Monthly Archives: May 2013

Bike Commute Diaries: Spring Rain, Morning Peace

When you live in a city that averages over 300 days of sunshine and less than 15 inches of rain a year, riding in light rain along a quiet path is a special treat. And for me this morning, a peaceful way to start my day.


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 May 16, 2013 in Commute Diaries


Anything Goes Challenge: Margaret Walks in L.A.

There’s a famous saying: “Nobody walks in L.A.” If you’ve ever been to Los Angeles you know that the saying is close to the truth. L.A. is where cars were crowned king and their kingdom spread across the nation and the world through the movie industry. But not everyone drives in L.A. just to cross a street. Margaret rides her bike to work every day, and for her Anything Goes Challenge she did the unthinkable–WALK. This is her story.

I like to ride my bike to work from my home near Los Angeles International Airport to my job in Manhattan Beach. Door to door one way is 30-60 minutes and 4.5 miles if I take the city route and 9 miles if I take the popular bike path along the beach known as “The Strand”. My commute takes me past the stereotypical SoCal landscape…aerospace industry, movie studios, million dollar homes and the beach.

Margaret bike crop

When I read about the Anything Goes Commute Challenge, I was intrigued. I’ve always wanted to try, just once, to walk to work. But I didn’t want to walk all the way home. For this challenge, I decided to take public transport TO work and then walk home FROM work.

The Commute To Work: Transit

To complete this challenge I needed public transit timetables and routes. Living a 10 min walk from the Metro Line station, I am familiar with the Metro train service. However, I have only a vague idea of the bus service. I know which bus passes by my office, but have no clue where to board near my house.

7  not my train

Using Metro Trip Planner, I plugged in my travel details and came up with a dizzying array of possibilities, which I narrowed down to three:

  1. Walk 0.6 mi to bus stop, catch City bus #1. Transfer to Metro bus #2. Walk 0.1 mi to office. Total: $1.40.
  2. Walk 0.9 mi to Metro Line. Take train, transfer to Metro bus #2. Walk 0.1 mi to office. Total: $3.00
  3. Walk 1.3 mi to bus stop, catch Metro bus #2. Walk 0.1 mi to office. Total: $1.50

I chose the most expensive option, #2, because I wanted to get in three modes of transport. Also, I could use my Transit Access Pass (TAP) card for the entire trip.

12 ads on bus w small portion for GPS bus map

Advantages of Transit: The bus and train stop are an easy walk from my house. The service is frequent during rush hour, so no stress about missing my boarding and the TAP card was easy to use. I enjoyed being in the hustle and bustle of morning commuters. My commute is just short enough to be a pleasant experience and almost as fast as commuting by bike. I enjoyed experiencing little moments such as the man selling steaming hot tamales and coffee at the bus stop.

Disadvantages of Transit: Riding the bus and train are more expensive than riding my bike, and my exercise is limited to just 13 minutes of walking. By 10:00am I was tired because I didn’t have my ‘wake-up’ ride. And the bus does not pass by the stores I frequent, making it inconvenient to run errands after work. I was initially concerned that the walk to the Metro station might not be safe in the dark since it passes liquor stores, run-down motels and a former strip joint. But after I walked it I decided my fears were unfounded.

11  0610 under watchful eye of Tom,  brisk tamale & coffee biz at bus stop

The Commute Home: Walking

For the commute home, I walked the 4.5 miles. I couldn’t have picked a better day. Temperature was sunny and 65F, light winds at my back and a downhill or flat walk. I chose not to walk my bike route home, which is quiet and mostly through residential neighborhoods, but instead a route that includes 2.7 miles along a major, six lane boulevard. I chose this route so that I would pass small shops and a mall.

Walking down a major boulevard is just as stressful as biking it. What an eye opener! I was hyper-vigilant to the cars exiting driveways as well as drivers making turns from intersections, all without bothering to check for pedestrians. After one mile, I abandoned the plan to continue on the boulevard and instead cut through a mall parking lot. I stopped for a half hour break to collect my wits and enjoy a Happy Hour appetizer of baba ganoush and water, before heading off to a ‘quieter’, yet major street.

13 0305  busy blvd

Advantages of walking: I noticed even more walking than when biking. Retired professional soccer player and sports commentator Alexi Lalas jogged right past me. That’s a different type of exercise than biking.

Disadvantages of Walking: It takes a long time to get to destinations and probably won’t be as pleasant once the warmer weather arrives. I must wear proper walking shoes (Skechers, ftw!) and am limited by what I can carry, so it’s not ideal to pickup groceries along the way.

Anything Goes Margaret

Overall Assessment: Biking to work everyday is by no means a ‘rut’. However, it was nice to mix it up for a change by taking the train and bus. I really enjoyed the feeling of living in a city with proper public transportation, even though L.A. isn’t quite there yet. The bus and train were clean and on time. I liked seeing all types of commuters taking advantage of public transport. I was pleasantly surprised when my train arrived at 06:07a with standing room only. Also, by taking a different route to work, I was able to see that there are a lot more cyclists out there (I only see a few when I bike).

What’s Next for Margaret: This will not be my last time utilizing public transport to get to work. I am positive that I will not be walking home anytime soon, but instead taking option #3 and walking 1.3 miles home. Thanks Ladyfleur, for putting me up to the challenge!

Thanks, Margaret, for participating in the Anything Goes Challenge and proving that somebody walks in LA!

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All photos in this post are courtesy of Margaret and are used with her permission.


Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Anything Goes


When Mom’s Taxi is a Bike

When I speak up at public meetings for improving bicycling in my city, I regularly hear the naysayers: “You can’t carry groceries on a bike,” “You can’t ride in the rain,” “You can’t ride a bike in professional clothes,” “It’s too cold and dark in the winter.” I can speak from personal experience to handily dispel all these myths.

But for “Mothers need cars to take their kids all over town” I have to rely on stories from my friends. Like Karin, my former housemate who bought a bike trailer and started taking her son Anthony to day care on her way to work as soon as he could hold up his head. The 10 mile round trip gave Karin regular exercise that fit within a tight mommy schedule. And trust me, Karin isn’t a happy camper without regular exercise.

Now Karin has another job that doesn’t work for a bike commute with a day care drop off, but she and Anthony regularly ride around town: to the park, the farmer’s market, the swimming pool and even Baskin Robbins.

Karin and I met Elly through Girl Scouts where we formed a group we called the “leaders without daughters” because we didn’t have kids. Like Karin, Elly now has a son who rides with her to day care and around town. Elly says: “He sings to me while we ride (and makes up songs). I think he enjoys it because everything is closer and more immediate. He can say hello to people we pass, point out dogs and interesting sights.”

When Karin starting riding baby Anthony to day care on her work commute, she was the only parent I knew who did it. Now, I’m seeing more and more riding parents their kids to day care or to school. I rarely get the opportunity to snap a shot. They’re rushing to get to school while I’m rushing to catch the train.

But at the Energizer Station on Bike to Work Day last week I met this family. The mom and baby were riding to work and day care at Stanford University. The dad and sibling were along for the ride. All were perfectly content.

Mom & Dad at Caltrain

Karin told me a long time ago I should write about balance bikes. She said that Anthony learned to ride a two-wheel pedal bike in less than an hour because he had ridden a balance bike first. Since I only write about what I experience directly, I wish I had been there to see it. I can only imagine the smile on Anthony’s face.

But I did meet this two-year-old girl rocking a balance bike as she and her parents rode through our cul-de-sac. They had come from the grocery store almost 1/2 mile away and had another 1/2 mile to go before the reached home. That little girl has both endurance and some mad downhill skillz as you’ll see below.

Do you use a bike to take your kid to day care, to school or just around town? What were your biggest challenges? What tips do you have for parents who are curious to try it?

Photos of Karin and Elly in this post are courtesy of them and are used with their permission.


Posted by on May 12, 2013 in Family Rides


Silicon Valley Bike Style

Copenhagen has Cycle Chic, New York has #BikeNYC and San Francisco has Bike Pretty, but did you know that Silicon Valley has Bike Style? Yes, indeed, in the last couple of years, I’ve been spying more and more stylish people riding beautiful bikes all over the Valley. The word is out that you don’t have to get kitted out in lycra or other performance bike wear every time you hop on a bike.

I had never seen as many stylish people on bikes strutting their stuff as I did at the Bike Away From Work Bash hosted by the SVBC at San José City Hall last Thursday night. I grabbed people out of the bike valet line and quickly snapped almost 50 bike portraits. The full set of portraits shows an amazingly diverse community of riders. Whether in lycra or jeans or work clothes, everyone looks great when they’re on their bike.

What’s your bike style? Urban edgy? Frills and lace? Preppy classic? Euro sophisticated? Slouchy chic? Whatever it is, you can show it off by uploading your photo on the newly launched Silicon Valley Bike Style.

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Posted by on May 11, 2013 in Cycle Fashions


Fashion Friday: Katie in Candy Apple Red

Some things are just made for each other, even when they’re not. Katie fell in love with this retro-styled A-line skirt, delightfully piped in red with big red buttons. But it took years to find its perfect mate: red polka-dotted blouse with delicate tuxedo ruffles and a narrow-banded collar and sleeves. A match made in heaven.


Katie was one of the many fashionable people at the SVBC Bike Away from Work Bash at San Jose City Hall.

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.


Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Cycle Fashions


Bike Commute Diaries: Energized by the Mayor

I saw lots of new faces on bikes on my commute this morning. You see, we’re celebrating Bike to Work Day today so the casual commuters were out in force and gathering at Energizer Stations for coffee and snacks. The new face I was most surprised to see? Mountain View Mayor John Inks on a bike. That got me energized.


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 May 9, 2013 in Commute Diaries


Anything Goes Challenge: At Dawn, Nadia Rides

I’ve known Nadia for years. She and I fumbled our way into cyclocross racing together and emerged friends. Nadia lives on Potrero Hill in San Francisco and commutes to her office along the bay in South San Francisco. Here is her Anything Goes Commute Challenge story, condensed from an extensive series of posts on her blog.

I started riding to work last year after ten years of car commuting. I’m not a newbie to bike commuting–riding was my primary mode of transport for about 13 years, most recently when I was in law school, riding up and down the East Bay Hills with my casebooks in my panniers. I returned to cycle commuting last year as a way to integrate exercise and commuting and to get some JOY in my morning commute.

baytrail wildlife-001

Solo Ride: My canonical bike commute is a solo ride along the most direct route between my home and work. It’s 1/3 city riding, 1/3 semi-suburban and 1/3 blissful Bay Trail. It’s not all pretty on this route, which features some fairly gritty urban riding. To minimize the traffic congestion on the gritty part of the route, I leave early–between 6am and 7am. I really like getting to work on the early side and I really, really like leaving work by the fixed company-bus schedules. I tend to stay late to finish up work otherwise.

Company Shuttle: My employer provides bus service to and from work, with routes over the SF Bay Area. Two of the bus routes have stops that are ~2 miles from my house, so I use this bus ride-bike ride combination to get home on days when I ride to work in the morning. I put my bike in the luggage compartment below the bus, relax on the bus on the ride into the city, then ride home from the bus stop. My employer also offers a $2 each way reimbursement for not driving, showers/towels/bath products on campus and secure bike parking.

Sunrise over Mt Davidson

Group Ride: There is a surprisingly large community of San Francisco bike commuters going south in the morning, and I’ve been pleased to join various groups for the early morning ride in. I’ve been riding with SF2G about once every two weeks on their First Friday Friendly Frolic, a “no rider left behind” ride, and slower Style 3 rides. I’ll also leave earlier than a faster group, see how long it takes them to catch me, then attempt to hang on. I also commute with co-workers every now and then–either by plan or by running into them on the road.

The group rides are fun for a lot of reasons, including the company, the challenge (I always ride faster up the little hills when with a group!), and for the draft in the headwind-y bits. I also really like the reinforcement of committing to a group ride in advance–this helps get me up and out in the morning and keeps me out of the car. Riding with a group also breaks up the tedium of doing the same route again and again.

SF2G First Friday Frolic

I have several alternative routes that I take to increase the mileage and riding challenge and for variety.

Dawn of the Dead: “Dawn of the Dead” goes out of the city on Mission Street or Alameny, then circles around the backside of Mount San Bruno. It goes through Colma, the city of cemeteries, and if I time it right, I arrive at the cemeteries at sunrise. After a screaming descent, I cross the freeway and head to work on the Bay Trail.

San Bruno Mountain: I love this little mountain that sits right in the middle of my commute. While my standard routes circumnavigate the base of the mountain, I sometimes go right over the mountain on the way to work. I head out of the city on Mission, turn left on Crocker, which climbs steeply up the backside of the mountain. A bike legal dirt path winds around the ridge line, affording wonderful views over the city, the bay and the summit. A fun descent down Guadalupe Parkway and I’m back on the canonical route to work.

Fog on San Bruno

Commuting with Panniers: During the challenge I took my first trip in on my “new” commuting machine: my old road bike repurposed with a rack and single pannier to carry a heavy laptop. I won’t ride with it in my backpack as its weight bothers my back. The bike has been ready to go with rack and gear for a few months, but I’d been apprehensive about riding it in. I was worried that it would be less fun to ride in on the heavier rig: the bike weighs in at about 25 pounds un-loaded, and the rack, pannier and laptop add another 10 pounds.

I learned it was pretty nice to ride in without a backpack! The bike has lower gearing so I made it up my steep (18%) initial climb and the single pannier didn’t impact handling much except when I was out of the saddle. I felt sluggishly slow on the ride, but my ride in took 55 minutes which is within normal range. I did notice the weight while carrying the bike downstairs to exit my home in the morning and when lifting the bike to put it into the company bus on the way home from work. But the weight was manageable.

Overall assessment: I give the win to the bike commute with the shuttle ride home. I get the most exercise by riding, especially the alternative routes which add on miles/challenge. It’s also the most fun and least stressful, plus I get social benefit when I commute with others.

My best days at work start with a bike ride. I have noticeably lower levels of stress throughout the day. Endorphins in action? I don’t know but whatever the mechanism, I’ll take it!

Nadia Scorecard

*Biggest downside is the factor Nadia finds most significant

What’s the next challenge for Nadia: I bike commute 2-3 times a week at best–definitely something to keep plugging away at. This commute challenge has afforded me the opportunity to think about some other options for getting into work. The most obvious was getting my pannier-enabled commuter bike up and running so I can ride in when I have my work laptop at home. Another is to find an alternative route for post- 7am starts so I can ride in a little later if necessary, rather than driving because I dislike my normal cycling route at that time due to heavy truck and freeway traffic on a portion of the route. I have an alternative route in mind that I’ll try out soon.

Thanks, Nadia, for participating in the Anything Goes Commute Challenge! To learn more about Nadia’s challenge insights and her other adventures, check out her blog.

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All photos in this post are courtesy of Nadia and are used with her permission.

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Posted by on May 6, 2013 in Anything Goes

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