Kacey Yates Gable of West Akron came away very impressed by the two-wheeled tour of downtown Akron.
She intends to take the free bicycle tour again and to bring along friends. “Absolutely,” the 34-year-old responded when asked if the guided trip was worthwhile.
She said she was comfortable pedaling on the Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley and pulling a trailer for youngsters, but the Akron tour opened her eyes to the joys of in-city pedaling.
Yates Gable said she got used to riding on city streets on the two-hour ride that covered nearly nine miles and visited downtown Akron attractions big and small.
The little-known tours are being offered by the University of Akron’s Department of Sport Science and Wellness Education and the city of Akron under the name How We Roll. The rides are designed to boost fitness and health, to be fun and to promote bicycle safety.
The program is “working well” but it could use more riders, said Victor Pinheiro, chair of the department at UA.
It is funded by a two-year federal grant of $139,647 from the U.S. Highway Safety Fund plus a $15,000 match provided by the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study.
The program began last fall as a pilot project for University of Akron students. Now it has expanded to students and area residents.
The tours — with up to 15 bicyclists — are offered Wednesdays through Sundays from April through Aug. 31. They are easy and slow-paced. If you can ride a bike, you can do the tour, organizers say.
Participants are asked to provide their own bikes and helmets, although some are available, said coordinator Andy Davis from the city of Akron.
You can pedal 5 miles, or extend the tour and do another 3.6 miles. Light rains do not deter the cyclists, but thunderstorms will cancel trips. The tours begin and end at the Bike Kitchen at Lock 3 Park in downtown Akron.
Ivory Alexander, 24, a graduate student in exercise physiology, led our recent weeknight bike tour with nine cyclists.
In his introduction, Alexander, who is from Akron, told the participants that they must be visible, predictable and obey all traffic laws. That means stopping at red lights and stop signs, something bicyclists often don’t do.
We were told to give hand signals for turning and slowing down, and to point out obstacles in the roadway to the other cyclists.
Alexander also told us emphatically that we were to take over a traffic lane, not hug the curb. Bicyclists are, under state law, allowed to take a full lane and the safest place to ride is 4 feet off the curb, he said.
That can be disconcerting to beginners who are used to riding next to the curb, he admitted. Single-file riding is not necessary, and two-abreast riding is good when group riding in a lane, he said.
Surprisingly, few motorists seemed annoyed by the convoy of bicyclists that cruised the city streets. We got honked at by one impatient vehicle.
Our paid guides included UA students Daniel Green, Darien Spann, Allen Starkey and Rachael Ratcliffe, who were all on our ride.
We rode on Market, Main, Exchange and Broadway. We pedaled through Canal Place and the UA campus, and across the All-America Bridge. We dropped into the Little Cuyahoga River valley and cruised the Towpath Trail.
We saw things from a bicycle seat that motorists miss as cars speed by.
Sites included the memorial to the Hotel Matthews on Howard Street, the little-known Vera Wang workshop where very expensive wedding dresses are put together in Canal Place, the Old Stone School, the Hower House, Cascade Locks Park and Waters Park with views of the Akron skyline, and the Dale Chihuly sculpture outside the Goodyear Polymer Center on the UA campus.
There were surprisingly few hills on our route, perhaps four. You could pedal or walk your bike. In some other spots, a little gear-shifting was needed.
The main goal is to provide an interesting bike tour, said Alexander. That’s 50 percent of the mission. Another 30 percent is to have fun, and the last 20 percent is to teach people how to safely ride in the city and to get comfortable doing that, he said.
The tours are based on a similar program at Ohio State University in Columbus, he said.
Participants get a blue T-shirt with reflective material to boost safety, front and back lights for their bikes, a poster and a small backpack with downtown discount coupons.
Fred Wise, 73, of Cuyahoga Falls, a retired computer programmer and analyst, called the Akron tours “a great idea.”
It is a way for bicyclists to see downtown and practice city pedaling, said Wise, an Akron Bicycle Club veteran. “You can see the city in a fun way,” he said.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or email@example.com.