LIHUE — Nearly 50 bicyclists with brightly colored helmets and even brighter smiles cruised around neighborhoods along Rice Street.
The inaugural monthly gathering of “Bikes on Rice” rolled out from the Lihue Civic Center around 5 p.m. Tuesday, past War Memorial Convention hall, around Wilcox hospital, past storefronts and back to the start for a social meeting with food and music.
Drivers waved with encouragement, honked horns, and let bicyclists safely mingle with vehicles.
“It’s relaxing exercise and it’s a nice way to see the town,” said Melina Rajaei, who moved here from Hilo about a month ago. “For the community, it promotes a healthier lifestyle.”
Lanis Wilson, public health nurse for the Department of Health, said there are many benefits to biking.
“The event was awesome, we made five new friends today,” she said. “We had a really great crowd. Get your bike and come out and join us.”
The event attracted bikers of all ages and dispositions. Some of Kauai’s elected leaders, including Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and councilman Derek Kawakami, stopped by to show their support.
“We’re trying to get more people to ride on the island. The more people that ride, the safer it gets,” said 71-year-old Wall Street retiree Richard McKeever of Princeville. “Encouraging people to get on their bikes is a fantastic thing.”
He loves running but has bad knees, so bicycling has become his low-impact substitute.
“It builds up tendons around your knees and other muscles also that you don’t normally use,” McKeever said. “It builds up my hamstrings. I’ve got Popeye muscles back here.”
Briggs Knott, owner of a Lihue bike shop, conducted bike inspections and offered helmets to make sure everyone was safe.
“It helps get people out there that aren’t familiar or comfortable riding bikes,” he said.
Not everyone thought Bikes on Rice was a great idea.
In a letter to TGI on Tuesday, Wailua resident Larry Arruda wrote, “Bicycles do not belong on the street for the same reason that pedestrians do not belong on the street.”
He wrote that mixing bikes and cars was “highly irresponsible and risky.”
“Perhaps our police department should consider taking the responsibility of putting a stop to it before someone gets seriously hurt,” Arruda wrote.
Lihue resident Juno Ann Apalla was invited by friends to ride.
“I enjoyed the scenery, getting to know our neighborhoods in a very intimate way,” the 30-year-old said. “We got to be exposed to the roads while not in a car. Also, riding with friends was the best part.”
“We need to be out there getting our bodies moving to keep us healthy living longer,” she added. “It’s also healthy for us to know there are alternative ways to travel on the island, which is also very important.”
Apalla and other bicyclists are already excited about the next events scheduled for the second Tuesday of every month.
“It’s nice to see everybody here. The cars were courteous, everybody stayed together,” said event coordinator, Jim Benkert. “Everybody had a good time and the weather cooperated.”