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Category Archives: Issues & Infrastructure

How to Get Women to Race Dirt (And How Not To)

The Sea Otter Classic, the largest consumer bike festival in North America, is running this weekend down the coast at Laguna Seca raceway in Monterey. In addition to the large expo hosting over 450 vendors, there will be pro and amateur racing in almost every cycling discipline, from downhill mountain biking to BMX to criterium road racing to cyclocross, plus recreational events for all ages, including Gran Fondo endurance rides.

I won’t be one of the estimated 65,000 people headed down there. It’s partly because Sea Otter’s focus is on the sport side of cycling and my interest these days is more in the practical side of cycling: city and cargo cycling. But it’s more than that. I haven’t been back to Sea Otter since I stood on the podium there in 2008, which was long before I got into city cycling. It’s that my last experience there made me feel like Sea Otter isn’t really for people like me who love bikes but don’t fit into American cycling’s hardcore dude culture.

After Work Girlfriend Rides

Back in 2008 I was mountain biking regularly with the Dirt Divas, an informal group of experienced mountain bikers and road racers with a taste of dirt. Every Monday night during daylight saving time we did recovery pace after work spins, and every few weeks or so we did longer weekend rides on more challenging trails. Just as importantly, we were an online community of 200 dirt-loving women sprinkled throughout the Bay Area, offering support and advice for each other that was just as valuable as having women nearby to ride with.

With my friends from Dirt Divas and the support of the Velo Bella and Velo Girl race teams, I had raced several smaller races. We had even challenged ourselves with a 24 hour mountain bike relay on the trails at Laguna Seca. Those races were all fun, but didn’t bring out the crowds like Sea Otter. Where else can recreational riders race the same courses, on the same weekend as the pros?

The Sea Otter excitement started on the Diva email list in March: how hard it it? who’s racing this year? In no time we had set up carpools down to Laguna Seca to pre-ride the course a few weeks before the race. The course wasn’t particularly technical, but the hilly 20 mile course had proven challenging for some beginner fields, so they shortened the women’s, juniors, women’s single-speed and Clydesdale men’s (over 200 lbs) races to a nominal 10 miles. For some reason, they didn’t say it was actually over 13 miles.

Dirt Divas

The nine of us were a mix of experienced and brand new racers. A couple were new to Dirt Divas and had never ridden in an all-female group before. With only a printout from the web site for navigation, we fared well until the climbers out front missed a key turn and got lost. Afterward, it was laughing over burritos and lots of email banter: reporting trail conditions and answering questions from women who couldn’t make the pre-ride.

So when things went wrong at the race we had each other. After a good start on the paved track (picking the right wheel to draft is key) I hit the gravel in top five. I was behind my friend Holly as we picked up speed where the course descended. As we approached a left turn, I could tell Holly was aimed straight. I yelled “go left,” she did and we both hit the singletrack ahead of the main field, then up the ridge and down the long sandy descent.

On the long grind back up, my climber friend Lesley passed me and asked if I had missed the turn. That’s when I realized Holly wasn’t only one. There were many others confused about the turn, including my friend E who’s zooming downhill in this photo. Her boyfriend took the shot right after she went off course. Not easy to tell, is it?

Missed Turn

I was still grinding away uphill when I came to the turn where we lost the climbers on the pre-ride. I was moving slow enough to read the signs carefully: “XC Race 20 miles” and “MTB Tour 10 miles.” Even though I had raced the course the year before, studied the map, pre-ridden three weeks before and have the nickname “GPS Janet,” I wasn’t confident I should turn left to stay on the 10 mi XC race course. But I did, even though I could see racers going straight ahead of me, and knew that going straight would cut the course by at least a mile.

Lesley

When I finished the race they were already posting our race’s winning time at 41 minutes, an impossible time. Holly and I reported it to race officials, waited a while until it got cold and dark, then gave up and went to dinner. The next morning they posted results: I was 2nd, Holly 3rd, and Michelle 4th. On podium we didn’t recognize the winner and we didn’t see the two or three other women that I was pretty sure were ahead of me. (I found out much later that one missed the first turn and the true winner had lost her chip somewhere on the course.)

Sea Otter Podium

Back on online I shared my story and learned that three more of my Diva friends had missed the first turn and doubled back. A Velo Bella race team friend was spectating at the junction, saw the confusion and started calling out directions to racers. She confronted the course monitor about why he wasn’t doing it. He shrugged.

So I wrote my first letter of complaint ever to the race director. I let him know the impact on us as racers, but focused on what I wanted for next year: cones, course monitors, and accurately labeling the course as a 13 mile, not 10 mile course. After a long email exchange his response was that it’s the racers responsibility to stay on course and lessons were learned on both sides. He didn’t get that if that much of the field is confused, it’s the course, not the riders. And that beginners could use a little more, not less, consideration and support.

Sea Otter 2008 crop

I will agree that lessons were learned, indeed, but probably not what the race director expected:

  • Women often enter sport through men and they learn a lot from them. But there’s something special about riding with women: it’s empowering and challenging in a different way.
  • Until women ride with or race women, they don’t know really how how they stack up. Too many women who only ride with men think they’re slow when they’re not slow at all.
  • Having a social aspect makes many women more strongly engaged and loyal to the sport. Romantic relationships end, but bikes and bike friends stay.
  • If you want more new people racing, it takes group support. We hosted our own group pre-ride for women on our Dirt Diva email list. A pre-ride from the organizers with racing tips might encourage riders to try racing.
  • Community support is important both in person and online. The fewer women that ride in an geographic area, the more important online friendships are.
  • Women (especially beginner women) don’t expect to be the focus of an event. We don’t expect to race at prime time, we don’t expect our results to be listed first. But when things go wrong and we get an attitude, it’s feels deeper than “that guy is a jerk” it becomes “they don’t care about women or beginners.”
  • When you complain, adjust your argument for the personality of the official. When I advocated from the perspective of disoriented racers I got nothing. When I complained that riders might have placed ahead of me by cutting the course I got more sympathy. I needed to switch from chick talk to dude talk.

There was a silver lining to the story. One of the silent members on our Dirt Diva list was an employee of Sea Otter. She wasn’t part of the racing side, but she contacted the right people within the organization. They gave us a discount registration code for the next year’s race. That taught me my last lesson: complaining can pay off, even when you’re blown off at first. You may have allies you don’t know about that are listening.

I was touched and grateful. I know at least one woman used the discount to race the next year. Just not me.

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11 Comments

Posted by on April 11, 2014 in Dirt Trails, Women & Bikes

 

Why We Need a National Bike to Shop Day

“I can see people biking to offices here and even to the movie theater, but I can’t see people biking to shop here. Shopping is all about driving your SUV to the store and filling it up,” said the planning commissioner at a city meeting on the redevelopment of a major shopping center. I was stunned. I had just stood up and spoken about why bicycle access there was important to me.“The center is where I buy my groceries, my clothes, my household items,” I had explained. “It’s only two miles from home, so I ride my bike.”

I was so angry at not being heard (or believed) that it took me an extra two hours to fall asleep that night. Didn’t the commissioner see the busy bike racks outside the center’s two grocery stores? Didn’t he realize that purchases from a jewelry store are small, and that when people buy mattresses they have them delivered?

Trailer at Trader Joes

For the past 20 years we’ve pushed hard to promote bike commuting through Bike to Work Day, and it’s worked to get many commuters hopping onto bikes instead of into their cars. Like me, back in 1997. I got a little route advice from an expert at the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, then pedaled to work. I kept it up once a week until daylight saving time ended, then went back to driving until Bike to Work Day the next spring.

My dedication to bike commuting waxed and waned over years. My next job site didn’t have a shower so I drove. The next one had showers and was close by so I started riding again. Then I took a job 14 miles away and was back down to once a week in summer only. It wasn’t until I realized I could ride in my work clothes for short distances and combine my commute with transit that I became the daily bike commuter I am today.

But even when I didn’t commute to work I biked for my weekly errands. Most things I needed were within a few miles of home, I could wear whatever I wanted, and I could schedule trips during daylight hours. Errands were fun, as evidenced by this Facebook post five years ago: “Long day in saddle again: Farmer’s market/noodles/bookstore/bike shop/Target/Bev Mo/Trader Joe’s. Only 8 miles, but it took some creative packing.”

Errand Bike

I wasn’t the only one doing errands back then and there are even more today, especially in shopping areas with limited parking and/or slow moving traffic. The bike racks are getting fuller and no one blinks twice when you roll away with big vegetables sticking out of panniers or toilet paper indelicately strapped to a rack.

Still, shopping by bike isn’t seen as mainstream. Few bikes come equipped with racks or baskets and bike shops and bike manufacturers rarely actively promote that kind of riding. I could elaborate on this, but I already have before, and if you’ve ever shopped for the perfect bike bag or basket you probably know what I mean. And there’s no national Bike to Shop Day program like there is for Bike to Work Day.

Grocery Bikes

But I think its time has come, and I’ve been working behind the scenes to make it happen this year in Silicon Valley. I sketched out a plan, convinced the staff at the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition to sponsor it, recruited some hard-working volunteers and we’re all off and rolling. In two weeks we’ve recruited 22 businesses to offer incentives to shoppers who arrive by bike for Bike to Shop Day Silicon Valley on Saturday May 17, 2014.

Oh, and we have a Bike to Shop Day web site with merchant profiles, sign-up forms and a zoomable merchant map. Plus lot of how-tos, from how to convert an old bike into a grocery getter, how to pace yourself at Costco, and what you can stuff in your road bike’s seat bag for impromptu shopping trips.

Bike to Shop Day web site

I have no idea how far Bike to Shop Day will go, but dammit I had to do something. Anger is a powerful motivator. Maybe next time city commissioners discuss plans for shopping center redevelopment, we’ll hear this instead: “There’s not much space for car parking, we’ll need more bike racks.” That’s my dream.

Do you do your daily or weekly errands by bike? What makes it easy (or makes it hard)?

Cherie

 
27 Comments

Posted by on March 31, 2014 in Around Town, Issues & Infrastructure

 

Bike Rack FAIL: Stinky Situation in Mountain View

You can tell at a quick glance how much a business values its customers that arrive by bike. When there’s a sturdy bike rack next to the main door it says, “Welcome, we love you!” When the bike rack is far from the door, falling apart or hidden away it says, “You’re not important customers.” And when the bike rack tucked in an back alley or next to smelly garbage dumpsters the message is clear, “Our customers don’t ride bikes.”

Dumpster Bike Rack

To that I say, “Your attitude stinks, just like your garbage.” Time for me to find a new noodle shop.

Location: Luu Noodle at San Antonio Shopping Center, Mountain View, California, USA

 
12 Comments

Posted by on March 12, 2014 in Bike Lane FAIL

 

Nothing Could Rain on Our Wine & Chocolate Parade

After four bone-dry winter months and declarations of the most severe drought in 500 years, a healthy rain storm blew in three days before the party. Before the drops even hit the ground the question came in: “Is the party still on?” “Yes,” I said, “Unless the governor declares a State of Emergency the party is on. And unless the weather service declares a Severe Weather Alert the ride is on too.” Or as Adina quipped, “Apocalypse cancels. Or in case of apocalypse the four horsemen will join our ride.”

The rain was heavy elsewhere around the bay, but in San Jose there was little more than a few sprinkles. No horsemen of the apocalypse joined our pre-party ride, unless they were in the back of the pack riding sweep.

Virginia Bike Share

Fifty women had RSVP’d for the party, but given the 60% chance of rain I only expected a dozen or so to show up at Diridon Station for the pre-ride to the party. I should have known better. After all, women who ride are built tough, whether it’s dealing with hostile traffic on their commutes or soldiering on through wind and fog on century rides. Especially when there are others along for moral support and tasty treats waiting at the end.

Bike Statue

The fortitude of women who ride doesn’t stop when they dismount. The party attracted women who seek change: better bike routes for themselves and their families, better bike parking at workplaces and shopping destinations, better support from law enforcement to keep our streets safe. That doesn’t come easy.

But when you get determined women together, great things happen. Candice and Carmen’s home runneth over with strong women in influential positions like: Sally Lieber, former California House Speaker pro tempore; Kim Walesh, Director of Economic Development for San Jose; Shiloh Ballard, Vice President of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group; and Ellen Barton, the new Alternative Transportation Coordinator for San Mateo County.

At the same time there were inspired leaders of grassroots efforts like Wendee Crofoot, co-founder of Great Streets Mountain View; and Adina Levin, co-founder of Friends of Caltrain and the Drive Less Challenge. Plus a half dozen staff and board members from the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, our event sponsor.

Garden Party

Who knows where a little networking over wine and chocolate will take us? I’m hoping very far, and by bike.

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8 Comments

Posted by on February 14, 2014 in Around Town, Women & Bikes

 

Bike Lane SUCCESS! A Safer Route to Middle School

Boy, am I jealous of the kids who go to JL Stanford Middle School in Palo Alto. When I was their age I was stuck on the school bus with annoying boys who called me giraffe (I was tall) or gorilla (my arms were hairy) depending on their mood. There was no safe way for me to ride my bicycle the 1.5 short miles to school.

Palo Alto recently repaved Cowper Street, a key route to JLS Middle School, and marked it with super-sized sharrows and an virtual bike lane through the intersections. The markings make it very clear that bikes own the lane and don’t need to weave in and out of cars parked along the curb.

Cowper Super Slot Sharrows

The new bike markings are just the latest in a well-organized effort to get more kids biking and walking to school in Palo Alto, turning around the sharp decline that started 30 years ago. In 2000, only 17% of JLS students biked to school. By 2010, the rate was up to 45%, roughly the same rate as in 1985.

And the success is not limited to JLS Middle School. Overall, over half of the students at Palo Alto’s three middle schools bike or walk to school. Way to go kids! And way to go City of Palo Alto!

Location: Cowper Street near East Meadow Drive in Palo Alto, California, USA

 
4 Comments

Posted by on February 7, 2014 in Bike Lane FAIL

 

You’re Invited: Wine & Chocolate Ladies’ Bike Social

You are cordially invited to Women, Wine & Chocolate, a gathering for women who love bikes, on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 1:30 pm at 245 S 12th Street, in the historic Naglee Park district of San Jose, California.

“When will you do another ladies’ tea again?” That was the #1 question I got after our Ladies’ Tea & Bike Social last summer, both from those who attended and those who couldn’t make it. Well, it may still be too chilly for a garden tea party, but it’s the perfect time to celebrate our bike love with a little Valentine’s Day decadence. This one’s for the chocoholics, fruit and cheese lovers, and the ladies who aren’t teetotalers.

If you’re in the throes of a grand love affair with your bike and want to meet other women with that same fiery passion, pedal over to San Jose’s historic Naglee Park district on Sunday, February 9. There will be wine, chocolate, cheese and fruit, plus an afternoon of stories, laughter, and tips on gear and secret bike routes. And of course, a chance to show off our two-wheeled babies. You may want to bring your bike family photos.

Wine Women & Chocolate

If the weather is fine, we’ll be in Candice’ lovely garden. If not, we’ll cozy up around the fireplace and mingle in her turn-of-the-century home. So grab your favorite wine glass and something to share: chocolate, cheese or a bottle of wine or your preferred party drink. We’ll take care of the rest.

Those arriving by bike can join our pre-party ride crossing downtown San Jose on the new green lanes on San Fernando Street followed by a short tour through the historic homes of Naglee Park. Our route will be about four miles one way along lower-stress streets. Meet in front of San Jose Diridon Station at 1:00 pm. (Train arrivals: Caltrain local 12:51, baby bullet 1:03; VTA 902 NB 12:38, SB 12:59) We’ll roll shortly after the last train arrives.

Where: 245 South 12th Street, San Jose. A private home in the historic Naglee Park district. (map)
When: Sunday, February 9, 2014. 1:30-4:00 pm. Note that sunset won’t be until 5:40 pm that day.
Please bring: Your favorite wine glass, plus chocolate, cheese or bottle of wine or other drink to share.
RSVP: Please RSVP and indicate what you’ll be bringing through SVBC, our event sponsor .

Pre-Party Bike Ride: Meet at the San Jose Diridon Station at 1:00 PM for a four mile tour on lower-stress streets with no hills. A route will be posted here at least one week before the event.
Transit: Party location is well-served by VTA transit lines (22,23,72). Santa Clara Street is 2.5 blocks away.
Parking: Bike parking will be provided in the backyard or basement in case of rain. On-street car parking is available with no weekend restrictions.

Please RSVP so we can make sure we’re ready for what’s sure to be a fun group, and so we send you any last minute details about the party. We hope to see you there!

 
5 Comments

Posted by on January 15, 2014 in Women & Bikes

 

Bike Lane FAIL: The Case of the Vanishing Bike Lane

The young woman pedaled slowly across town, the sun warming her back and offsetting the morning chill of a California winter day. She stops at the signal and waits in the bike lane, counting the seconds until she can cross the dreaded San Antonio Road. Little does she know the danger awaiting her on the other side.

Crossing San Antonio Road

The signal changes to green and she pushes hard on the pedals to cross the intersection as quickly as possible. First she’s riding alongside a vintage Chevy, then a sedan. As she reaches the center line she discovers the lane ahead has room for either her, or the pickup that’s now beside her. What will she do?

Normally I’d be excited by this newly painted bike lane on my former commute route. But when a bike lane vanishes without warning and forces people to merge in an intersection, it’s a bike lane FAIL.

Location: W Middlefield Road at San Antonio Road, Palo Alto, California, USA

 
17 Comments

Posted by on January 3, 2014 in Bike Lane FAIL

 

Bike Lane FAIL: Bike Lanes That Stink in San Jose

There’s something rotten about the bike lanes in San Jose’s Hensley district. Every Monday morning the hard-won, lovely wide bike lanes are taken over by garbage bins. City of San Jose, please clean up your act! The comfort and safety of people riding bikes should rate higher than what you send off to the dump.

Stream of Traffic Wide

Location: N 3rd Street near E Empire Street, San Jose, California, USA.

 
10 Comments

Posted by on November 19, 2013 in Bike Lane FAIL

 

From Far and Wide, Ladies Ride, Ride, Ride!

To anyone out there who still thinks bicycling is a just young man’s sport, guess again. Women loves bikes. Even “women of a certain age” whose parenting is more about waving goodbye to college-bound kids or sharing holiday recipes than changing diapers or back to school nights.

Sometimes all it takes to get them on the road is a little encouragement, like having a friend to ride with. Point them to a fun group ride and they’ll ride in like the cavalry.

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That was what I discovered (yet again) last weekend on a women’s ride hosted by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. I had heard the organizer Candice wasn’t really sure if she’d have four or 40 women show up. Since she recruited at least a half dozen helpers, her low estimate was too conservative. So was her high estimate. I counted 50 just before we divided into three groups and headed across downtown San Jose. Our destination: the old port town of Alviso, a 20 mile roundtrip via the Guadalupe River Trail.

I rolled out with a faster group of about a dozen led by Marnie, a charity ride junkie who spins a yarn as fast as she spins her wheels. We stopped for the lowdown on the sights along the way, from the “Hands” mural on the parking garage at San Jose Airport to the site of the Lupe the Mammoth fossil unearthed on the river a decade ago to the cannery and salt flats at Old Alviso.

The ride was a delightful spin on a lovely day filled with female camaraderie. But like many events, it was the after-party that made the news. Instead of taking us back to the fountain plaza where we started, Marnie led us straight to her house in Naglee Park where recovery drinks and food were waiting. For this demographic, that means wine, fruit and cheese. No one complained about the change in direction.

Relaxing on Patio

As we chatted over our recovery drinks, I learned more about the wide range of women in my group. Many were local to San Jose, but others had trekked in from the Peninsula and East Bay. Some were new to group rides, most had cut their teeth in women’s groups with names like Feather Pedals and Velo Girls.

A few, like me, were daily commuters, but most were strictly recreational riders, with a strong showing of the charity ride regulars. The most commonly cited reason for not running errands on their bikes? They couldn’t bear the idea of leaving their “babies” unattended.

Some came to the sport as a gentler alternative to running, others hadn’t really exercised in years before they started cycling. There was discussion over what being a “cyclist” meant. To one woman, a bike rider earns the title “cyclist” when she starts wearing cycling jerseys. Another was quick to say she didn’t consider herself a cyclist, despite the jersey on her back. She didn’t explain why before the conversation turned.

While most were old enough to have college-age kids, there were young’uns along for the ride and the fellowship which knows no age. A shared love of bikes is usually all it takes to bring women together.

Will you travel far to join a group ride? If so, what makes it worth going the extra distance?

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10 Comments

Posted by on October 15, 2013 in Backroads, Women & Bikes

 

Bike Lane FAIL: Old School ‘Rithmetic in Menlo Park

Johnny and Jenny need a 5 foot bike lane to ride their bikes to school. Sam needs 7 feet to park his small car plus a 5 foot buffer to unload his son for school drop-off. Melissa needs a 5 foot lane to ride her bike to work. Teacher Jessica needs 7 feet to park her SUV during school hours. Wilbur needs 10 feet to park his RV on the street all day, every day. And car traffic needs 12 foot travel lanes in each direction.

If Laurel Street in Menlo Park is 42 feet wide, how do you divide the roadway so everyone gets what they need? Or should some people’s needs get higher priority than others?

Bike Commute Kids

The northbound bike lane on Laurel Street is filled with kids and parents on their way to school every morning.

There’s a neighborhood meeting on Thursday, October 3 in Menlo Park where they’ll discuss prohibiting parking all day in the morning-only bike lane near Nativity School, a proposal that’s expected to be unpopular with the school’s parents and teachers. If you think safe bike travel is more important than parking, please speak up at this event or contact Jesse Quirion at (650) 330‐6744 or jtquirion at menlopark.org.

Location: Laurel Street at Oak Grove, Menlo Park, California, USA.

 
8 Comments

Posted by on October 1, 2013 in Bike Lane FAIL

 
 
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