Pedaling to art

Katie Kelley

Dawn Groth is a bicycle advocate. She's also an art lover. When the idea came to her to combine these two loves, she found she wasn't alone.

Groth is a member the Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage board, and in 2009, she spearheaded the concept of Bike First Fridays. For each of the First Friday art walks -- the monthly event in which participating galleries around town host receptions and introduce new exhibits -- bicyclists meet near the Loussac Library and pedal to the galleries of their choosing.

"It makes First Fridays more like a game for bicycle commuters," said Groth.

The year-round event takes place regardless of weather. For Groth, when the snow begins to fall, it is in no way the end of Bike First Friday. "The winter ones are just as fun because we're all lit up," she said. "Everyone has blinking lights on."

Bike First Friday is intended to be more than just a good time for cyclers. For Groth, who also teaches bicycle safety to children, it improves the Anchorage bicycling community, promoting visibility and safety for bicyclists among other commuters.

"Ninety percent of our trips are within two to five miles (of) our destination," said Groth. "Anchorage is becoming a lot more bicycle friendly."

She said that's thanks in part to the Anchorage Police Department and other agencies promoting safety and awareness among commuters. Also, more cyclists are on the roads, and increased visibility means an increase in safety.

The cyclists usually visit three to four galleries together, and, as Groth joked, they usually hit up at least one gallery with food -- the event falls during the peak of dinner hours, and cyclists get hungry. After the event, the cyclists are invited to grab a cold beverage and some more grub.

"What we'll do is show up in a huge mob and people sprout off in different directions," said Groth. "Usually then we meet at Cafe Amsterdam."

Groth said that the cyclists who participate are encouraged to practice safe riding, whether they stay with the group or splinter off. "We have to be polite to one another and have fun," she said.

"Bike First Friday is a good way to highlight how you can take trips by bike by going from one gallery to another," said Brian Litmans, president of Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage. "It helps support the BCA's mission of education, advocacy and encouragement."

According to the 2008 U.S. Census Bureau, Anchorage bicycle commuters consist of approximately 1 percent of the commuting population.

The group hosts other events to promote its mission, including Bike to Work Day, Summer Bicycle Challenge and the upcoming East Meets West ride that leaves from the new Summit Spice and Tea location in Midtown. There are also plans to integrate a scavenger hunt into the Bike First Friday ride next year.

Marcia Howell, 44, works at Alaska Injury Prevention Center and has lived in Alaska for 20 years. She commutes about half the year and loves the First Friday bike events.

"It's a blast meeting like-minded people who like to ride bikes to get around town," she said. "It's great exercise."

She joked, "It makes us healthier, happier and smile a lot."

Bike First Friday

When: 5:45 p.m. today

Where: Cuddy Family Midtown Park, behind Loussac Library

Tickets: Free


By Katie Kelley
Daily News correspondent