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Monthly Archives: April 2014

Strava Heatmaps: What Do They Truly Measure?

Last week, Strava, the company that provides tools for cyclists to track their rides via GPS, was making the news for their Global Heatmap A project of Strava Labs, the Global Heatmap compiles GPS tracking data from 100 million rides and runs by their members (about 80% are rides). Routes that Strava users travel more frequently light up brightly on the Heatmap. In this map red is highest use, then bright green, then faint green.

The Heatmap for Palo Alto is what I’d expect. The most popular routes are a pair of roads with bike lanes that offer direct, fast routes, and a bike boulevard designed with few stop signs and diverters that reduce car traffic.

Palo Alto Routes Heat Map

Bike advocates, who often struggle to get ridership data, jumped on the Heatmap with glee. With this data, they could refute claims that people don’t bicycle on certain roads or streets. One example: El Camino in Mountain View shows green sections, meaning significant use, something city officials and the public are quick to deny.

I see that value, and yet I’m concerned about how Heatmap data is used, namely because it’s gathered from a select subset of cyclists. Strava doesn’t reveal demographics on who uses its service, but I’ve seen estimates in reports that it’s about 90% men. And I know that within my circle of cycling friends, Strava is more heavily used by those who are training to race or complete an endurance event. They’re mostly road riders and mountain bike racers who have raced at some point, if not currently training to race.

That mirrors Strava’s goal-oriented “prove it” marketing messages highlighted on their web site: “Prove It: Track your progress and challenge your friends” and “Prove Your Story”, “Prove Your Efforts”, “Prove To Others”, “Prove To Yourself.” These are all messages aimed at the Type A folks in the bike world.

I’m sure there are significant numbers of Strava users who never race (unless you count the Cat 6 racing on the trail), and others who track both their training rides and their casual rides. But I agree with a friend who wrote: “The data is skewed to longer rides done be people who take the effort to log their ride on Strava using a smart phone or GPS. A 4 block ride for shopping or to the library is not likely to be logged.”

A bigger problem is what he wrote in the next sentence: “Since [Strava users] are likely to be more experienced riders, they tend to know the easiest, safest, fastest routes.” I accept that Strava users are more experienced riders. But are they choosing routes that are easiest and safest? Or just popular with Strava users, who likely prefer straighter routes with fewer stops, even if that means it’s on the shoulder of a 50 mph expressway with heavy vehicle traffic. That’s hardly a representative set of riders to use for bike infrastructure decisions.

Without demographic data, it’s hard to counter or defend these assessments. But I got new insight from examining “hot spots” on the Heatmap where cyclists stop on their rides, based on a story by Cyclelicious.

Here’s the Town & County shopping center in Palo Alto near Stanford University. Car parking is painfully crowded so many visitors arrive by bike. Where do they go? According to the Heatmap, these two locations: a Peet’s Coffee Shop and a bike rack around the corner by Gott’s Roadhouse, a popular restaurant.

Strava Heat Map Hot Spots Palo Alto

What’s missing? The mass of people who park their bikes to shop at Trader Joe’s on the other side of the center. The main rack holds a dozen bikes and has frequent turnover. It’s often full or crowded so bikes spill over to a nearby rack at Calafia. This was the situation last Sunday at around 12:30 pm: 13 bikes near Trader Joe’s, five at Peets and four at the Roadhouse. Why don’t the bikes at TJs create a hot spot?

Strava Heat Map Palo Alto

Sunday at 12:30 pm isn’t a peak time for groceries, nor a slow time for a coffee shop. It’s clear that people who shop by bike at Trader Joe’s are not tracking their trips on Strava. That’s a lot of everyday bike trips to ignore.

So before you’re tempted to use Strava data to support bicycle policy or infrastructure changes, think carefully. If Strava data included trips by the average Joe, Jane, José or Jin-Wei biking across town to grocery shop instead of training data from cyclists tracking achievements, how would your recommendation change?

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Posted by on April 29, 2014 in Issues & Infrastructure

 

Fashion Friday: Power Dressing with a Power Dress

A touch of red against a backdrop of navy: a classic combination for exuding confidence in a professional setting. A suit may be the ultimate in power dressing, but when done right, like this Diane von Furstenberg-inspired wrap dress in a strong modern print, a power dress can be just as suitable.

Power Dress Portrait

I bought this dress at Boutique 4, a dress shop that’s offering 15% off to bike shoppers on Bike to Shop Day.

About Fashion Friday: Inspired by a 2011 Bike to Work Day challenge sponsored by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, this series highlights the broad range of “dress for the destination” bicycling fashions.

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2014 in Cycle Fashions

 

Pedal Power: From Workhorse to Wacky in Los Altos

What makes a bicycle a bicycle? Ask the Department of Motor Vehicles and it’s a device a person rides that’s propelled by human power through a system of belts, chains, or gears and has two or three wheels with at least one wheel bigger than 20 inches. Ask the UCI, racing cycling’s governing body and the answer for road bikes is much more specific, including weight limits (at least 15 pounds), and geometry requirements (triangle frame, equal sized wheels). It even has standards for saddle length (24-30 cm).

The designers of most bikes are not bound by UCI regulations, which makes the “Pedal Power: From Workhorse to Wacky” exhibit currently running at the Los Altos History Museum so intriguing. From penny farthings to recumbents, from wooden bikes to bamboo, from cruisers to folding bikes, to bikes too hard to describe, you’ll see them all. For the purists there are historic racing bikes from Greg Lemond that meet the UCI regulations, plus a variety of mountain bikes from the pioneer builders that screamed down Mt Tam.

Entrance

The opening reception for the exhibit is next Sunday evening but I rushed to get there early. I had met one of the contributers at the Wine, Women & Chocolate party who asked if they could display one of my photos. I sent her a link to my Flickr photostream and she said she found one she liked for the display on town bikes. To my surprise, I found several more photos I took of family and friends in the “Wear What You Like… Go Where You Want” section, along with some lovely shots of Los Altos native Melissa of Bike Pretty.

I’ll have to go back for the opening reception, though. I spent so much time talking to Jan the exhibit’s designer about her options for buying a city bike that I didn’t get to read all the displays. Plus bike builder Craig Calfee will be there to talk about how bike designs have changed over time. If you’re on the San Francisco Bay Area, I’d love to meet you too. It’s Sunday, April 27 from 4-6 pm. Admission is free. (details).

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2014 in Bike Gallery

 

The No Sweat Way to Bike to Work

I’m cross-posting this story from my Bike Fun blog in the Mountain View Voice because I think the message bears repeating: It is possible to ride a bike and not be a hot mess on arrival!

It’s the 20th anniversary of Bike to Work Day in the Bay Area, celebrated this year on Thursday, May 8. For two decades, casual riders have pumped up their tires and dusted off their bikes for a short ride across town, while weekend warriors have charted longer commute routes and come up with a post-ride cleanup strategy. For people who bike to work year-round, the weeks ahead of Bike to Work Day are a time for answering questions from and giving advice to new bike commuters, like me back in 1997.

Like so many others, Bike to Work Day launched me into bike commuting. I went to a short “getting started” information meeting at my workplace, learned the best way to cross Hwy 101 from the local bike expert, then pedaled the 12 miles to my office in North San Jose. The ride was about an hour so I stowed my clothes in my new bike panniers and cleaned up at my workplace’s gym locker room when I arrived.

bike-gear-on-coat-rack

Over the years I kept it up once or twice a week during daylight saving time, whenever my work sites gave me access to a shower. Bike commuting was a great way to get miles in when I was training for triathlons and long century rides. When I wasn’t training per se, two hours a day a couple of times a week was a great workout.

Then I took a job in Palo Alto that was less than five miles from home. It was too short to be a workout and hardly seemed worth putting on lycra and packing my work clothes, plus a towel and toiletries. Five flat miles just wasn’t worth the trouble.

Then one day in late summer I slapped myself on the forehead and said to myself, “It’s only a 25 minute ride, why do you need to change clothes anyway? Just wear your work clothes.” I put a summer dress with bike shorts underneath, slipped on flat shoes and stowed my laptop, purse and heels in my bike pannier. I rode slowly, keeping my heartbeat down at the equivalent of a walking, not running, pace. When I arrived at the office I took a moment to switch into my heels and cool down before walking in the building. No sweat!

It worked so well I was biked every day that week, then the next, and the next. Somewhere along the way I figured out that heels aren’t hard to bike in so I stopped packing my shoes. And I learned that if I stopped and took off a layer as soon as I started to warm up I could arrive sweat-free wearing almost anything, even a suit.

Bike in Suit

It helped that I started reading blogs from bike commuters in cities like Chicago, Boston and Portland. If they could ride in a professional dress there, even during the cold and stormy winters, California would be easy. And it was. Once I got a proper raincoat and boots, I was able to keep riding every day through the rainy season.

When I switched jobs two years ago to one back in North San Jose, I learned to combine my bike commute with a Caltrain ride so I could keep commuting in my work clothes. Occasionally, I’ll pack my work clothes and ride the full 13 miles to the office when I want a workout. But 95% of the time I choose my multi-modal bike + Caltrain commute. That way I can bike to work every day instead of 1-2 times a week.

There are lots of ways to make your commute no- or low-sweat. Here are my top tips:

  • Ride slowly. Save your workouts for the weekend or the times you’re planning to clean up on arrival.
  • Don’t worry so much about wasting time going slower. If you don’t change clothes at the end of your ride you’ll save at least five minutes.
  • Remember that it’s cooler in the morning here than in the evening. If you sweat on the way home you can always shower there.
  • Nothing heats you up like wearing a backpack or messenger bag. Get a rack or basket instead and get that bag off your back.
  • Underdress so you’re a little chilly for the first 5 minutes of your ride. As soon as you feel like you’re starting to warm up, pull over and strip off a layer.
  • Stow some wet wipes or a towel at work just in case you sweat more than you expected.
  • Consider partial clothing changes for your commute. Replace a dress shirt with a t-shirt or flat shoes instead of heels.
  • Wearing a helmet doesn’t have to mean you’ll have a bad hair day. Sweating, not the helmet, is the bigger cause of helmet hair. Experiment with different helmets and/or hair arrangements until you find what works. For me, all I have to do is finger comb my hair on arrival.
  • Riding a more upright bike helps. The extra windchill from being upright cools you, and somehow being upright discourages riding hard.
  • I installed a front basket so I can grab everything I need while I’m riding or walking my bike. I can strip a layer off and stow it without pulling over and my train pass, my phone, and my sunglasses are all at my fingertips.
  • Not packing clothes means I have room in my panniers to pick up a few items at the grocery store on the way home from work.

Are you riding to work on Bike to Work Day this year? Will you wear your work clothes or wear cycling gear and change on arrival? How far is your trip?

Bike in heels

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2014 in Around Town

 

How to Get Women to Race Dirt (And How Not To)

The Sea Otter Classic, the largest consumer bike festival in North America, is running this weekend down the coast at Laguna Seca raceway in Monterey. In addition to the large expo hosting over 450 vendors, there will be pro and amateur racing in almost every cycling discipline, from downhill mountain biking to BMX to criterium road racing to cyclocross, plus recreational events for all ages, including Gran Fondo endurance rides.

I won’t be one of the estimated 65,000 people headed down there. It’s partly because Sea Otter’s focus is on the sport side of cycling and my interest these days is more in the practical side of cycling: city and cargo cycling. But it’s more than that. I haven’t been back to Sea Otter since I stood on the podium there in 2008, which was long before I got into city cycling. It’s that my last experience there made me feel like Sea Otter isn’t really for people like me who love bikes but don’t fit into American cycling’s hardcore dude culture.

After Work Girlfriend Rides

Back in 2008 I was mountain biking regularly with the Dirt Divas, an informal group of experienced mountain bikers and road racers with a taste of dirt. Every Monday night during daylight saving time we did recovery pace after work spins, and every few weeks or so we did longer weekend rides on more challenging trails. Just as importantly, we were an online community of 200 dirt-loving women sprinkled throughout the Bay Area, offering support and advice for each other that was just as valuable as having women nearby to ride with.

With my friends from Dirt Divas and the support of the Velo Bella and Velo Girl race teams, I had raced several smaller races. We had even challenged ourselves with a 24 hour mountain bike relay on the trails at Laguna Seca. Those races were all fun, but didn’t bring out the crowds like Sea Otter. Where else can recreational riders race the same courses, on the same weekend as the pros?

The Sea Otter excitement started on the Diva email list in March: how hard it it? who’s racing this year? In no time we had set up carpools down to Laguna Seca to pre-ride the course a few weeks before the race. The course wasn’t particularly technical, but the hilly 20 mile course had proven challenging for some beginner fields, so they shortened the women’s, juniors, women’s single-speed and Clydesdale men’s (over 200 lbs) races to a nominal 10 miles. For some reason, they didn’t say it was actually over 13 miles.

Dirt Divas

The nine of us were a mix of experienced and brand new racers. A couple were new to Dirt Divas and had never ridden in an all-female group before. With only a printout from the web site for navigation, we fared well until the climbers out front missed a key turn and got lost. Afterward, it was laughing over burritos and lots of email banter: reporting trail conditions and answering questions from women who couldn’t make the pre-ride.

So when things went wrong at the race we had each other. After a good start on the paved track (picking the right wheel to draft is key) I hit the gravel in top five. I was behind my friend Holly as we picked up speed where the course descended. As we approached a left turn, I could tell Holly was aimed straight. I yelled “go left,” she did and we both hit the singletrack ahead of the main field, then up the ridge and down the long sandy descent.

On the long grind back up, my climber friend Lesley passed me and asked if I had missed the turn. That’s when I realized Holly wasn’t only one. There were many others confused about the turn, including my friend E who’s zooming downhill in this photo. Her boyfriend took the shot right after she went off course. Not easy to tell, is it?

Missed Turn

I was still grinding away uphill when I came to the turn where we lost the climbers on the pre-ride. I was moving slow enough to read the signs carefully: “XC Race 20 miles” and “MTB Tour 10 miles.” Even though I had raced the course the year before, studied the map, pre-ridden three weeks before and have the nickname “GPS Janet,” I wasn’t confident I should turn left to stay on the 10 mi XC race course. But I did, even though I could see racers going straight ahead of me, and knew that going straight would cut the course by at least a mile.

Lesley

When I finished the race they were already posting our race’s winning time at 41 minutes, an impossible time. Holly and I reported it to race officials, waited a while until it got cold and dark, then gave up and went to dinner. The next morning they posted results: I was 2nd, Holly 3rd, and Michelle 4th. On podium we didn’t recognize the winner and we didn’t see the two or three other women that I was pretty sure were ahead of me. (I found out much later that one missed the first turn and the true winner had lost her chip somewhere on the course.)

Sea Otter Podium

Back on online I shared my story and learned that three more of my Diva friends had missed the first turn and doubled back. A Velo Bella race team friend was spectating at the junction, saw the confusion and started calling out directions to racers. She confronted the course monitor about why he wasn’t doing it. He shrugged.

So I wrote my first letter of complaint ever to the race director. I let him know the impact on us as racers, but focused on what I wanted for next year: cones, course monitors, and accurately labeling the course as a 13 mile, not 10 mile course. After a long email exchange his response was that it’s the racers responsibility to stay on course and lessons were learned on both sides. He didn’t get that if that much of the field is confused, it’s the course, not the riders. And that beginners could use a little more, not less, consideration and support.

Sea Otter 2008 crop

I will agree that lessons were learned, indeed, but probably not what the race director expected:

  • Women often enter sport through men and they learn a lot from them. But there’s something special about riding with women: it’s empowering and challenging in a different way.
  • Until women ride with or race women, they don’t know really how how they stack up. Too many women who only ride with men think they’re slow when they’re not slow at all.
  • Having a social aspect makes many women more strongly engaged and loyal to the sport. Romantic relationships end, but bikes and bike friends stay.
  • If you want more new people racing, it takes group support. We hosted our own group pre-ride for women on our Dirt Diva email list. A pre-ride from the organizers with racing tips might encourage riders to try racing.
  • Community support is important both in person and online. The fewer women that ride in an geographic area, the more important online friendships are.
  • Women (especially beginner women) don’t expect to be the focus of an event. We don’t expect to race at prime time, we don’t expect our results to be listed first. But when things go wrong and we get an attitude, it’s feels deeper than “that guy is a jerk” it becomes “they don’t care about women or beginners.”
  • When you complain, adjust your argument for the personality of the official. When I advocated from the perspective of disoriented racers I got nothing. When I complained that riders might have placed ahead of me by cutting the course I got more sympathy. I needed to switch from chick talk to dude talk.

There was a silver lining to the story. One of the silent members on our Dirt Diva list was an employee of Sea Otter. She wasn’t part of the racing side, but she contacted the right people within the organization. They gave us a discount registration code for the next year’s race. That taught me my last lesson: complaining can pay off, even when you’re blown off at first. You may have allies you don’t know about that are listening.

I was touched and grateful. I know at least one woman used the discount to race the next year. Just not me.

IMG_5425

 
11 Comments

Posted by on April 11, 2014 in Dirt Trails, Women & Bikes

 

Fashion Weekend Edition: Bike Date Dreamy

The things you do for love. Like wearing a button-down shirt and a sweater for a Friday night bike date, and swapping your singlespeed’s pedals so you can wear regular shoes instead cycling shoes. Or growing a beard just because your sweetie wonders out loud how it would look on you. That’s what love is all about.

Bike Date Portrait 1

About Fashion Friday: Inspired by a 2011 Bike to Work Day challenge sponsored by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, this series highlights the broad range of “dress for the destination” bicycling fashions.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2014 in Cycle Fashions

 
 
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