By CHRIS MERTENS | Special to Moonshine Ink

It was a warm, cloudless July afternoon and I was sitting in my parents’ gridlocked car on Highway 89 North on our way into Tahoe City for dinner. At 10 years old, my patience for being stuck in a car in traffic on such a beautiful day had run out. I stared jealously at people walking and riding unimpeded on the bike path toward our shared destination.

Then I had an idea.

With surprisingly little objection from my parents, my cousin and I quickly jumped out of the car, unloaded our bikes from the rack, and, grinning widely, pedaled on the bike path toward Tahoe City convinced we were the smartest people in the world.

Thanks to the hard work of public agencies, nonprofits, individuals, and advocates like the Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition, the ability to ditch your car and grab a bike has become easier in the Tahoe/Truckee area. New bike paths, improved safety measures, enhanced route-finding, and better bike racks are just a few of the reasons why there has never been a better time to pedal your way around this beautiful region.

Tons of new trails and bike racks this summer

Excellent new bike path offerings seem to emerge every year.

Going to Sand Harbor for a matinee performance of this year’s Shakespeare Festival? Starting in late June, hop on the stunning brand-new 3-mile Incline Village to Sand Harbor bike path (easily one of the most spectacular bike paths on the planet).

Want to check out the latest addition to the trail that will eventually connect Tahoe City to Kings Beach? Take a ride on the recently opened 2.2-mile Dollar Creek Trail which weaves through the forest connecting the Cedar Flats neighborhood to the Tahoe City trail network.

Yet another brand-new path now connects Sugar Pine State Park (and Tahoe City) to Meeks Bay for anyone wanting to take a dip in the serene waters of Meeks Bay.

LOCKED UP: Inverted U bike racks donated by Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition were installed at Baldwin Beach. Courtesy photo

All of these new paths are paved and fully separated from the roadway, making them great for families and riders of all abilities.

Plus, with funding from the Tahoe Fund and the Nevada Division of Tourism, the Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition last summer installed 215 modern secure bike racks at public beaches, state parks, and trailheads throughout the Tahoe Basin. You can rest assured that your bike will be safe while you enjoy a Wet Woody on the pier at Gar Woods or take a hike up Eagle Rock on the West Shore. Keep an eye out for even more new bike racks later this summer as the Bike Coalition and Tahoe Fund implement the second phase of the program at local businesses.

How can I find the safest route?

Even though experienced cyclists are often comfortable riding on the shoulder of Tahoe’s roadways and highways, many cyclists prefer to ride in bike lanes or on bike paths to reach their destination at a more leisurely pace.

Thanks to support from local public agencies and nonprofits, the Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition offers a comprehensive (and free!) bike map of the entire Tahoe/Truckee region. Pick up a paper copy at most bike shops and visitor centers throughout the area or access the intuitive and mobile-friendly online version at map.tahoebike.org.

The online and paper versions of the map clearly identify where bike paths, lanes, and routes exist to help cyclists find the best route for their trip. The online map has a handy trip-planning tool where you can enter your starting point and destination and choose whether you want the most direct route or if you prefer bike paths and bike routes instead.

Want more safety tips? Visit the bike coalition’s website at tahoebike.org/bike-safety to check out safety tips and videos to make your cycling experience as safe as possible. Here are a few: always ride single-file (even on bike paths), perform regular safety checks of your bike (check brakes, tighten bolts, etc.), and be visible by wearing lights (even during the day) and bright clothing.

It’s good for the environment, it’s good for you

My friends and I find the biggest motivating factors for us to bike in the Basin are the environmental benefits of eliminating vehicle trips and getting exercise. Congestion, emissions, and fine sediment originating on local roads are significant contributors to air and water pollution affecting the sensitive ecosystems we love and enjoy.

Reducing vehicle trips is one of the best ways to reduce these impacts and avoid sitting in traffic on your way to work or the beach. From a health perspective, studies show that regular cycling can reduce cardiovascular disease, cancer, and hypertension (not to mention justifying that extra helping of fries with lunch).

One trip a week

Now that I know where to ride, why I should ride, and how to ride safely, how can I incorporate cycling into my life?

We’re creatures of habit so I believe incorporating new activities requires small adjustments to our routine. I’m a big fan of starting small. So, this summer, I’m going to try to eliminate one vehicle trip per week by riding, walking, or taking the bus instead of driving. It’s a small adjustment, but one that can scale up and make a difference. Will you join me?

~ Chris Mertens is board secretary for the Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition.