Biking Shorts - December 12, 2012
By Barbara Schmid
Eric Bouwens is a complex man.
At sunrise, he’s pedaling his bike to Spectrum Hospital’s Kentwood office where he’s a family practice physician tending to the seriousness of heart disease, diabetes and broken bones.
But when the moon rises, the 55-year-old exposes a more playful side to his personality. He turns up the music, pushes the living room furniture to the walls and practices the Argentinian tango with his wife, Alice. The two go out to dance three to four nights a week in addition to practicing at home.
Both dancing and cycling are exuberant and joyful ways to stay fit. Bowen believes an active lifestyle is important to good physical and mental health.
“Daily exercise is important for preventing heart disease, obesity and diabetes,” Bowens said. “If we could promote more cycling as a form of commuting you would see decreases in absenteeism at work. People would feel better. You’d have better productivity. People wouldn’t be fatigued and they would get more done. And employers would spend less money on health insurance.”
Bouwens, a GGRBC member, lives what he preaches. He commutes to work about 100 days a year “on non-slippery days, when it’s not a rainstorm, snowing or icy.” He said his 8-mile commute each way revs up his body’s engine and improves his mental state.
He suggests that anyone new to cycling and bike commuting find a cycling mentor who can offer tips about handling the heat or cold, carrying gear and finding a safe cycling route.
“Personally, I find that cycling to work gets me awake and alert for the day,” he said. “I feel good. At the end of the day its a great way to get off the stress and to feel good when I get home.”
Bouwens was born in Kalamazoo and financed his first bike with money he earned from a paper route. It was a blue Fuji S12S, he recalled, the first year that 12 speeds and aluminum rims came out.
Today, he owns three bikes and enjoys long weekend rides with friends, often clocking 25- to 50-mile trips. His Saturday group has been riding together for 15 years. Their breakfast rides take them to Marne, Hastings, Byron Center or Cannonsburg. On Sundays, he rides with a group of professors from Grand Valley State University and enjoys “great discussions” en route.
“We live in a society that is so wired -- facebook, t.v., the internet,” he said. “Cycling is a great way to experience what is real. You can have a long conversation with somebody and, because you’re not rushed, you have a tendency to meander around and talk about different topics.
“You also experience the place more because you don’t have to hurry. Being on a bike gives you have an immediacy of people you run into. You see them face-to-face; you’re not looking at them through glass. It can help to ground people in friendships and relationships by not getting so caught up in the electronic world. It helps people slow down and helps them with their mental health.”
While Bouwens advocates riding a bike for transportation, he and his wife also enjoy those tangible, real world connections when they travel. They’ve vacationed by bike in Oregon, Italy, Spain, Ireland and Western Colorado. In January, they’ll be traveling on two wheels in Taiwan for eight days.
And probably doing a few dance steps along the way.