Category Archives: Issues & Infrastructure

Part 2: Five Things I Knew About Women & Bikes*

*But was afraid to write about until I had data to back me up. The is the second post in the series.

Last week 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 convenience based on my personal experience.

What I knew about CONVENIENCE: Female cyclists shop and run errands by bike more than male cyclists.

Grocery Shopping

Some Statistics from the Women on a Roll report:
Women are far more likely than men to report the following as barriers to bicycling:

  • “Lack of time” (29% vs 21%)
  • “Inability to carry children and other passengers” (19% vs 7%)
  • “Inability to carry more stuff ” (32% vs 20%)

My Personal Experience: If I couldn’t carry things on my bike except what I could fit in a messenger bag I wouldn’t be a daily cyclist. Period. I need to carry a laptop to work every day, I like to pick up groceries and shop for random things after work, and I don’t like how my sweaty I get when I wear a bag on my back.

It wasn’t easy to find equipment I have now. To start, bikes you find at most shops don’t come with racks or baskets and putting them on anything except a touring bike or cruiser is discouraged. When I bought my ’97 Lemond Tourmalet the guy at the shop flat out told me “you can’t put a rack on this bike” when I asked about it. Six years later I did it anyway and it works and looks great.

I now ride a city bike to work because it means I can dress professionally which eliminates the second change of clothing. It also leaves room in my panniers for shopping after work and holding extra layers of outerwear for all sorts of weather. My city bikes are also more practical for big shopping loads on the weekends. Three bags of groceries? No problem. Throwing down the plastic for a new dress coat at Macy’s? No problem. Too bad it took bike industry outsiders like Public Bikes and Linus Bikes to build a bike that lets me do that.

Macys After Work

And that’s for me, a woman who’s not a mom with kids to take to day care, to school, to soccer or dance or to the doctor. How easy is it for mothers to find proper equipment locally? Are these places close enough to home or work to have time to zip between them, especially if they were originally chosen based on driving times?


The Impact: In addition to the gear issues mentioned above, traditional programs like Bike to Work Day promote commuting to work (often the longest trips people make all week) and neglect the shorter and often simpler shopping, errand and kid ferrying trips. Often there’s a competition that only measures mileage instead of number of trips which could be just as effective at reducing congestion, pollution and traffic noise.

The emphasis on work commutes also means that routes are planned with office parks and city centers in mind more than short cross-town destinations. So cities create neighborhood greenways that avoid busy retail corridors and then people scratch their heads when they still see bikes riding busy roads. They don’t realize that cyclists are doing the same errands to the grocery, the drug store, the hardware store that they do by car.

I’ve heard people at meetings discourage putting bike lanes on retail streets because of all the driveways, but I’m guessing they don’t shop that much. I don’t love watching out for cars entering or leaving parking lots, but if that’s your destination, you need a comfortable way to get there even if that means you ride a little slower.

For mothers bicycling with children the bike infrastructure discussion from yesterday is even more important. It’s one thing to accept risk for yourself and respond to others’ concerns. Riding with your kids requires a much higher level of confidence that the route will be safe for both of you and your little sweeties.

How often do you shop or do errands by bike? Do you ride with your kids to school or after-school activities? What were the biggest barriers you faced doing so?

Elly Ciaran 2


Posted by on August 13, 2013 in Issues & Infrastructure, Women & Bikes


Five Things I Already Knew About Women & Bikes*

*But was afraid to write about until I had data to back me up. This is first post in the series.

The League of American Bicyclists released their research on women and bicycling last week in a brief report titled Women on a Roll. The report compiles survey and other data from a variety of sources throughout the United States on when, where, why, and how women are riding bicycles (or not). The good news is that women overwhelmingly like bicycling and more women are riding, with evidence from the report like:

  • Bicycle riding ranked #9 of 47 popular sports for female participation, surpassing yoga, tennis and softball.
  • The overall number of women who bike commute grew 56% from 2007 to 2011.

The report then breaks down results into five key areas: Comfort, Convenience, Consumer Products, Confidence and Community. As a woman who has bicycled for daily transportation for three years, for sport for 12 years, and for fun her whole life, there was little in the report that surprised me. But I’m so grateful that they put hard data behind what I already knew was true, but often hesitate saying for fear of offending people.

The problem is that people are individuals, not demographics. Many women bristle at statements like “women are afraid of car traffic” or “women aren’t competitive” which carry a value judgment more than stating a fact. A significant number of female cyclists have preferences similar to typical male cyclists, and a significant number of male cyclists have preferences similar to typical female cyclists. So that’s my disclaimer before I begin…

What I knew about COMFORT: Women will go out of their way for better bike lanes and low-stress routes.

Bike Path

Some statistics from the Women on a Roll Report:

  • Women will ride an additional 5 minutes further than men to access a bike facility, like a bike lane or path.
  • 47% of potential cyclists in Portland, OR, who are “Interested but Concerned” about bicycling are women.
  • In another Portland survey, 94% of women agreed that separated lanes made their ride safer vs 64% of men.
  • A 2011 bike count in New York City showed that 15% of the cyclists on a street without a bike lane were women, compared to 32% on a nearby streets with a bike lane.

My Personal Experience: Although my friends and I will ride on the shoulder of highways with 45+ mph traffic like Highway 1 along the California coast, we avoid it if there’s any alternative. It’s true for commuting too, where time is more critical. When I ride the whole way to work I have three options: 11 miles on the shoulder of a 45 mph expressway, 12 miles on 35 mph 4-lane office park arterial roads with bike lanes or 14 miles where half is on arterials and half on off-road bike paths. Guess which one I choose.

My friend Cindy C commutes on busy Central Expressway when she’s pinched for time because it’s faster, but my other female roadie friends won’t. And I’ve never heard a woman say she enjoys the thrill of riding an expressway. Yes, I’ve had men say that, usually in the context of why they don’t enjoy it anymore: the thrill is gone. There’s a reason car insurance companies charge men under 25 higher rates. They’re risk takers.

Riding on Central Expressway

Not that women always choose streets with bike lanes. When I turn off of a faster street with door zone bike lanes and take its parallel neighborhood street suddenly I see women and girls, despite there being stop signs every 500 feet. It’s not a matter of experience either. I know an experienced couple that disagrees over which of these two routes to choose. She likes to leave five minutes early and take the lower-stress route, he doesn’t understand why. No names on this one, but you can guess.

The Impact: When a city installs bike lanes it says that bikes belong. Despite long-standing laws giving bikes full rights to the street, the public is more accepting of bikes on high-speed roads where there are bike lanes. Social acceptance is more important to women who often have a harder time ignoring the safety concerns of others. “You ride there? That’s dangerous. Are you crazy?” has greater negative impact when it’s said to a woman than a man. Especially when it’s her husband, mother or best friend saying it.


Having only male cyclists weigh in on bicycle infrastructure can skew it toward designs that fewer women will choose. In particular, the preferences of “vehicular cyclists” who believe bikes should be “driven” like cars in standard travel lanes instead of ridden in bike lanes are far less appealing to women. Given that 94% of women prefer separated bike lanes, I’d say that people who fight against them are being unintentionally sexist.

Is it that women are too nervous to learn to ride in car traffic? Nope. Over half of the participants in classes offered by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition are women. My take: women are willing to learn to ride confidently and safely, but they’d rather not have to ride in fast traffic that doesn’t think they belong there.

Do the results in the Women on a Roll report surprise you? Does it match what you see in your area? How do you think the preferences of women riders impacts bicycling in your city?



Posted by on August 12, 2013 in Issues & Infrastructure, Women & Bikes


Bike Rack FAIL: The Ankle Biter Torture Rack

I saved the best for last. This is the torturous bike rack that inspired the whole series. I had seen the Jaws of Death all over town and never used it properly. I had seen the Throat Choke and never tried it out. But this Ankle Biter was so perplexing I was compelled to figure it out. It wasn’t obvious to me, or painless for Zella.

Ankle Biter

The shopping center clearly made an attempt to serve bicyclists by putting in so many racks in a little covered area with landscaping. Too bad they’re way in the back of the parking lot next to the garbage dumpsters.

Location: Menlo Station Shopping Center, Menlo Park, California, USA


Posted by on August 6, 2013 in Bike Lane FAIL


Bike Rack FAIL: The Throat Choke Torture Rack

The Jaws of Death isn’t the only old-school torture rack in my ‘hood. At the beautifully bucolic Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, next to the delightfully shady picnic area and between the espalier apple orchard and the sapling hut the kids love to play inside, there it is: the Throat Choke Torture Rack. It looks sinister, doesn’t it?

Throat Choke

The Gamble Garden in the only place I’ve seen this particular model, although Richard of Cyclelicious has seen them in action in the Santa Cruz area and found it alive and well for sale on the internet. Cities, if you’re tempted to buy this model, don’t. It doesn’t fit large tube bikes and terrorizes ones that have the misfortune of fitting.

Like the Jaws of Death, we never locked up to the Throat Choke as intended. It seemed too cruel to subject beloved bikes to such cruel treatment. Once again, Zella takes one for the team and submits to the torture.

How would you compare this rack to the Jaws of Death? Which torture would you prefer for your bike?

Location: Elizabeth Gamble Garden Picnic Area, Palo Alto, California, USA.


Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Bike Lane FAIL


Bike Rack FAIL: The Jaws of Death Torture Rack

I’m all for creative ingenuity and building a better mouse trap. I probably wouldn’t appreciate living in Silicon Valley otherwise. And bike theft is rapidly increasing in the area. But when I see attempts to make bike racks more secure that are more like instruments of bike torture, I scratch my head: Who designed these things?

Behold the Jaws of Death. I see these racks all over town, outside shopping centers, movie theaters, strip malls and government buildings built or remodeled in the 1970-1980s. The bike’s frame and wheels are secured in its jaws while an open-ended cage blocks thieves from cutting your ordinary school locker padlock.

Jaws of Death Whole Bike Wide

As many times as I’ve seen these racks, I’ve never attempted to use them as intended. Why subject my bike to the torture of jamming metal rods in its spokes? My cable and U-locks don’t work with the little lock cage either.

Then the other day I talked to an old-time bike commuter who said he likes them. So I grabbed my old mountain bike, bought a padlock and took the old-school racks for a spin. They worked much better than expected.

Although it seems secure, I’m not sure I’ll regularly subject my nicer bikes to this torturous rack. Would you?

Location: Bloomingdale’s at Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, California, USA.


Posted by on July 23, 2013 in Bike Lane FAIL


Bike Lane SUCCESS! Hedding Street in San José

Breathing room. That’s what you get when a city gives you more than a skinny strip for riding your bike. And when the city paints it a bold green that make its purpose clear, the city gets new riders in return. Like Sarah, who rode with me on the newly minted Hedding Street bike lanes. With the wide lane, it was easy to chat.

Sarah and her girlfriend recently bought new bikes to ride on the rapidly expanding network of buffered bike lanes near their home in San José’s Japantown. Before the lanes she never considered bicycling. In fact, she hadn’t ridden a bike in 15 years. “The fast cars were too intimidating,” she said. Now when her girlfriend rides to work on Hedding Street and the Guadalupe River Trail, Sarah goes along for the ride. “We rock climb together. Now we can ride bikes together too,” she explained. Bravo, San José!

Sarah Thumbs Up

The Hedding Street green lanes run from the Guadalupe River Trail east to 17th Street (near Hwy 101). The lanes provide a critical east-west route that complements existing north-south bike lanes in central San José.

Location: Hedding Street between Guadalupe River Trail and 17th Street, San José, California, USA.


Posted by on July 19, 2013 in Bike Lane FAIL


Bike Lane FAIL? Median Path in Los Altos Hills

If you’re designing a way for bikes to navigate a tough intersection, a great place to start is to ask bicyclists, right? Sounds great in theory but in practice, but you’ll find that bicyclists don’t always agree on what’s best.

Take this median path on El Monte Road, a high-speed four lane road that crosses under Interstate 280. At a local bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee meeting, one of the BPAC members proposed it as a good model for a redesign of a similar undercrossing just up the freeway. I strained to understand. Did he really think a narrow sidewalk would work for the packs of road riders that frequent this area? I mean, it’s so narrow that there’s even a “walk bike” sign. And the path is 1/2 mile long. No roadie would ever walk that far in their Sidis.

Median Path

The reality is that few people actually walk their bikes on this path and it’s very useful for people who don’t want to ride on the roadway and deal with high-speed traffic merging on and off the freeway. While I’ve ridden on the roadway on weekly basis and have had little trouble with drivers, not everyone wants to ride like that. Ironically, the day I took these photos, a driver nearly right-hooked me in his impatience to get on the freeway.

So is this path good for bicyclists? Yes, provided the city ditches the “walk bike” sign and doesn’t expect all cyclists to use the median pathway. Bicyclists don’t always choose the same path and that’s OK by me.

Note: “No Bikes” photo from Greg McPheeters. More on the Los Altos Hills attempt to ban bikes is here.

Location: El Monte Road at Interstate 280, adjacent to Foothill College.


Posted by on July 9, 2013 in Bike Lane FAIL


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