High gas prices in metro Augusta leads to more cyclists

 

Becky Lambert heads to work every day on two wheels instead of four.

An avid cyclist, Lambert views the alternate mode of transportation not only as more environmentally friendly and health conscious than driving her car but also as a way to save money that would be spent at the gas pump.

Lambert and her husband, Nevin, drive from their Evans home each morning to the Savannah Rapids Pavilion where they cycle nearly seven miles down the Augusta Canal towpath and another mile through Harrisburg. The Lamberts both work at Georgia Regents University. Becky is a clinical research associate for the university’s Cancer Center, and Nevin is a professor of pharmacology on the Health Sciences campus.

“That’s money in our pockets,” she said. “It’s a huge money-saver and that’s part of the reason we do it.”

With gas prices in metro Augusta creeping just below $3.70 per gallon last week, it’s easy for Becky Lambert to see the short-term monetary value of riding her bike around town rather than driving. The daily exercise she gets from cycling, too, is a long-term cost-saving measure, she said.

“We get a half an hour workout in guaranteed twice a day just coming to work,” Lambert said. “That keeps us healthier so our healthcare costs are less. We don’t get sick that much so you have to just think about healthy living and how much money you can save.”

Gas prices have hit their highest point since March 2013 and have increased 13 percent, or an average of 42 cents per gallon, since early February, according to AAA’s gas report for April.

Georgia’s fuel prices reflect the national average, which reached $3.70 per gallon last week. South Carolina’s prices were about 20 cent less at $3.50 per gallon.

During the month of April, the national average has increased by about 14 cents per gallon, representing the largest increase for the month since April, the report said.

The report attributes high fuel prices to low refinery supplies across portions of the country, the regulated changeover to a summer-blend of gasoline and rising motorist demand in the springtime. In addition, the ongoing conflict between Russia and the Ukraine has resulted in elevated crude oil prices.

“Drivers can’t seem to catch a break with gas prices rising nearly every day since February,” said Avery Ash, a spokesman for AAA. “Spring is generally the worst time of year to fill up the car, and high gas prices are hard on people hoping to take advantage of the warmer weather.”

Prices, however, are expected to peak soon and start declining in May as refinery production is expected to increase before summer.

If there’s one kind of business that benefits during periods of high gas prices, it’s the local bike shop.

Brett Ardrey, who’s owned Outspokin’ Bicycles on Walton Way for 35 years, said once gas spiked to $4 a gallon a few years ago, a new wave of customers started coming into his shop – and they haven’t stopped.

“They’ve continued biking now that they’ve found out that was an economical way of getting to work as well as being healthy and just as quick,” Ardrey said. “It’s increased our sales of vendors and rear racks that you put on bikes to keep mud off.”

Nestled in the Hill on Walton Way, Ardrey said a lot of his new customer base is comprised of doctors who’ve started commuting to the nearby hospitals by bike. Some area employers, like Kimberly-Clark in Beech Island, have even implemented facilities for bike commuters to wash off before work, he added.

“We were getting beat up with people having bike accidents by cars, which kind of dwindled us a little bit,” Ardrey said. “But now, with the gas (prices) and the roads becoming more safe and people more aware, we’ve seen it growing back up again.”

At Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse, on 13th Street, manager Drew Jordan said that in recent weeks there’s been an increase in people inquiring about a new purchase as well as getting their bikes serviced.

“When it starts getting to the point where it is now, and when you start getting into that $4 range, you definitely see an uptick, for sure,” he said. “With an average cost of a bike starting at $300, that can pay off quick if you use it, say five days a week riding to work.”

For Phil Cohen, who owns Chain Reaction in Evans, he’s noticed more of his customers opting to vacation closer to home instead of reaching deep into their pockets to fill up the tank for a long-distance trip.

“They’re taking their bikes as part of their vacation,” he said. “Our service business is very, very high right now. The vacations are the result of, ‘We’re going to the lake instead of driving to Disney World because we can’t afford $500 worth of gas.’”

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