Jo Repanich set out on an urban odyssey, guarded by her helmet and the pothole-fighting springs of her bicycle seat. Her mission: Ride from...

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Jo Repanich set out on an urban odyssey, guarded by her helmet and the pothole-fighting springs of her bicycle seat.

Her mission: Ride from downtown to her apartment near Lincoln Park in West Seattle, taking the easiest route possible.

“To me, it’s not so important how fast you get there, but the sort of environment you’re in,” she said.

Repanich is among 8,500 people in Washington state who have pledged to try bike commuting in May, which is National Bike to Work Month. Friday is Bike to Work Day, and locally, 20,000 people are expected to ride.

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In Seattle, which sees itself as an ecological leader, an estimated 4,000 to 8,000 people already ride to work every day, depending on the weather. Mayor Greg Nickels has launched a 10-year plan to triple bicycle use by adding trails, signals, signs and 143 miles of bike lanes.

But the velotopian dream will only come true if the ride is fun for newbies, including Repanich.

Nervous about riding near cars, she searched online maps and scouted the eight-mile route in her van. She took a bike-safety class.

“Seattle is an old city that was built with narrow streets, so it’s a challenge to find room,” Repanich said. “Many of the streets are not set up for bikes. They’re not particularly well-maintained.”

Across the region, many off-street routes are under way or just completed — a bike lane on the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge; the East Lake Sammamish Trail from Redmond to Issaquah; new Seattle trail segments along Beacon Hill and Shilshole Bay; and the Interurban Trail from South Everett through Shoreline.

Employers are pushing pedals, to improve worker health, reduce parking-lot costs and meet trip-reduction quotas.

Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute, where Repanich is an administrative assistant, gives its workers $50 a month for commuting by bike. Children’s bought a fleet of black loaner bikes and soon will give a bike to employees who ride to work at least two days a week. F5 Networks, a computer-network provider, supplies towels, bike jerseys and lockers, plus a $300 monthly stipend to employees who bike, walk, car-pool or use transit.

Companies also see bikes as a vehicle for good publicity — Starbucks, Group Health and Vulcan, among others, have put their names on local bike-month events.

Repanich, 44, occasionally rides for recreation, but wanted to get in better shape. She also expects bicycling to be more pleasant, and give her more control over her schedule, than taking the bus.

“When you’re on a bike, you run your own commute,” she said. “I love the idea of not waiting for a bus. And it’s not crowded.”

On her first trip last week, she rode away from her Olive Way office tower, only to become lost at a three-way intersection nearby. She took brief refuge on the sidewalk.

She wound up on Lenora Street and, keeping to the right, teetered between one row of buses stopped along the curb, and another row in the middle lane, waiting at a red light. A bus at the curb began to move, a foot from her right ear.

“I did not realize those buses weren’t parked,” she said. “That was scary.”

On Sixth Avenue, she used the bike lane — and raved about the view of the Space Needle. Then came a calm, tree-lined downhill stretch on Wall Street to reach the waterfront. Alaskan Way perplexed her, because there’s no shoulder to ride on, yet she was afraid to “take the lane” by moving out several feet, as many veteran cyclists suggest.

Eventually, she’ll ride the whole way on the main bike route, along a bumpy Sodo street dominated by trucks, followed by a trail to the low-rise West Seattle Bridge, then a climb on busy uphill streets.

But until she feels stronger, she’ll stop to take the Elliott Bay Water Taxi.

After reaching land in West Seattle, she cruised on the trail around Alki Beach, under a blue sky. “You can’t beat this!” she said.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or

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