The new year often brings new resolve to live better, healthier.
Gyms and community centres are busy with people toning up and slimming down.
But more and more people are breaking free from the confines of the exercise mat to find fitness; they’re dusting off the bicycles in their garage or heading to the local bike shop to find a new ride to physical salvation.
“It’s a common theme at this time of year,” says Gord Hobbis, proprietor of New West’s original bike shop, Cap’s. “You can only be on a treadmill for so long otherwise you’ll go stir crazy.”
But the allure of getting exercise and fresh air by riding a bike also comes with challenges. Especially in New Westminster.
The city’s network of streets are often choked with traffic. Designated bike routes don’t always connect well with each other or take cyclists where they want to go.
And then there’s the hills. Getting around New West, or getting into and out of the city, will inevitably mean ascending or descending some sort of incline.
Patrick Johnstone, a newly-elected city councillor and committed cyclist who often commutes by bike to his day job at Richmond City Hall, says New Westminster is working on improving infrastructure for cyclists.
The city’s Master Transportation Plan that was adopted in 2014 after considerable consultation with the community envisions a long-term bicycle plan that focuses on providing facilities and routes that are comfortable for people of all ages and abilities that are separated from traffic or follow low-volume or low-speed traffic environments.
“We have to build the infrastructure that is a good way for people to run errands on their bikes,” says Johnstone. “I want to be able to connect the city.”
Already cyclists can criss-cross New West on various bikeways including the BC Parkway, the Central Valley Greenway, the Crosstown Greenway, the London/Dublin Greenway and the Brunette-Fraser Regional Greenway. They’re all designated with signage and on readily-available bike maps.
But there are significant gaps.
One of those, through the Braid industrial area, will be addressed beginning this year with the help of a $450,000 grant from the federal Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program. The money will be used to complete the 16 km Brunette-Fraser Regional Greenway that connects the Brunette and Fraser rivers.
When it’s finished in 2017, the Greenway will become a jumping off point for the city’s longterm vision to connect the entire waterfront with a multi-user path that will take cyclists and pedestrians from Sapperton to Queensborough.
But that’s still a ways off, says Johnstone, as properties have to be acquired, access rights near the railroad tracks that bisect much of the waterfront have to be negotiated. That’s not always easy, nor cheap, says Johnstone.
In the meantime the city is striving to make cycling more convenient by improving bicycle parking, encouraging developers to consider the needs of cyclists in new buildings and retrofitting bike facilities into existing buildings, supporting TransLink in its cyclist-friendly initiatives like secure lockers at SkyTrain stations and bike racks on buses.
Safety is being addressed by giving cyclists greater priority at intersections, better marking and maintenance of bike routes.
“We’re working on it,” says Johnstone. “If you don’t feel your city is safe for your eight-year-old or your 80-year-old grandmother to use, then it’s not safe.”
But no amount of civic policy or good intentions can shield New West’s cyclists from the city’s hills.
Rather than fear them, riders of all abilities should embrace them, says Hobbis.
“If you’re going to ride a bike in New Westminster, you’re going to need the gearing to get up the hills and the attitude that you can do it,” says Hobbis.
That’s exactly the approach taken by Guy Wilson-Roberts, a keen recreational cyclist who started the Fraser River Fuggitivi, a road-riding group based out of River Market, five years ago.
Instead of taking the easy way from the waterfront along Stewardson Way beneath the SkyTrain guideway, Wilson-Roberts often points his bike up the inclines of Third Avenue, Tenth and Fourth streets.
“The hills are steep,” says Wilson-Roberts. “But you have to face them in some capacity to get anywhere.”
Careful route planning can minimize the pain to your thighs, says Wilson-Roberts. But mostly it’s about keeping a positive attitude.
“Going up hills is never easy,” he says. “Don’t get discouraged. Know how to pace yourself. Don’t go too hard too early and know when to relax.”
Besides, chugging up and down New Westminster’s hills can bring quick fitness benefits that will soon flatten those inclines. And your girth.
There are numerous resources available to new and experienced cyclists in New Westminster.
• A map of the city’s designated bike routes, as well as intersections with pedestrian and cyclist activated signals can be downloaded at http://www.newwestcity.ca/database/rte/NW_BikeMapFeb28(2).pdf
• HUB, a charitable organization that advocates for cyclists across the Metro Vancouver region, has a New Westminster chapter that meets at the New West Public Library the fourth Tuesday of every month except July, August and December. HUB also puts on workshops on bike safety, maintenance and riding in traffic. For more information: https://bikehub.ca/new-westminster
• Cap’s Bicycle Shop hosts a number of weekly rides for all levels of cyclists from beginners to a ride only for ladies to a serious 16-week training program to prepare for a 100-km Gran Fondo. There’s also fun rides like a 20-km cake ride that includes a stop at a bakery for a sweet indulgence. For more information: http://capsbicycleshop.com/
• The Fraser River Fuggitivi is a road riding group that is based out of River Market. Weekly Sunday morning training rides from 60-100 km begin in the Spring, with more informal rides on other days. The group’s emphasis is on recreation and camaraderie rather than competition. Their motto is More Miles More Beer. For more information: http://www.fuggitivi.ca