KAILUA-KONA — Peoples Advocacy for Trails Hawaii has found a new way to get the Big Island community into the seats of its bikeshare program.
PATH and West Hawaii Community Health Center have together created the RxBike program, which takes members on monthly bike rides using the PATH bicycles. The bike rides take place every fourth Wednesday of the month, and is one of several classes the center offers to promote healthy habits to their patients.
“It was just a way to partner together and offer bikeshare to West Hawaii Community Health Center’s clientele,” PATH executive director Tina Clothier said. “Because perhaps on their own, they wouldn’t necessarily look to bikeshare as a way to get their exercise, so we wanted to make it easy to do so.”
The RxBike program started as an extension of the health center’s Diabetes Prevention Program, before opening up to all of the center’s patients and employees.
“The patient comes in and the doctor will write a referral, kind of like when you get referred to an endocrinologist, or oncologist, or cardiologist,” said Claudia Hartz, West Hawaii Community Health Center community health educator. “They’re referred to the program through a wellness referral, and we give the patient a call and invite them to all of our classes, and one of those classes is the monthly bike ride.”
Hartz leads the RxBike program at the West Hawaii Community Health Center. Hartz said the monthly bike rides average 10-13 people, and are open not just to patients of West Hawaii Community Health Center, but to anyone in the community who wants to join.
The monthly rides are also open to adults and children alike. The PATH bikeshare bicycles are for adults only, but PATH provides other, smaller bicycles for the younger crowd.
This summer, PATH received a $5,400 grant from AARP to extend its bikeshare program. With the help of PATH’s grant from AARP, the organization was able to place three new bikeshare stations out in Kailua-Kona, with another station of nine bicycles on the way, which will be placed at the Brewery Block next to Kona Brewing Company.
The bikeshare program began in 2016, with a $250,000 grant from the county. The current total PATH bicycles in Kona stands at 54. Monthly rates are $15 for unlimited 30-minute rides and $25 for unlimited 60-minute rides.
Membership to the RxBike program costs $50 annually for West Hawaii Community Health Center patients, a reduced rate from PACT’s bikeshare program. However, because of the AARP grant, the center is now offering up to 130 free memberships.
Craig Gima, communications director for AARP Hawaii, said the bikeshare program is important in places like the Big Island, where many streets are not designed for pedestrians and cyclists. PACT was also chosen for the grant because of the bikeshare’s emphasis on a healthy lifestyle.
“The bikeshare, it’s healthy, too,” Gima said. “Another thing we push for is living a longer life, and taking care of yourself. You can be healthier and mobile for a lot longer than what your parents were. It promotes this healthy lifestyle, it combats disease, and it also promotes this idea that the roads aren’t just for cars.”
Hartz said she has seen improvements, both physical and mental, to those who have joined the RxBike program.
“I’ve seen them improve with their confidence on the bike, and healthwise, with our diabetes program,” Hartz said. “I’ve seen with the A1C test, which measures hemoglobin and measures our glucose percentage in the last three months, that has decreased in patients. And that is good, we want to see your blood sugar decrease. And some weight loss, too. And bike education as well, by learning about being safe on the bike and knowing which way to turn, knowing hand signals, instructions on the highway and riding with cars. The instructors in the program go through all that.”
Hartz has seen the results on herself as well.
“Riding a bike is easy on my knees. It’s a lot easier than going running or jogging. I love walking long distances, and I’ve done half marathons and I love it, but with my weight, it’s very hard on my knees,” Hartz said. “Riding a bike is not. It’s easy, it’s good for your joints and it’s good for your muscles. And being social in a group is also important. When there’s people with the same issues or problems in a group, it’s just a way to de-stress.”
This month, West Hawaii Community Health Center patient Toni Soto once again joined the RxBike program on their Wednesday night ride through Old Kona Airport Park. Soto was referred to the program so he could lose weight, and he has seen the results.
”It’s making me aware to slow down my eating and take care of myself,” Soto said. “You also get to meet people and enjoy the view. It brings memories back of riding bikes. I used to do that a lot in New York.
“I would recommend it to people. The bike program is awesome.”
Anyone looking to participate in the RxBike program can contact Hartz at 491-9233.