Vigor in the Valley

    Getting to the bottom of bicycling in Eau Claire


    Photo by Clara Neupert

    UW-Eau Claire’s new bike fixing stations are located in three different spots around campus.

    Eau Claire is becoming a bicycler’s paradise. We have a plethora of bike stores, various cycling clubs and organizations, a bike-themed coffee shop nestled in the outskirts of downtown and threads of paved and off-road trails winding through the area.

    Biking is a good way to get your heart beating and legs burning, with adrenaline as an added bonus. However, getting serious about biking comes with a large price tag, making the sport inaccessible from an economic standpoint. Entry-level bikes begin at around $200, and the price only increases from there.

    Commuter bikes, on the flip side, don’t have to be impressive. There’s something to be said for dizzy joy rides on a bike with squealing brakes and a rusty chain. Commuter bikes just have to deliver their rider from point A to point B, never mind the frills of a racing bike.

    Tyler Gonzales, a second-year math student at UW-Eau Claire, is a cycling-extraordinaire who frequents the roads and trails of the Chippewa Valley. He’s been riding for about six years, two of which he spent road racing with a junior team.    

    Gonzales’s race repertoire includes the Tour of America’s Dairyland and various muddy, rainy mountain bike races. He also attended a training camp in Encinitas, California. Today, Gonzales said school work challenges his ability to train for races, but he’s still an avid rider.

    Why does peddling grind our gears — in a good way? I asked Gonzales why he’s so crazy about cycling.

    Me: Why do you cycle? What’s so great about it?

    Gonzales: “Cycling was the first actual competitive sport I ever really enjoyed. To me, the thrill of the competition and hours of training that go into being a very good cyclist makes it great. Not to mention, being able to push yourself to your breaking point, and seeing how fast you can actually go on a bike is quite astonishing. In the end, I cycle because it is fun. And a great way to keep healthy and get outside.”

    What’s a good way for a beginner to get serious about cycling?

    “Find people in your community who are already cyclists and talk to them. This is how I got involved, and you’d be surprised how many cyclists there are out there. I would also highly recommend the YouTube channel Global Cycling Network, you’ll see why when you start binge-watching their videos. Oh, and don’t forget to actually get outside and put many, many miles on your bike.”

    How do you find cost-effective ways to maintain cycling as a hobby?

    “Not everyone needs a super fancy and expensive bike. Yes, they are amazing to own and ride, but you do not need one to do extremely well as a cyclist. Remember, it’s the legs that can get you going fast in the end. I would say look to Craigslist for used bikes, or Facebook groups which specialize in bike trading or selling near you. Indoor cycling classes are another great way to maintain cycling style fitness and are easy to find at many fitness clubs. To save money on maintenance and repairs learn how to take care of and do basic bike maintenance yourself, this can and will save hundreds of dollars.”

    I know a fair amount of people who’ve had their bikes stolen. How do you protect your bike?

    “Trust me, the only way to actually keep your bike from getting stolen is to not let it out of your sight. That being said, if you have a nice bike and don’t want it to get stolen, keep it in your room and always lock your room when you leave. Even if it is just for a couple minutes. If you cannot keep it in your room, there are some good locks out there which can help keep your bike safe as well. There are many online resources for finding good bike locks. Oh, and don’t forget to learn how to lock your bike as well. It is sad how many bikes I see which are not locked up properly.”

    Can you describe your favorite route or trail in the Eau Claire area?  

    “My personal favorite ride from the Eau Claire area is to take the bike trails up to Chippewa Falls and back. This is a great trail and (it) has some spots where you can seriously see how fast you can go. However, there are many nice roads and spots to work on cycling fitness and strength right here in Eau Claire. If you feel ambitious, always end your ride at the top of the (UW-Eau Claire) campus hill, as I do.”

    Even if you aren’t ready to bike the infamous hill, you can start easy by cycling to school instead of driving. Biking is an environmentally-friendly transportation method — perfect for students who don’t want to muddle with gas prices, parking passes or car insurance. A resource for students who don’t own bikes is the Environmental Adventure Center (EAC) on campus.

    A student or community member can rent a commuter or mountain bike for as short as a day or as long as an academic year. The shop is located in the basement of the Hilltop Center.

    Ready to hit the pedals? SHIFT Cyclery & Coffee Bar on Graham Avenue hosts slow-paced social rides at 6 p.m. the first Monday of every month, along with various over bike-oriented events. The Chippewa Off Road Bike Association (COBRA) rides at 5:45 p.m. every Monday at Lowes Creek County Park. EC Velo produces the Valley Cat, a bike scavenger hunt/race, and other road-biking activities throughout the season.

    Neupert can be reached at [email protected].