Army veteran Neal Shnell has suffered from lung disease for more than a decade. He moved from Reno to Roseburg for the lower elevation, but his doctor told him he needed exercise to really improve his health.
Candy-red bicycles parked on the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus will give him a chance to do that. Shnell is one of 50 veterans chosen to share 16 bikes through the B-cycle program.
Shnell, 60, said he hopes eventually to be able to ride the bike path through Stewart Park. For now, he said he is happy to pedal the sturdy B-cycle bike around the VA campus.
“It’s good for me. I have breathing problems, so I’m not as mobile,” he said. “For me, it’s going to be a little slower process working into it.”
The bike-sharing program was launched Tuesday afternoon with a short ceremony at the VA. The Wisconsin-based B-cycle company operates the program in 25 communities nationwide. VA Director Carol Bogedain said Roseburg is the first VA hospital to start a B-cycle program.
“We are leading the way across the country in promoting this,” Bogedain said. “Roseburg may be a little town, but we do a lot of good things.”
B-cycle’s director of operations, Brian Conger of Madison, Wis., said the bicycles address problems ranging from obesity to climate change to traffic congestion. Since B-cycle began in 2008, 900,000 trips have been taken on their bicycles and 55 million calories burned, Conger said. Bike riding also saves money on gasoline, he said.
“We believe in the power of the bicycle,” Conger said.
The Roseburg VA’s chief of prosthetics, James Manser, spearheaded the effort to bring the B-cycle program to town.
“Prosthetics are devices to help veterans move safely through space. A bicycle is such an example of that,” Manser said.
Conger said the B-cycle bikes are manufactured by Trek Bicycle Corporation to be sturdier and easier to use than the average bicycle.
“They’re built in a way that’s supposed to be maintenance-free,” he said.
The bike has just three speeds. Its wires and chains are covered by the step-through metal frame. The design is not just easier for a rider in a skirt, but also for some veterans with disabilities, Conger said.
Participants receive a card to swipe over a sensor to check out a bike. B-cycles are equipped with an internal GPS device to measure distance traveled, calculate calories burned and estimate carbon emissions avoided.
Manser said veterans can continue to enroll in the program. Those already selected joined a health program at the YMCA of Douglas County. The course covers nutrition, exercise and bicycle safety.
Navy veteran Roger Boucock said he has already dropped 30 pounds on the program.
“I haven’t had a potato chip in six months. I haven’t eaten fast-food in six months. My wife and I, we share salads now,” Boucock said.
Although the 67-year-old Roseburg resident has his own bicycle at home, he said the B-cycle will be handy for short trips.
“It’s a great cruiser for cruising the bike trails,” Boucock said.
Air Force veteran Pete Samperi, 58, of Roseburg volunteers as a veterans advocate in the VA’s mental health program and said he believes bike riding is helpful for both body and mind.
“It does clear your mind. It gives you a chance to think about what’s going on. It gives you a chance to relax,” Samperi said.
Army veteran Tom Davis, 68, of Roseburg said he will use the B-cycle to get more exercise.
“You ride the bike around for a half hour. It’s just another way to stay healthy,” Davis said.
Boucock hopes the B-cycle idea will spread to other organizations in town, providing a valuable service for many.
“In a couple years I see community members taking part in this cycling thing,” he said. “Let’s say you’re low-income and you can’t afford a bike that’s being maintained. ... It’s a good deal.”
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.