Alicia Heyburn spent a month on the bike roads of Northern Europe this summer and came back brimming over with enthusiasm. Not with the sightseeing, although that was nice. She was blown away by the efficiency and ease of getting around Europe by bicycle and has been spreading the word since, including during a talk to participants in Bike Maine, a weeklong, 300-plus-person ride through Maine organized by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine (she’s one of the group’s Community Spokes, meaning she advocates for biking and walking in her community).

“I was so inspired by my trip this year that I want to go back and do it again.” We caught the Brunswick resident in between rides to talk taillights, the only time she felt lonely on her solo journey and how eager she is to get Mainers riding like Dutch men and women.

EAT BIKE SLEEP: Heyburn flew to Copenhagen, rented a bike and cycled to Berlin. She hopped a train to Holland and then borrowed a bike from old friends to continue her tour of the region, staying in hostels and taking advantage of Couchsurfing International Inc. to find free places to stay. The only time she was “desperately lonely”? The one night she stayed in a hotel. But she never felt threatened, mostly because of the dedicated bike roads, which have stoplights and even on-ramps for bikes. “You are inherently more vulnerable traveling on a bike,” she said. “But it is easy to stop and ask questions. That provided a lot of great connections for me.”

SPIN CLASS: Also notable? The radical difference between Northern Europe’s culture of biking to get somewhere – no exertion, just wheeling along – and America’s virtually nonexistent bike infrastructure. We mostly associate bicycles with exercise, she said. “It’s almost like a burden, instead of ‘Let’s just hop on a bike and make your day so much easier.'”

THE LUXURY OF CARS: No looking for parking, a different vantage point on the world and, of course, no need for fossil fuels. “We really don’t have the luxury to keep saying, ‘cars, cars cars,'” she said. “We need to invest in other types of transportation.” As Europe has with biking. “There is this strong investment in things of high value.” Specifically roads for bikes. Of course, Heyburn concedes that she was mostly on terrain “as flat as a pancake,” which does make for easy bike commuting.

RESUME: Heyburn has a graduate degree in sustainability from Antioch University New England in Keene, New Hampshire. Her professional work has been primarily in land conservation as a project manager. Her latest gig is at Maine Rivers, and she’ll be working on fish access along the Mousam River. She equates that work to the navigating a bicyclist in America has to do to travel any real distance. How so? “The trials I experience trying to get to my work (via bike) are the same as the plight of an alewife trying to get upstream.”


SOUVENIR CYCLE: Some people bring back wooden shoes. Heyburn came home with a bike. And not just any bike, but a Dutch utility bike. “It is like a living room with wheels on it,” Heyburn says. The only accessory she added was a front basket; otherwise, all the accessories are included. “It has a lovely, sturdy rack and straps built into it.” The rack can hold panniers. “That allows me to pick up my farm share” (from Milkweed Farm in Brunswick). Then there is a “super-sturdy kickstand so it stands up nicely.” The handlebars are adjustable and headlights and taillights, powered by pedaling, are built in. The grips are leather.

THE BICYCLE THIEF: This sounds like something so fantastic that wouldn’t you have to worry all the time about it being stolen? Heyburn points out that the Dutch have thought of this as well, with an integrated lock on the back wheel. Someone could pick up your bike and carry it away, but the rear wheel won’t move. “You just put down the kickstand and walk away.”

PRICE TAG: The “living room” bike cost $400 used. She thinks it would have been twice that new. “There was some negotiating.” Then Heyburn had to pay United Airlines another $200 to get it home. “Flying home on the big airplane knowing that this little bike was beneath me in the hold was a great source of comfort and joy.”

CAREER BIKE PATH: If all that work to help fish get from one place to another doesn’t work out, there is the possibility of career redirect. Gleeful to show off her new bike, Heyburn rode it to Center Street Bicycles in Brunswick. “I said, ‘Should I be the New England importer for this brilliant bicycle?’ Lee (Huston), who owns the shop, gave me a beautiful smile of recognition.” Apparently he tried to sell them once in the past, and a shop in Portland carried them as well, but couldn’t make a go of selling them. Heyburn thinks it might be time for another try, especially as the city is feeling more crowded. “Portlanders would love this bike.”


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