When the editor of my local newspaper asked me to write a weekly bike blog for their online edition, I was interested but concerned. The Mountain View Voice has a reputation for attracting nasty comments about cyclists, even on stories where bikes aren’t involved. Like a story about man in a wheelchair who was struck by a car in a hit and run. The victim was using the bike lane so I guess that made it fair game for anti-bike rants.
But I knew that writing about fun things to do on a bike might get more people off the couch and into the saddle, so I forged ahead into the unknown. After five weeks, I had only positive comments for stories on topics like how to get an old bike rolling again, the best ice cream shops to bike to, and how to find secret bike-only passages. So I was genuinely surprised which story brought out the bike haters: “The Rolling Romance of a Bike Date”.
Here’s what I wrote. What do you think set the bike haters off?
A few years ago my husband Dick and I were in a dining rut. Unlike when we were dating, we just didn’t go out anymore. We decided that we needed a standing weekly date night, one set in stone on our calendars. Otherwise, it would be too easy to say we were too tired, or to fritter away time at home and then decide to eat in rather than face the crowds and a long wait for a table.
Dick’s day off from work was Friday, so that was an easy decision. I wanted the romance of him picking me up like a real date, so Dick offered to come by my workplace and get me. The twist: since I rode my bike to work, he would ride his bike too.
At the time I was working in Palo Alto, where a seemingly limitless choice of restaurants were a short ride from my office near the Baylands. That first Friday, I waited for him in front of my office building with all the excitement of any first date. When he rolled up I was tickled to see he was wearing a nice sweater and his going-out shoes. He had swapped the clip-in pedals on his bike for flat pedals just for our date.
We rode across the bike bridge over Hwy 101, rolled down to University Avenue for a relaxed and tasty Italian dinner, and then cruised home by the light of a full moon. With rush hour long over, the neighborhood streets were quiet and peaceful so we continued our dinner chat the whole way home. It was a very romantic night.
That’s why nearly three years later, we’re still at what we now call Bike Date Friday. The rules are simple: we eat at a different restaurant every week and we arrive by bike. In the winter we grab heavy coats and bright lights. If it’s drizzling, we grab our raincoats. And if it’s raining hard, we grab a big umbrella and walk the mile to Castro Street.
Now that I work near the airport in San Jose and commute on Caltrain with my bike, our options have expanded. Sometimes we meet at the Diridon Caltrain station and eat in downtown San Jose. Sometimes we meet at the Mountain View Caltrain station and ride across town or to Palo Alto, Los Altos or Sunnyvale. And sometimes we meet on a northbound train for dining in San Carlos, San Mateo and beyond.
In three years, we have yet to exhaust all our dining options. Some restaurants have been better than others and some routes were more fun than others. But one thing’s for sure: our dining rut is now a romantic roll.
The rest of the story gave some tips on where to go for an easy first date, how to pick a route, and a reminder to bring bike lights, including the laws related to riding after dark. Nothing controversial in my book.
The initial comments were not kind. The first was simply: “Or you could just drive.” The second was more harsh.
I just wasted 2 minutes of my life reading this, and probably 2 more responding. Who cares? You have a job you say? And still find time to write this article? When you worked in Palo Alto you said you crossed over 101, did you work in east palo? Or just dine there? Cause I’m sure the latter would make for a better article.
Whoa! Where did that come from? Riding bikes out to dinner is so far-fetched that I must be lying about even having a job? (For the non-locals: East Palo Alto is lower income with higher crime rate than Palo Alto) I responded in a non-challenging way and encouraged a few friends to comment with something positive. I didn’t want readers to only see rude reactions from grumpy people.
When I reflect on these reactions, my take is that I indirectly exposed how far and wide a bike can take you. In three years, we’ve gone out to different places every week through all sorts of weather, after dark, and in dress clothing without a car. I think it make people defensive because it takes away excuses why bicycling can’t possibly work. It’s one thing to talk about recreational rides to ice cream shops or to see a historic farm, but riding to dinner in the rain at night in a dress? That’s radical behavior.
It really doesn’t matter what the haters and naysayers think, we’re finding plenty of people out on bike dates, especially in the warm months. I was only a little surprised to see families with young kids out in downtown San Jose last Friday night. Considering downtown San Jose didn’t have much bike action or action in general a decade ago, that’s pretty darn impressive. And the kids were pretty darn happy too.
What radical bike behaviors have you been doing? How are you challenging the status quo?
About Bike Date Friday: Since September 2010, my husband and I have had a standing date every Friday night. We eat at a different place every week and arrive by bike. There’s no better way to end the work week.