KW biking community on the rise

I fell off my bike for the first time last April.

It was in the middle of my first Critical Mass, a group bike ride through the streets: my first-ever city bike ride. I was shaky before it happened and I was shaky after I got cut off by another biker, but the empowerment I felt from the community of concerned cyclists around me allowed me to keep pedalling.

I spent the first few weeks on the sidewalks, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that my place was on the road. Without a bus pass and unwilling to pay the $2.50 bus fare, the summer of 2008 was a great time to learn the ins and outs of defensive cycling.

This year, Laurier students who stay for the summer are able to use the bus system for free. With the introduction of GO Transit to KW and the constant discussion of the Rapid Transit initiative, alternative forms of transportation are a priority in the region.

However, while buses and trains are important to move us away from our current car-focused culture, we mustn’t forget about the bicycle and the multiple benefits that can come from its use.

There are two benefits to biking: it contributes to the improvement of both the health of the environment and the cyclist. It is also amazing to be able to move quickly without the aid of an external energy source.

Cars do the opposite, using dirty energy to pollute the air while contributing to an underactive, overweight society where people get annoyed if they have to walk farther than 200 feet from their car to the nearest big box store.

Cars allow for the urban sprawl that paves over fertile land and creates communities that are too spread out to enjoy the food, music and fellowship that comes from a walkable or bikeable community.

Biking, while quite speedy, requires a lot more planning in order to complete a day of errands. It’s inefficient to have to double back if you forget something; however, moving at a slower pace and being exposed to the city air instead of being inside a metal box allows for a sense of connection to the streets and the people on them.

For example, a few weeks ago, I was waved at by a cyclist going the opposite direction at rush hour. Despite being four lanes away, it was nice to connect with the one other cyclist on that section of road.

For the ultimate experience of the cycling community, Critical Mass occurs on the last Friday of every month. Those with a love for bikes meet in Waterloo Park at 5 p.m. and then take to the street. The occasional animosity of drivers is overwhelmed by the mass of people who share a love for bikes and community.

It’s unfortunate that school is not in session for the majority of students during prime cycling season. The bike racks by the library may be in constant use during the summer, but the parking lots are still as busy as ever. Laurier does well at the Commuter Challenge that occurs in June every year, but again, that’s an event targeted at staff, not students.

There’s a new Cycling Club on campus, and this past year a Laurier student started the KW Bike ‘Zine. By promoting efforts like these, WLU can show the importance of cycling on campus, which can then extend to the entire city.

For students in the area in the summer, and want a fast and efficient way to get around, cycling is the way to go. If you need a new bike or need to get your own fixed, there are numerous bike shops around town, including the volunteer-run Recycle Cycles in Kitchener, or the Bike Centre at UW.

KW might seem a bit lacking now with its short segments of bike lanes and unaware drivers, but with committees devoted to cycling, transportation and trails in Waterloo, Kitchener and the surrounding region, there is great potential for improved infrastructure.

The more cyclists, the greater the demand will be for better infrastructure, more bike lanes and a better trail system. A community built around bicycles is a community that will last.

In a world where the environment is degraded more and more every day, and where a sense of community can be difficult to find in a city, cycling can help to make cities friendlier to people and the Earth. Being more bike-friendly will help Laurier instill values like community citizenship, sustainability and environmental responsibility.