Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Closer Look: Faraday Porteur Electric Bike

For someone who lives over 10 miles from my office, I’m pretty lucky to have alternatives as a bike commuter. If I want a workout, I can take an hour or so to ride the whole way and shower on arrival, or I can combine a train ride with a five mile bike ride that lets me wear my work clothes. If bike-friendly transit weren’t available, I’ve always assumed I’d have to give up daily bike commuting, saving it for when I had time and energy to spare.

But now I know what I’d do. I’d get an e-bike, like Jenny did for her hilly commute. But instead of her sporty Specialized Turbo, I think I’d go for the pedal-assist Faraday Porteur I test rode at the Los Altos History Museum. Pedal-assist bikes look and feel like regular bikes, except for an extra boost of power that feels like you have a great tailwind or powerful stoker behind you. I could use that to fight the stiff headwinds on the bay.

Faraday e-Bike

And with the Faraday Porteur, you get clean classy lines like none other. No oversized tubing or clunky batteries attached here, and it has a traditional city bike look that’s just my style.

For all the advantages of e-bikes for longer, hillier commutes or for carrying heavy loads of kids or cargo, in many places e-bikes fall through the legal cracks. They’re not as bulky or powerfully speedy as scooters or even mopeds, but they aren’t strictly legal to ride on most paved bike trails that specify “non-motorized vehicles only.” But with a stealth-looking e-bike like the Faraday, no one may be the wiser.

What do you think of e-bikes? The League of American Bicyclists is studying the issues and would like to know. If you have five minutes to spare, please take this short survey today.


Posted by on October 30, 2014 in Bike Gallery, Gear Talk


Extreme Bike Shopping: John & Jenny at Costco

Grocery shopping by bike can be as simple as a college student slipping mac ‘n cheese and instant ramen into a backpack or a retired couple picking up bike baskets full of fruits and veggies at the farmers market. Then there are the heavy-duty bike shoppers, filling grocery carts and big panniers to feed a whole family. You can find them at any grocery store, but to catch the superstars in action, head to big box stores like Costco.

Meet Jenny and John. She’s a C-level executive at a global tech company. He’s CEO of a commercial real estate company. Together they have four hungry children, from school-aged to teenagers. All six work up an appetite riding bikes to school or work every day, so weekly grocery shopping is not a lightweight job. But for John and Jenny all it takes is a trailer and overstuffed panniers to bring their SUV-sized load five miles home.

John & Jenny Portrait 2

Truth in reporting here: In June, John rode 3020 miles in 11 days, 21 hours in Race Across America (RAAM) so he’s not your average hardcore rider. He’s an animal. And Jenny? She’s riding the electric-assist Specialized Turbo that she rides every day up the hill to Stanford Research Park so she doesn’t sweat in her work clothes.

But don’t take my word for it when I say you don’t need to be superhuman to be an extreme bike shopper. Check out the bikes in the slideshow, and keep an eye on the bike rack at your local warehouse store.

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Posted by on October 28, 2014 in Around Town


I Bike, I Vote. My Beliefs, My 2014 Election Choices

The signs are all over town: it’s election time. In two weeks, three new city council members will be voted into office in Mountain View. Knowing that I’m a regular at city hall, friends have been asking me for my opinion on the candidates. It’s not easy to answer. I’m looking for bold leaders who will make our city more comfortable and convenient for people to walk, bike and take transit so that residents and businesses can thrive.

The problem is there’s a certain “Mom & apple pie” aspect to improving biking and walking. All the candidates say they’re for it, but the truth will come out when projects are proposed that require cars to give up street space or require drivers to slow down. Then there’s sticker shock. Some will balk at $10 million for a bike and walking bridge over a freeway, even if three miles of carpool lanes on the freeway below costs $72 million.

Election Signs

When I first started bicycling to work every day four years ago, I had no idea how profoundly it would change my life, and how I saw my city. Over time, my bike became my primary transportation for everything, with Caltrain doing the heavy lifting for longer trips. When you reduce your driving mileage to less than 1,500 miles a year and choose bike routes based on destinations instead of recreation, your point of view changes.

You see that it’s possible to live well with minimal driving, and you see how limited vision and status quo decisions keep people in cars, complaining bitterly about the increased traffic from a booming economy. You see how expensive road “improvements” put people’s lives at risk because they prioritize moving more vehicles at higher speeds, instead of prioritizing moving people. You see how the “build a lane, fill a lane” lessons of induced demand still haven’t been learned 45 years after they were first detailed when I was a little girl.

Hwy 101 from Palo Alto footbridge

Unlike many homeowners, I’m not anti-growth. I believe it’s better to build more new housing within our existing cities than build in distant farmland or hills where people will drive long distance to work. I realize that some people will still choose a bigger home with longer commute, but there are far fewer homes available in closer, more walkable neighborhoods than the number of people interested in buying them.

That’s actually the tradeoff we chose 20 years ago when we bought our townhouse. We could have bought a single family home further away but didn’t. We wanted to be able to walk to downtown Mountain View.

Castro Street

My views stand in sharp contrast to many of the more vocal established residents of Mountain View. If you’re among the 40% of residents who owns a home, there’s no fear of being priced out of the rental market and you have little to gain if new housing is built near your home. Growth means your sleepy suburban city starts to look more like an actual city. You might not be able to hop in your car at any time of day, any day of the week, and drive across town on traffic-free streets and park directly in front of the grocery or drug store anymore.

As in most cities, retirement-age residents have the loudest political voice in Mountain View and they’re the most resistant to changes in housing and transportation. Most own their homes, which insulates them from skyrocketing prices in the housing market. In fact, selling their homes at huge profits could be part of their retirement strategies. And unlike their children or grandchildren, few can imagine raising a family in a townhouse and riding a bike or bus to work or to shop. That’s not the American Dream they grew up with.

Family Biking

Given this presumed profile of the voting majority, it’s no surprise that none of the city council candidates publicly espouses all my beliefs. So I’m looking for candidates who are willing to question the status quo and look for productive solutions to the inevitable growth that will preserve our community’s unique value. By that I don’t mean preserving the city’s current look and feel, but rather preserving it as a community of people of all ages, backgrounds and income levels that’s at the center of Silicon Valley. A city that draws new people to the area with its culture of technology and innovation, and generates economic opportunity for all.

I’m looking for candidates who will to listen to a well-reasoned argument and make the right decision, not the popular one. Like Steve Jobs, I believe that people don’t always know what they’ll like until they experience it. Case in point: when the city gave Castro Street a “road diet” 25 years ago, changing it from four lanes to three, there were cries of protest about traffic. What would they say now that Castro Street is a thriving, lovely place to dine and shop? Yes, there is traffic congestion, but there’s also a healthy stream of new revenue for the city.

Steve Jobs Memorial

So with that long preamble, here’s how I see the city council candidates, starting with ones I endorse:

Pat Showalter: I met Showalter 20 years ago when we were both Girl Scout leaders, but I didn’t know her well until we started rubbing elbows at city planning meetings. She impressed me by asking insightful questions and soliciting my opinion. She listens. Most of her biking experience has been on off-street trails, but she went out of her comfort zone to come on neighborhood tour focused on potential bike and walking improvements.

Lenny Siegel: As the founder of Campaign for Balanced Mountain View, Siegel sees lack of housing available to meet jobs growth as a critical issue. Once a strong supporter of rent control, he is now more focused on building housing and moderating office development. Like Showalter, he attended the neighborhood tour (that’s him on the bike behind Pat) and I’ve seen him riding his bike around town, so he sees the issues first hand.

Pat & Lenny on Bikes

Ken Rosenberg: Rosenberg is a member of the city’s Human Relations Commission who launched the Civility Roundtable series that brings people together to understand and discuss key issues our city faces. He supports a much-needed road diet for California Street to make walking and biking safer in the city’s most dense residential neighborhood. And a friend I trust who has worked with him says he’s a mensch.

Greg Unangst: Unangst is the chair of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, so it’s no surprise that many of his concerns and goals align with mine. Unangst also shares my view that we need to create walk- and bike-friendly “urban villages” beyond downtown, in places like North Bayshore. He is the only candidate who shares my support of bus lanes on El Camino so that rapid transit buses can truly be rapid.

No Bus Lane

I cannot endorse four candidates. In general, my concern is their limited support for biking, walking and transit and in some cases, anti-growth NIMBY sentiments.

Lisa Matichak: Matichak became involved in city politics after successfully blocking a housing development in 2008 which would have built townhouses on property behind her single family home. That’s textbook NIMBY. Her voting record as a commissioner on the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) shows her preference for low density development, which she justifies by concerns for increased traffic. She does not share my vision.

Margaret Capriles: Like Matichak, Capriles has cited concerns over increased traffic in voting down higher density in housing and office projects as a commissioner on the EPC. At one meeting, she relayed concerns that some residents of The Crossings, a transit-oriented development, had about Caltrain potentially increasing service to the nearby station. Although the station does not offer car parking, residents were concerned about an increase in bike traffic. My jaw dropped when Capriles expressed she thought it was a legitimate concern.

Boarding Caltrain

Jim Neal: I tip my hat to Neal for his perfect attendance at city council and EPC meetings. Often he would speak up for things like building Vegas-style elevated walkways across El Camino, or preserving underutilized street parking, or for not restricting drive-thrus. Then I would speak up for the exact opposite. You’d think I’d have more in common with someone who rides transit instead of driving, but he consistently shows cars-first thinking. Then there was the time he called bikes and trains “19th century transportation solutions.”

Mercedes Salem. Salem is the only candidate I’ve never seen at any city council, EPC, BPAC or other planning meeting. Given I average three such meetings a month, I’m not impressed by her lack of participation. It didn’t help that when she showed up late for a candidate’s forum she blamed driving in rush hour traffic and pledged to fix it. I suspect we have very different ideas on how to improve mobility.

Cars on Central Expwy

The final candidate, Ellen Kamei, was tough to pin down. While I’ve attended several Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) meetings where she serves as a commissioner, I have not gotten a clear understanding of her perspective. When I received a fear-mongering flyer with headline “San Francisco traffic is coming to Mountain View” and her name and photo, I was disturbed by the focus on cars with no mention of walking, biking or transit. The traffic solution cited was “new technology” and the driverless car.

It turns out the flyer was paid for by the Neighborhood Empowerment Coalition (NEC) of Long Beach, not the Kamei campaign. Ellen is quoted in the Mountain View Voice saying she received the mail from NEC at the same time as Mountain View residents and is not familiar with NEC at all. Putting that aside, I can’t endorse her at this time because I don’t have a clear picture of where she stands and why.

I Walk. I Bike. I Vote has compiled candidate’s responses to a short survey. Seven of the nine All nine candidates have responded, which tells me Mountain View is taking a hard look at these issues. That’s a great sign. [updated 10/26] 

Finally, I’ve never made public endorsements for political candidates before. Like discussions on religion, it’s something that I’m careful about in social settings. But these issues matter. I’m sure I’ll have readers who question my beliefs and my choices. As always, I will accept your comments. Please keep them civil.

Have you decided how you will cast your votes this election season? What do you look for in a candidate? Which issues matter most to you this year?

Ballot at Polling Station


Posted by on October 24, 2014 in Issues & Infrastructure


Commute Diaries: Hang on Tights Season

In between the two Bay Area seasons loosely divided as “warm and dry” and “cool and damp,” there are days divided by “chilly and overcast” in the morning and “warm and sunny” in the evening. That’s when I turn to tights.

Tights Season

Easy on in the morning, easy off in the evening, and I can keep both goosebumps and sweat out of my day.


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 October 21, 2014 in Commute Diaries


Bike Date Profile: Jennie & Jonathan at Bierhaus

Lance Armstrong was wrong when he said “It’s not about the bike.” Jennie has the loop-frame love for her city bike and has been riding it all over town and to work for years. Her husband? Not so much, much to Jennie’s chagrin. The problem became clear the day they switched bikes. Jonathan’s bike was an uncomfortable beast: too bent-forward, with complicated shifting and a narrow saddle. And he had no interest in padded shorts.

Jonathan’s back was happier with the upright stance of Jennie’s bike and his butt liked the wider saddle. So when PUBLIC bikes had a Bastille Day sale, he jumped at the chance and rode off with a royal blue mixte.

Portrait 2

Now, much to Jennie’s delight, he’s eager to go out for a ride down the creek trail or off for a bite downtown. One of their go-to spots is Bierhaus on Castro Street. They’ve lived in the area long enough to know the building’s humble beginnings as a teen-hangout Weinerschnitzel, then as a Mediterranean place, and now a craft beer and burger spot with an expansive outdoor patio. With great beer for him and glueten-free dining options for her, it’s an easy way to relax after a long day with a short ride over and a casual meal.

The venue: Bierhaus at 383 Castro Street, Mountain View, California, USA

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Posted by on October 19, 2014 in Bike Date


Fashion Friday: Deep Purple Evening Delights

The invitation specified “business casual, no jeans” but that doesn’t mean I can’t step in up a notch with a pretty cotton dress in deep purple, vintage jewelry, and snakeskin heels. It is a fundraising dinner for the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition at a hotel after all, not a crab feed at the church hall or chili cook-off in the park.

Purple Dress Portrait

I’m sure I won’t be the only one dressed up for the occasion. With luck, I’ll snap a few red-carpet shots of partygoers so you can see that yes, even hardcore cyclists can shed their lycra and clean up good.

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 October 13, 2014 in Cycle Fashions


Cowgirls & LadyCats: A New Face for Bike Couriers

If you’ve you ever hopped on a bike after a rough work day and had your bad mood roll away, you’ve probably wondered: “If only I could get paid to ride my bike.” The good news is that you don’t have to be a pro racer to make a living on two wheels. You can coach or instruct like my friend Lorri. You can write about bicycling like my friend Elly. You can work in bike advocacy like my friends at SVBC and CalBike. Or you can work in the bike industry, either at a manufacturer or at your local bike shop like my dear husband did when I met him.

But the purest way to get paid to ride a bike is as a messenger, something I could never see myself doing. Bike messengers are thrill-seeking guys careening around the city on brakeless fixies, hopping curbs and running red lights. You know, like in Premium Rush. But now I have a friend Cain who has launched a new kind of bike delivery service earlier this month called Cowgirl Bike Couriers. They’re not your typical messengers.

Cowgirls 2Photo courtesy of Cowgirl Bike Couriers.

Like other bike courier services, the Cowgirls specialize in delivering legal documents, but that doesn’t stop them from delivering packages, flowers, groceries, and even medical supplies. But what makes Cowgirls stand out is their focus on recruiting women as couriers to help bridge the gender gap in American cycling.

I love their mission and the name Cowgirl, which reminds me of the strong women of Old West who had the daring and strength to ride hard and get sweaty in what’s seen as a man’s job. Cowgirls are ready for anything, and I think their new service is too. Ten women and men have been recruited, some key accounts have been signed, and the Cowgirls are riding from Milpitas to Los Gatos, from Santa Clara to East and South San Jose.

Cowgirls 1cropPhoto courtesy of Cowgirl Bike Couriers.

I’m not in the market to become a courier, but it’s fun to pretend. So when my friend Lorri asked me to race with her in an alley cat the Cowgirls hosted last month, I went for it. I wanted to support Cowgirls in their launch, and their LadyCat race was a fund-raiser for the Silicon Valley Roller Girls who lost their home rink at the last remaining roller skating rink in the South Bay. Besides, how could LadyFleur not race the LadyCat?

Lorri and I made a good team. I arrived early, giving me time to study the manifest and map out a route using my iPhone. Lorri rushed over from another event so she didn’t know the route, but she could read the map without pulling out reading glasses. That led to a couple of “who’s on first” conversations and an overshot checkpoint on Hamilton Ave that gave us the (dis)pleasure of crossing the Hwy 17 freeway interchange twice.

LadyCat Map

We survived, though, and 24 miles and two hours later we had hit all nine checkpoints and were sharing drinks and stories with the other racers. We were far from the first to come in, but not the last either. Best of all, we got to pretend to be bike couriers for a day, something I’ll surely never do in real life.

Have you ever been paid for riding a bike or working in a bike-affiliated job? If not, what job would you want?

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Posted by on October 9, 2014 in Around Town, Women & Bikes


Bike Commute Diaries: Taxi to the Rescue

When asked what I’d do if I had a problem with my bike I couldn’t fix, I’ve always said if desperate I’d call a taxi. In four years, I’ve walked home once and taken light rail twice for flats, and called Dick for a ride once when my headlight was stolen. Last night on our bike date, I locked both our bikes to the rack without having the key. Four miles from home, in a city with no nighttime transit, and I had locked up my rescuer too. Taxi time!

Taxi Rescue

Getting a taxi at night in the suburbs isn’t easy. I called five companies that came up in an internet search, but they were set up for airport shuttle runs, not cross-town trips. So I went back into the restaurant and asked the hostess. She called and a taxi arrived in 10 minutes. The driver was a madman behind the wheel, but since he said he specifically works in Mountain View, his number is now saved in my phone contacts.

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.


Posted by on October 4, 2014 in Commute Diaries

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