Monthly Archives: April 2013

Bike Commute Diaries: “She’s Home!” said the Cat

I miss my dear old cat Belle. She would come running when she heard my car pulling into the driveway, tail in the air and a bounce in her step. Since I don’t drive much, my new cat Blackie doesn’t know that trick. Instead, it’s the sound of the garage door opening that has him sauntering down the walkway to greet me.

Blackie Greets Me

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


Posted by on April 18, 2013 in Commute Diaries


Bike Rack FAIL: Hide and Seek on Castro Street

What good is bike parking if you can’t find it? I’ve visited this small retail plaza in downtown Mountain View for over 15 years. With no bike rack on the sidewalk out front, I’ve always locked up to a sign post or tree. The other day I stopped at the dry cleaners and found a bike rack, hidden behind the azaleas. I don’t think it’s new.

Bike Parking Stair Entrance

If the dry cleaners had an entrance was on Castro Street like the other shops, instead of only an entrance from the back parking lot, I would have never found the inconspicuous rack facing Church Street. Who knew?

Location: Castro Street at Church Street, Mountain View, CA, USA.


Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Bike Lane FAIL


Bike Spotting: Pointer Classica Typical Dutch Bike

If I were back in the Netherlands I wouldn’t have given it a second glance: a sturdy city bike locked up outside an apartment building with a heavy chain. But it was chained to a lamp post in Menlo Park, California, not Amsterdam, so I had to stop and investigate. I’ve never seen the brand before and I can’t guess its vintage, but I was pretty sure it was Dutch even before an internet search. How so? The evidence is in the tell-tale details.

Pointer Classica

Strip away a few accessories and this typical Dutch bike could pass for an American bike from my childhood.

Note: An internet search revealed very little about Pointer except that it’s a Dutch brand like Gazelle and Batavus. If you know more about Pointer bikes or what vintage this bike might be, please leave a comment!

Location: Linden Oaks neighborhood in Menlo Park, California, USA, near Stanford University.


Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Bike Gallery


Scoot Commute Diaries: Thar She Blows

When there’s a weather advisory for 25+ mph winds and your office is smack dab between two light rail stations, the downwind station is the right choice for an easier way to glide.


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

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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Commute Diaries, Other Stuff


Anything Goes Commute Challenge: How to Score It

I flew home from my busy week in Las Vegas yesterday and I’m settling back into my usual routine. Normally that would mean grabbing my bike this morning for my preferred Caltrain + bike commute. But in the spirit of the Anything Goes Challenge I grabbed my scooter instead and pushed off for VTA Light Rail.

Since I’ve only taken tried scooter + light rail commute once, I didn’t think not fair to judge it yet. We’re biased toward what’s familiar and like any route planning, it takes a few times to work out the kinks and otherwise optimize the trip. Plus the Wi-Fi on the train would give me some time to work on this post.


When I started this challenge, I thought I could come up with an equation that would definitively choose the superior commute mode given specific data points. But since we all value things differently, creating a universal equation would be as short-sighted as the usual method of simply considering travel time and cost. We know there’s more that drives our preferences than that. Here’s my personal value equation:

  • Time Wasted Score = overall time – (exercise time up to 45 min) – (50% reading time, 90% if Wi-Fi)
  • Lifestyle Convenience Score = 1 pt for each positive answer (partial credit given)
  • Determining Factor = A particular criteria that drives a particular choice.

Anything Goes Overall

Why didn’t I focus more on cost per trip? Because it’s not what drives me to choose one mode over another. I’m not strongly driven by environmental factors either. Except for driving, they are all equally good in my book.

To enter the Anything Goes Challenge: Take two or more distinct transportation modes to a specific destination you visit regularly (work, school, store, etc). Take the same mode a least twice to give it a fair shake. Collect data, tabulate your scorecard, and assess each mode according to your own value equation. Explain which mode works best for you and why.

Send your summary to by April 30. Please include one or more photos that I can include in a post about you, as well as your scorecard data and your personal value equation. Selected stories will be featured on this blog throughout May for National Bike Month. If you’re private about things, just let me know and I’ll use your first name only or an alias of your choosing.

And while this is a challenge, not a contest, my buddy Richard of Cyclelicious is seeing what he can do to scrape up a prize or two. So you may get something more than just bragging rights for your efforts.

So get out there and scoot, ride, pedal, paddle, run or glide today! Take a watch, take photos and be creative.

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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Anything Goes, Around Town


Anything Goes Commute Challenge: Caltrain + Bike

In 1863, barely 10 years after California became a state, passenger rail service between San Francisco and San Jose opened for service. The line paralleled El Camino Real, the Spanish “king’s road,” hitting every small town on the peninsula. Ridership declined after World War II and the service was nearly shut down in 1977.

It was spared the chopping block and reborn as Caltrain, which has continued to struggle due to lack of dedicated funding. But ridership is booming these days, in part due to “baby bullet” express trains that do the 50 mile trip from San Francisco to San Jose in an hour, and due to bicyclists. In the mid-90s Caltrain rolled out modified rail cars that store 40 bikes, one car per train. The bike cars became so popular that bicyclists were turned away, so now two of the five Caltrain cars are bike cars and bicyclists make up 10% of Caltrain ridership.

Caltrain in the morning

If you’ve read this blog for long, you know I ride Caltrain with my bike almost every day for my work commute. The Mountain View station is one short mile from my home, the train ride is 15 minutes on an uncrowded train, and when I arrive in San Jose it’s an easy three miles to my office on the delightful Guadalupe River Trail.

The Advantages: The train is fast with easy-to-use, plentiful bike racks, and full of interesting, friendly people aboard. The bike ride is long enough to get some exercise, but short enough that I don’t need to change clothes. And it’s on a low stress, quiet route with trees and birds and harmless homeless people. There’s a big shopping center with almost every kind of store just off the trail, and since I’m not carrying clothes I can buy a decent amount; the limiting factor is whether I can carry it aboard the train. I can also go anywhere else along the Caltrain line after work, even all the way to San Francisco, faster than if I drove.

The Disadvantages: Most Caltrain cars require climbing three tall steps to get aboard, which takes some skill in heels with a bike. As far as transit fares go, Caltrain is not that cheap and requires tagging on and off for most passes, which is surprisingly hard to remember. If you forget, it’s an expensive ticket.

Caltrain + bike

The Upshot: I love my Caltrain + bike commute because it’s the perfect low stress blend of exercise, reading, socializing and access to after work activities: shopping, dinner and meetings. Pretty efficient for 50 minutes.

Next up in the Anything Goes Commute Challenge is how YOU can take the challenge. Bike, train, scooter, skates, ferry, kayak: how will you do it?

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Posted by on April 13, 2013 in Anything Goes, Around Town


Anything Goes Commute Challenge: VTA Light Rail

When I moved to Silicon Valley in the mid-1980s, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) was busy launching their first light rail lines from the mostly residential South San Jose through downtown to the technology office parks in North San Jose. Then in the late 1990s, not long after I quit my job in North San Jose, they extended the line to the Caltrain station in Mountain View, a 20 minute walk from my home.

VTA Light Rail was specifically designed to reach the major South Bay employers and indeed it does. I’ve worked at five different employer sites within 1/2 mile of a station. That’s almost half of my total work sites. But I’ve never ridden it regularly. VTA Light Rail is not particularly fast and the walk isn’t particularly short or fun.

VTA Light Rail Wide

My current job is once again within 1/2 mile from a station, so it’s natural for me to try VTA light rail again. Since I now carry a laptop every day, the one mile walk to the station feels even longer. Bikes are allowed on board, but the racks are designed for lighter bikes, not city bikes with panniers and front baskets. My solution: a push scooter with a messenger bag. It shortens my time by 1/3 and makes me feel like a kid again.

The Advantages: At $2 a trip without a pass, VTA is definitely a bargain. The trains are clean and quiet with free Wifi that works well enough for me to work on the train. Using the push scooter exercises different muscles than I use on the bike and I get a solid 20 minutes of exercise and 50 minutes of work time.

The Disadvantages: The overall trip time is longer than riding my bicycle the whole way to work. That’s slow. There are decent sidewalks on the route, but the San Jose segment is not a pedestrian-rich area, so drivers are less careful. After almost getting right-hooked when walking across a driveway on N 1st Street, I switched to taking the sidewalk against traffic so I can see the cars coming. It’s harder to go out to lunch and the after-work shopping is limited to what I can carry in a messenger bag. And I can’t wear most of my heels.

Light Rail

The Upshot: Riding VTA Light Rail is great for getting a solid 45 minutes of work in route to the office, and riding a scooter is a fun way to work out your gluteal muscles.

Next up in the Anything Goes Commute Challenge is Caltrain with my bike. How will it will compare?

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Posted by on April 11, 2013 in Anything Goes, Around Town

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