It's Bike To Work Day In Muskegon

August 18, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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MUSKEGON — Ride a bike to work, spend less on gas and lose some flab.

That's the basic point of the declaration of Aug. 20 as Bike To Work Day in Muskegon County.

The Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce, along with Access Health and The Employers’ Association of West Michigan, are promoting a county-wide ride-your-bicycle-to-work day to promote healthier lifestyles while demonstrating that bicycling is a viable way to save fuel and money and do the environment a favor.

Companies register in advance and then actively encourage their employees to ride a bicycle to work on Aug. 20. Those who do, and then stop by one of the Bike To Work Day "hubs" to register, stand to win prizes. (Find information at www.rideonmuskegon.com.)

Some people obviously live too far from their work site to pedal a bicycle there and back, but the promoters of Bike To Work Day are suggesting that some employees, at least, could bring a bicycle in their car to one of several hubs that promoters plan to set up, and then bike in to work from there. Registration enters the individual in drawings for prizes donated by various Chamber member companies in the Muskegon area, including a bicycle, health club memberships and other goodies.

Jennifer Cross, marketing director at the Muskegon Area Chamber, said hubs are strategically located throughout the county. The hubs will have parking for bicyclists who drive in from outlying areas and will feature booths where light refreshments will be available to participants.

Cross said the organizers of the event started getting community partners and sponsors right off the bat from a variety of organizations and businesses. About two dozen of them have expressed support for Bike To Work Day, including Alcoa Howmet, Dynamic Conveyor, Reid Entities, Mercy Health Partners, Muskegon Community College, fitness clubs, retailers and coffee shops, according to Cross.

"Our company's enrolled. We're encouraging our employees to participate," said Jill Batka, general manager of Dynamic Conveyor in Norton Shores.

She said she is not sure how many of Dynamic’s 21 employees will actually ride a bike to work.

"I think we might get a few," she said.

Since the nearest Bike To Work hub is only about a half mile from Dynamic Conveyor, at the Nitro Fitness Center on the corner of Grand Haven and Sternberg Road, Batka said some of the interested employees there may decide to pick their own parking location a few miles further away and pedal in from there.

Cross said Jeff Fortenbacher at Access Health came up with the Bike To Work Day idea and brought it to the chamber's community promotions committee.

"He really wanted to get the business community on board," she said.

While the high cost of gasoline has many people thinking about alternative ways to get to work, Fortenbacher, executive director of Access Health, said in his mind the driving factor is employee health.

Access Health is a community-based not-for-profit organization that provides basic health insurance coverage through small employers in Muskegon and northern Ottawa counties for working people who might otherwise be uninsured. In particular, Access Health promotes preventive care and education.

Fortenbacher said his "mantra" is employee involvement in wellness programs, which involves persuading and empowering the individual to develop a healthy lifestyle. But, he said, "'We know that a lot of people aren’t going to go out and buy memberships at health clubs."

Access Health and the hundreds of small employers it works with "need to encourage and look at opportunities to have people integrate physical activity into their daily living."

The idea of riding a bike to work is a natural: "You've got to get to work anyway," he said. People should also think about using the stairs rather than always taking an elevator, or parking at the far end of the parking lot to get a small walk in — "just basic stuff that you can start to do to increase your activity level."

"People, for the most part, know the basics of what they need to do to be healthy," he said — but many won't do anything "until you can put some economics behind it," he said.

Few people were interested in the education programs Access Health offers until the organization began offering discounts on insurance coverage and lower co-pays to individuals who participate in wellness programs, he said.

Organizing Bike To Work Day, with prizes offered to employees who participate, is one way to "start to get employers to look at ways to keep our employees healthy."

He said Access Health and its partners realize they can't persuade everyone to take up some active routine for better health. However, he said, "We figure (Bike To Work Day) is a starting point."

The Chamber Web page for Bike To Work Day includes a pamphlet with tips for employers and employees who might be interested in riding a bicycle to work. It notes that there likely is more than one employee at any given company who would be interested in riding to work — but no one knows that until that company actually participates in a Bike To Work Day. Employee participation can prove to be a company morale booster.

The pamphlet also provides answers to rebut the "classic excuses" people use for not riding a bicycle to work. One such excuse is that there's no place at work to shower. The pamphlet notes that "Most bike commuters don't shower at work. Commuting is different than fitness cycling so it need not be a sweaty affair."

Right now, Fortenbacher believes the network of the Bike To Work Day organizers provides potential contact with almost 1,800 businesses in Muskegon County.

"If we can get 250 to 300 people, (then) to me, it’s a success," said Fortenbacher.

He plans to do a follow-up survey with the key contacts within the businesses and organizations participating to get feedback on what worked and what didn't.

The follow-up survey will also focus on other things that can be done at the community level to raise awareness of employee activities that promote health and wellness.

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