A 25-mile commute doesn’t have to be a boring slog in the car.

Weather and time don’t often allow James Sells to bike to work. Coming from his home in Decatur Township, it takes about 80 minutes on a bicycle to get to his job in Franklin.

But on those days that he can, it’s worth the extra effort.

“I have a core belief that lifelong fitness is so good for individuals,” he said. “It reduces stress. I believe in the connection that the mind, body and spirit have together. If you’re doing things right in those areas, you’ll be a more complete person.”

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More and more people are bicycling, and for a growing number of cycling enthusiasts, bicycling to work has become an appealing way to get exercise, mentally and physically prepare for the day and leave behind the aggravation of gridlock traffic.

According to the Census’ American Community Survey, nearly 800,000 people across the U.S. get to work by cycling. From 1990 to 2015, commuting by cycling grew by 255 percent in Indianapolis.

With Bike to Work Day coming up Friday, cyclists are taking time to advocate for the activity they love, not just as a hobby or a way to exercise, but as an integral part of their everyday lives.

“It gets you outside. It gets you exercise, but you don’t have to find a team to do it. People of any age can do it,” said Tauria Catlin, a Franklin cycling enthusiast. “If it’s an option to not drive, we’re always looking to choose that option.”

Bike to Work Day has been going on for more than 50 years throughout the country. Locally, the biking advocacy group INDYCOG has spearheaded the effort, organizing starting points for riders, helping to recruit more people and advertising with local businesses.

The event celebrates people who already bike to work while also allowing enthusiasts to appeal to those who might be interested in biking to work but are too intimidated to try it.

Throughout central Indiana, organized “bike trains” are scheduled to leave from places all over the area, including Circle City Bicycles on the southside. The convoys will head to the City Market in downtown Indianapolis, where a special celebration will include breakfast and presentations from the cycling community.

Locally, businesses such as Middle Davids Artisan Candles will offer specials for customers who have biked to work Friday.

Catlin and her husband, owners of Middle Davids, have also integrated cycling into their daily lives. Dan Catlin has been riding since he suffered an injury while serving in the U.S. Navy, and estimates he rides between 3,000 and 4,000 miles a year.

His enthusiasm has trickled down to his wife and family.

“I’m not a very fast person; I’m not going to win very many races, either running or on a bike. But I like the endurance aspect of it, the longer rides. So we decided we’d do some riding like that,” Tauria Catlin said.

Their own interest has helped connect them to others in the community. The Catlins have been instrumental in organizing weekly rides throughout Johnson County, leaving every Thursday evening from downtown Franklin.

The store lets cyclists who come to the shop use the restroom if they need to and grab a water bottle for the road. The Catlins keep an air pump and some light tools around in case someone comes in with a mechanical problem.

For its efforts, Middle Davids has been honored by the League for American Bicyclists as a Silver Bicycle Friendly Business, meaning it encourages and educates riders and organizes cycling in the community. It is the only business in Johnson County to receive the honor.

“We see cycling as transportation in a way that isn’t really a standard thing these days. We want to encourage others to do that too, because it costs less and it’s a lot better for the environment,” Tauria Catlin said.

At Franklin United Methodist Community, a Bike to Work Day luncheon is planned to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the invention of the bicycle, while presenting community residents’ lifelong experiences with cycling.

One of those people speaking will be Carolyn Hood. Every day, the 92-year-old jumps on her three-wheeled cycle and pedals around her home at the community. She is well known for tooling around the sidewalks and back roads of the community’s campus.

Growing up on the southwest side of Chicago, Hood started using a bicycle for her main mode of transportation to get to work as well as to socialize. That didn’t change throughout her life.

Bicycling is a way to connect with her neighbors, while at the same time staying active and keeping her body strong. She shares her passion for cycling with her friends and fellow residents at the community.

“It’s just a much faster way of getting around than running or walking. I guess that’s why we loved it so much,” she said.

Not that riding to work is a new concept.

Fred Prohl started cycling as a Boy Scout in Seymour, going on long “bike hikes” with the rest of his troop. When he got a job at Western Electric Co. on the northeast side of Indianapolis, he rode his bike in every day.

“That’s where I learned how to be afraid of traffic,” he said jokingly.

Now retired, the Franklin resident takes more leisurely rides these days. He has easy access to the Greenway Trail that cuts through town, and uses it to get around the downtown area and to the library.

“It’s something I’ve always enjoyed,” he said.

Sells, 46, has been interested in cycling since he was a high school student in Evansville in the 1980s. A neighbor was involved in bicycle racing and would talk to Sells about the Tour de France, which he didn’t know much about. Sells’ interest grew, and for his high school graduation, he received his first road bike.

Sells started racing and riding more seriously while in college at Indiana State University. Since then, it has been an active part of his life.

Over the years, Sells has competed in numerous racing and long-distance rides. He has traversed through the forests and dunes of northern Michigan, gone up and down gravel roads through the mountains of Georgia and cycled from one end of Indiana to the other.

“A lot of the riding I do now are events that are more for the experience, going to different areas of America that are challenging for me,” he said. “There’s always a challenge involved, and that’s what I think I enjoy the most — the adventure and the challenge.”

By sharing his experiences and stories with others, the hope is to inspire more people to realize the potential of what cycling can be.

“As Americans, we’ve gotten into a lifestyle where our cars rule our life. Because we’re so lucky to have our cars and the interstate system we do, we don’t have to work near our home,” Sells said. “So a lot of us work a 45-minute commute from home, and there really isn’t a good route to ride, which I think hinders a lot of people from commuting on a bike. That’s a shame.”

If you go

National Bike to Work Day Luncheon

When: 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Franklin United Methodist Community Center, 1070 W. Jefferson St., Entrance E24

Activities: “Bike in” with networking, displays and freebies, $5 lunch buffet, speakers sharing their experience with cycling, door prizes and awards.

Who can attend: Open to the public

RSVP to David Owens today at dowens@franklinunitedmethodist.org or 317-736-1162.

At a glance

Commuting by bicycle

0.4 percent: Percentage of people who commute to work by bicycle in Indiana.

11 percent: Increase in Indiana residents who commuted to work by bike between 2005 and 2014.

1,680: Number of bike commuters in Indianapolis.

53: Rank for Indianapolis among the top 70 largest U.S. cities in percentage of people cycling to work.

1,967: Number of people who biked to work regularly in Bloomington in 2014.

10: Rank for Bloomington among all cities for the highest percentage of trips made to work on a bicycle.

— Information from the League of American Bicyclists’ “Where We Ride: An Analysis of Bicycling in American Cities” report.

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.