Myriam Verzat, coordinator of Bike to Work and Commuter Challenge weeks in Nanaimo, is encouraging people to bike, walk and take transit to work between May 28 and June 9. (KARL YU/News Bulletin)

ACTIVE LIFE: Cycling to work a breath of fresh air

City of Nanaimo promotes Bike to Work Week (May 28-June 3) and Commuter Challenge (June 3-9)

When Myriam Verzat talks about the virtues of riding a bike, she does so with a wealth of wisdom and experience.

Verzat, coordinator of Nanaimo’s Bike to Work and Walk to School Week (May 28-June 3) and Commuter Challenge (June 3-9), has been riding a bike since she was growing up in France.

“When I was 15 years old that was my way of going around,” says Verzat. “I was living in a small village and I needed my bike. My bike was my freedom. That’s how I could go somewhere.”

There wasn’t a lot of public transportation and Verzat would go to school, visit friends and go out during the evenings with her bike. In the present, she cycles around Nanaimo, where she resides with her husband and child.

“I don’t have a car … we use the baby carrier,” Verzat says. “I use my bike everywhere. I go grocery shopping, I go for my job everywhere I need to go. Bring my child to daycare and take him back. Even going for hikes in the forest, we go together with our bikes. My bike is electric, so I can go pretty far with it and pretty fast.”

The benefits are numerous for those who cycle. It is easy to learn and good for increasing aerobic fitness, strength and stamina. It is low-impact, utilizes all the major muscle groups and people can use shortcuts not accessible by car.

“Cycling is super good for health,” Verzat says. “I don’t need to be exercising. I’m exercising on my bike already. For me that’s a plus because I don’t have a lot of time to go exercising. My way of transportation is an exercise … I actually breathe less pollution than if I’m in a car.”

Deborah Beck, City of Nanaimo recreation coordinator, said cycling is a great way to start a day.

“You come in to work invigorated – you’ve already managed to squeeze in a cardio work out for the morning, you know you’ve done something good for the planet and you can’t not think about the coin you saved by not taking the car,” said Beck in an e-mail.

As is the case every year for Bike to Work and Walk to School Week, there will be 11 celebration stations set up around the city for participants to stop for refreshments and see cycling information. A wrap-up party is June 1 at the Bowen Park picnic shelter between 4 and 6 p.m with participation prizes. A musical bike ride will head to Maffeo Sutton Park for an after party, between 6 and 10 p.m., with an outdoor dance party.

The Commuter Challenge will take place the following week.

“It’s the first year that we really have celebration stations for that too and the intention is just to keep being active when transporting yourself anywhere. You could keep on cycling, which is great, and it could also be trying alternative modes of transportation. Can you take a bus, can you carpool with your colleagues?” Verzat said.

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