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A Velo Girl’s Christmas Confession

This touching story is for those who don’t “do” Christmas in a traditional way, but find their own way to celebrate the spirit of the season. It’s written by my friend Lorri Lee Lown, founder of the Velo Girls women’s cycling club and Savvy Bike coaching services. Through Velo Girls, I led my first group ride, completed my first bike races, and learned the bike skills I still use every day. I would not be the rider I am today without Lorri’s vision and personal commitment bringing riders together and helping them achieve their goals. This is Lorri’s story.

I’ve been lying to everyone and it’s time to make amends. You see, when asked about Christmas, I always tell folks I “don’t do” Christmas. And that’s true. I don’t celebrate the holiday in a traditional way. I don’t have family, so I don’t feel obligated to participate in any dreaded family get-togethers. I haven’t purchased a single gift nor have I mailed even one card. There are no candles in the window nor carols at the spinet. And I’ve lived this way for close to two decades.

But the reality is, I really do love Christmas. Besides the stress that surrounds the holiday, I have some lovely memories of big family dinners, Christmas Eve midnight mass, our annual Christmas choir concert featuring “O Holy Night,” and Christmas morning with all the grandchildren. I used to decorate a tree each year and I still have a box of ornaments (in storage) that I collected in the first 30 years of my life. I used to send out hundreds of Christmas cards. I used to bake dozens of cookies for family, friends, and co-workers. I even used to host a Christmas caroling party. So, what happened? How did I become the girl who didn’t “do Christmas?”

Ornaments 2

The transition happened gradually, shortly before I moved to California in 1998. My grandmother, who had been the anchor of many of our family traditions, passed away. My father picked up the reins and we started some new traditions without her. And then my father died. And then I moved to California. The first winter I lived here, I travelled home to upstate New York for the holiday. It was just me, my mother, and my sister (who also used to live in CA). My other sister had estranged herself from the family, and, as the mother of the only grandchildren in the family, she deprived us of sharing the experience with children. So we went from a two-day celebration filled with tons of family and friends to a depressing week where my mother didn’t get out of bed, my sister drank 2 bottles of wine each night, and I started to hate the holiday that I had always loved. Although my mother lived another five years after this, that was my last Christmas in New York.

The following year, I started riding a bicycle. I hooked up with three other riders (all training for the California AIDS Ride) and we rode together for 4 days over the Christmas holiday. We called ourselves the “Christmas Orphans.” We each had a different story, but what we shared was the fact that we were alone for the holidays and that we all rode a bike. On Christmas morning 1999, we rode a 30-mile route in San Francisco. We continued to be friends and this ride became a holiday tradition. Over the years, the other three moved on to other traditions, I continued on, and today marked the 15th Annual Christmas Orphans’ Tour of San Francisco. In these 15 years, I’ve only missed twice: once when we cancelled due to torrential rain and wind and once when I was recovering from surgery.

Orphan Ride Group Shot

One year, there were only 2 of us on the ride (it was pouring rain). One year, there were close to 100 riders (thanks to a calendar listing from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Everyone comes from a different place, many of them with connections to me, and they share the desire to participate in a fun, social ride on Christmas morning. And, no matter what size the group, we bring smiles to the faces of all who see us, dressed in Santa hats, elf costumes, and riding decorated bikes.

The Christmas Orphans’ Tour of San Francisco is a unique ride. It’s not a long ride, totaling just 29 miles. It’s not a hard ride, with less than 1,500’ of climbing. It’s not a fast ride, since we keep the group together (no matter how slow the slowest rider is) and we stop to enjoy the view, take photos, and maybe even have a cup of hot chocolate. It’s a social ride where old friends and new friends get to see the city in a new way. On Christmas morning, when everyone else is sitting around their Christmas tree, you can see the random art in the city – the murals and mosaics, the sculpture and the architecture, and, on a clear day like today, the amazing views of the bay, the bridges, and the ocean.

Alyson & Lorri Golden Gate Bridge

It’s been fascinating to see how our beautiful city has changed in the past 15 years. The infrastructure for bikes has improved dramatically. The ballpark was built and has changed names a couple of times. Parts of the city have been developed while other parts have become less desirable. I’ve noticed more folks are out and about running, bicycling, surfing, and walking (today’s beautiful weather definitely contributed to this). And I still see the homeless, the needy, and the hopeful on street corners and hidden in the nooks and crannies of the city.

So, my reality is that I DO celebrate Christmas. And I DO give gifts. My gift is bringing together random strangers and friends to share in this amazing experience. I give folks who might be alone the opportunity to spend time with others. I give folks who don’t celebrate Christmas something to do on a day when many folks are busy with family. I give myself the opportunity to continue a tradition that has been very meaningful for me. And the other riders give me the opportunity to share this with them.

It’s amazing to me that I’ve continued this tradition for 15 years. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything else in my entire life for 15 years. But then again, I’ve never loved anything or anyone the way I love my bike. And love is actually what traditions like Christmas are all about.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thank you, Lorri, for sharing your story. For those who live in the San Francisco Bay Area (or willing to travel there) who want to improve their basic bike skills or for women who want to learn to road race, check out Lorri’s 2014 schedule of skills clinics, Alpine Altitude Adventure training camp and Tri-Flow race training program.

Story and ride photos used with permission of Lorri Lee Lown.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2013 in Backroads

 

Shop by Bike: Big Box Store, Little Bike Trailer

Because of attention this blog has received from dedicated readers like you, I’m getting requests for stories from other media outlets. I’ve been writing a thrice-monthly Bike Fun blog for Mountain View Voice since May. Starting next week I will be contributing to Pedal Love, a California-based site dedicated to the joy of bicycling. And soon, one of my bike travel stories will be featured on Adventure Cycling’s Bike Overnights. Occasionally, I’ll cross-post content here, but to keep up with all I write, please bookmark these sites or follow me on Twitter. For those dealing with holiday shopping (and traffic), here’s my latest from Bike Fun in the Voice.

For the vast majority of my shopping trips, my bikes do a great job. Between a pair of oversized panniers in the back and an ample basket in the front, I can carry up to three bags of groceries filled to up to 40 pounds. I’ve also figured out how to attach garment bag to my rear rack for dry cleaning or for buying clothing at the mall. You’d be surprised how easy it can be to carry things on a bike if you’re creative.

But every once in a while I make one of those shopping trips where what I’m buying something too heavy or too bulky for my bike alone. So last year I asked Santa for a cute little bike cargo trailer. It felt a little frivolous. After all, we have a car we can use for those rare, big load shopping trips.

Little Trailer

But now that I have the trailer, I realize it’s pretty darn useful. Especially during those times, like right now, where driving to the mall or shopping center is painful and parking is a nightmare. So when our microwave gave up the ghost last week, I hitched up my little trailer and pedaled over to a few big box stores for some comparison shopping, holiday shoppers be damned.

Best Buy

Target, Costco and Best Buy are all within 2-3 miles from home and it wasn’t tough to plot a route that hit them all. Before I left home, I checked online for what each store carried and read the product reviews, but I wanted to buy locally so I could have a replacement immediately. You’d be surprised how some microwaves had really poor ratings after hundreds of reviews, by the way.

With the critical consumer data in hand, my little trailer and I rolled out in search of an oven with all the features I wanted, in the color I wanted and sized to fit my countertop. It took visiting all three stores, but I found the perfect oven. I probably should have measured to see if the box would fit in my trailer before checking out, but it fit nicely with several inches to spare. The ride home was delightfully uneventful and my new microwave fits my kitchen as well as it fit my trailer. Thank you, Santa, for my fun bike toy.

Microwave in Trailer

If you’re new to or haven’t done much shopping by bike, here are some tips:

  • A rear rack with large panniers can carry more than you think. Most are built to carry 40 pounds or more.
  • Front baskets are great for overflow items, but be aware that heavy items up front can affect steering.
  • Bring bungee cords for securing bulky items on top of the rear rack or to secure them in a front basket. A deep pothole or hard bump can bounce your purchases right off of your bike.
  • Treat packing your purchases on your bike like a working a puzzle. Sometimes I'm sure I've bought too much, but it always works out. Knock on wood, I've never had to return anything.
  • If it’s dark or dim out, make sure your purchases don’t block your bike lights.
  • Bike trailers don’t have to be expensive. My cargo trailer cost $250 new and is holding up well after a year. Another alternative is buying a used child trailer from someone whose kids have outgrown it.
  • Parking can be more challenging for bikes with trailers. Bike racks are designed for single bikes and many are placed without enough room for the extra length of trailers. Bring an extra lock to secure the trailer, either to the bike or to the bike rack.

What’s the most awkward thing you’ve purchased by bike? What made it tough? What made it work?

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Posted by on December 15, 2013 in Around Town, Gear Talk

 

Fashion Weekend Edition: Short Skirt, Short Boots

Sweater top, sweater tights. Corduroy and cable knit. Tuxedo top left untucked. Perfect for a day of last minute holiday errands? Not quite. Love the look but thinking I’ll regret the heels. Flat-heeled slouch boots it is!

Slouchy Sweater

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.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2013 in Cycle Fashions

 

Bike Commute Diaries: Ice Cold Slippery Slope

It’s day five of freezing temperatures here in sunny California and every day it just seems to keep getting colder. Today’s surprise: a thin sheet of ice spanning the Guadalupe River Trail. A big thank you to the San Jose Parks & Trails work team who set out orange cones as a warning of this unexpected and potentially painful surprise.

20131209-085431.jpg

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

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2013 in Commute Diaries

 

Fashion Weekend Edition: Dressy Warm Party Dress

Record-breaking cold + a holiday lights ride + holiday party + a chance of rain. How does all that add up, fashion-wise? It starts with a merino wool dress, patterned tights and pumps for the party, then tops it off with a warm coat, scarf and boots for the ride. For the ride home’s steady rain I was prepared with my rain burka.

Red Wool Dress

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.

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2013 in Cycle Fashions

 

Make It Your Own: High Visibility in High Style

I’m not a big fan of high visibility bike clothing. Somewhat for philosophical reasons, but mostly because it’s usually dog ugly. Between frumpy, boxy shapes and no interesting detailing, it’s no wonder the few companies that offer stylish options are priced at a premium. The other option: design and sew your own like Emma did.

Emma Portrait

A trip to her local fabric store yielded high vis yellow fabric, high vis orange tape and reflective trim. Putting it all together in this sweetly feminine and supremely visible vest was purely Emma’s work. I love, love, love it!

How about that mailbox alternative to a pannier! For how-tos on how to build your own, thank Martha Stewart. That where Emma got her inspiration. The upside is that unlike most panniers, this one can be locked.

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2013 in Cycle Fashions

 

You’re Invited: Bright Lights, Bike City Cruise

You and your friends are invited to a holiday lights tour leading to “Bike Lights, Bike City”, the SVBC Winter Party, on Friday, December 6, 2013. Tour rolls out from the Caltrain Station in downtown Palo Alto at 5:45 pm.

The only thing better than riding down quiet neighborhood streets after dark is riding down streets where the neighbors have decked out their homes and yards for the winter holidays. It takes a pretty hard-hearted grinch to not to smile at shimmering lights brightening a dark sky on a chilly night. And there’s no better way to tour holiday lights than on a bicycle. Fast enough to cover the whole neighborhood, slow enough to take it all in, and easy enough to pull over and gaze in awe and snap photos. No flash required.

City Hall

The 4.4 mile city cruise will roll from Caltrain in downtown Palo Alto with a brief stop at Palo Alto City Hall to see Aurora, a life-size metal and electronic Weeping Willow tree sculpture that is now gracing City Hall Plaza. From there, we’ll cruise down the Bryant Street Bike Boulevard through Professorville and Old Palo Alto.

After a turnaround in Midtown we’ll head back up to the historic Lucie Stern Center where we’ll join Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition members for “Bike Lights, Bike City,” their annual Winter Party. We’ll celebrate the season with delicious food and refreshing beverages, make a play on hot auction items. Then we’ll turn down the lights, turn up the music, and dance under disco lights until they kick us out.

Start: The Palo Alto Caltrain station at 5:45 PM, timed for Caltrain #375 and #370 train arrivals. Meet near the bike lockers near Alma Street and Lytton Avenue.
Route: 4.4 miles on quiet streets with no hills. See map below for details. Contact me for mid-ride meet-ups.
Please Bring: Bike lights! The more the better. Show off your amazing bike lights. And warm clothes, too.
RSVP: Please RSVP for the Winter Party through the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, our event sponsor.

The SVBC Winter Party is a members-only affair. If you’re not a member, or need to renew, you can sign up when you RSVP for the event or at the door. At only $20/person, it’s a fun way to support a great cause.

Click on the thumbtacks on the map to see the holiday lights display locations.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2013 in Around Town

 
 
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