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Classes offered to keep new Nebraska cyclists safe on the streets
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Classes offered to keep new Nebraska cyclists safe on the streets

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The coronavirus and its closures had a cycling effect on Nebraskans.

Bike shops reported their busiest years ever, with record sales and demands for service. Big box stores couldn’t keep up. And, at least early on, trail traffic counts spiked in Lincoln and Omaha.

In April, some stretches of trail in Lincoln drew nearly 60% more users than they had a year before, though traffic returned to pre-pandemic averages in June, according to the city.

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Omaha’s trail system recorded increases of up to 100% in April, said Julie Harris, executive director of Bike Walk Nebraska.

She was also noticing more cyclists in her neighborhood, and that got her thinking.

“We started seeing so many people out on the streets we knew were probably not as familiar with riding in traffic as those who have been out there,” she said.

The statewide advocacy group went into what she called rapid response mode to keep the new cyclists safe — and to keep them cycling. It decided to use the money it raised in May, from the annual Omaha Gives campaign, to pay for a series of bicycle safety classes.

“We wanted to find a way to support these folks who have recently fallen in love with their bikes all over again, and hopefully keep the momentum going so they continue to ride as things settle back down.”

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The hour-long online Smart Cycling classes begin July 21 and are free, though Harris is encouraging donations. They’ll be taught by paid local instructors certified by the League of American Bicyclists, and will cover a range of topics — getting your bike ready to ride, the rules of the road, riding in traffic and planning routes.

The Zoom-based lessons will be aimed at beginning and returning riders, though experienced cyclists would benefit from the refresher, she said.

Bike Walk Nebraska is limiting each class to 10 students to allow adequate time for discussions. It has a half-dozen classes planned but will add more — or expand the topics — if necessary, she said.

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The organization’s primary goal is to keep cyclists safe. But Harris also wants to sustain some of the initial increased interest in traveling on two wheels.

“What we're hoping is that people who might just ride recreationally will think about using their bikes for shorter trips, maybe to the store, or library or coffee shop.”

For more information, or to register, go to: bikewalknebraska.org.

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Photos: Lincoln during the pandemic

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter

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