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Beacon blog: Get your bike on

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 14, 2009 - Sorry about Friday the 15th, all you dedicated Bike-To-Work-Day organizers and participants. This cyclist can't bike to work on the designated festival velo-day because he is participating in his own special "Bike to Jury Duty Day" downtown.

Otherwise he would be an active participant, because in the past few years it's become his practice to ride a bicycle to work, and back and forth to lunch, and home again in the afternoon pretty much all the time, unless the weather is genuinely dreadful.

What once was sort of a big deal has become more or less routine.

OK, let's drop that tedious third person business because this is, after all, a personal story written in honor of Trailnet's special day and in celebration of National Bike Month.

If you are reading this before 6:30 a.m. on May 15, you can still make it to one of the Trailnet way stations indicated on the Trailnet site. However, if you are reading after the morning's activities are over, you can still participate by riding your bike to work everyday, or as often as you are able.

I'm extremely fortunate to have a rather circumscribed existence geographically, making bicycling extraordinarily practical for me. My general boundaries are Washington University in St. Louis on the west, where I teach, Grand Center on the east, where the Beacon's office is located, Laclede Avenue on the south, where my apartment is, and Washington Avenue on the north.

Quite regularly, I travel outside those boundaries and go greater distances, but the routine patterns of bicycle life are within those boundaries.

There are obvious advantages to taking to the wheel, as my mother designated all two-wheelers. Exercise is one. Green stuff is another, be it cash you keep in your pocket and out of the hands of Big Oil, or green as in doing something that is environmentally responsible.

But without getting too preachy about all this, there are other less practical rewards. Biking affords opportunities to look at the world with a keener eye, to smell it better, to feel the air, and even rain or snow, caress your skin.

Unless you are in heavy traffic, where it is advisable to pay very close attention to cars and trucks and pedestrians - some of whom regard bicyclists as targets -- your eye is free to revisit your world, and to examine and to experience it much less hurriedly than you might behind the wheel of a car.

I thrive on the variety urban life offers, some of it entirely pleasant, some of it a reminder of our fecklessness. One recent experience was to trace the old rail line that once took trains through North St. Louis and to a place near the intersection of Tucker Boulevard and Cass Avenue, where it descended underground. A trestle, part of which has been restored beautifully by the Great Rivers Greenway District, carried one section of this line.

The restored section of the trestle connects the magnificent McKinley Bridge Bikeway to the North Riverfront Trail, one of the region's most engaging recreational assets. The Great Rivers site has excellent information on the Trestle and substantial information about other cycling, hiking and walking opportunities in the region.

The trestle restoration is inviting. However, the section of track that can be traced, more or less, from Tucker and Cass to the restored trestle section and beyond offers amateur urban archaeologists a starkly revealing exploration of both urban decline and urban revival.

While May 15 is (or was) Bike to Work Day, and although the entire month of May has been designated National Bike Month, nobody's saying that's it for something this much fun and this rewarding, so good for you and the air you breathe. So resist the urge to hang up your bicycle on June 1. Bike time is anytime. Push off. Enjoy it.

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.

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