Velo Club sponsors Bike-to-Work event

Larry Cowne chats with Ben Brock who is bicycling to work at the Imperial IID District Office. (Photo by Janet Cowne)

IMPERIAL –  “As long as you are not blocking my door, you are more than welcome to set your Bike-to-Work table at our corner, next to our building. We are pleased to have you,” said Amparo Mendez, manager at Johnny’s Burritos in Imperial to Bike-to-Work enthusiasts Thursday.

May is Bike Month in the United States and in Europe. Imperial Valley celebrated the official Bike-to-Work day May 18, while the European Union celebrated May 19.

Statistics say that 40 percent of all trips from home are less than two miles and could easily be done on a bicycle. Imperial Valley resident Larry Cowne said he saw in person during recent trips to Germany and Italy, that adult women, as much as men, cycle, and most in business attire — something Americans are loathe to do unless there is little choice.

Members of the local Velo Club said they hope to change this attitude. The club, led by Brian McNeece, had tables full of t-shirts and bike gear up from 7 to 9 a.m. in Calexico, El Centro, Imperial, and Brawley, all manned by local cyclists and their families. Over 20 cyclists stopped at both the El Centro and Brawley tables, and about ten in Imperial. Judge Christopher Plourd stopped by in El Centro, but was driving his car. He was on his way to court, but said he is a cyclist supporter.

A man named Doug, wearing cycling attire, came by the Imperial table at 7 a.m. on his way to work in Brawley. Ben Brock, clad in office clothes, came next on a modified Walmart fat tire bicycle. He said he is one of three in his department at Imperial Irrigation District who bike to work, although he is the one who is most consistent. With modified real leather grips and seat, fenders and a back rack, another cyclist, Larry Cowne said, “Ben has a perfect bike for rain or shine.”

Brock shared that his wife learned about the significance of modifying one’s bicycle. She started out with a fat bike seat then a fatter one, “thinking it was like sitting on a chair, but cycling is quite different,” Brock said. Thin, narrow seats with an opening in the seat are definitely more comfortable, he said.

“Bicycles are great individual machines. They are very functional and all customized to their individual rider,” Brock said. “One thing unique about mine is that it has a garage opener!”

Cowne, recently retired, said he rode daily six miles to and from work at Superior Cement for years, rain or shine, dust storm or blazing heat. His bike was more streamlined with as little weight as possible and had Gator Skins tires. “I can get one year out of these on the rear tire. Armadillos work well too,” Cowne shared with Brock. Cowne cycles close to 200 miles a week, on his own and with members of the club.

There is a jargon, a lingo easily bantered between cyclists of all persuasions. Riders of short or long duration are equally respected and encouraged to keep riding.

Vicente Valadez also came riding by. At 75 years old, Valadez walks five miles each morning followed by a two-mile bicycle ride. He has been doing this for the last 20 years. “I feel great,” he reported, “and I don’t see my doctor, but every two to three years.”

Jose Landeros said he has cycled for four years doing 80 miles a week, which includes riding to work sometimes.

Jose Moreno, age 60, works for the IID in a different department than Brock. He said he mostly rides after work some 100 miles a week. “I wish to do more, but the wife is going to start complaining,” he joked.

Ray Soto, known locally as “The Legend” at 83, said he still cycles about 75 miles a week as he has for the past 35 years. His daughter, Janina Soto, is a retired optometrist who helped her dad and Roland Pritchard at the El Centro table. She admits she doesn’t ride (she does P90X/P90X2 exercises), but knows all the local cyclists, because of her dad.

McNeece worked with a small crew in Brawley where two young cyclists, Joandy and Fernando, came by after visiting each of the club’s tables on their tour around the Valley. The two said they often cycle this much despite one of them having had a serious bicycle accident a few years ago. “I recovered and got back to cycling right away,” Joandy said.

Some Brawley residents saw the Velo Club’s Bike-to-Work event as a great opportunity to support Brawley. City Councilman Sam Couchman, Mayor Helen Noriega, and City Manager Rosanna Moore, all sat with the Brawley team for an hour, or so. Mark Baza of the Imperial County Transit Commission (ICTC) also joined McNeece. The Velo Club has a request into the ICTC for a $6,800 grant to buy helmets, locks, and maps.

The non-profit club handed out free gift bags that contained a water bottle with the club’s logo, a collapsible water bottle from COPA (Imperial Childhood Obesity Prevention Alliance), a squeeze ball from ECRMC (El Centro Regional Medical Center), a neon green ankle snap band, Advil, a pack of Chamois Butt anti-bacterial cream, and a car sticker asking drivers to “Respect all Cyclists.”

This year, apparently the most coveted item in the free gift bag handed out to all who stopped at the tables was a little neon green plastic bicycle pin. “I was enthralled at the number of men who were most excited about this little giveaway item!” Janina Soto said.