ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Four years ago, Roswell resident Bill Hamilton decided he needed a lifestyle change – he decided to start riding his bike to work each day. And he loves it.
“I have the best commute in town,” he said. “You couldn’t force me to stop.”
Hamilton lives near the Greenway recreation pathway that winds its way through Roswell and Alpharetta, cutting conveniently close to both his home and where he works off Windward Parkway. On a warm day, it’s a commute lined with a cool breeze, tree cover and, perhaps best of all, nearly no traffic. His 9.5-mile, 35-minute commute is a daily affair, a time to chill out and get the blood moving, rain or shine.
“I enjoy riding home. It’s a different kind of energy you get,” he said. “You can be dead on your feet and can get on the bike and feel fresh. It relieves stress and you find out you have more energy going back than when you started. If I get in a car and drive, I’m not enjoying that.”
It takes about as long to bike to work as it would to drive.
When he first started, just like with any new routine, he said it was painful.
“For the first couple months, you regret it,” he said. “You’re out of shape and it’s scary out there. But after a while, you enjoy it.”
The benefits are many – he’s unaffected by high gasoline prices, there’s no wear and tear on his car and he gets plenty of exercise, both before and after work.
The downside is that, on warm days, he can sweat a lot. That is mitigated by his workplace having showers where he can clean up. Having to dress for inclement weather can be a pain, he said. His work clothes are kept in a satchel attached to the bicycle and he can change into them once he arrives at work. Even if he did not have ready access to showers, he said a quick wipe down with wet wipes and a towel can do the trick.
For four long years of rain, snow, sun and grit, Hamilton has pedaled his way to and from work. By now, his coworkers have become used to his commute, some even joining him.
“When I started, they thought I had a death wish,” he said. “Now, on nicer days I see a few bikes every once in a while.
“Somebody sees you actually doing it and they realize it’s possible.”
Doug Fallon, president of Bike Roswell, bikes to work whenever he can, usually a couple times a week.
A graphic designer in Roswell, his commute is five miles, but it takes him along the Chattahoochee River.
“When I first came to Roswell, I thought, ‘This is the greatest thing. I get to see the river every day,’” he said. “But after a week of driving, I didn’t even look at the river. Now, I see it every day. Believe me, you notice it on a bike. The cool air and scent of the river is fabulous.”
He said he started simply because he wanted to know if he could do it. And it’s worth it.
“In the month of August, I rode nearly every single day,” Fallon said. “I spent $20 in gas that month. That was very pleasurable.”
More and more people are seeing Hamilton and his fellow cycling enthusiasts and are catching the bike bug. North Fulton has embraced that trend in recent years and now it’s not uncommon to see streets with wide sidewalks or bike lanes running alongside.
“It’s gotten a lot better,” said Eric Broadwell, a cyclist in Bike Roswell, a cycling club.
That is reflected in the estimated $3 million economic impact Roswell says is brought to the city simply by cyclists. In a study conducted by the Roswell Convention and Visitors Bureau, an estimated 60 percent of those cyclists on Roswell’s roads are from outside the city.
“If you go down to Canton Street, you will often see bikes parked outside the restaurants and the riders enjoying a meal,” said Broadwell.
The 400-strong Bike Roswell members have been avid supporters of cycling in general throughout North Fulton. They have rallied for bike lanes to become the norm for new roads, and squads of cyclists on the roads have become commonplace.
“Cycling is a fantastic exercise,” said Broadwell. “It’s the only exercise that puts a smile on your face while you do it. A lot of the cyclists you see now, we were all running back in the ‘80s,” he said. “All the runners still want the exercise but their body can’t take the pounding any more. So they hop on a bike.”
Hamilton and those like him are something of the poster children of the Clean Air Campaign and their Bike to Work Challenge for the month of October.
Of the millions of commutes made in the metro Atlanta area, it is estimated that some 20,000 commute trips each week are made on a bike.
The Clean Air Campaign hopes to expand that number and encourage commuter actions that result in less traffic congestion and better air quality. The Bike to Work Challenge is part of that.
It encourages bicycle commuters to compete as individuals or on teams with other cycling enthusiasts in the metro area. Participants will be able to log their bicycle commute trips, track their progress and earn points to compete for prizes.
“The Bike to Work Challenge is exactly that — a challenge to see how much you can improve your commute, whether you’re an experienced cyclist or just starting out,” said Tedra Cheatham, executive director at the Clean Air Campaign. “Many Atlantans have access to ride a bike into work, whether it’s a single ride or by connecting with transit, but many have never considered it. This event offers the perfect motivation to try something new.”
For Hamilton, he’s not doing it for a contest or publicity or to reduce his carbon footprint. He just loves the ride.
“I’m not out to save the world or be a heath nut,” he said. “I enjoy doing it. It’s what I do.”
To learn more about the Bike to Work Challenge, visit www.atlbiketowork.org. Bike Roswell offers classes about the rules of the road for cyclists, including the dangers and laws of which each cyclist should be aware. For more information on those classes, visit bikeroswell.com.