First in flight, Dayton seeks to be better for bikes

The birthplace of flight increasingly is becoming known as a good place to ride thanks to a new cycling tour, mountain bike park and bike lane additions.

The Dayton region is home to the nation's largest network of paved, off-street bike trails, and biking opportunities have grown significantly because of the Link bike-share program, Mike's indoor bike park and public infrastructure investments.

But bicycling fanatics have more to be excited about because the Rotary Club of Dayton in September will host the inaugural Tour de Gem – The Dayton Cycling Classic. The event one day could bring thousands of cyclists to the city and generate hundreds of thousands for charities.

Also, the city of Dayton is working to transform the underused Welcome Park near UD Arena into a mountain bike park that officials say will be unlike anything in the immediate area, drawing more cyclists to the region and helping local businesses.

“Bicycling has a deep history in the Dayton region and continues to be a quality of life amenity, economic driver and contributor in creating a healthy, active community,” said Randy Ryberg, outdoor recreation coordinator for Five Rivers MetroParks.

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Dayton wasn’t always so bike friendly, and cycling advocates say there’s still room for improvement.

In the 2000s, bike enthusiasts and newspaper op-ed columnists bemoaned the lack of bike lanes, bike racks and how motorists treated cyclists.

But the city first started adding bike lanes in 2010, and now there are about 10.2 miles of lanes, said Joseph Weinel, city of Dayton senior engineer II.

The city has added seven miles of lanes in the last three years, and the city also boasts 39.4 miles of separated bike paths and 6.2 miles of shared lane markings, he said.

Dayton’s infrastructure projects this year included installing bike lanes along Wayne Avenue, East Fourth Street, Jefferson Street, Monument Avenue and other roadways. Other projects will connect the Mad River Bike Trail North to Valley Street and construct a bike ramp from West Riverview Avenue at Forest Avenue to the Great Miami River Trail.

These days, people on green bikes can be seen all across the greater downtown area. The bikes are temporary rentals through Link, Dayton’s bike-share program, which launched in May 2015.

Link, which has had 96,700 trips and 12,730 unique users, has added new stations and expanded services.

Biking got another boost in the summer 2017 with the opening of Mike’s Bike Park, an indoor facility located a 1300 E. First St.

And Dayton is on track to get an outdoor mountain bike park.

Dayton City Commission recently approved spending about $70,000 to buy 21,000 cubic yards of dirt from the University of Dayton to help construct the Welcome Park bike park.

The city, which sold a decommissioned portion of the park to Bonbright Distributors, will use the proceeds from that sale and other funds donated by the company to pay to design and build the park.

The bike park is expected to offer tracks, jumps, loops, a perimeter trail and other skills-training options. City staff said they hope park construction begins this year.

Later this year, on Sept. 2, the Rotary Club of Dayton will host the Tour de Gem, which offers non-competitive rides of distances that range from 10 miles to 103 miles.

The event is a fundraiser that has an inaugural goal of attracting 500 riders and raising $250,000 for local charities.

By 2021, organizers hope the event attracts 5,000 riders and raises more than $1 million.

Tour de Gem was inspired by and modeled after El Tour de Tucson, in Arizona, which is a 100-mile ride that attracts about 9,000 cyclists. The organization said the event raised about $13 million for charities in 2016.

Already, 43 local nonprofit groups have signed up to participate in the event and are building teams of riders.

Routes include a half metric century (30 miles), half century (48 miles), metric century (65 miles) and century ride (103 miles).

Routes begin in and pass through different local communities, such as Xenia, Dayton, Miamisburg and Germantown.

“Routes will take riders through many local communities spotlighting a wide variety of local area ‘Gems,’” the organization said.

The region, and Dayton especially, has a wealth of cycling-focused events, and exploration on a bicycle is the best way to get to know a city, said Laura Estandia, the executive director of Bike Miami Valley.

The new bike park additions are a popular way to get kids interested in cycling and keep them engaged in their teens, and giving people the opportunity for a positive experience on a bike can be start of a life-long hobby, sport or way of life, she said.

Biking is great recreation, she said, but for many people, it is the way they get around, which makes it important to add new connections and expand the infrastructure.

“Many people are still uncomfortable riding next to cars on the road, especially with an increase in distracted driving,” Estandia said. “Dayton in particular has been making slow, but steady progress connecting those neighborhoods and community schools to have safe routes to get on the trails.”

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