They get to the job by working pedals Bikes: Whether it's to exercise or save the environment, about 8,500 Marylanders cycle away their daily commutes.

September 22, 1996|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

Like many commuters, Charles Lortz depends on a trusty vehicle for his 17.5-mile workaday trek from suburban Cockeysville to downtown Baltimore. He steers down Lakespring Way, heads to Cranbrook Road, then pedals down Padonia .

That's right, he pedals. Lortz's vehicle is a bicycle.

He is part of a small but committed cadre of Marylanders whose commuting vehicle of choice has two wheels and no gas tank. Roughly 180,000 adults in the state "occasionally" use a bicycle to get to work or school, but only a hard-core group of 8,500 -- including Lortz -- do so daily, according to a 1995 poll by the University of Maryland Survey Research Center.

In winter and summer, this hardy bunch can be found chugging along roadways, motivated by physical fitness, environmental concern or the simple love of biking.

Their numbers could be greater, the survey suggested. Many potential bicycle commuters say distance is the main reason they don't pedal to work. Almost half those polled live more than 10 miles from their jobs.

And then there's the freshness factor, to put it politely. Bicycling really gets the heart pumping, and who wants to arrive at the office all hot and sweaty? In cities, a major obstacle to bike commuting is a lack of showers rather than good routes, the study concluded.

Charles R. Lortz Jr., 34, has managed to overcome both distance and the shower problem.

At 6 feet 2 inches and a trim 185 pounds, Lortz is physically fit enough for the 50-minute commute. His immediate destination is Stan White's Baltimore Sports Club on Charles Street, where he has a membership.

There, he showers and changes into clothes more suitable to his job as a commercial real estate loan officer at Provident Bank of Maryland. He carries in his backpack a dress shirt and, carefully rolled in a tube so as not to wrinkle, pants and a tie.

He keeps in a locker a pair of dress shoes and a bike lock. Usually the system works well, although a few times he has found himself without socks or a tie, minor problems he solves by buying the missing items when a nearby shoe store opens.

He stores his Trek road bike at the gym and walks the short distance to work, where he keeps a suit jacket.

Many folks think he's nuts to commute by bike, he admitted. The roads are dangerous enough for motorists encased in 1 1/2 tons of metal, let alone a man on a bike, they say.

But biking has many advantages over driving, he said. It's fun, it's good for the environment, it keeps him in shape for bike races, and "I can eat all I want."

It also saves time. Although his commute could be 15 minutes shorter by car, he would be faced with the dilemma of finding time before or after work to exercise -- like the legions of people who spend an hour at the gym on row after row of stationary bikes.

As a bike commuter, he said, "I can get my training in without taking time away from my family" -- wife Laura, their 4-year-old son, Ridge, and baby, James.

His daily commute is more than four times longer than the average bicycle commute, and he bikes almost every day, except in snow or heavy rain. He steers around debris, watches for slippery spots and avoids vertical grates. But it is cars -- not bad weather or broken glass -- that pose the biggest hazard, said Lortz and other commuting cyclists interviewed. They cited two major safety peeves:

Motorists who cut off fast-moving cyclists, probably because they don't realize that modern bikes can reach speeds of 30 to 45 miles per hour.

Drivers who pass cyclists with only inches to spare.

"I wish it wasn't so intimidating to ride to work, but it is," Lortz said.

Charles C. Latrobe agrees.

Latrobe, 40, bikes from his Cockeysville home to his part-time job at the Mount Washington Bike Shop on Falls Road, one of several jobs he holds. The 13.5-mile trek can take him 45 minutes in the morning and 70 minutes on the way home, "because of the hills."

Although he bikes mostly on the roads, he does spend a short part of his commute on the sidewalk of York Road "because of dangerous, fast traffic and lanes that are too narrow."

The way Latrobe sees it, he's doing his part to ease road congestion and clean the air by biking. "All I want is a little room out there from the motorist," he said, "but I don't get much room."

He doesn't exactly feel welcome on the road. "I feel a lot of motorists view me as an irritant," he said. "There are motorists who don't feel the bicycle should have any rights on the road and that they're a nuisance, a hindrance, a danger."

Although prohibited on interstates and some high-speed highways, cyclists generally have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers on many other roads. They must obey signs and signals, ride in the same direction as traffic and use arm signals when turning or changing lanes.

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