Full circle

Whatever the weather, Mike Faught bikes from his Phoenix home to his job in Ashland and back again after a day's work.

In the process, the city of Ashland's public works director has discovered what cyclists go through when they bike in and around town. He's also lost 76 pounds from his 6-foot-1-inch frame.

Before he became a public works director, Faught was in good shape. He would run four miles during his lunch break, worked out at a gym and even finished a small triathlon. But long hours in an upper level management position took their toll, and eventually he was doing little more than incidental walking.

"I didn't have time to work out, or at least I didn't think I had time," said Faught, whose weight reached 306 pounds.

In December 2009, he started biking the eight miles to his Ashland job three days a week. He's moved a bit farther away since then and now bikes 11 miles to work four days a week.

"Number one, I needed to get exercise. And number two, I was always talking to the community about using alternative modes of transportation. I needed to do it myself," he said.

The city is in the midst of updating its Transportation System Plan to try and make Ashland accessible to bicyclists, pedestrians and bus users, as well as drivers.

Faught said riding his bike almost every day has opened his eyes to the shortcomings of various roads.

"We have a lot of work to do in terms of creating a good bike system for people who aren't seasoned bikers," he said.

Faught said he wouldn't ride into town on North Main Street, which is also known as Highway 99, when he first started biking to work.

The intimidating stretch of road has fast-moving cars and its shoulders narrow dangerously as it swoops below an underpass.

Faught said he used to ride to work using the Bear Creek Greenway, a bicyclist- and pedestrian-only path stretching between Rogue Valley cities.

Then he took a bike safety class from local instructors Bill Heimann and John Colwell. That has given him the confidence to tackle more challenging roads.

Heimann, an instructor with the League of American Bicyclists, said cyclists in the class learn that they have the same rights and responsibilities on the road as drivers.

"Would you drive the wrong way down a one-way street? No," Heimann said.

The class has proven so effective that the Ashland Municipal Court allows law-breaking bicyclists to take the $70 class instead of paying a hefty ticket. They learn the rules of the road, and also how to execute safety maneuvers such as quick turns and stops. The class will be offered again in the spring through the Ashland Parks & Recreation Department.

Heimann said Faught has shown a lot of dedication to get up every morning, get dressed in his cycling gear and bike to work. "It's amazing. It's just amazing," Heimann said of Faught's progress over the past year.

In addition to biking to work, Faught has joined Heimann and other long-distance cyclists on journeys over the 4,310-foot elevation Siskiyou Pass, beyond the Greensprings and even to Portland via Dead Indian Memorial Road, Highway 97, Bend, Sisters and the 4,817-foot Santiam Pass.

He estimated he's logged close to 5,000 miles on his bike.

Faught, who is now down to 230 pounds, said his goal is to weigh 200 pounds. "I'm still 30 pounds heavier than the guys I'm riding with," he said with a laugh, noting that the weight seems like even more on mountain passes.

In addition to losing weight, Faught said he saves about $50 on gas each week because he's not driving his truck, which gets 14 miles per gallon in town.

He encouraged other people to visit a local bike shop and get properly fitted to their bikes. Biking tights and water-resistant jackets make it easier to ride in the rain. Dressing in layers helps, as does pedaling through a full circle, not just down.

"Just get out and try it. It's a lot of fun. You can get into a routine, just like you got into a routine driving a car," Faught said.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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