Arts and Entertainment

When the rubber meets the road

Thoughts on street cycling spurred by the annual STP Classic.

Fred Karkas was a special kind of busy this past week. The owner/operator/ “chief bottle washer” of Port Orchard’s Olympic Bike Shop saw a steady stream of bike riders bringing their transportation in for repair. Most were prepping for the 30th annual Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (slated for July 10-11). Some just felt like riding.

“I saw about five to 10 bikes every day,” he said over the phone in between bike repairs Monday afternoon.

Be it for fitness or fun, it’s time to get back in the saddle as bike riding season is booming in Kitsap County.

Karkas, a 30-year veteran of the bike saddle, started riding in his 40s. Bike riding began as a hobby and became a full-time passion. After landing in the hospital with blood-pressure related issues, he incorporated bicycling into his health regime. Now, his health motto is “use it or lose it.”

Though he’s not riding in the STP, he certainly understands the draw of group, versus individual, rides.

Group riders can save about 20 percent of their energy if their fellow bike riders are nice enough to let them draft, he said. The energy advantage also allows for a speedier bike ride, averaging about two to three miles per hour faster than a solo spin.

Most important, however, is the positive peer pressure — nobody wants to be the one who dropped out or held up the group.

“It’s the effort you get out of it,” said the 70-year-old cyclist. “You can’t beat that and the psychological thing. ... When you hang together it inspires a bigger effort. You can support each other and laugh and talk.”

In addition, groups of bike riders are more visible to drivers, making bike riding a safer experience overall.

“It’s safer in a group as long as everyone has their head on right,” he said. “People (drivers) aren’t as likely to push up off the road. There is a small percentage (of drivers)... that are certifiably sociopathic. It’s their road and they don’t want you on it.”

It’s because of those drivers that bike riders have to be alert and follow the rules of the road, he said. By Washington state law, bicyclists can ride on the road, but must follow the same rules as slow-moving traffic: If five cars are backed up, the cyclist must pull over and allow the vehicles to pass.

It’s also advisable for bike riders to wear bright-colored clothing to be visible to passing traffic, said Gary McLain, a salesperson at Silverdale Cyclery. Bikes should also have blinking lights attached so they can be seen in adverse weather.

“Commuters do that all the time, given that half the year it’s either wet or dark,” McLain said. “There are some things in the environment that make riding challenging in the Northwest.”

In addition to safety, bike riders also should be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. Among must-have items packed away in a saddle bag McLain recommends a multi-tool (for road repairs or removing tires to replace tubes), extra tubes, a tire lever (to help remove the tire from the rim), and either CO2 cartridges or a bike pump.

While the sport is popular almost year-round, there are some seasons that are more popular than others.

“We see our volume increase starting in the spring and it continues to rise,” McLain said.

MORE ON STPThe 30th Annual Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic is slated for this weekend. Unfortunately, for those wishing to participate, the event is sold out. However keep watch later this fall for the Kitsap Color Classic , Oct. 4, the Cascade Cycle Club’s annual ceremonial season finale in Kitsap. Info: www.cascade.org.

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