Wednesday, November 24, 2010

getting there by bike

I've long been a bike commuter. it began with my desire to get more training time in way back in the winter/spring of 2000. I was training for my first California AIDS Ride and felt that my weekend long rides + weekday spin classes just weren't doing it for me. at the time I was working in San Francisco and living in San Mateo. each way, the commute was about 22 miles. interestingly enough, I found that the total time commitment to commute by bicycle was similar to the total time commitment of commuting by car or taking the train. yeah, car traffic was pretty crazy + unpredictable back in the day.

so I started commuting to work. my decision to do so was pretty impromptu. I decided one Saturday morning to try riding to San Francisco from home, checking out a possible commute route and timing myself. so I bought a set of bike lights, declared myself a bike commuter, and, two days later, I jumped in.

my first commute was a great adventure. I had no plan. I didn't really have the right equipment. I had too much stuff to carry and didn't have a good way to carry it. I had nowhere to park my fancy new road bike. and once I arrived at work, I didn't have anywhere to shower or prepare for the day. I remember walking to the nearest gym (where my employer had a deal for us), proudly stating that I was preparing for the CA AIDS Ride, and expecting them to let me shower for free. the desk clerk felt sorry for me (or maybe I just stunk) and let me shower -- that one time. after that, she informed me, it would be $10/day. when I got back to my desk, I emailed our Team Schwab cycling club list to find out where there was a shower on-site. unfortunately, there was nothing in any of the buildings near me except one secret, private shower that had been built for the CEO of the company. he had moved offices and no one was using it, but my contact suggested I could sneak in + out and no one would notice. and that's what I did for months.

my commute home was equally as adventuresome. less than a mile from my office, I nearly killed myself trying to avoid a muni bus. I ended up with my front wheel in a muni track and took an embarrassing tumble onto Market Street. I got a flat tire 3 miles from home and didn't know how to change it so I rode home on it. but I survived and was ready to try again.

I quickly learned that I couldn't carry so much stuff on the bike. I started emailing files home instead of carrying paper (yes, this was pre-access-at-home days). I left three pairs of shoes at the office (brown, black, and blue pumps -- I was set for every occasion) as well as a warm winter coat. I stored a complete set of toiletries (including towel, wash cloth, blow dryer, and curling iron) at my office. go ahead, laugh about the curling iron, I dare you! and I tried a bunch of different bag systems, finally settling on an oversized lumbar pack from REI to carry just my clothes, wallet, and palm pilot.

as you can see, it took some planning. and preparation. and a few attempts before I had a seamless commute.

I continued to commute for the next year (while I was still working in SF). somedays I would ride to work and take the train home. somedays I would ride both ways. somedays I would add on some extra mileage just for fun!

and while my original goal was to increase my training time, what I learned was that there was a HUGE emotional/mental benefit to bike commuting as well. when I arrived at the office, I had already achieved something great. I was able to check something off my list before work even began. and I found I had more energy and less stress than if I had been sitting in my car, stuck in traffic, for 60-90 minutes.

since that time, I've continued to commute and errand by bike. I actually went car-free for two years -- a big accomplishment living on the peninsula (during a time when CalTrain discontinued weekend service). I transitioned to a cyclocross bike with mounted racks and panniers and eventually to a touring bike. I still have a five-mile rule: if a trip is within five miles, I dont take my car. there were some definite lifestyle changes involved in these decisions, but overall, I'm thrilled with the fact that I choose to live as car-lite as possible.

commuting and erranding by bike is a great way to save money, contribute to our environment, reduce stress, and stay in shape. but it can seem like a daunting lifestyle change. Velo Girls would like to help you learn how to make this change. one of our members, Torea Rodriguez, took my May Bike Month Challenge, and has forever changed her life. on Wednesday, December 1st, she's going to share her experience with you.

join us at Mike's Bikes in Palo Alto for our 2011 Velo Girls membership kick-off, where Torea will be our featured presenter, discussing the ins + outs of transportational cycling -- 6:00pm - 7:30pm.

you'll find details of this and all our rides + events at

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