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Commuters will pedal to work on Thursday

Organizers are expecting hundreds of Petaluma commuters to hop on their two-wheeler and pedal to work on Thursday during the 17th annual Bike to Work Day in Sonoma County.

The annual event is being organized by the nonprofit Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

"Bike to Work Day is a super-effective way to get people to try bike commuting and keep committing to it," said Sandra Lupien, outreach director for the coalition.

Organizers are putting together a number of events to help riders face the challenge of hitting the streets together. A "team bike challenge" as well as "energizer stations" and a "bike home celebration" are planned in Petaluma.

Much of the emphasis is on biking with others, since "it's kind of intimidating when you do it on your own," said Gary Helfrich, Bicycle Coalition's newly-named director.

"Part of it is just recognizing that you can get around moderate distances without a car," said Helfrich. Owning a car is often seen as a requirement to getting to work, especially in Sonoma County, he said. But there are more options for transportation than many people think.

"That is really our goal. It should be a choice whether or not you drive to work," Helfrich said.

Bike to Work Day organizers are focusing on "education and outreach" to help people learn to become comfortable on streets. Even if a city lacks good bike lanes or other bike amenities, knowing how to navigate streets can make even the most apprehensive rider comfortable, they say.

Helfrich offered a few key pieces of advice to ensure a safer and less stressful ride:

; "Operate your bike as if you're operating a car." Don't ride on the wrong side of the road or on sidewalks, and obey all traffic signals.

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