Working on wheels
By Apryl Motley
On May 20, Bike to Work Day, thousands of people will commute to work on their bicycles. For some this will be a special occasion, but for others, biking to— and for—work is part of their everyday routine. The Takoma Park area is home base for some of these avid cyclists, who have incorporated biking into their jobs.
“In my late high school and college years, I fully engaged in car ownership,” says SatJiwan Khalsa (Coach SJ), owner of Moving Forward Tennis. “It wasn’t all that bad, but little did I know of the significant negative impacts on the environment.”
Coach SJ, who serves on the City Council’s Committee on the Environment, has commuted by bike for the past 20 years. He can be seen riding around the City with his tennis gear in a bike trailer as travels to teach private tennis lessons or classes for the Takoma Park Recreation Department.
“First, I appreciate the positive environmental impact of biking,” he says. “Second, the ease and relative quickness of travel in a semi-urban area is a plus. And with the right equipment, you can carry things that wouldn’t fit easily into a car.”
And last, but certainly not least, Coach SJ values “the automatic health and exercise benefits” of commuting by bike. He has made “business and living choices that make it easy to walk or bike in [his] work and daily life.”
“It was natural to teach tennis or do green building consulting locally,” he says. “Fortunately, nice weather for outdoor tennis and nice weather for biking go hand in hand.”
For Takoma Park Police Sergeant Jerome Erwin, biking while patrolling goes hand in hand with building positive relationships in the community. “People like to see us mountain bike patrolling,” Erwin says. “The positive comments like, ‘Thank you, great to see you out here,’ motivate me to ride.”
“I was certified about 10 years ago by Retired Cpl. Fred Roush, who was the original coordinator of our police mountain bike program,” he continues.
Initially Erwin had no interest in participating in the mountain bike program.
However, his sister-in-law, who is also an officer in Takoma Park, was registered for the department’s bike training class and asked him to join it as well.
“I had a great time,” he recalls. “The positive comments from the citizens in combination with the surprised look on the faces of guys involved in criminal activity when we arrive on scene made me realize that the mountain bike is a great crime deterrent and enforcement tool.”
“It’s a great crime enforcement tool because suspects typically watch for the marked patrol vehicle,” he continues. “Plus, citizens feel more comfortable approaching a bike officer.”
We’ve come a long way with the bike lanes, bike traffic signs and the Capital Bikeshare program
“We’ve come a long way with the bike lanes, bike traffic signs and the Capital Bikeshare program,” says Erwin when asked if Takoma Park is bike friendly. “Washington, DC is probably leading the region with its bike lanes in and around the downtown areas.”
While he would welcome more designated bike lanes, Wayne Savage, owner of Mid-Atlantic Litter Cleanup Service, describes Takoma Park as “a good community for biking.” Savage has always biked for both recreation and transportation.
He still owns his first bike, a Raleigh racer with drop handle bars, purchased while he was a student at the University of Missouri, Columbia. “I actually grew up in rural area in Missouri without a lot of pavement, so I didn’t get my first bike until I was in college,” Savage recalls. “I still have it in my basement, and I rode it in my one and only triathlon.”
Since getting that first bike, he can’t imagine being “cocooned in a car.” Savage says of biking, “It’s great exercise and an exhilarating way to stay connected to your environment. I enjoy the sights and sounds you experience riding on a bike.”
And it makes his job easier, and his customers happy. “I can ride directly to sites of litter accumulation and get right to work,” Savage explains. “It makes it very convenient for me.”
“A large of part of it is also about keeping my business overhead low,” he continues. “With no overhead for a truck, my rates are very reasonable, and my clients appreciate that.”
Customers at Takoma Bicycle have come to appreciate the shop’s newest mechanic, Corinne Ducey. She began working there part-time almost a year ago and lives nearby.
Ducey describes herself as a “beginner, who’s learning a lot and asking lots of questions.” What attracted her to the job? “I was drawn to it because there aren’t many women in the field,” Ducey says. “I like to be a role model for younger girls in places where there aren’t many women. And it’s important to know how to fix my own bike.”
While she was a student at Smith College, Ducey’s bike was her primary mode of transportation, and she had the unique opportunity to work at The Bike Kitchen, a repair shop in the basement of her dorm staffed by female mechanics. “I learned very basic stuff there,” she recalls.
Basic or not, Ducey added that experience to an already rich tradition of biking in her family, starting with learning to ride her first bike in her aunt’s driveway at six years old and continuing with her mother becoming a mountain bike racer ten years ago. Today Ducey rides an entry level hybrid bike, which serves as her secondary mode of transportation.
However, she has been known to bike 12 miles round trip to and from her full-time job in Washington, DC. “I love navigating on a bike,” she says, “and leaving my car at home so that I’m not using gas and saving money. I get happy when I get on my bike.”
This article appeared in the May 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.