Fueling Concern: Alternative mode of travel

High gas prices fuel transportation revolt

Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2005


  Frank Hayes arrives at the Nikiski Senior Citizens Center on Sunday morning. He gets around quite a bit on his bicycle. Photo by Joseph Robertia

Frank Hayes arrives at the Nikiski Senior Citizens Center on Sunday morning. He gets around quite a bit on his bicycle.

Photo by Joseph Robertia

Editor's note: The following is the third in a series of stories about what effect high fuel prices are having on the Kenai Peninsula. Wednesday's story will focus on gas refining in Alaska.

When the sun shines, Frank Hayes pulls out his new bicycle and rides it about three miles to the Nikiski Senior Citizens Center and back to his house.

While he acknowledges that a big motivation for purchasing his new toy was to get some exercise, numbers start ticking through his head as he pedals, knowing he is not burning gasoline in a car.

"I hope (gasoline prices will) go up to $7 or $8. Then I'll save a lot," he said in an interview at the Nikiski senior center. "If it goes up to $10, then I'll save a fortune."

Hayes is apparently not the only person who is looking for some savings by using a bicycle for transportation these days. According to a local bicycle salesman, high gasoline prices at the pump have generated quite a few new customers looking to ride bicycles as a way to save money on gasoline.

Gasoline prices are on the rise. Monday the average price of self-serve regular gasoline in Alaska was $2.809. A year ago, the average price was $2.111. Monday's average diesel price was $2.895 compared to $2.015 last year.

"Early this spring, I had people coming in purchasing bikes just to commute because they couldn't afford gas or didn't want to pay the high prices," said Brad Carver, assistant manager at Beemun's.

Carver said he expects to have even more sales this fall due to the high gasoline prices.

While some are concerned that high crude oil and gasoline prices may drive the nation's economy into a recession, Carver said he is not concerned about bicycle sales.

"The bicycle business is basically recessionless," he said.

People view bikes as a necessity, not a luxury item, he said.

He added that he has already had a number of inquiries about studded bicycle tires — an item people use to ride in the snow.

Beemun's is not the only bike shop that has been seeing increased interest in cycling due to high gas prices.

Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association, said shops around the country have reported more people are looking at purchasing bicycles.

NBDA is a California-based trade association for bicycle dealers.

"When gas hits $3 and up, people start looking for other ways to get around," Clements said.

In fact, the 1970s was a "bike boom" with an interest in bicycles that was not previously there, he said. The boom corresponded with high gasoline prices, he said.

He said the industry has matured quite a bit since then and is still waiting to see whether there will be another boom.

No matter what gas prices do, he said, bicycles are still important.

"We need livable communities," he said. "We need ways to get around that doesn't rely on cars so much."

A new resident of Nikiski, Hayes is tickled with a new bike path following the Kenai Spur Highway. He has been taking full advantage of it — when the weather is nice.

Last Monday, he was not so fortunate. With pounding rain, he drove his sport utility vehicle parallel to the bicycle trail pointing to the most difficult hills, thinking of better weather.

When he arrived at his house, he unlocked his shed and displayed his new bike — black and red with a big basket on front. And he made sure to point out the coaster brake which he said allows him to "pick his nose and give everybody the finger at the same time."

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