Biking advocacy: Ryan Birkicht, one of Galena’s newest residents, advocates for safe biking opportunities nationwide and here in Galena

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On a Saturday morning you might see Ryan and Samantha Birkicht ride their bikes up Meeker Street to their home on Harrison Street with their two children, Garrison, 5, and Lyndon, 1, with them.

Yes, that’s up Meeker Street. They’ve just been to Otto’s for breakfast and decided to ride there instead of taking a car.

And, yes, they’ve decided to use their electric bikes. For Ryan, an electric bike is a game changer–especially in Galena with all of its hills.

Ryan and Samantha are two of Galena’s newest residents having moved here this past February. She’s the head volleyball coach at University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Ryan’s last two jobs–Pacific Cycle (owner of the Schwinn brand) and now with People for Bikes–allow him to live anywhere the couple wants. They moved here from Madison, Wis.

Choosing the bike for this breakfast excursion wasn’t simply about getting out for a bit of exercise with the kids. It was a conscious decision to cut out the car and cut down on one’s carbon footprint.

In July, Birkicht left Pacific Cycle and joined People for Bikes in a newly created job. He is director of enterprise partnerships and helps businesses, such as Walmart, develop strategies to encourage employees to ride their bikes to work. In doing so, Ryan looks at bike parking infrastructure, showers at the work site and whether there are trails and safe routes where people can easily and safely ride to work.

People for Bikes also offers a free ride app, Ride Spot, where bike routes can be posted and used by others.

Walmart, Ryan says, is planning a new corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., and has set a goal of having 10 percent of its corporate workforce riding a bike to work . He’s all about identifying features and benefits of bike riding.

Ryan hasn’t always been this gung ho over bikes. He grew up in Cedar Rapids. At the University of Northern Iowa where he studied business management, he rode a bike simply to get to class.

Working for The HON Co. in the Quad Cities, he stuck to running and wasn’t interested in riding a bike up hills.

When Ryan and Samantha married, she was the assistant volleyball coach at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. They moved to Madison and that’s where Ryan developed his passion for biking. Now he owns six bicycles–a road/gravel bike, two electric bikes, mountain bike, BMX bike and cargo bike–and has no problem with hills. (The publisher knows this through experience.)

A chance meeting with someone who worked in human resources at Saris, a bicycle rack and trainer manufacturer, landed him a job there and into the bicycle industry. He then moved on to Pacific Cycle.

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While at Pacific Cycle, he began serving on People for Bikes subcommittees. Four years later, he transitioned to People for Bikes.

As a new resident here, he’s been keenly paying attention to community conversations about such things as parking. He sees bicycles as a solution to community issues and notes that the gold standard happens when people begin replacing car trips with bike trips–even in hilly Galena.

“Electric bikes can change the conversation here,” he says, and adds that bikes can play a more important role in transportation, along with being part of a multi-facet effort to deal with parking issues.

People need to feel safe when riding, he contends. Protected bike paths and bike trails help make people feel safe. A chance conversation with John Cox during the interview highlighted this sentiment. John and Bonnie Cox were headed to Des Moines to visit a granddaughter. They were taking their electric bikes and staying a couple extra days to ride the High Tressle Trail. They feel safer riding on protected bike paths and trails.

Ryan also sees the tourism potential for safe riding. He lives near Jail Hill Inn and sees the cars parked there with bikes neatly stowed behind. He would love to see an off road path to The Galena Territory. “It’d be a big deal,” he contends.

“I think Galena could be a bike destination,” he adds, “if we invested in infrastructure.”

Some of this infrastructure isn’t expensive. He believes more bike racks downtown would help. There could be better signage and street paint to identify bike lanes and promote safe cycling. Safe bike routes could be developed through the community.

The path along Spring Street which is part of the much anticipated U.S. 20 rebuild project will be a great addition to the community, he shares, and notes that small towns can develop safe biking infrastructure. Provincetown, Mass., a community of 2,900 has done just that.

During his experience in the biking industry and now with biking advocacy, he’s learned that whether you ride a bike or not, the benefits of biking benefit the entire community. Biking promotes positive relationships within a community and better health.

During my 41-plus years here, I’m not sure if we’ve had someone living here with these skill sets who is also connected to a national organization such as People For Bikes.

Ryan is young and enthusiastic with lots of ideas. I’d hate for Galena and other area communities to miss this opportunity to pick his brain as a way to benefit our communities by augmenting opportunities to ride a bike, whether it’s for recreation or more purposeful endeavors such as riding to work, the grocery store or even breakfast.

by P. Carter Newton, publisher

cnewton@galgazette.com

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