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Bike to work: Studies show cycling can reduce risk of heart disease

When Scott Cochran sets out for work each morning, he does not wear a nice shirt, slacks or a tie.

He doesn't hop in a car either — he doesn't even own one.

The Wofford College finance professor lives about seven miles from the college on the west side of Spartanburg. He commutes to and from work on his bicycle every day and has done so for the past three years. He wears cycling attire; he showers and changes when he gets to the campus.

“I don't have time to work out,” said the 47-year-old. “This allows me to commute and be healthy. Bike riding is one of the best exercises in the world. It's a great use of my time.”

The seven-mile pedal down West Main Street doesn't take Cochran as long as you might think. On a bike, he says he is able to avoid early morning traffic. He also saves about $1,500 to $2,000 on gas a year, he estimates.

“I've never gotten on a bike and dreaded getting on the bike,” he said, seated on his black 12-year-old Serotta bicycle on a recent Thursday. The shiny metal frame and the helmet atop his head glistened in the afternoon sun. Cochran was dressed in cycling attire, a bookbag on his back, gloves on his hands as cars slowly passed by.

Laura Ringo, executive director of Partners for Active Living, said more and more residents might be riding to work nowadays, as opposed to driving, because the activity has become more popular, and infrastructure and resources to support that choice are improving in Spartanburg.

“We have more bicycle lanes and racks,” she said.

Joan Tobey, a 70-year-old math teacher at Spartanburg Day School has been riding her bicycle to work for years.

“If I don't ride to work, I'm probably not going to ride at all that day,” she said. “I feel better all day if I get there” on the bike.

She admits the nearly three-mile commute has gotten easier over the years.

Since the launch of the B-Cycle program in 2007, which allows residents to rent bicycles from four stations in Spartanburg, the miles of bicycle lanes in the city has doubled and the number of bicycle racks around town has increased from 49 to 189.

The City and PAL have a bicycle rack installation program for businesses that are catering to cyclists. PAL works with businesses to choose a bicycle rack, the business pays for the rack, PAL coordinates installation with a contractor, and the City covers the installation cost if the business is in the city limits.

Ringo said some businesses have bike racks installed because they notice many customers or employees arrive on two wheels rather than four. Other businesses, particularly in the city, put out racks simply to encourage cycling, Ringo said.

While many of us might be in a hurry to get home after work days that are difficult, stressful and long, Cochran chooses to take a longer route on days like these.

He will sometimes take Union Street out by Carolina Country Club Road — a 20-mile loop.

The longer bike rides help ease his mind.

“It's cheap therapy,” he said.

It's healthy therapy, too.

According to a study by the British Medical Association, cycling just 20 miles a week can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent.

Cycling has been shown to build strength, muscle tone, stamina. Cycling makes the heart pound in a steady manner and helps improve cardiovascular fitness. Studies have shown that cycling to work will increase cardiovascular fitness by 3 to 7 percent, according to adultbicycling.com.

The Rev. Craig Foster, associate pastor for education and discipleship at First Presbyterian Church in Spartanburg, recently began commuting by bike to work a few months ago. He lives in Converse Heights, so he doesn't have quite as far to travel each day as Cochran.

“I try to take it easy on the way in,” he said. “It's shady most of the way. It's a quick ride.”

Unlike Cochran, Foster actually does ride his bike in the clothes he works in, for the most part. He loosens his tie and rolls up his pant legs, tucking them into his sock before each ride so they won't get caught in the chain.

He keeps his dress shoes under the desk in his office — he wears shoes that attach to his pedals while he rides.

“I hate working out,” he admits. “But biking — I can do. I enjoy that wind-down time. I enjoy just being outside, and you really do experience the town differently on a bike than you do in a car. You see a lot more.”

While his commute is short, be does sometimes take a ride on the Rail Trail in downtown Spartanburg during his lunch break.

Neither Cochran, Tobey nor Foster think of themselves as role models because they chose to bike to work.

“I'm not a hero,” Cochran said. “I don't inspire anybody. It's just what I do.”

Ringo disagrees.

“Those that ride for transportation are absolutely role models,” she said. “They are setting examples for others that are interested in leading a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. Those of us that are advocates are learning from their experiences, as are their colleagues, friends and family.”

By Dustin Wyatt
dustin.wyatt@shj.com
Published: Wednesday, September 4, 2013


http://www.goupstate.com/article/20130904/ARTICLES/309041000?p=1&tc=pg