! Read all about how to prep for the first ride of the season on the Dr. Bike blog. See you on the road.

Diane Pittman is a family and emergency physician, bicycle commuter and lifelong cycling enthusiast. She is a League of American Bicyclists cycling instructor (LCI#2986).