News: Feel like a kid again - ride a bike
Story by Staff Sgt. David Bruce
EDINBURGH, Ind. - They are a staple of childhood transportation - bicycles.
These two-wheeled clockwork contraptions are usually the first taste of freedom that an American child will receive. It grants them the power to travel further afield, to push the boundaries, to be self-reliant for transportation, to go as far as their little legs and parental consent will carry them.
That is, until the American car gene manifests and two wheels are traded for four. The role of the bicycle for adults gets relegated to that of exercise, recreation, or to collect dust, either literally in a garage or figuratively in the memories of youth.
For many soldiers at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, Ind., the bicycle fills multiple roles, transportation, exercise and social.
Maj. James Garlits, Individual Readiness Deployment Operation program director, developed an interest in bike riding while living in Kokomo, Ind., when the Nickel Plate Trail was created.
"I got back into bike riding several years ago, mountain bike trail riding and stuff like that. I spent a year and a half in Alexandria, Va., working at National Guard Bureau so we were riding along the George Washington Parkway and Mount Vernon trails," he said. "When I came to Atterbury last year, I moved into Shelbyville and there were no trails or any kind of bike presence. But there are a lot people that bike. I started real small with a project trying to get a trail open on an abandoned rail line and a park connector trail around the city. I just started riding more and more."
Garlits recently tested his endurance in this year's Hilly 100 bike ride. The Hilly 100 is an annual two-day bike ride in southern Indiana centered on the town of Elletsville, Ind. His preparation for the Hilly 100 consisted of a lot of, you guessed it, riding.
"I rode a lot on county roads in and around Shelbyville. I drill out of Kokomo, so I'll throw the bike in the car and ride up there. Last drill I rode the Nickel Plate Trail, the portion they just opened from Peru to Rochester and back, which is 54 miles and it didn't take too much out of me."
Garlits conceded that the Hilly 100 was more challenging due to changes in elevation.
"Rail trails are usually on one or two percent grade at maximum, so I'm mostly a flatlander. The Hilly 100 definitely lives up to its name.
There's some pretty steep inclines, some of those being 20 percent. It was also very windy. They should have called it the "Windy 100."
The other part of the equation for Garlits' preparation was simply being a soldier at Atterbury.
"Staying in shape, especially as you become an older dude like myself, enough that if someone comes and says you need to take (an Army Physical Fitness Test), staying in enough shape to pass is enough to do some bicycling. Being on a bike is pretty low impact on the bones," he said.
This year's Hilly 100 may be a first time ride for Garlits, but for Maj. Joseph Waskow, officer in charge at the Camp Atterbury Joint Operations Center, it was his seventh.
While the goal of riding is to have fun, safety should be a top priority, said Waskow.
"The important thing is safety," said Waskow. "Your bike should be in good condition. You should also have spare inner tubes for your bike and a pump as well as tools for minor repairs."
Garlits said he feels that running can take its toll on the knees, but cycling is a good fitness avenue between Army Physical Fitness Tests.
"I'll start a month or two prior to (an APFT) jogging and running again just so I won't wear out my knees," said Garlits.
Once the riding bug catches, it stays with you, according to Garlits.
"I'm having a blast. I think most people my age have good memories of riding as kids. Growing up, most kids had a bike under them. But as you get older, you want to get a car. When I got back on a bike, it was like being a kid again. You realize that you have increased energy during the day when you do it consistently."
For those wishing to get back into riding whether for exercise or to embrace their inner child, Garlits advice is simple, get a bike, any bike.
"Work with what you have. It's so easy to make excuses especially with the expense of bikes. Just pull a 10-speed out of the garage or go a garage sale. Get some good tires and make sure everything works. Take it a local bike shop and let them give it a once over," he said. "Just start doing it and work your way up from there. That's what I did."
Waskow added that bike riding is something that can become a lifelong endeavor.
"It's also good fitness. I saw an older guy get off his bike at last year's event. He was stretching his legs and he told me that he had just had knee replacement surgery earlier," he said. "That's going to be me when I'm older."
The social aspect of cycling can encompass strangers with this common interest and families as well.
"Bikes can be cheap and it's something you can get your whole family involved in," said Waskow. "It becomes a family activity so, in my case, it's not just dad doing these events. No matter how mad my daughter can get at me, I can just ask her if she wants to go on a ride and it brings us back together," said Waskow.
There are a number of groups such as the Central Indiana Bicycling Association, which sponsor rides and raises awareness of bicycling, said Garlits.
"In Shelbyville, Central Indiana Bicycling Association has a Tuesday and Thursday rides on the county roads there," said Garlits. "I normally don't get off work early enough for their start time. But when I go out, in south Shelby County, I run into a lot of those guys that have started before me and are coming back the opposite direction. More and more, my wife and kids are joining me on my rides," said Garlits.
Opportunities for riding are closer than one realizes. Soldiers at Camp Atterbury can sign out bikes from the Moral Welfare and Recreation office, according to Staff Sgt. Kevin Lehman, of Indianapolis, non-commissioned officer with the installation MWR office.
"We have 85 bikes with 75 of those being signed out at any given time with a few held back for maintenance," said Lehman. "During winter, that drops to practically zero, except for some brave guys."
The bikes are there for the use of all soldiers on Camp Atterbury, said Lehman. They can be signed out for four days though a temporary hand receipt. These hand receipts are used to track the bikes and as justify funding.
"When a soldier signs for a bike the helmet is included and there is a statement of understanding that they will use their own physical training belt (for visibility) and oby all traffic laws on post," he said. "Once they sign for them they have them for four days. If they want to take it home or to Brown County to ride, they can."
The MWR office also maintains the bicycles they sign out, but the soldiers are responsible for the bike while signed out.
"If you bring it back all broken then you're going to get a statement of charges," said Lehman. "We want to take care of these things so the next guy has a chance to use them."
They see riders of all experience levels signing for bikes, said Lehman.
"We get some soldiers that haven't been on a bike since the training wheels came off," he said. "The important thing is safety. Stay visible and don't fly on the sidewalk onto the road. Be a defensive cyclist."
There is a bicycle renaissance occurring. More bike trails and lanes are cropping up in American cities. The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles has recently begun issuing "Share the Road" license plates for automobiles.
Indianapolis, city streets have been repainted to allocate dedicated lanes to cyclists and the city buses all have bike racks for people commuting on bicycles. Regardless of motivation, more people are riding bikes.
For more information on bicycle riding, safety, laws and events, visit www.bicycleindiana.org or cibaride.org.