Commuter biking shifts into high gear


September 14, 1992

While most of us are caught in rush-hour traffic or struggling with exact change, Paul Hulleberg is breezing along on his bicycle.

Whether on an old steel frame with fenders when the weather's (( bad, a racing cycle on gorgeous days or a mountain bike when cutting through Robert E. Lee Park, the 36-year-old father of two has been commuting by bike for 10 years through rain, sleet and snow.

For the past three years, he could have been found pedaling most mornings from his home in Charles Village to his job teaching math and writing to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Park School in Ruxton. After the half-hour, eight-mile ride, it's a quick shower and a change of clothes -- then off to class.

"Some people think it's neat; some people think it's nuts," said Mr. Hulleberg, one of several Park School teachers who bike to work. "A lot of the students think it's cool."

Once associated with college kids or granola-munching, back-to-nature types, bicycling as a means to get to and from work is catching on with the over-30 set.

The Maryland Bicycle Advisory Committee, a group created by the General Assembly last year to promote cycling and give advice to state agencies, has found more interest in commuter biking than any other issue, says the group's chairman, Stephen D. Kaiser of Baltimore.

"In the city, it can be faster than a car," said Mr. Kaiser, who occasionally commutes by bike from Homeland to his public relations firm in Woodberry. "For a short commute like mine, the bicycle is ideal."

No statistics are kept on commuter biking in Maryland, but the trend seems to hold the greatest appeal for men 30 to 50 who want the exercise and convenience of pedal power.

William J. Kelly, 52, a District of Columbia firefighter who bikes 30 miles round trip from College Park to his fire station near Georgetown, wanted to improve his leg strength. Avoiding the traffic-clogged Capital Beltway turned out to be a bonus. "It just makes so much sense," he said, calling biking "apple pie and motherhood."

But pedaling to work is not always a Schwinn-Schwinn situation.

Many employers don't have the showers or locker rooms that are available to teachers and firefighters. Weather and poor road conditions can make it tough going.

Worst of all, bikers report, is the behavior of motorists. Under Maryland law, bicyclists are permitted on most roads and highways -- the Baltimore Beltway and other interstates are the exceptions.

Bicyclists are required to stay to the right (on the shoulder if the speed limit is over 50 mph). But many drivers begrudge a space on the road to a slow-moving cyclist, and that sometimes leads to trouble.

David Little, a Hampden artist who bicycles to part-time jobs, was struck by a car this year (but not injured) on Falls Road. He has been threatened, yelled at and seen more than his share of obscene gestures.

"A few drivers can sour it," said Mr. Little, who hasn't owned a car in five years. "They don't realize you can't ride in the gutter."

Bill and Cindy Nelson of Timonium found that motorists behave better when, instead of riding two bikes to work, they share a tandem.

"They tend to be amused," Mr. Nelson said. "They yell, 'She's not pedaling' and things like that."

The average cyclist is not easily deterred. Ferris, Baker Watts stock trader John R. Boo has been at it for two years now, and only winter's early nightfall will get the Roland Park resident back in his car.

"I get to work and I'm alert and I feel good," said Mr. Boo, 31, one of several people who cycle regularly to the USF&G building downtown. "It's a lot more relaxing."

While this columnist does not generally cycle to work -- training wheels tend to catch on storm-drain grates -- we do caution our fellow commuters to be kind to our spoke-wheeled friends.

Cyclists have as much right to the road as the rest of us and are obviously in a vulnerable position. Bikes are less visible than automobiles, so drivers should always be alert for them, particularly at intersections. They should be given plenty of room, not squeezed off the road by impatient motorists.

By the same standard, bikers who want respect should also heed the rules of the road, including traffic lights and stop signs.

For information on Maryland's bicycling laws, safety issues, bike helmets and biking trails, Intrepid Commuter recommends writing to Jerry E. Stadd, bicycle affairs coordinator with the State Highway Administration, Room 218, 707 N. Calvert St., P.O. Box 717, Baltimore, Md. 21203. For bike information over the phone, call (800) 252-8776 weekdays from 8:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

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