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Category Archives: Around Town

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

 

Why We Need a National Bike to Shop Day

“I can see people biking to offices here and even to the movie theater, but I can’t see people biking to shop here. Shopping is all about driving your SUV to the store and filling it up,” said the planning commissioner at a city meeting on the redevelopment of a major shopping center. I was stunned. I had just stood up and spoken about why bicycle access there was important to me.“The center is where I buy my groceries, my clothes, my household items,” I had explained. “It’s only two miles from home, so I ride my bike.”

I was so angry at not being heard (or believed) that it took me an extra two hours to fall asleep that night. Didn’t the commissioner see the busy bike racks outside the center’s two grocery stores? Didn’t he realize that purchases from a jewelry store are small, and that when people buy mattresses they have them delivered?

Trailer at Trader Joes

For the past 20 years we’ve pushed hard to promote bike commuting through Bike to Work Day, and it’s worked to get many commuters hopping onto bikes instead of into their cars. Like me, back in 1997. I got a little route advice from an expert at the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, then pedaled to work. I kept it up once a week until daylight saving time ended, then went back to driving until Bike to Work Day the next spring.

My dedication to bike commuting waxed and waned over years. My next job site didn’t have a shower so I drove. The next one had showers and was close by so I started riding again. Then I took a job 14 miles away and was back down to once a week in summer only. It wasn’t until I realized I could ride in my work clothes for short distances and combine my commute with transit that I became the daily bike commuter I am today.

But even when I didn’t commute to work I biked for my weekly errands. Most things I needed were within a few miles of home, I could wear whatever I wanted, and I could schedule trips during daylight hours. Errands were fun, as evidenced by this Facebook post five years ago: “Long day in saddle again: Farmer’s market/noodles/bookstore/bike shop/Target/Bev Mo/Trader Joe’s. Only 8 miles, but it took some creative packing.”

Errand Bike

I wasn’t the only one doing errands back then and there are even more today, especially in shopping areas with limited parking and/or slow moving traffic. The bike racks are getting fuller and no one blinks twice when you roll away with big vegetables sticking out of panniers or toilet paper indelicately strapped to a rack.

Still, shopping by bike isn’t seen as mainstream. Few bikes come equipped with racks or baskets and bike shops and bike manufacturers rarely actively promote that kind of riding. I could elaborate on this, but I already have before, and if you’ve ever shopped for the perfect bike bag or basket you probably know what I mean. And there’s no national Bike to Shop Day program like there is for Bike to Work Day.

Grocery Bikes

But I think its time has come, and I’ve been working behind the scenes to make it happen this year in Silicon Valley. I sketched out a plan, convinced the staff at the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition to sponsor it, recruited some hard-working volunteers and we’re all off and rolling. In two weeks we’ve recruited 22 businesses to offer incentives to shoppers who arrive by bike for Bike to Shop Day Silicon Valley on Saturday May 17, 2014.

Oh, and we have a Bike to Shop Day web site with merchant profiles, sign-up forms and a zoomable merchant map. Plus lot of how-tos, from how to convert an old bike into a grocery getter, how to pace yourself at Costco, and what you can stuff in your road bike’s seat bag for impromptu shopping trips.

Bike to Shop Day web site

I have no idea how far Bike to Shop Day will go, but dammit I had to do something. Anger is a powerful motivator. Maybe next time city commissioners discuss plans for shopping center redevelopment, we’ll hear this instead: “There’s not much space for car parking, we’ll need more bike racks.” That’s my dream.

Do you do your daily or weekly errands by bike? What makes it easy (or makes it hard)?

Cherie

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2014 in Around Town, Issues & Infrastructure

 

Bike Commute Diaries: Barriers to Transit

The train station is only a mile from my home, but with two major road crossings it’s not that quick a trip. Hit the signal wrong at Shoreline Boulevard and it’s a 90 second wait. Time it wrong at Central Expressway and I’m waiting, waiting, waiting as multiple trains go by, including the one I was supposed to catch this morning.

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About the Bike Commute Diaries: Launched in May 2012 for National Bike Month, this series explores the unexpected and surprising things I’ve seen and learned while bicycling for transportation.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2014 in Commute Diaries

 

Bike Commute Diaries: Skunked on the Trail

I love the wildlife on the Guadalupe River Trail, really I do. Great blue herons, snowy egrets, mallards, coots, crows, squirrels, and even the feral cats. But that black and white “feral cat” I saw tonight just didn’t look right as I rolled up. Fortunately, he was in a good mood, I was duly respectful and we both escaped without incident.

Skunk

About the Bike Commute Diaries: Launched in May 2012 for National Bike Month, this series explores the unexpected and surprising things I’ve seen and learned while bicycling for transportation.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2014 in Commute Diaries

 

Nothing Could Rain on Our Wine & Chocolate Parade

After four bone-dry winter months and declarations of the most severe drought in 500 years, a healthy rain storm blew in three days before the party. Before the drops even hit the ground the question came in: “Is the party still on?” “Yes,” I said, “Unless the governor declares a State of Emergency the party is on. And unless the weather service declares a Severe Weather Alert the ride is on too.” Or as Adina quipped, “Apocalypse cancels. Or in case of apocalypse the four horsemen will join our ride.”

The rain was heavy elsewhere around the bay, but in San Jose there was little more than a few sprinkles. No horsemen of the apocalypse joined our pre-party ride, unless they were in the back of the pack riding sweep.

Virginia Bike Share

Fifty women had RSVP’d for the party, but given the 60% chance of rain I only expected a dozen or so to show up at Diridon Station for the pre-ride to the party. I should have known better. After all, women who ride are built tough, whether it’s dealing with hostile traffic on their commutes or soldiering on through wind and fog on century rides. Especially when there are others along for moral support and tasty treats waiting at the end.

Bike Statue

The fortitude of women who ride doesn’t stop when they dismount. The party attracted women who seek change: better bike routes for themselves and their families, better bike parking at workplaces and shopping destinations, better support from law enforcement to keep our streets safe. That doesn’t come easy.

But when you get determined women together, great things happen. Candice and Carmen’s home runneth over with strong women in influential positions like: Sally Lieber, former California House Speaker pro tempore; Kim Walesh, Director of Economic Development for San Jose; Shiloh Ballard, Vice President of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group; and Ellen Barton, the new Alternative Transportation Coordinator for San Mateo County.

At the same time there were inspired leaders of grassroots efforts like Wendee Crofoot, co-founder of Great Streets Mountain View; and Adina Levin, co-founder of Friends of Caltrain and the Drive Less Challenge. Plus a half dozen staff and board members from the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, our event sponsor.

Garden Party

Who knows where a little networking over wine and chocolate will take us? I’m hoping very far, and by bike.

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Posted by on February 14, 2014 in Around Town, Women & Bikes

 

Bike Commute Diaries: Exile for Susie Q PUBLIC

Poor Susie has been evicted from her private cubicle parking spot. “Bicycles may not enter the building,” says the property manager. All bikes must be parked in the garage on the far side of the complex, a 3 minute walk. Apparently, “As vehicles, bicycles are a safety and liability threat.” I promise I wasn’t riding in the building.

We’ll see how long her exile lasts. The facilities guy at my company is on my side. And I can be stealthy.

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About the Bike Commute Diaries: Launched in May 2012 for National Bike Month, this series explores the unexpected and surprising things I’ve seen and learned while bicycling for transportation.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Commute Diaries

 

Bike Commute Diaries: A Stitch in Time

Transit time is not wasted time. I check email, post to social media, read the news, and chat with train buddies. Today I grabbed a needle and thread as I ran out of the house, and had just enough time to quickly tack down the flower that’s been dangling on my leg warmer far too long. What’s next for me, knitting?

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About the Bike Commute Diaries: Launched in May 2012 for National Bike Month, this series explores the unexpected and surprising things I’ve seen and learned while bicycling for transportation.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Commute Diaries

 

Bike Commute Diaries: Bike & Coffee Klatch

I never expected I’d make friends on my bike commute. Weekend rides, yes. But commuting? Um, no. I assumed people weren’t looking to socialize during their rush to work or rush home for dinner. But when you combine an easy-to-chat river trail (or a train ride) with social media, before long you’re meeting for coffee on your way in to work. The caffè latte at Bel Bacio in San Jose’s Little Italy is divine, and it’s right by the trail.

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About the Bike Commute Diaries: Launched in May 2012 for National Bike Month, this series explores the unexpected and surprising things I’ve seen and learned while bicycling for transportation.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2014 in Commute Diaries

 

Bike Commute Diaries: Change is Good

I missed the train today. After years of doing the “same old, same old” you think you have it all dialed in. Then something screws up your routine and you react like the grumpy curmudgeons that you roll your eyes at during City Council meetings. Change is good. This change is good. I just need to tweak my routine.

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About the Bike Commute Diaries: Launched in May 2012 for National Bike Month, this series explores the unexpected and surprising things I’ve seen and learned while bicycling for transportation.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2014 in Commute Diaries

 

Shop by Bike: Big Box Store, Little Bike Trailer

Because of attention this blog has received from dedicated readers like you, I’m getting requests for stories from other media outlets. I’ve been writing a thrice-monthly Bike Fun blog for Mountain View Voice since May. Starting next week I will be contributing to Pedal Love, a California-based site dedicated to the joy of bicycling. And soon, one of my bike travel stories will be featured on Adventure Cycling’s Bike Overnights. Occasionally, I’ll cross-post content here, but to keep up with all I write, please bookmark these sites or follow me on Twitter. For those dealing with holiday shopping (and traffic), here’s my latest from Bike Fun in the Voice.

For the vast majority of my shopping trips, my bikes do a great job. Between a pair of oversized panniers in the back and an ample basket in the front, I can carry up to three bags of groceries filled to up to 40 pounds. I’ve also figured out how to attach garment bag to my rear rack for dry cleaning or for buying clothing at the mall. You’d be surprised how easy it can be to carry things on a bike if you’re creative.

But every once in a while I make one of those shopping trips where what I’m buying something too heavy or too bulky for my bike alone. So last year I asked Santa for a cute little bike cargo trailer. It felt a little frivolous. After all, we have a car we can use for those rare, big load shopping trips.

Little Trailer

But now that I have the trailer, I realize it’s pretty darn useful. Especially during those times, like right now, where driving to the mall or shopping center is painful and parking is a nightmare. So when our microwave gave up the ghost last week, I hitched up my little trailer and pedaled over to a few big box stores for some comparison shopping, holiday shoppers be damned.

Best Buy

Target, Costco and Best Buy are all within 2-3 miles from home and it wasn’t tough to plot a route that hit them all. Before I left home, I checked online for what each store carried and read the product reviews, but I wanted to buy locally so I could have a replacement immediately. You’d be surprised how some microwaves had really poor ratings after hundreds of reviews, by the way.

With the critical consumer data in hand, my little trailer and I rolled out in search of an oven with all the features I wanted, in the color I wanted and sized to fit my countertop. It took visiting all three stores, but I found the perfect oven. I probably should have measured to see if the box would fit in my trailer before checking out, but it fit nicely with several inches to spare. The ride home was delightfully uneventful and my new microwave fits my kitchen as well as it fit my trailer. Thank you, Santa, for my fun bike toy.

Microwave in Trailer

If you’re new to or haven’t done much shopping by bike, here are some tips:

  • A rear rack with large panniers can carry more than you think. Most are built to carry 40 pounds or more.
  • Front baskets are great for overflow items, but be aware that heavy items up front can affect steering.
  • Bring bungee cords for securing bulky items on top of the rear rack or to secure them in a front basket. A deep pothole or hard bump can bounce your purchases right off of your bike.
  • Treat packing your purchases on your bike like a working a puzzle. Sometimes I'm sure I've bought too much, but it always works out. Knock on wood, I've never had to return anything.
  • If it’s dark or dim out, make sure your purchases don’t block your bike lights.
  • Bike trailers don’t have to be expensive. My cargo trailer cost $250 new and is holding up well after a year. Another alternative is buying a used child trailer from someone whose kids have outgrown it.
  • Parking can be more challenging for bikes with trailers. Bike racks are designed for single bikes and many are placed without enough room for the extra length of trailers. Bring an extra lock to secure the trailer, either to the bike or to the bike rack.

What’s the most awkward thing you’ve purchased by bike? What made it tough? What made it work?

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Posted by on December 15, 2013 in Around Town, Gear Talk

 
 
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