Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Most Bicycle Friendly City in America

When a city aspires to be “the most bicycle friendly city in America” and it’s not Portland, Minneapolis or San Francisco, you have to check it out. Since I was down in Southern California for a professional conference, Dick and I stayed over for the weekend in Long Beach to see if there was a glimmer of reality behind this lofty goal. And the beach is always fun in the off-season.

Knowing little about Long Beach, we chose a hotel located on the waterfront with a bike path connecting it to downtown and hoped for the best. When the waiter at the hotel restaurant casually mentioned how nice the weather was on his commute along the beach, I knew we had hit the jackpot. The hotel rented bikes at $25/day, but waiter Kelly declared them junk and recommended renting from the Bikestation instead. That’s service.

The next morning we walked the mile to the Bikestation Long Beach, the founding location of 24/7 facilities for storing and repairing bikes, plus lockers and showers for bike commuters in a half dozen cities, including nearby Palo Alto. It only took a few minutes before the gruff mechanic warmed to us, gave us a military discount on a couple of city bikes (33%!) and sent us off with brunch recommendations that I’m sure waiter Kelly would not have approved of.

Colorful characters on bikes, whimsical bike racks and a cool new vintage bike shop. Well-designed separated bike lanes with bike-only signals, beach paths, river paths and patient, friendly motorists. Long Beach has the makings of a great bicycle-friendly city. Will it be the most friendly in America? Perhaps, but only if Portland, Minneapolis and San Francisco don’t find out.

What makes a city bicycle friendly to you? If you could do one thing to make your city more bicycle friendly, what would it be?

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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Around Town, Issues & Infrastructure, Travel


Glamour on Two Wheels: Hollywood Stars on Bikes

“What Hollywood did for smoking, Hollywood also did for bicycling,” said Steven Rea to introduce his book, Hollywood Rides a Bike, a collection of glamorous photos of stars on bicycles. As a big fan of the vintage photos on his Tumblr blog, I was excited to read that he was publishing the collection and that he would be promoting the book in Los Angeles while I was in town for a conference. The stars were aligned indeed!

The signing was at Book Soup on the famous Sunset Boulevard, less than three miles from our hotel. If had bikes to ride like the stars in the book, it would have been a delightful 20 minute ride through Beverly Hills into West Hollywood. Instead, it was a 45 minute slog down Santa Monica Boulevard at rush hour, including circling the block twice before giving in and paying $10 to park in a lot. Welcome to LA.

Before a small group of enthusiasts, Rea described how his two passions–bikes and film–ignited into a quest for old photos and detective work to identify the bikes with scant details. How did he and his vintage bike geek friends recognize a 3-speed Sturmey Archer hub from a faded black and white photo?

My favorites were the candid shots taken on the back lots where the stars rode studio bikes to get from sound stage to sound stage, or goofed around on during breaks in the shooting. Like Lauren Bacall taking a coffee break sitting on a studio bike. Or James Stewart with Grace Kelly riding his top tube during the filming of Rear Window. Or Anthony Perkins and Ray Walston playing bike polo, batting a tin can with wooden canes.

Other photos were promotional shots, like Steve McQueen on a turn-of-the-century safety bike, 7-year-old Shirley Temple beaming as she rode without training wheels or Rin Tin Tin riding on a beach cruiser in Malibu, front paws planted firmly on the handlebars. I would go on, but the review is never as good as the book.

Which glamorous movie star would you like to see on a bike? Which would you like to be?

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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Travel


Fashion Friday: City Bike Style From the Beach

The SoCal cycling scene is more than fat tired cruisers on the beach path. A stop at The Bike Stand in Long Beach has me admiring a classic steel city bike from Venice Beach manufacturer Linus Bikes outfitted with recycled rubber panniers from Long Beach-based Reclamation Dept.


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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in Cycle Fashions


No Need to Fight City Hall

If you live or work in San Francisco, you should know that Supervisor John Avalos and other supervisors are watching your back, that is, your bike. Last fall, he proposed legislation that would require building owners to allow bicycles in office buildings where there’s no secure bike parking. I was so stoked I wrote about my reserved parking at the office and why indoor bike parking was important for me.

Last Thursday the legislation went to the San Francisco Public Safety Committee for approval. The meeting allowed for public comments, so the folks at the SF Bike Coalition (who had read my blog) asked me to come up to San Francisco City Hall and give my perspective on workplace bike parking. What an honor!

Built in 1915 to replace the original city hall destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco City Hall is a grand dame with a storied past. In 1923, President Warren Harding’s body lay in state under its rotunda following his death in San Francisco. In 1954, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe were married at City Hall. In 1978, Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated there by former Supervisor Dan White. And in one short month in early 2004, 4,000 same-sex couples were married at City Hall after a directive by newly-elected Mayor Gavin Newsom, until the courts shut them down.

With its grand history, I was excited and a little nervous to to speak in the lavishly paneled room, especially on camera (I start speaking at the 14 minutes mark). My points were simple: without a safe place to store my bike from theft and damage I wouldn’t commute to work, bringing bikes inside doesn’t damage the building and making bicycles more visible in the workplace encourages more people to ride.

It turned out that no one in the room needed convincing–no one spoke against it. BOMA, the city’s organization for building managers, supported the legislation since most of their members already provide indoor parking. Supervisor Eric Mar wanted to know how it compared with New York City’s similar regulations. The supervisors unanimously voted YES, and asked if they could do more. That was easy.

Have you ever geared up to fight for bicycle rights only to find the person or group said yes immediately?

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Posted by on February 23, 2012 in Around Town, Issues & Infrastructure


A Craving to Traverse Mountains

Of the two old-fashioned ways to get a horse up a hill–the carrot and the stick–I prefer the carrot, especially when the carrot is a big sweet flaky pastry. For this week’s Solvang training, Rachel suggested riding over the hills to the beach town of Capitola. I jumped at the chance since Capitola is home to Gayle’s Bakery, the mother of all bakeries with an expansive case filled with every pastry imaginable, even King Cake for Mardi Gras.

But first we had to earn it. Katie and I started near her home in Los Gatos, climbing the hard-packed dirt on the Los Gatos Creek Trail (we cleaned the steep part!) to the Lexington Reservoir where we met the rest of the crew. From there it was a mild climb up Old Santa Cruz Highway, a roll along the ridge on Summit Road, and a fast descent down Soquel-San Jose Road to the bakery. Gayle’s Bakery delivered the sweet decadence as promised, then we took a slow cruise along the coast so our stomachs could recover before the long climb back.

What’s deceiving about a ride across the Santa Cruz Mountains is the expectation that you’ve done half the work when you reach the coast. In truth, the climb back is longer, often steeper and you’re doing it on tired legs. Our route back was Mountain Charlie Road, an old toll road built in the 1850s by Irish immigrant Charles McKiernan to connect San Jose to Santa Cruz. As a stage coach road, the grade is painfully steep in sections (13-18%), but flattens out between to let the horses rest. Or in our case, to let our legs rest.

Where some backroads are merely quiet and scenic, Mountain Charlie is a remote, well-shaded route that opens up to expansive views. If you look past the asphalt and mailboxes, it’s easy to imagine you’re back in the 1850s when Mountain Charlie built his redwood log cabin, cut the road to ship deer meat to the bustling port of Alviso, and was attacked by a grizzly protecting her cubs. He survived and lived to a ripe old age with a metal plate covering his damaged face. We don’t face such dangers today since the grizzly was killed off in this area. Now it’s just cars and I only remember passing one during the five mile climb.

Mountain Charlie wasn’t the only tough-guy Charlie in these mountains. One-Eyed Charley Parkhurst was a scrappy stage coach driver who traversed the San Jose-Santa Cruz route, plus many more in the California gold country. When shoeing a horse in Redwood City on his San Francisco-San Jose route, the horse kicked him in the face, costing him an eye. He eventually retired in Aptos and developed mouth cancer from a heavy chewing tobacco habit. It was only after he died that the truth was discovered–Charley was a woman.

What drives you to cross mountains? The reward at the end of the journey? Or the challenge of conquering the less-traveled path?

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Posted by on February 19, 2012 in Backroads, Local History


Fashion Friday: Chocolate Creams with Pistachio

A chunky sweater in pistachio, a chocolate beret and boots and a smooth cream filling. Can you tell I’m still craving the last of my Valentine chocolates?

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Posted by on February 17, 2012 in Cycle Fashions


Life and Stuff Gets in the Way

Last weekend marked the halfway point in our training for the Solvang Century. At this point we should be riding about 70 miles or five hours in the saddle. But sometimes life gets in the way. I wanted to help a friend prepare for her party on Saturday so I couldn’t join the big group on their long and soggy ride to Pescadero and back (I’m not so sorry I missed that one). I convinced Katie, Cindy S and Michelle to ride with me on Sunday instead.

Katie asked if we could route our ride through Campbell so she could check out an open house. While we were in Campbell we did a ride-by on two homes Cindy S was looking to buy. After toodling around town and a painfully slow trip down the Los Gatos Creek Trail, we rushed back across the valley with visions of burgers at the Woodside Bakery dancing in our heads.

In the bike lane on Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road I hit a golf ball sized rock and immediately flatted. My Dura-Ace tubeless rims didn’t make the job easy. Why was it so hard just to get the *@&^ tire off?

Kick-boxing Katie with her wide tire levers finally yanked them off while I wiped off the blood from scraping my knuckles on the spokes in my lame attempt. Strangely, getting the tire back on was much faster. But between a late start, the multi-home tour and the flat, we had lost valuable time and decided to reroute our burger stop from Woodside to Palo Alto. Rushing our meal to beat sunset wouldn’t have been fun.

At 48 miles and 1400 feet of climbing, we barely earned our burgers. Still, we got in some critical miles, learned a new route across the south valley, and most importantly, Katie and Cindy were able to ride more instead of cutting out early to drive around looking at houses. Next week we’ll go harder.

Have you ever combined a training ride with an important errand or chore? Were you able to meet both goals?

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Posted by on February 16, 2012 in Backroads


Flying Solo with Liberty

It’s Valentine’s Day, a day dedicated to schmoopy coupledom, but today I want to recognize the value of time alone and doing your own thing. Even if you love spending time with your special someone or with a close-knit group of friends, there are times for flying solo. When you fly solo, you can be selfish. You can go wherever you want, at whatever pace you want with no compromises.

When I was working full time I rarely took the time to ride solo, but now I can carve out time in the middle of the day to hit the trails. So I grabbed Liberty, my original cyclocross bike and rode from home to Fremont Older preserve. I named her Liberty because she gives me the freedom to ride wherever I want–road, dirt, flat, hills–without compromise. She’s outfitted with low touring gears so I can climb the steepest fireroads and has knobby tires to grip the loose dirt. She gives me a powerful feeling, like I can go anywhere under my own power.

So up I went on the harsh climb from the Stevens Canyon side, stopping only to snap a couple of shots of the view of the valley. From there it was down the singletrack, oddly empty at midday, and then a fast ride across town to beat the fading light. Who needs to sit cross legged and meditate when you can ride alone for a few hours and come back with sore legs and a clear mind?

I have several friends who are now flying solo for more than a bike ride. It’s not something they planned, but it’s something they need to clear their minds, center themselves and be self-sufficient for a while. One of them is Patty, who is separated from her husband and is now living as the caretaker at a small winery two miles up a dirt road off that happens to be about 500 feet above the park where Liberty and I spent our day together.

Living on her own so far above it all, at a place that needs a lot of tender loving care, at a time when she needs tender loving care, Patty is learning to accept help from others. It’s not easy for someone who can navigate her bike through a rock garden, split wood with an axe and wield a chain saw with confidence. So I drove up the steep gravel road to spend time with her and prune some bushes (no chainsaw or axe for me). The goal: spiff up the chateau for her coming out party as a free and independent woman.

We hacked and hauled away the shrubs, other friends came to help clean inside and Patty did far more scrubbing, organizing and painting on her own. In a few short weeks the chateau was primed for a fabulous party for 40 or so friends. It was beautiful, magical night. Even when you’re flying solo, it’s good to be surrounded by people who care about you and support you as you travel your path.

How are you celebrating Valentine’s Day? Are you celebrating your love with someone special or celebrating your love for yourself this year?

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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Backroads, Dirt Trails


Fashion Friday: Pedaling the Blues

A teal trench coat and dark indigo skinny jeans complement Lily’s classic royal blue steel frame and provide a cool backdrop for a floral print chiffon scarf and perky kitten heels.


Posted by on February 10, 2012 in Cycle Fashions


We Are Not Roadkill

I was a little nervous this morning when I pedaled to the Hall of Justice from the San Jose Caltrain station. The case of the People vs Schiro was finally going to trial nearly three years after a hit-and-run collision left Ashleigh Nelson bleeding and convulsing on the side of the road. I was nervous because I’d never been in a courtroom and didn’t know the protocol–who would have guessed that helmets aren’t allowed? But I was mostly nervous about how I would react to Ashleigh being cross-examined by Schiro’s attorney.

I had heard details of the collision through my network of cyclists and through the local news media, including how her boyfriend Dave and the cycling community rallied to find Schiro’s car, how a woman who worked for Schiro was appalled by his behavior and helped with a sting operation, and how Schiro and his attorney had tried various creative strategies to keep the convicted drunk driver out of jail.

Still, I felt like I had walked into a suspense movie an hour late. Why was Schiro’s attorney asking Ashleigh what position she usually keeps her hands on the handlebars? Why was he pressing her to calculate the exact date a photo was taken? Ashleigh got emotional on the stand: “I can’t answer these questions. My brain doesn’t work the way it used to.” She teared up and the judge called a recess.

I needed the recess too. It was painful for me and I wasn’t on the stand. The sad fact of being the victim of a traumatic head injury is that you probably won’t remember much. That makes it really hard to defend yourself, much less help in the conviction of your assailant. And as a cyclist, I couldn’t help but put myself in her position. It could have happened to me. I’ve ridden that road many times before and I ride similar ones every week.

I would say it could have happened to my husband, except that it actually did. In 1972 my husband was riding with his girlfriend on Uvas Road, headed home to Gilroy from a camping trip. He remembers hearing the car’s screeching tires long before it careened past them. Further down the road, they saw the car was pulled over on the shoulder. As they passed, the middle-aged driver scolded Dick, “You were in the middle of the road. You scared my wife.” Dick responded with a flat “I was on the shoulder.” As he rode away, the man yelled, “You do that again and I’ll run you off the road!”

It was no idle threat. Minutes later, the man drove past Dick’s girlfriend and swerved onto the shoulder and hit Dick, breaking both bones in his lower left leg and sending him flying. Dick landed on his head and spent a month in the hospital for the massive head injury. He came close to losing his leg and losing his life.

His girlfriend gave a description of the car and the driver to the police. But without a license plate number, they had no interest in investigating. No case was opened, no one was interviewed, no one was detained, no one was tried, and no one was convicted. It probably didn’t help that Dick had long hair and muttonchop sideburns.

So it’s no surprise that I take road violence seriously, as do most cyclists. Schiro’s attorney accused the cycling community of being a “lynch mob”, but a lynch mob wouldn’t have waited three years for justice. We are tired of cyclists being run down and left to die on the side of the road with little success in getting killers convicted. Until the legal system can protect us without our help, we will stand up for our rights and will work to help victims get justice. We are not roadkill. We are people.

Have you been subjected to road violence on your bike? Have you been verbally threatened, had something thrown at you, or worse? How did you react?

One more thing: Do you find today’s Pearls Before Swine as inappropriate as I do?


Posted by on February 8, 2012 in Backroads, Issues & Infrastructure

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