Monthly Archives: June 2012

Bike Commute Diaries: At the Car Wash (Yeah!)

With our garage reserved for our most valued transport, our poor neglected cars sit in the driveway collecting dust. It’s silly to drive just to have them cleaned. So when Caltrain cancelled my morning train and forced me to drive, I jumped at the chance to surprise Dick with a shiny washed car. Too bad there’s no bike wash in town.


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


Posted by on June 29, 2012 in Commute Diaries


Fashion Friday: San José Joe and his Batavus

City managers understand the value of bicycling in creating a vibrant, economically growing city. When city managers ride their bikes to City Hall in professional dress, people take notice. And when the city managers and their bikes are as stylish as Joe Silva and his vintage Batavus, it’s a bicycle advocate’s dream come true.

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.


Posted by on June 28, 2012 in Bike Gallery, Cycle Fashions


Bike Spotting: Schwinn Stingray Love Lives On

The year was 1963. The Beatles were mobilizing for the British Invasion, a youthful JFK fed American imaginations with dreams that launched us to the moon, and lowrider cars and chopper motorcycles prowled the streets with a certain irreverence for authority. And in 1963 Schwinn introduced the Stingray, the bike that captured the hearts of Baby Boomer and Gen-X boys and girls. By 1968 they made up 75% of U.S. bike sales.

Stingray love lives on with reproduction bikes, like this pair I saw on the new Stevens Creek Trail bike bridge. While I was admiring the bikes, the rider Pam recognized me–we worked together over 20 years ago. She and her hubby were riding 1999 Stingrays, much like ones they rode as kids. Nostalgia is a beautiful thing.

Location: Stevens Creek Trail at Heatherstone Way, Mountain View, California, USA


Posted by on June 27, 2012 in Bike Gallery


Bike Commute Diaries: Dress for a Mess

When construction prep turned the bike path from hard-packed gravel to a wet mess today, I was so glad I was wearing a dress. Cleaning bare skin and sandals at work is much easier than cleaning long pants.


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


Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Commute Diaries


Finding the Right City Bike for You

My friend Deb called me last week: “I want a city bike for my birthday. Which ones should I look at? Where did you get yours?” First, I gave her the names of three of my favorite local shops that specialize in city bikes: A Street Bike Named Desire in Palo Alto, and Public Bikes and My Dutch Bike in San Francisco.

Then I started rattling off everything I’d learned in the past two years of transportation cycling, and what Dick and I learned from our recent city bike purchases. The more we chatted, the more I realized how many features we looked for when we bought our city bikes and how different it was than buying a road or mountain bike.

Don’t Be a Weight Weenie. When buying a road bike, the first thing most buyers do is pick it up. Road bikes are designed for speed and distance, and lighter weight can mean winning a race or finishing a century ride before they close the course. City bikes are designed to carry things so they need a heavier frame. And they’re designed for shorter distances, where slower speeds don’t make a big difference. Of course, if you have to carry it up stairs to an apartment or you live on a steep hill, you may want to check the weight. Just don’t obsess.

Frame the Question. You’ll need to decide whether you want a traditional diamond frame or a step through frame, aka a men’s bike or a women’s bike. Not that the decision lies with gender. Men sometimes choose a step-through so they don’t have to lift their leg high over the top tube. Women, especially ones who don’t wear skirts, sometimes choose the diamond frame. Side note: mixte frames are said to be named for “mixed gender.”

Upright, Not Uptight. Pedaling while upright feels odd at first if you’re used to a more aggressive position. You’ll still want to adjust the seat height and perhaps lower the bars a bit, but there’s little need for precise fitting. You won’t be bent over on the bike for hours and you won’t be locked into a single position on your pedals. So you won’t need to switch your stem or pull out a plumb bob to align your saddle to your pedals.

Size Matters, But Not So Much. Because they don’t require such precise fitting, city bikes come in fewer sizes. You’ll know the size is right if you don’t feel crowded between the seat and handlebars or too stretched out. If the bike is too small you may feel perched too high once your saddle is adjusted to the right height. And if you’re sitting on the top tube, your frame is too big. Nothing new there.

Gear Up. Most city bikes have 3-8 gears with a reasonably wide range. If you live in a city with steep hills, buy accordingly. But gear ratio range matters more than the number of gears, and it can be hard to know the range without a test ride. City bikes often have internal gear hubs, which protect the gears from street grime and protect your clothing from gear grime. Internal gear hubs are more expensive than derailleur-based gearing.

Try Before You Buy. As with any bike purchase, a test ride will tell you a lot. Is it easy to get on and off? Is it the right size? Does it feel balanced and track straight? Does it brake well? Does it shift well? Does it seem well-built? Do you feel “one with the bike?” Did riding it make you smile?

A Lasting Relationship. Consider the bike shop and its staff. They should be knowledgeable, friendly and helpful, and take time to answer your questions. If they primarily sell other types of bikes, make sure they value city bikes and understand their specific needs. If they tell you that you don’t need a kickstand or fenders, go elsewhere. Finally, if you don’t like the staff enough to want to go back to the shop, don’t buy the bike there.

What was most important to you when you bought your last bike? If money were no object, would you have bought something different?

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P.S. Here are some great city bike shops Dick and I have visited on our travels:


Posted by on June 24, 2012 in Around Town, Gear Talk


Bike Date Friday Stays Home: Pizza Delivery

Dick was recovering from a traumatic week so we decided to take it easy with take-out instead of going out for dinner. The plan: I would pick up take-out from one of the many restaurants on Castro Street, so convenient given my Caltrain commute. But what was I thinking when I decided to bring home pizza?



Posted by on June 22, 2012 in Around Town


Fashion Friday: Deanna in a Tickled Pink Dress

When the days heat up fast and cool down slowly, an easy fitting dress in a lightweight knit can keep you feeling fresh as a cherry blossom. Deanna bought this little pink dress for a summer study program in steamy Japan, where she tooled around town on a mamachari bike. She left the mamachari in Japan but kept the 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.


Posted by on June 22, 2012 in Cycle Fashions


Bike Spotting: Babboe Cargo Bike at the YMCA

The only thing sweeter than seeing a full bike rack outside our local gym is spotting a full-on Dutch cargo bike. I didn’t see the parent, but based on two small kids bikes parked next to it and the infant seat inside, I’m guessing there were three young children in this caravan. Impressive, at least here for in the states.

We first spotted Babboe cargo bikes in Amsterdam where moms were hauling their kinderen in bikes like these.

Location: El Camino YMCA, Mountain View, California, USA


Posted by on June 19, 2012 in Bike Gallery


Bike Date: Time Stands Still at Vahl’s in Alviso

Rolling up to it, the flickering old neon sign looked like it came straight out of 1952. Walking in, I felt like I was in a Scorsese film. Seriously. It was like time capsule where you have a big dining area, some old décor and well, pretty much a mixture of old charm ambiance and glossy-pink and baby-blue cake frosting painted walls.

I think the bar is the only reason why this place is still open. There are always a handful of locals in here, which accounts for about 75% of the Alviso population. If you read all the reviews, you’ll find they all say the exact same thing. But depending on the kind of person you are, it will either be a 1-star or a 5-star. For me, a 5-star.

Truthfully, the reviews on Yelp are where I stole everything I wrote above (including the title) from five different reviewers. Call me a plagiarist. The reviews and the retro building have intrigued me for so long that Vahl’s has been on our Bike Date Friday bucket list since I worked in Palo Alto, about 12 miles north on the Bay Trail.

After I moved to my new job just six mile south on the Guadalupe River Trail, it moved up on the list. But it took an upcoming 10 month closure to pave the trail to get us down there last Friday. It was well worth the sketchy gravel ride on our touring bikes with overfilled tires. Why did we fill them to 90+ psi?

Along the way to Alviso we crossed the river to see the James Lick Mill and Mansion. Built in 1855, when there were few settlers in the area, it’s now surrounded by suburbia, smack dab in the middle of an apartment complex. I correct myself, a luxury gated apartment community. Since we arrived just past the official 9am-6pm visiting hours, a helpful resident let us through the gate to see the mansion and the mill.

The story of James Lick has the makings of a Gabriel García Márquez novel: an unplanned pregnancy, a father refusing his daughter’s hand to a man of no means, the young man escaping to Argentina, Peru and then San Francisco to make his fortune in a lifelong battle to win his bride. Monetary success, romantic failure, and a legacy that lives today. I can’t do the story justice here. I encourage you to read about his amazing life.

Fast forward a few miles and a century later and we’re at Vahl’s in Alviso drinking Manhattans and eating what was considered upscale Italian in the 1950s in a dining room of mixed vintage–none of it currently in fashion. Meanwhile, the real soul of Vahl’s is carrying on in the bar, where a packed house of 80-somethings were belting out the hits of another generation, karaoke style, and shuffling along cheek to cheek.

“Anything that’s older than my parents has longevity for a reason,” one of the Yelp reviewers wrote. How true. Another wrote: “The fact that a place like Vahl’s still exists and is not overrun with people under the age of 30 is empirical evidence that Hipsters do not exist in the South Bay.” I don’t think that’s true, they just haven’t followed the Guadalupe River down to Alviso yet. I’m hoping the hipsters don’t find Vahl’s before we make it back there.

Is there a place near you that’s stuck in a time warp? Would you be sad if it went away–or worse, remodeled?

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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.


Posted by on June 19, 2012 in Bike Date, Local History


Bike Commute Diaries: A Picnic Getting to the Park

When traffic for a big event chokes city streets and roads, a cross-town bike ride can turn bumper-to-bumper traffic into a ride in the park. The 45,000 spectators for the U.S. Open golf tournament didn’t spoil our Father’s Day picnic in Golden Gate Park. Neither did the fog and wind that had us bundled up in sweaters.


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


Posted by on June 18, 2012 in Commute Diaries

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