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Category Archives: Issues & Infrastructure

Bike Lane FAIL: The Case of the Vanishing Bike Lane

The young woman pedaled slowly across town, the sun warming her back and offsetting the morning chill of a California winter day. She stops at the signal and waits in the bike lane, counting the seconds until she can cross the dreaded San Antonio Road. Little does she know the danger awaiting her on the other side.

Crossing San Antonio Road

The signal changes to green and she pushes hard on the pedals to cross the intersection as quickly as possible. First she’s riding alongside a vintage Chevy, then a sedan. As she reaches the center line she discovers the lane ahead has room for either her, or the pickup that’s now beside her. What will she do?

Normally I’d be excited by this newly painted bike lane on my former commute route. But when a bike lane vanishes without warning and forces people to merge in an intersection, it’s a bike lane FAIL.

Location: W Middlefield Road at San Antonio Road, Palo Alto, California, USA

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2014 in Bike Lane FAIL

 

Bike Lane FAIL: Bike Lanes That Stink in San Jose

There’s something rotten about the bike lanes in San Jose’s Hensley district. Every Monday morning the hard-won, lovely wide bike lanes are taken over by garbage bins. City of San Jose, please clean up your act! The comfort and safety of people riding bikes should rate higher than what you send off to the dump.

Stream of Traffic Wide

Location: N 3rd Street near E Empire Street, San Jose, California, USA.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2013 in Bike Lane FAIL

 

From Far and Wide, Ladies Ride, Ride, Ride!

To anyone out there who still thinks bicycling is a just young man’s sport, guess again. Women loves bikes. Even “women of a certain age” whose parenting is more about waving goodbye to college-bound kids or sharing holiday recipes than changing diapers or back to school nights.

Sometimes all it takes to get them on the road is a little encouragement, like having a friend to ride with. Point them to a fun group ride and they’ll ride in like the cavalry.

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That was what I discovered (yet again) last weekend on a women’s ride hosted by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. I had heard the organizer Candice wasn’t really sure if she’d have four or 40 women show up. Since she recruited at least a half dozen helpers, her low estimate was too conservative. So was her high estimate. I counted 50 just before we divided into three groups and headed across downtown San Jose. Our destination: the old port town of Alviso, a 20 mile roundtrip via the Guadalupe River Trail.

I rolled out with a faster group of about a dozen led by Marnie, a charity ride junkie who spins a yarn as fast as she spins her wheels. We stopped for the lowdown on the sights along the way, from the “Hands” mural on the parking garage at San Jose Airport to the site of the Lupe the Mammoth fossil unearthed on the river a decade ago to the cannery and salt flats at Old Alviso.

The ride was a delightful spin on a lovely day filled with female camaraderie. But like many events, it was the after-party that made the news. Instead of taking us back to the fountain plaza where we started, Marnie led us straight to her house in Naglee Park where recovery drinks and food were waiting. For this demographic, that means wine, fruit and cheese. No one complained about the change in direction.

Relaxing on Patio

As we chatted over our recovery drinks, I learned more about the wide range of women in my group. Many were local to San Jose, but others had trekked in from the Peninsula and East Bay. Some were new to group rides, most had cut their teeth in women’s groups with names like Feather Pedals and Velo Girls.

A few, like me, were daily commuters, but most were strictly recreational riders, with a strong showing of the charity ride regulars. The most commonly cited reason for not running errands on their bikes? They couldn’t bear the idea of leaving their “babies” unattended.

Some came to the sport as a gentler alternative to running, others hadn’t really exercised in years before they started cycling. There was discussion over what being a “cyclist” meant. To one woman, a bike rider earns the title “cyclist” when she starts wearing cycling jerseys. Another was quick to say she didn’t consider herself a cyclist, despite the jersey on her back. She didn’t explain why before the conversation turned.

While most were old enough to have college-age kids, there were young’uns along for the ride and the fellowship which knows no age. A shared love of bikes is usually all it takes to bring women together.

Will you travel far to join a group ride? If so, what makes it worth going the extra distance?

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Posted by on October 15, 2013 in Backroads, Women & Bikes

 

Bike Lane FAIL: Old School ‘Rithmetic in Menlo Park

Johnny and Jenny need a 5 foot bike lane to ride their bikes to school. Sam needs 7 feet to park his small car plus a 5 foot buffer to unload his son for school drop-off. Melissa needs a 5 foot lane to ride her bike to work. Teacher Jessica needs 7 feet to park her SUV during school hours. Wilbur needs 10 feet to park his RV on the street all day, every day. And car traffic needs 12 foot travel lanes in each direction.

If Laurel Street in Menlo Park is 42 feet wide, how do you divide the roadway so everyone gets what they need? Or should some people’s needs get higher priority than others?

Bike Commute Kids

The northbound bike lane on Laurel Street is filled with kids and parents on their way to school every morning.

There’s a neighborhood meeting on Thursday, October 3 in Menlo Park where they’ll discuss prohibiting parking all day in the morning-only bike lane near Nativity School, a proposal that’s expected to be unpopular with the school’s parents and teachers. If you think safe bike travel is more important than parking, please speak up at this event or contact Jesse Quirion at (650) 330‐6744 or jtquirion at menlopark.org.

Location: Laurel Street at Oak Grove, Menlo Park, California, USA.

 
8 Comments

Posted by on October 1, 2013 in Bike Lane FAIL

 

What Makes a Bike Shop Attractive to the Ladies

Last spring at the Women’s History Ride in San Francisco I met young woman who had worked for one of the “Big Three” bike manufacturers on their successful women’s product line. On the long train ride down the Peninsula, we chatted about how, why and when women buy bicycles and gear, based on her experience and her company’s extensive research on how to reach this huge, largely untapped market.

Part of her job as a product marketing manager meant visiting retailers and training them on best practices for selling to women. As surprising as it may sound, some of her company’s dealers were able to do over half their business selling to women. Their key strategies included hiring women to work in their shops, offering repair classes for women, organizing women’s group rides, and hosting “ladies nights” at their shops.

She found it frustrating that many dealers weren’t receptive. Maybe they didn’t think there was much demand out there. Maybe it was too big a shift from the status quo. Maybe they didn’t know how to take that first step.

Lots of Bikes

But some shops do get it right, like Passion Trail Bikes in Belmont. That’s remarkable since Passion Trail focuses on mountain biking, a market that in our area is even more overwhelmingly male than road cycling. Even more remarkable is that it focuses on high-end bikes that are more commonly purchased by men.

Passion Trail’s founders started off building community by setting aside a beer and root beer lounge area for customers and by hosting “Wednesday Wrides” with post-ride BBQs that regularly draw over 50 riders. Then they went one step further by reaching out specifically to women, starting with founder Patty teaching new mostly female riders in small groups as a part of the Wednesday Wrides, and expanding to host monthly “Female Fridays” where dozens of women gather to ride together and are given the royal treatment.

This crowd was just the middle group. The chill and fast pace groups were elsewhere in the park.

All rides leave from the shop and roll a couple of miles across town to Water Dog Lake, a small city-owned open space that’s is known for challenging trails, most built by experienced mountain bikers, including founders and staff from Passion Trails. Water Dog is all about skinny singletrack carved into sides of steep canyons and tight turns and narrow wooden bridges. More technical than most local parks, it can be intimidating for less skilled riders. Many have been bitten by the ‘dog and have limped home with severe sprains or broken bones.

So how does a shop selling high-end mountain bikes entice women to a group ride on technical trails? They started by recruiting a few female customers with experience as ride leaders that also had female riding buddies. Then they recruited men as BBQ chefs and bartenders (that part was pretty easy). They promoted the event in the shop’s weekly newsletter, on their Facebook page and asked their ride leaders to promote it too.

Start by recruiting friendly, fun and experienced ride leaders.

At the event, the ride leaders helped the women divide into groups: a “chill” group taking a slower pace on less technical trails; a faster-pace group with fewer regroups for riders wanting a workout; and a large middle group that wanted to do the same technical trails as the fast group but at a more casual pace.

After the ride, the shop hosted a party with a gourmet dinner and cocktails prepared by the guys. I can’t tell you how much the women appreciated being served and how proud the men were to show off their culinary skill. The shop was also open for minor bike repairs and shopping for that next pair of favorite shorts or a new cute new jersey. Having other women around for gear advice and to help with important decisions like jersey color choice made shopping not only more efficient but a lot more fun too.

Jersey Shopping

I’m sure my friends can add more, but here’s my advice for bike shops who want to sell more to women:

  • Host a women’s ride. If you don’t have enough women on your staff or among your loyal customers to host one, take a hard look at how inviting your shop is to the average woman who walks in off the street.
  • Offer bike repair classes for women. But avoid implying that riders “should” be able to do much more than pump their tires and fix a flat. Many women do want to learn how to repair their bikes, but not all. Don’t assume one way or the other, just ask: “Do you want me to show you how to do this?”
  • Don’t call mellow, less technical trails “beginner” trails. Many riders who prefer gentler trails (or roads) have been riding for years, they just may not be looking for technical or physical challenges when they ride. Don’t imply they should be advancing their skills or strength.
  • Put some women specific items out front. When women walk into a store and see items designed for women they get the message that they belong, even if the bike or jersey isn’t their style. Don’t worry, the guys will find mens clothing. Most are probably paying more attention to the bikes and gear anyway.

Women Specific Gear Wide

What’s in it for retailers? Women’s products currently only account for 14% of sales in bike industry, but they account for 34% in snow sports and a whopping 46% in running. I’d say there’s a huge opportunity knocking.

Women, does your local bike shop do anything special that you like? Are there things they could do that might make you a more loyal customer? Are there things you wish they would quit doing?

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12 Comments

Posted by on September 26, 2013 in Dirt Trails, Women & Bikes

 

Will Drivers Apply the Golden Rule to Cyclists?

After two vetoes, Governor Jerry Brown finally signed a 3-foot passing law for California that requires vehicle drivers to give adequate space when passing cyclists on the road. Why were previous versions of the bill vetoed before? Because they weren’t watered down to allow drivers to pass closer than three feet when the driver “slows to a speed that is reasonable and prudent.” Note that the law doesn’t specify whether the assessment of a “reasonable and prudent” speed and passing distance is according to the driver or the cyclist.

Putting it another way, in a narrow lane will drivers slow their vehicles down to a speed that would be comfortable for them if they were on a bike and the vehicle were passing them?

Will drivers to abide by the Golden Rule and do unto others as they would have others do unto them?

Three Foot Passing Law Front

That begs the question: Would the average American driver even consider riding a bicycle given the street and road conditions available today? Sadly, the answer is no, Americans aren’t riding our inhospitable streets that favor people in cars over people on bikes. Most don’t think it’s safe to ride bicycles on our streets.

But that doesn’t mean that when they’re behind the wheel they’ll wait and change lanes to pass either.

Am I the only one who thinks this way? If not, why do you think some drivers don’t apply the Golden Rule?

Three Foot Passing Law

 
9 Comments

Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Issues & Infrastructure

 

Epilogue: Five Things I Knew About Women & Bikes*

*But was afraid to write about without before I had data to back me up.

Writing this series was more emotionally difficult than I expected. In my “Looking Back, Moving Forward” post in January I wrote: “I’m not really sure the year will bring…I see myself speaking out more for women’s issues in cycling. I’ve written about it some and gotten into a few Twitter fights. But I’ve been biting my tongue a lot.”

I was biting my tongue because I knew that people would challenge my statements: “I’m a woman and I like repairing bikes” or “I’m a man and I prefer protected bike lanes too.” That’s why I needed the survey to prove that there are indeed demographic differences that may not fit your personal experience.

I also knew that criticizing the “faster, longer, harder” sport-driven emphasis of cycling would challenge people who are comfortable with cycling remaining an activity for an elite breed of rider. Real cyclists have the strength to climb 10% grades, the skill to clear rock gardens, the endurance to commute 15+ miles to work one way, and the courage to merge across high-speed traffic. Those who can’t are encouraged to learn some skills and try harder. Those who don’t want to are relegated to novice status, even if they’ve been riding for decades.

Because of this cultural bias, I felt compelled to show my credibility as a skilled rider and former racer when writing this series. It bothers me that I felt I had to do that to be taken seriously.

This series is complete, but I pledge to keep writing now and then about women and bicycling. I already have one partially written about everything a high-end mountain bike shop does to win women’s loyalty, and another about everything a race organizer did to alienate beginner racers. As I said, I’ve been biting my tongue.

What issues have you experienced as a woman in cycling? Did it affect how much, where or what type of riding you do? What changes would you like to see?

Arastradero Bowl

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Women & Bikes

 

Part 5: Five Things I Knew About Women & Bikes*

*But was afraid to write about without before I had data to back me up. This is the final post of the series.

Two weeks ago the League of American Bicyclists released their Women on a Roll research report on women and bicycling. The report breaks down results into five key areas: comfort, convenience, consumer products, confidence and community. Here’s my take on community based on my personal experience.

What I knew about COMMUNITY: Women get more out of bicycling when they ride with friends.

Solvang Century Success

Some Statistics from the Women on a Roll report:

  • 42% of American women say “people to bike with” would encourage them to ride more.
  • 12,500 females participated (39%) in New York City’s Five Borough Bike Tour, America’s largest cycling event, in 2012.
  • 38% of participants in 2012 multi-day bike tours hosted by Adventure Cycling, the nation’s largest bike touring group, were women.
  • Women were more likely than men to be inspired by another person’s example (18% vs 11%)

My Personal Experience: Every major advancement in intensity or skill in bicycling I’ve made is a direct result from riding with friends, mostly women. Peer pressure is an amazing thing. It started when my girlfriends and I challenged ourselves to ride 33 rolling miles in the Tour de Peninsula on my first adult bicycle, a fully rigid hardtail mountain bike. The route had some short steep hills that we weren’t so sure we could clear without walking, but we did it. We celebrated with brunch at the end and all agreed we could have ridden more.

Six years later my friend Deanna convinced me to do my first triathlon, the challenging Wildflower Olympic distance that starts with a steep 400 ft climb in the first mile of the bike course. Within a year of mountain biking with Velo Girls I was dragged into the 24 Hours of Adrenalin mountain bike relay and then cyclocross racing. Pretty impressive considering I’m not that competitive, as you can see in this rare racing footage.

I’m not the only woman who’s succumbed to peer pressure. It took some convincing to get Katie to do the 12 Hours of Humboldt relay with us. She was relatively new to mountain biking but she rocked the singletrack and we came home uncontested winners in our category. The lesson: you can’t win if you don’t show up.

12 Hours of Humboldt

I’m not saying that riding with men can’t inspire women to go farther or ride harder, but it’s a lot easier for women to say to themselves: “it’s easy for them, they’re stronger, more experienced, more daring” or whatever. But when you see someone you consider your peer conquer a challenge it says “if she can do it, then I can.”

That’s why I’ve always gravitated towards women’s group rides and have spent many years organizing them and cultivating women to ride with. The issue I had with riding with mixed gender groups is that the majority of participants were men so they set the pace at an overall speed that was significantly faster than the average woman’s speed. It’s no fun to get dropped from the group or ride at max effort while others are coasting along.

Plus, when I struggled there was too much unhelpful “encouragement:” “C’mon, you can ride that section. Just lift your front wheel over the root” “The hill’s not that steep/long/technical. Just spin up and you’ll be fine.” The way a woman encourages is often different, and it’s certainly received differently by most women. And guys tend to talk about different topics. I don’t want to hear about which tires grip best for 20 miles.

For some of our women’s rides we’d invite the guys to join, but the guys knew that we were selecting the route and setting the pace and the tone of the ride. It’s totally different when women make up 50% of the group and we’re the ones planning it vs being 10% of the group with the fastest and/or most skilled guys planning the ride.

Hitting the Trail

The Impact: Women who only ride with men often think they’re slow or unskilled when they’re average to above average for a women of their fitness level and experience. Here’s a typical reaction from a reader:

“I also get a bit frustrated that I’m weaker than some men when I *know* that I bike more and try harder than they do. I’m car free, so I bike everywhere year round. And I still get to feel like I’m holding them back, and it SUCKS. Even when they’re being super nice about it.”

Feelings of frustration do not bode well for long-term success. Without peers to ride with, women are more likely to drop out of the sport, which makes it even harder to reach critical mass of women riders. And that only adds to other barriers like having few comfortable places to ride, having trouble finding gear that suits them, not getting the professional skills training they want, and not having a bike shop staff that serves their needs.

The value of community isn’t limited to sport riders. In some ways, it’s more important for commuters and errand riders who for logistical reasons are far more likely to ride alone. So they don’t get the information sharing, the moral support and the friendship that comes from riding with a group.

Is riding with a group important to you? If so, how does it enhance your bicycling experience? If not, why not?

Tea Table

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2013 in Issues & Infrastructure, Women & Bikes

 

Part 4: Five Things I Knew About Women & Bikes*

*But was afraid to write about without before I had data to back me up. This is part four of the series.

Two weeks ago the League of American Bicyclists released their Women on a Roll research report on women and bicycling. The report breaks down results into five key areas: comfort, convenience, consumer products, confidence and community. Here’s my take on confidence based on my personal experience.

What I knew about CONFIDENCE: Women LOVE taking skills classes, both on and off the bike.

Dirt Series Liebrecht San Jose 2009

Some Statistics from the Women on a Roll report:

  • 58% of women vs 81% of men said they are “very confident” riding a bicycle.
  • 26% of American women say learning more about bicycling skills would encourage them to ride more.
  • In a survey of six cities, 29% of women vs 83% of men said they could fix a flat tire and only 3% of women (vs. 34% of men) said they could fix any problem.

My Personal Experience: Before I got into bicycling, I was a ballroom and salsa dancer with a four-night-a-week dance habit. I think I was making up for lost time for the ballet, tap and jazz dance lessons I didn’t have as a little girl. When your parents have five daughters, dance lessons don’t easily fit into the budget.

What I learned from ballroom dance is that to do it well you need to start with good instruction, you need to practice regularly, you need to push beyond yourself beyond your comfort zone occasionally, and you’re never to skilled for classes. Oh, and if it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong.

All that applies to the bicycling as well. When I got my first adult bike at 30 years old, my friends taught me the basics: downshift before you need to, keep a high cadence and spin up the climbs, look through the corners on twisty descents and get your butt out of the saddle on loose dirt downhills. That got me through a lot.

As I got more into the sport I turned to clinics in cyclocross, road racing, and mountain bike skills. The first time I did a cyclocross remount I was so excited snuck out of class to call Dick, and I burst into happy tears after successfully riding over my first log at the Dirt Series. I took their mountain bike clinics three years in a row, and mastered the teeter-totter my friend Yvonne is tackling in the photo above. There’s always more to learn and having pros assist can have your confidence growing by leaps and bounds.

Beginner Girl Riders Crop

But the thing about learning skills, especially for women and girls, is that people have to do it when they’re ready for it. A few years ago I had the pleasure of assisting the NorCal High School Cycling League at their winter mountain bike training camp. I was assigned a group of girls with the least experience. By the end of the skills session Coach Julie had inspired them to trust their bikes and their balance to ride over a 6″ high rock.

But on the trail ride they struggled on the gnarly wet singletrack and we could tell we were losing them. So we rerouted them on an adventure exploring Tamarancho’s “forbidden” fire roads and the smiles returned, thank goodness. No matter what potential and enthusiasm these girls might have had when they signed up, they were unlikely to keep mountain biking (much less race) if they didn’t have fun on their first trail rides.

Bike skills don’t stop with bike handling. Learning to change a tire is a rite of passage to earn your cyclist badge. The unwritten rule among road racers is that you should be able to fix your own flat in less than 10 minutes. Take longer and you’ll have some ‘splaining to do. Then there’s fixing a dropped chain, adjusting a derailleur, repairing a broken chain and more. So many things a cyclist is expected to know.

Changing Road Tire 2

The Impact: Not everyone who loves riding bikes loves working on them. In particular, I’ve found that most women learn the minimum to get by and let the pro mechanics handle the rest. Why shouldn’t they? Most drivers don’t change flat tires, they call for roadside assistance. But bicycling isn’t mainstream like driving, and people who aren’t interested in working on bikes often don’t feel like real cyclists. And that’s a lot of women.

The silliest part of that is that flats (the most common mechanical problem) aren’t even that common with wider city and mountain bike tires. I’ve only had one flat in three years of daily commuting and I was able to get home easily on light rail. Replacing a flat on a rear wheel with a Nexus hub isn’t so easy.

In contrast, my road bike tires are delicate flowers that go flat as soon as the pavement gets wet. Shards of glass or wires from steel-belted car tires stick to the them and work their way through the tread. Lightweight tires may be faster, but they’re not so durable. At least they’re relatively easy to change.

The lesson with regard to women’s preference for formal instruction is simple: offer skills classes and women will come, even experienced riders. Especially if the class is targeted for women and led by female instructors. Why are women only classes particularly enticing? The answer will come in the next post in this series.

How did you learn skills on the bike? Formal instruction or from friends only? What about repairing your bike? Is it something you enjoy or would you rather have someone else take care of it?

Cyclocross Skills

Top photo courtesy of Dirt Series mountain bike camps. San Jose 2009, Liebrecht.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2013 in Issues & Infrastructure, Women & Bikes

 

Hats On for a Rolling Ladies Tea Party

What happens when you invite ladies who love bikes to a garden party on a warm summer day? Laughter, stories, advice and new friends. Cucumber sandwiches, macaroons, cookies and fruit. Nicely hot tea poured from real tea pots in tea cups of all shapes, sizes and styles, just like the women who rode to the Gamble Garden in Palo Alto for the Ladies Tea & Bike Social I hosted Saturday with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

Did I mention hats? From floppy cloth to prim straw, plus gloves and even a parasol for dramatic flair.

Monica Portrait Fun

I was a little nervous before the event. Would the 15 women who RSVP’d show up? Since few knew each other did we need a game to get the party started? Would the tea, prepared at home, stay hot in the insulated pitcher I MacGyvered? And would I be able to squeeze it all in my little trailer and ride without dumping it over? I didn’t weigh the load but I’m guessing 60-70 pounds. Eleven quarts of tea and water is not light!

My fears were for naught. Twenty women arrived for the tea and a few more stopped in for a quick visit. Nine women rode to the garden with me and my little trailer and escorted me back home afterward. Cheryl kept riding past her house. I guess she wasn’t ready for the party to end. The happy faces are evident in the bike portraits.

Tea Table

My great-aunt always said that food tastes better when you eat with a sterling silver fork. Maybe that’s why I don’t like paper plates and cups, especially at parties. I didn’t plan for the party to be low waste per se, but since we used cloth tablecloths, ceramic tea pots and cups, and leftover reusable plates, the waste was little more than paper napkins and some packaging from the snacks. The party’s “green-ness” went beyond the fact that almost all of us arrived by bike, transit and walking. All because ladies prefer real tea cups and linens.

The number one question at the end of the event was the same one I got from women who couldn’t attend: when will you do it again? I can’t say today when exactly it will be, but this party is sure to be the first in a series of grand affairs. Hang tight, sign up on the SVBC mailing list and follow this blog for the next party invitation.

Ladies, are there group rides or other activities for women in your area? What kinds of themes or other special focuses do they have? What makes them fun (or not)?

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Posted by on August 18, 2013 in Around Town, Women & Bikes

 
 
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