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.

; "Recognize your own skill level when you're out there." Becoming comfortable on the road is an incremental process.

; Lastly, "plan your route. Maybe it's better to take a longer route, but take roads with a wider shoulder."

Five "Energizer Stations" will offer snacks and giveaways from 6 to 9 a.m. at:

; CamelBak's offices at South McDowell Boulevard and Fisher Drive.

; Casa Grande High School at Ely Boulevard and Casa Grande Road.

; Downtown at the corner of East Washington Street and Petaluma Boulevard North.

; Walnut Park at Petaluma Boulevard South and D Street.

; The Redwood Business Park on Old Redwood Highway near Abblebee's.

A "Bike Home Celebration" with food and entertainment will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. at Petaluma Valley Athletic Club.

Participants in the "Team Bike Challenge" can sign up now at www.youcanbikethere.com/tbc

For more information, visit www.bikesonoma.org

— Argus-Courier staff