June 19, 2008

Life in the Bike Lane Saves Cash

By Terry Dickson

ST. SIMONS ISLAND -- Harold Kent rides past a convenience store on the way to work every day.

He's seen the price of gas on the corner sign go from $3 a gallon and close in on $4 with his left blinker on, ready to pass. He just smiles. You can do that when you're using zero gallons per mile. But if you could measure sweat, he probably gets 9 miles per gallon.

Kent, a 56-year-old surgeon, rides his bicycle to work from his home near the south end of St. Simons Island, over the hump-backed MacKay River Bridge and detours through some neighborhoods to his office. But there are no detours for much of his route. The F.J. Torras Causeway is the only road to St. Simons.

The causeway's bike paths are a good distance from the passing vehicles, except on the bridges. There, it's pretty much a couple of white lines between Kent and sheet metal in motion.

"I get a little nervous coming off those bridges,'' he said.

Coasting down the MacKay, riders can hit 35 mph coasting. Not to mention he's an arm's length away from traffic coming toward him at 50 mph -- at least, that's the speed limit. Some folks take that as a recommendation. And he meets people engrossed in cell phone conversations and looking in their rearview mirrors to put on makeup or comb their hair. A few are reading as they rocket past.

The tallest bridges also provide good views of the rivers and marshes. The paint and tire marks on the bridge rails indicate some were enjoying that view more than the road.

On a full week, he rides about 80 miles and figures that saves him more than $14 in gas for his '99 Honda Accord. That's not to mention the money he's saving on tires, brakes, oil changes and other stuff cars need.

"That's an acceptable amount once you add in the benefits of exercise," he said.

But you have to subtract that $300 headlight on his bike that one of his friends swears he can see coming from the far end of the 4- mile-long causeway.

Admittedly, it can be a tough commute, but Kent says this:

"The only thing harder than staying in shape is getting back in shape.''

Kent formerly got plenty of exercise afoot, but he overdid it. One summer, his wife, Kathleen, went off to be a camp nurse and, left to his own devices, Kent upped his weekly running mileage from 30 miles to 50 miles.

After awhile, a knee started to hurt so he climbed on the bike for exercise without the impact. When it still hurt, he had his knees checked out and learned he had some cartilage missing, leaving bone crashing against bone with every step.

"I could continue to run with my jackhammer knees or I could get on the bike,'' he said.

He chose the bike but some days he still has to drive. Lightning puts him back in the car as do meetings, when he doesn't have time to shower and change before work.

Even the most optimistic say gasoline will top $4 and stay there for at least a year. For most, that's more money out of pocket. For Kent, it's more in the pocket.

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