Steve Heimel’s voice is a part of many Alaskans’ daily routine as they listen to his reporting on the Alaska Public Radio Network, or hear him hosting the program “Talk of Alaska.” But what they can’t tell from his smooth baritone is that Steve is a lean, vibrant 69-year-old who rides to work year-round and leads a mostly car-free life.
Steve Heimel: The voice of public radio, a voice for sustainable lifestyles
Steve Heimel’s voice is a part of many Alaskans’ daily routine as they listen to his reporting on the Alaska Public Radio Network, or hear him hosting the program “Talk of Alaska.” But what they can’t tell from his smooth baritone is that Steve is a lean, vibrant 69-year-old who rides to work year-round and leads a mostly car-free life. (Photo by Jim Paulin)
The four-mile commute along 36th Avenue from his home in Spenard to the U-Med District is usually a lonely one. “I am sort of jealous of those who commute together, but there is nobody else going my way at 4:30 a.m.,” Steve recently said. “I do feel a strong kinship with other bicycle commuters. I really like to see the snow get beat down by the big-tire crowd, and then further packed by those of us with studs.”
He has been bike commuting regularly for about seven years, but his history of using bikes for transportation runs deep. He first commuted on two wheels in the 1960s while living outside New York, and did the same in the 1970s when he lived in Houston, Texas. “Anchorage is quite a bit tougher than most cities for bicycle commuting,” he said, “but at least a lot of it is flat.”
“I just decided to do it one day to see if I could, and I really enjoyed the challenge. Part of it is my age. I am 69 and going strong, and proud of that. I am also a big promoter of sustainability and have come to feel strongly that ordinary people need to take a leadership role to bring about a transition to a more livable and sustainable path in our neighborhoods and city. I want to support people who practice sustainability and am glad to be a role model for those who aspire to sustainability.”
Steve and his wife choose to not own a car, so “I ride every working day of the year, except when we rent a car for chores, maybe once a month or so. I figure I average about 12 miles a day, because I also do all my shopping on the bike, which sometimes makes for multiple trips in a day.”
As every bike commuter knows, having a supportive employer helps. Steve is lucky in that regard. “Alaska Public Telecommunications (KSKA, KAKM, APRN) has a bike rack outside and lets me store my bicycle indoors,” he said. “I am the only year-round bike commuter of 20 or so employees, but a number of others do it in the summer, but more occasionally than constantly. I think the company is real close to formal participation in Bike to Work Day.”
His biggest challenge? “Getting enough speed and few enough stops to not eat up too much time,” he said. “I overcome it by trying to be familiar with my routes, especially in the winter. An unfamiliar route can easily put you on a snow berm right next to a road full of heavy traffic. That is the other biggest challenge—the combustion culture. You can only counter it by being persistent and by being part of a culture that continues to educate the motor vehicle drivers. Some day I want to be able to consistently use the road, as should be my right.”
He keeps his setup simple. Because he has had several bikes stolen, he commutes on an inexpensive Novara Aspen. He has a few frames and parts around the house, but the Novara is his only working bike. “I immediately put some paint on the Aspen to make it less attractive to thieves, and more distinctive, he said. I have disc brakes, and no fenders or racks. I carry things in a large Timbuktu courier bag. I have a bunch of reflectors and a rear flasher. I don’t feel the need for a headlight, but I carry a headlamp in case I need something. Of course I have studs, and my summer tires are smooth down the center for less rolling resistance on roads.
“My next big investment will be pogies. Right now I am using sealskin mittens, which are real nice, but I have worn them out. Yes, I religiously wear a helmet but I am not real big on those visibility vests, and you will never see me in spandex.”
As a bike commuter and advocate for sustainability, he’d like to see more people traveling by bicycle. “It’s better for them, better for the planet, and the more well-behaved bicycle commuters motorists see, the more quickly they will be educated. I have been doing it long enough to see that we are already making a difference.”
For new bike commuters, his advice is simple and sound: “Pay attention to your vehicle.”
“Get some good lube for your chain and use it. Be realistic about your time estimates instead of trying to push it. Make eye contact with every motor vehicle driver you deal with.”
Steve appreciates what BCA is doing for Anchorage bike commuters. “I think good design is the key to multi-modal transportation,” he said. “Anchorage’s design is just terrible.
A dose of morning news on KSKA is an informative way to start the day, but for anyone looking out the window at a cold, dark Anchorage morning and wondering if they can muster then energy to climb on a bike, hearing Steve’s voice should be an inspiration.
Because you can be sure he rode to work. And he probably did it while you were still asleep.
This feature on “Talk of Alaska” host Steve Heimel is the first in I Bike Anchorage, a series of cameos about Anchorage devoted bicycle commuters — riders who see bikes not as toys, but as a viable means of transportation for getting to work and school, shopping, and running errands.
These profiles appear quarterly and are written by Tim Woody, a year-round bike commuter and author of a blog called Bicycles & Icicles. If you would like to nominate a profile subject, drop Tim an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell him a little about the person’s commuting habits and why he/she has an interesting story to tell.