Wednesday 30 June 2010

Metro Loves Biking

Over the last decade, Dieppe has grown up from a town to a city.

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Bernard C. Cormier/TIMES & TRANS
[Photos:© Bernard C. Cormier 2010]
Marcel LaPlante recommends that anyone interested in biking to lose weight use a BMX bike, rather than a mountain bike as, with only one gear, it requires more energy.

But, despite its municipal adulthood, its residents' love of bikes is bigger than ever.

Not only does Dieppe have bike paths wrapped around it, it is home to The National Cycling Centre - Atlantic Canada, which has a mandate to develop cycling and train cyclists to compete at the highest levels of competition. The Centre's facilities are located in Dieppe's Rotary Park and include a BMX track and an oval-shaped velodrome track.

"The bike path and all of that stuff really helps the city and the people living in the city," says Luc Arseneau, head coach of the National Cycling Centre - Atlantic Canada. "Also, I think the demographics of Dieppe, in general, with lots of young families with generally OK or above-average income, not that cycling's an expensive sport but it is something that families really like here."

Jim Goguen, a bicycle industry veteran and co-owner of Mike's Bike Shop, agrees that there has been an increase in bike usage but doesn't see it as a phenomenon exclusive to any given municipality.

"In Dieppe, Moncton, Riverview, (interest in) biking as a whole has expanded tenfold compared to 10 years ago."

Goguen says that now it's not uncommon to sell bikes with retail values exceeding $1,000. He believes that a partial reason for such an increase is motivated by a desire to improve heath.

"Doctors are telling (people that) they have to get out, get healthier, lose weight. They say, in general, Atlantic Canadians are not healthy, well I can tell you, anyone who's cycling is healthy! More and more people are taking their bikes back and forth to work. Even on rainy days, if you look around, you'll see people on bikes, maybe not as many (compared to sunny days) but more and more people are heath conscious."

Some bike enthusiasts are very particular about what they ride. Marcel LaPlante, a Dieppe resident and musician who records under the stage name of "Mars Creation," is one such enthusiast. His interest in bicycles is so great that he's shot many videos featuring bikes and motorcycles. He plans to eventually record a bicycle-themed CD, like Kraftwerk's 2003 album Tour de France Soundtracks. LaPlante only drives BMX bikes for many reasons, including physical fitness. He recommends that people interested in biking for weight loss use BMX instead of mountain bikes.

"With BMX, there's only one gear. You'll definitely get tired and it will take a lot of energy and it will drain you out. It's better with BMX than (with a) mountain bike. A mountain bike (has easier) gears, (it's easier) work."

When it's possible, he bikes to work and encourages others to do so.

"It will save mileage in gas plus it's good exercise and, like I say, it's a good feeling."

Although everyone seems to agree that cycling is healthy, Metro Moncton is sprawled over such a large distance that biking to work may not be practical for everyone. People living near the old airport in Dieppe, as an example, may not want to commute to work on a bicycle if they're employed at the casino located in near Magnetic Hill. Arseneau understands that.

"It's a factor that the Greater Moncton area was not developed into neighbourhoods, like Vancouver was. Here in Dieppe, as an example, one thing people will often say is that the next corner store is 8 km away. It's true. That was the way (the cities were) developed. It is a fact here that the cities are so spread across that it could mean 10 kilometres to work. For me, that's almost nothing but for anybody on the street, 10 kilometres is a lot of biking! If you have to come back (home) at 4 o'clock in the afternoon or 5 o'clock after a long day at work, that's a lot of work.

"But after a few months or weeks of training or practising, 10 kilometres is not that far on a bike and everybody can do it."

Arseneau suggests on way to reduce commuter mileage on a bicycle: use Codiac Transit to cover part of the distance since many of its buses are equipped with bike racks.

He also believes that people would be more encouraged to bike to work, and to other places, if business owners would be more accommodating to those interested in using that method of transportation.

"The businesses need to adapt," he says. "(As an example), in Paris, there are showers now in most of the new buildings so that people who bike to work can shower and have a clean day at the office."

"(Metro Moncton has) all of these nice businesses where you can have a coffee or something but (they don't have) bike racks! So, you bike, you have a nice bike path or bike trail or lane, whatever you want to use, but you get to that place to take a coffee or go to a restaurant, whatever you want to do, and there's no place to even lock your bike! That's not really positive and encouraging for people to go to those places by bike, so they'll just take their car."

Arseneau believes that such moves by local businesses would be beneficial to the environment and it would impress bike-using consumers.

Another bike-related concept absent from Metro Moncton is the coin-operated bike rentals that are found in larger cities, like Montreal. Both Arseneau and Goguen don't believe that Moncton has a population to support such ventures but they would support the idea if it were ever introduced in the region. Goguen says that success of those rental units would be dependant on tourism.

"A local person is not going to rent a bike just to go out for the afternoon but someone travelling can't always have their bike with them."

* Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. E-mail: © Bernard C. Cormier 2010