It takes an hour and a half for Keith Guilford to get to work, but not because of traffic. Twice a week, he rides his bike from Edwardsville to his job in Clayton, Missouri.
Guilford could cover the 30-mile route quicker if he wasn’t wearing a 25-pound backpack with a laptop, wrinkle-free dress shirt, slacks, shoes and a tie. He changes after taking a shower in a fitness center at his office building.
“If there’s a chance of rain, I’ll wrap my clothes and my laptop in plastic,” said Guilford, 40, manager of data analysis for a medical managed-care organization.
He’s only been late once in three years, and that was when a train stopped in Madison, forcing him to detour several miles.
Bike commuting from the metro-east to St. Louis has become more common in recent years, thanks to an increase in Illinois bike trails and St. Louis bike routes and the designation of pedestrian and bike lanes on the McKinley and Eads bridges.
MetroLink trains allow people to board with bikes in tow, and many buses are fitted with bike racks.
“We’re big on two-wheelers because doubling up your bike with Metro Transit is eco-friendly, saves money and offers a fun way to exercise,” according to the agency’s website.
Guilford considers his bike commute part of his race training. He and his wife, Brianne, who works at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, are competitive cyclists.
Guilford’s route goes mainly through trees and farmland in Illinois before he crosses the McKinley Bridge to downtown St. Louis. It’s not unusual to see deer, coyotes, opossums, racoons and turkeys.
“I almost hit a skunk one time,” he said. “He was on the trail. I thought he was going to spray me.”
Madison County trails make it easy
Bike commuting is most convenient for residents of Madison County Transit district, which maintains 130 miles of urban and rural bike trails, compared to 25 miles in St. Clair County.
“It’s hard to find any place in the country that has a network of trails like we have in Madison County,” said Matt Dawson, 35, of Glen Carbon. “They’re separate from roads, using the old rail beds.”
Dawson is service manager at The Cyclery bike shop in Edwardsville. He doesn’t commute to St. Louis, but he pedals his way to the city three or four times a year.
Dawson follows the same route as Guilford, starting on the Nature Trail in Edwardsville, continuing on the Schoolhouse Trail to Madison and cutting through a residential area before crossing the McKinley Bridge. It’s about 22 miles to the Gateway Arch.
It’s hard to find anyplace in the country that has a network of trails like we have in Madison County.
Matt Dawson on Madison County bike trails
Earlier this year, Dawson and a friend rode bikes to St. Louis for a Cardinals baseball game.
“We took backpacks with our city clothes,” he said. “There’s a cycling commuter station at the Urban Shark bike shop. They have indoor secure racks and a locker room where you can take a shower and lockers where you can lock up your stuff.”
At any one time, 20 to 30 members pay $10 a week or $30 a month for 24-hour access to indoor bike parking, lockers and showers. Non-members can park for $5 a day.
Most people who use the Locust Street station work in downtown St. Louis, said Urban Shark manager John Fratinardo, 25, who bikes eight miles from Richmond Heights, Missouri.
“If you own a couple-thousand-dollar bike, you don’t want to be locking it up outside,” he said. “So to have a place with secure designated bike parking ... It gives you peace of mind while you’re doing things around the city.”
Commuting from St. Clair County
Another Downtown Bicycle Station regular is Steve Schmidt, rides manager for Trailnet, a non-profit organization that plans group rides in Missouri and Illinois and advocates for bike-friendly infrastructure and services.
He bikes from his home in O’Fallon, Illinois, to his office on 10th Street in St. Louis at least two days a week. It’s about 18 miles each way.
“I do it because I can,” said Schmidt, 58, who also is founder and secretary of the Metro East Cycling club. “It makes you feel so good when you get to work. You’re just energized.”
Schmidt shares low-traffic roads with vehicles, starting with the O’Fallon frontage road that parallels Interstate 64 to the north. He crosses Illinois 159, passes Olive Garden and St. Clair 10 Cinema in Fairview Heights and turns left on Ruby Lane.
Schmidt then heads west on Lincoln Trail, which runs into St. Clair Avenue, to East St. Louis and crosses the Mississippi on the Eads Bridge.
“I’ve never ridden on (the bridge’s pedestrian and bike lane), but I know some people do,” he said. “You can barely get a walker and a biker on it. It’s that narrow. It’s just a lot better to bike on the road. It’s wonderful. There’s light traffic.”
Schmidt finishes his trek on Washington Avenue, which has a Bike St. Louis “sharrow,” a lane shared by bikes and vehicles, marked with double arrows and bike symbols.
It makes you feel so good when you get to work. You’re just energized.
Steve Schmidt on biking to work in St. Louis
Cyclists report that the Eads Bridge doesn’t have as much of a broken-glass problem as McKinley Bridge bike lanes.
“Unfortunately, people throw beer bottles or liquor bottles out their windows onto the lanes,” said Keith Dudding, 59, of Edwardsville. “It’s very irresponsible. If they would stop doing that, it would make a lot of people very happy.”
Healthy, cheap and eco-friendly
Like Guilford and Schmidt, Dudding takes advantage of Bike St. Louis lanes and sharrows.
“I’ve been able to ride very safely in the city, but I don’t like urban bike riding as well as being on a dedicated bike trail or a country road,” he said. “You have to pay very close attention. You can’t assume that drivers see you, and you have to follow all the rules of the road, just like a car.”
Dudding opts to drive to his other job as a system administrator for Edward Jones in St. Louis.
On Saturday mornings, it takes him about an hour and 40 minutes to cover his 23-mile bike commute. He’s OK with cold weather, but he doesn’t ride in rain or snow.
You can’t assume that drivers see you, and you have to follow all the rules of the road, just like a car.
Keith Dudding on bike riding in the city
“It’s something I always look forward to,” Dudding said. “It’s beautiful, especially the part on the MCT trails. It’s tree-lined. There’s farmland. I see wildlife. It’s just the highlight of my week.
“It’s better for me,” he added. “There’s a cost savings, and I’m not burning fuel, so it’s better for the environment.”
A couple of Trailnet rides involve interstate biking. On Sept. 30, the organization will sponsor the annual Ride the Rivers Century, which covers a 100-mile loop in the St. Louis region.
Cyclists start in St. Charles, Missouri, cross the Mississippi and Illinois rivers by ferry, go from Grafton to Madison, cross back over the Mississippi on the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, ride through St. Louis and cross the Missouri River on the Page Bridge.
“It’s our biggest fundraiser,” said Taylor March, Trailnet’s education and encouragement manager.