The AAA isn't just for for motorists anymore.
The local chapters of the American Automobile Association are adding cyclists to the list of travelers to whom they will provide roadside assistance — a trend that started with chapters on the West Coast and has been moving steadily eastward.
The two AAA chapters that service the Capital Region will start offering bike assistance Aug. 1. They have planned an official announcement to take place near a section of the Mohawk-Hudson Bike Trail in Niskayuna on Friday, when they will lay out all the details.
"Bicycling is growing in popularity," said Eric Stigberg, spokesman for AAA Northway in Schenectady. "We figured the timing was right, so let's roll it out."
He said members have asked for the service, which will be offered at no premium on the basic annual membership fee.
The move comes amid growing interest in bicycling in the Capital Region and across the country.
The Mohawk-Hudson Bike Trail is used by hundreds of people each week and links to the Erie Canalway Trail, which reaches beyond the Capital Region. New trails are in development in Saratoga County, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports development of a 750-mile trail system that would stretch from New York City to the Canadian border, passing through the Capital Region.
A regional bike-share program is also scheduled to launch this week, under the auspices of the Capital District Transportation Authority.
"The new bicycle roadside assistance service demonstrates AAA's commitment to meeting the changing needs of our members, as the popularity of biking continues to grow across the state," Stigberg said. "Whether riding for sport, recreation or exercise, it's important for cyclists and motorists to share the road and keep safety a top priority for everyone."
Cycling advocates say riders knowing they have access to assistance may encourage more people to ride. Most people are casual riders: People for Bikes, an advocacy group, did a survey in 2015 that estimated 100 million Americans ride at least once per year, but only about 14 million ride twice per week.
"Members who may have only modest mechanical skills will be able to rely on this service, thus encouraging greater ridership," said Lerenz M. Worden, president of the Albany Bicycle Coalition.
AAA members shouldn't expect a tow truck operator to change a bike tire or broken chain, however. The service will only give them — and their bikes — a lift.
"We'll happily take you home or to a bike shop, or to wherever you started your ride," Stigberg said. "It's like the tow service we offer all our members."
And the service will still be "roadside" assistance. Should a bike break down on an off-road bike trail, the rider will need to get the broken bike out to a road or trailhead where a AAA participating tow truck can pick them up.
The AAA chapters in the Buffalo and Syracuse areas already offer bicycle assistance, as do most of the chapters in New England. Stigberg said the local chapters expect to meet the demand without difficulty. Some auto tow trucks will have bike racks added to them to make the process easier.
AAA is the nation's oldest and largest roadside assistance association. Between the Northway and Hudson Valley chapters, it has 295,000 members located in 17 counties, it said.