Category Archives: Anything Goes

Anything Goes Challenge: Leah, SPURred by Options

You may recognize Leah from a Fashion Friday photos I shot the day I rode with her on her first Bay Area Bike Share commute just after the system launched last summer. As the Director of SPUR San Jose, Leah works in San Jose four days a week and spends the fifth day at SPUR headquarters 50 miles away in San Franscisco. As an urbanist she defaults to non-driving travel and she’s fortunate to have many transit and bike options available. That makes her Anything Goes Commute Challenge all the more interesting. This is her story.

When Janet asked me to capture not only my commute modes to and from work, but my decision process for each mode, I was anxious to oblige. I had been meaning to see if the data backed up my first choice, my bicycle. As a long time bike lover, it’s my default mode of transportation if given an option. But is it really the most effective? And so here goes – a data comparison of the top ways I can get to work.

Leah in Office

I live two miles from the SPUR office in San Jose. My commute streets are laid out in a straight-forward, flat grid pattern, beginning in Japantown and ending in downtown San Jose. I travel this commute four days a week and head to our office in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena district one day a week.

This October I set out to find out which of my various commutes took the most time, money, energy, planning, etc. And like those combination math problems in middle school, I took to testing the options and used simple parameters: door to door time, ease of travel, cost. Here are the options for my San Jose commute:

Bike (my own)
There are several connecting bike lanes along Third and Fourth Street and low auto traffic speeds that make it particularly easy to commute by bike. We also have a bike rack outside of our office so I can lock up securely.

San Jose Protected Bike Lanes

Walk + VTA Light Rail + Walk
The Light Rail Stations near work are on the same block as our office, which make arrival to and departure from work very convenient. I’m only three stops from work from where I get on at Civic Center and from there it’s about a 10 minute walk home from the station. This works best when I am looking for a walking start and finish to the day, but I need to pay more attention to time in order to catch the train when I arrive at the station and weight/amount of material I need to take to work with me (i.e. carry).

Light Rail

Walk + Bike Share + Walk
The closest bike share station to my house is in Japantown and the closest station to work is at City Hall. Getting to and from this option require upwards of 15 minutes of walking, but the bike share bikes are great with an upright position and place for my bag in front.

Leah Bike Share Bike

My car commute is a pretty straight forward two mile drive with low traffic. Early bird (arrival before 9:45am) parking at the garage across the street from my office costs $8 for the day.


First consideration for commute choice begins with how I organize my calendar. I make a point to coordinate my work meetings and personal errand running to the following criteria (as much as possible):

  • Schedule as many meetings as possible within walking distance of the office so that I don’t have to drive. Aim for this 3-4 days a week.
  • Schedule meetings that require car travel all on the same day. Typically, meetings outside of downtown San Jose or more than 1-2 Light Rail stops away default to driving to maximize efficiency (and because there is rarely a parking cost on the other end of meetings).
  • On days that require car travel, plan errand running (dry cleaners, grocery shopping, ‘big’/bulk shopping, etc) on the same day.

Second consideration with commute choice is weather. Unless it’s raining or aiming to be 90 degrees, I’ll choose not to drive. Otherwise, with such flat terrain and short distance, it’s easy to walk, bike or take transit. Third consideration is time. What is the quickest way I can get where I need to go and how can I travel most efficiently between meetings? Fourth consideration is money. How much will it cost in work time (driving vs. Caltrain), gas and parking vs. the alternatives.

There are other considerations that pop in and out and impact my mode decision (if I need to move things in and out of the office, if I feel at all under the weather, if my bike is out of commission (or stolen…it’s happened), if my work day will go very late, etc), but these are the less frequent occasions.

San Jose Commute

The options for my San Francisco commute are to ride my bike to Caltrain San Jose station, take it aboard and bike to the SPUR headquarters in San Francisco, or drive to Caltrain and walk from the San Francisco station to the office, or drive and pay for garage parking.

Caltrain Night

San Francisco Commute

The Upshot: What I didn’t add above were the other benefits that come with each mode. With any mode except the car, there is exercise, time outdoors and in my neighborhood, taking a car and its CO2 emissions off the road and usually the opportunity to discover something new along the route. But with the car comes a slightly faster commute, complete independence and, at $8 a day for parking, not a terribly expensive option, especially for one day a week. Adding that up over time though would equate to a great deal of cash and it’s quickly the lease desirable option by virtue of cost. And so my winning option is – bike commute!

Leah BIke crop


Posted by on December 2, 2013 in Anything Goes


Anything Goes Challenge: Pep the Overachiever

When you throw down a challenge, there’s always someone who blows you away by going the extra 1000 miles. That would be Pep, who not only dedicated six entries on her blog to the Anything Goes Challenge, she also inspired Nadia to do it too. I met Pep through the Low-Key Hill Climbs years ago and if you’ve been following this blog, you know her too. She’s the one with the amazing little STRiDA folding bike. This is her story.

A kindred spirit and bicycle commuter par excellence, Ladyfleur, recently wrote a series about her commute options for getting to the office. She wrapped up with an open challenge to her readers to do the same. I’m in!


Solo Drive: My least favorite option is driving to the office during rush hour. I volunteer for a non-profit organization once per week after work, which means I need my car—any of my transportation alternatives are so impractical that I would just stop volunteering. To avoid the rush hour crawl, I spent an hour at home in early morning video conferences with colleagues in Europe.

The live traffic map looked promising, so I headed for the first freeway; traffic was flowing nicely. From an overpass, I glanced at the traffic on the next freeway … and bailed out for the local expressway when I saw three lanes of stopped cars stretching into the distance.

For a while I was stuck behind a driver who repeatedly and erratically slowed without braking; when I was finally able to pass her, the reason was clear: SHE WAS TEXTING. The expressway route is less direct than the freeway and has traffic lights—but they’re synchronized. Given that it was now nearly 10:00 a.m., I exited onto one final freeway and suffered through the expected-but-short traffic jam.

Freeway Traffic

Carpool: After work one night I headed up to the city for a performance by the world-renowned San Francisco Ballet. Which means I needed my car. Technically, I could have devised a mass-transit solution that entails less driving, but it would have been ridiculously complicated and prohibitively time-consuming.

With back-to-back early meetings, I also needed to get to the office before 8:30 a.m. I cruised over to the shuttle stop to pick up a carpooler. Most people would actually prefer to board the Wifi-equipped shuttle, but I got lucky. A colleague was happy to join me, and we had a nice conversation on the way to work.

Driving in the carpool lane is stressful. You are traveling at nearly the speed limit in the leftmost lane, constantly scanning the lane of stopped traffic to your right: Will that driver suddenly swing out in front of me? How about that one? That one? I parked the car at work and breathed a sigh of relief.

Carpool Lane

Bike + Shuttle: My typical commute involves riding a shuttle bus to the office. Sometimes the bus stop has been within walking distance of home; it is always within biking distance. While I don’t mind walking on a rainy day, I am a fair-weather cyclist. Fortunately (or not), we don’t see a lot of rain in these parts.

Riding the bike is fun, but slightly stressful as I cope with morning traffic and pass lots of parked cars—always on the alert to avoid being “doored.” I get to the shuttle in 8 minutes, fold my STRiDA and load it on the shuttle.

Riding the shuttle is totally relaxing; I listen to my favorite podcasts. I might check my email and get an early start on the day, but I will suffer from motion sickness if I do much reading. Along the way I marvel at the daily clog of solo drivers on the freeway. I have a clear view of the drivers (illegally) texting, (illegally) holding their phones to their ears or in front of their faces, eating breakfast, and applying eye liner in the number two lane. At the end of the day, I have been known to doze off on the way home.

The very first time I rode the shuttle and arrived at work relaxed, I was ready to hang up my car keys. The chief downside is that I generally decline most after-work social gatherings. One upside is that I am a free ticket to the carpool lane for a solo driver looking for an express ride home: people woo shuttle riders every afternoon via a mailing list. It is easy to “need” your car every day, to run an errand or get to an appointment. It just takes a little planning to align commitments to fall on a single weekday, or two.

Strida Shuttle

Solo Bike Trip: Biking to work is a commitment. Even though I have the luxury of loading myself and my bicycle onto a shuttle bus at the end of the day, I prefer to cycle home. The round trip translates into some 40 miles and 1,000 feet of hill climbing. I have optimized my route over the years to make it safer and more direct. The Bliss factor would be higher if I did not have to contend with a few busy stretches of roadway, and if there were fewer clueless joggers, dog-walkers, and cyclists on the trail.

To while away the time, I usually count my fellow cyclists along the way: kids on their way to school, adults on their way to work or just out for a nice ride. Today was unseasonably warm; for the first few miles, I saw surprisingly few cyclists. By the time I rolled up to my building, I had counted 60—that’s higher than I remember for a morning commute (with the exception of Bike to Work Day).

Once at the office, the first order of business is my second breakfast. Without that, I would bonk later in the morning. The next order of business is to shower and change into street clothes; I keep an extra pair of shoes at the office to minimize what I need to carry on the bike. When I get to my desk, I am energized for the day. More and more research has shown the beneficial influence of exercise on the brain, explaining why I feel more alert (and definitely not tired) after propelling myself to work.

Our company has a generous “self-powered commuting” incentive program. Each time I cycle to work, I earn credits that turn into dollars donated annually by the company to the charity of my choice. Last year, that amounted to more than $200 … but I can do better.

Bike Bridge

Group Bike Trip: There are many avid cyclists at my workplace—many commute daily, some over long distances. It has become a tradition for me to lead a group of riders to the office on Bike To Work Day, but that rolls around once a year. What if we biked together once a week?

On most Thursdays, a plan starts to form: who’s in, where and when to rendezvous. Riders meet over the first few miles: four guys and me, today. They are stronger and faster and more fit; I rode my heart out to keep up.

A sampling of our morning chatter: a fierce-but-friendly competition between two colleagues to establish who can complete more commutes by bicycle this quarter; the recent Boston Marathon (one of our riders had run it, luckily finishing well ahead of the chaos); bridging and nearest neighbors; the n Queens problem. Yes, these are engineers; this is, after all, Silicon Valley.

Group Ride

The Upshot: Not surprisingly, there is no “one best way” to get to work.

  • The fastest way? Carpool. The downside: this is also the most stressful (for the driver). One alternative that I did not fit into the Challenge is to be a carpool passenger: fast and low stress. Cost is a wash, because I reciprocate.
  • The most freedom? Solo drive. This is costly (time and money), but sometimes necessary to fit a schedule or allow extra-curricular activities.
  • The best for exercise? Bike it, preferably with a group that pushes the pace. The cost should be a bit higher than the Challenge suggests, I think (fuel, aka food), but it would still be insignificant.
  • The best overall? Bike to the shuttle, ride the bus. Low stress, low cost, least time wasted. An additional benefit is having the bike handy for quick trips at work.

Pep Scorecard

What’s Next for Pep? There are options I did not consider, such as mass transit. When the schedules align, I can walk to catch a public bus that will drop me off near the shuttle stop—a good rainy-day option. While it would be technically possible to rely on mass transit entirely, doing so would be slower than biking to work: 2 hours, 30 minutes plus $10.75 to ride multiple buses, light rail, and Caltrain.

I could walk to the shuttle stop (1.5 miles), but that would be time-intensive. When the shuttle stop was closer (1 km), this was my preferred approach—rain or shine. I could drive to the shuttle stop. (It has been known to happen.) The cost is low ($0.85), but it saves little time with competing with commute traffic, school traffic, and the vagaries of six traffic signals along the way.

Finally, I would be remiss to exclude one occasional option: the “Solo Scenic Drive.” It takes about 90 minutes, 15-20 of which are wasted in traffic. Standard mileage reimbursement doesn’t apply … but the Bliss factor is 11.

Skyline Blvd

First photo by Pat Callahan. All other photos courtesy of Pep of About Pep and are used with her permission.

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Posted by on June 3, 2013 in Anything Goes


Anything Goes Challenge: Megan & I Take the Bus

Megan lives within 10 miles of me in Silicon Valley but I’ve never met her. Her challenge: getting to a medical appointment two cities away without driving or biking after surgery. For her entry into the Anything Goes Commute Challenge, she compares hitching a ride with a friend vs taking the bus. This is her story.

Because of recent surgery, I can’t drive my car or ride a bike for a few weeks. I needed to get to the medical clinic for some tests and I considered taking a friend up on her offer of helping me during my convalescence, but it just didn’t seem right to ask her to drive a total of about 40 miles just to get me to the clinic that is only seven miles from my house. My solution was to get a family member to drive me to the clinic then take the bus home.

Driving to the clinic:
Driving during Monday morning commute traffic using mostly Central Expressway and Evelyn Avenue took 30 minutes. Cost: It’s hard to analyze. My best guess is $2 to travel seven miles. [Editor’s note: US federal reimbursement rate is 56.5 cents/mile so I’m estimating it at $3.95]

Rush Hour Expressway Traffic

Transit home from clinic: The return trip home took 58 minutes by walking and taking the VTA 22 bus. Considering the fact that the return trip from the clinic was during mid-morning which meant that the local bus that I transferred to from the 22 was running only every 30 minutes, I think that only 58 minutes to return home was not too bad. If I had taken the 522 Rapid bus, I probably could have traveled home even faster.

Cost: $4 ($2 for each leg of trip home). Note to self: figure out how to buy a day pass using the Clipper card.

No Bus Lane

LadyFleur had recently mentioned using an iPhone app for the VTA bus routes so I checked it out then bought it while at the clinic when I was between appointments. After using the SJ Transit app for this morning’s trip, I find that I really like it. It helps me overcome my hesitation to using the VTA bus system to get places since I don’t always have a paper schedule with me. Frankly, the paper schedules were harder for me to use than this app.

Bus Map vs Bus App

The Clipper card is another innovation that has helped me get out of my car and on to the bus. As an infrequent bus rider, it was always hard to make sure I had exact change for a bus trip. Scanning a Clipper card is much easier than digging around in my purse for $2.

Sorry, but while juggling my iPhone, checking the timer on my phone, checking the SJ Transit app for route info and watching for my bus stop, I didn’t take any photos.


Never fear, Megan, I took your bus challenge and snapped some photos on the trip. After digging up my old transit maps I realized it had been almost 20 years since I’d ridden the bus! Thanks for getting me back on the bus, and even more for taking the Anything Goes Commute Challenge.

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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Anything Goes


Anything Goes Challenge: Frank Crosses the Border

When most people think of bike commuters in the Netherlands, they imagine dressed-up people riding upright Dutch bikes rolling short distances along on cyclepaths in compact city centers. While many Dutch commuters do fit this mold, there are others like Frank, whose commute is roughly 20 miles, a distance that’s more typical for suburban America. But his Anything Goes Commute Challenge is hardly American. This is his story.

Since February 19th this year, I’ve started a new job which offered a new commuting challenge, riding 60 km (37 mi) per day instead of 21 km (13 mi). But as cycling is my main hobby, I took on the challenge and started out with at least three or four times per week cycling to work.

My daily trip takes me from the Netherlands to Belgium. As soon as I cross the border a significant change in road maintenance becomes painfully clear. Roads in Belgium are very much in worse state then in the Netherlands, especially the secondary roads. [Editor’s note: The well-kept road below must be Dutch.]

Cycle Path

Based on this, driving by car would be the most obvious option, but after finding my definitive route I still prefer to take the trip by bike. Not because of the costs or the compensation, but because of these advantages:

  • Almost 3,5 hours relaxing work-out, clearing my mind while listening to my favourite music
  • I arrive more “mentally fresh” by bike than by car
  • The 2,5 km ride through the woods is beautiful in any season and I consider it an extra bonus for my efforts

Tree Path

Another, more medical, reason for commuting by bike is the fact that my doctor suspects I’m narcoleptic, so cycling is a bit safer for me than driving a car.

The disadvantages of doing this commute by bike I find are:

  • I start work between 5:30 and 6:00 am, so every day I have to get up at 3:00 am. :-\
  • The prevalent wind direction is southwest, so every day on my way home I’ve got to face headwind.
  • Depending on the weather conditions, the trip can take up to two hours.

Driving to Work

The advantages of driving by car are straightforward. It’s quick and dry. The disadvantages of driving by car are that it’s a boring trip with lots of speed bumps. It’s a longer distance that can be stressful during rush hour.

My personal score card of this commute:

Anything Goes Frank

The compensation is a government ruling in Belgium which is paid through my salary. That’s one advantage of working for a Belgian employer. Here in the Netherlands the compensation is much less.

Note that I don’t have to pack clothing due to the nature of my job and I pass three shops along the way and always carry panniers, so (some) shopping is no problem. Also, in the village where our company is located are several options to go for lunch, even in work clothes (it’s easy, people).

Personally, I don’t think my ride time by bicycle is wasted time as I work out and relax. I really found this challenge a very good idea and I liked it lot. Hope you can come up with more of these ideas!

Dutch greetings and safe riding, Frank.

Thanks, Frank, for participating in the Anything Goes Commute Challenge, and for not letting a longer, earlier morning commute with a tough headwind keep you off the bike!

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All photos in this post are courtesy of Frank and are used with his permission.


Posted by on May 20, 2013 in Anything Goes


Anything Goes Challenge: Margaret Walks in L.A.

There’s a famous saying: “Nobody walks in L.A.” If you’ve ever been to Los Angeles you know that the saying is close to the truth. L.A. is where cars were crowned king and their kingdom spread across the nation and the world through the movie industry. But not everyone drives in L.A. just to cross a street. Margaret rides her bike to work every day, and for her Anything Goes Challenge she did the unthinkable–WALK. This is her story.

I like to ride my bike to work from my home near Los Angeles International Airport to my job in Manhattan Beach. Door to door one way is 30-60 minutes and 4.5 miles if I take the city route and 9 miles if I take the popular bike path along the beach known as “The Strand”. My commute takes me past the stereotypical SoCal landscape…aerospace industry, movie studios, million dollar homes and the beach.

Margaret bike crop

When I read about the Anything Goes Commute Challenge, I was intrigued. I’ve always wanted to try, just once, to walk to work. But I didn’t want to walk all the way home. For this challenge, I decided to take public transport TO work and then walk home FROM work.

The Commute To Work: Transit

To complete this challenge I needed public transit timetables and routes. Living a 10 min walk from the Metro Line station, I am familiar with the Metro train service. However, I have only a vague idea of the bus service. I know which bus passes by my office, but have no clue where to board near my house.

7  not my train

Using Metro Trip Planner, I plugged in my travel details and came up with a dizzying array of possibilities, which I narrowed down to three:

  1. Walk 0.6 mi to bus stop, catch City bus #1. Transfer to Metro bus #2. Walk 0.1 mi to office. Total: $1.40.
  2. Walk 0.9 mi to Metro Line. Take train, transfer to Metro bus #2. Walk 0.1 mi to office. Total: $3.00
  3. Walk 1.3 mi to bus stop, catch Metro bus #2. Walk 0.1 mi to office. Total: $1.50

I chose the most expensive option, #2, because I wanted to get in three modes of transport. Also, I could use my Transit Access Pass (TAP) card for the entire trip.

12 ads on bus w small portion for GPS bus map

Advantages of Transit: The bus and train stop are an easy walk from my house. The service is frequent during rush hour, so no stress about missing my boarding and the TAP card was easy to use. I enjoyed being in the hustle and bustle of morning commuters. My commute is just short enough to be a pleasant experience and almost as fast as commuting by bike. I enjoyed experiencing little moments such as the man selling steaming hot tamales and coffee at the bus stop.

Disadvantages of Transit: Riding the bus and train are more expensive than riding my bike, and my exercise is limited to just 13 minutes of walking. By 10:00am I was tired because I didn’t have my ‘wake-up’ ride. And the bus does not pass by the stores I frequent, making it inconvenient to run errands after work. I was initially concerned that the walk to the Metro station might not be safe in the dark since it passes liquor stores, run-down motels and a former strip joint. But after I walked it I decided my fears were unfounded.

11  0610 under watchful eye of Tom,  brisk tamale & coffee biz at bus stop

The Commute Home: Walking

For the commute home, I walked the 4.5 miles. I couldn’t have picked a better day. Temperature was sunny and 65F, light winds at my back and a downhill or flat walk. I chose not to walk my bike route home, which is quiet and mostly through residential neighborhoods, but instead a route that includes 2.7 miles along a major, six lane boulevard. I chose this route so that I would pass small shops and a mall.

Walking down a major boulevard is just as stressful as biking it. What an eye opener! I was hyper-vigilant to the cars exiting driveways as well as drivers making turns from intersections, all without bothering to check for pedestrians. After one mile, I abandoned the plan to continue on the boulevard and instead cut through a mall parking lot. I stopped for a half hour break to collect my wits and enjoy a Happy Hour appetizer of baba ganoush and water, before heading off to a ‘quieter’, yet major street.

13 0305  busy blvd

Advantages of walking: I noticed even more walking than when biking. Retired professional soccer player and sports commentator Alexi Lalas jogged right past me. That’s a different type of exercise than biking.

Disadvantages of Walking: It takes a long time to get to destinations and probably won’t be as pleasant once the warmer weather arrives. I must wear proper walking shoes (Skechers, ftw!) and am limited by what I can carry, so it’s not ideal to pickup groceries along the way.

Anything Goes Margaret

Overall Assessment: Biking to work everyday is by no means a ‘rut’. However, it was nice to mix it up for a change by taking the train and bus. I really enjoyed the feeling of living in a city with proper public transportation, even though L.A. isn’t quite there yet. The bus and train were clean and on time. I liked seeing all types of commuters taking advantage of public transport. I was pleasantly surprised when my train arrived at 06:07a with standing room only. Also, by taking a different route to work, I was able to see that there are a lot more cyclists out there (I only see a few when I bike).

What’s Next for Margaret: This will not be my last time utilizing public transport to get to work. I am positive that I will not be walking home anytime soon, but instead taking option #3 and walking 1.3 miles home. Thanks Ladyfleur, for putting me up to the challenge!

Thanks, Margaret, for participating in the Anything Goes Challenge and proving that somebody walks in LA!

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All photos in this post are courtesy of Margaret and are used with her permission.


Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Anything Goes


Anything Goes Challenge: At Dawn, Nadia Rides

I’ve known Nadia for years. She and I fumbled our way into cyclocross racing together and emerged friends. Nadia lives on Potrero Hill in San Francisco and commutes to her office along the bay in South San Francisco. Here is her Anything Goes Commute Challenge story, condensed from an extensive series of posts on her blog.

I started riding to work last year after ten years of car commuting. I’m not a newbie to bike commuting–riding was my primary mode of transport for about 13 years, most recently when I was in law school, riding up and down the East Bay Hills with my casebooks in my panniers. I returned to cycle commuting last year as a way to integrate exercise and commuting and to get some JOY in my morning commute.

baytrail wildlife-001

Solo Ride: My canonical bike commute is a solo ride along the most direct route between my home and work. It’s 1/3 city riding, 1/3 semi-suburban and 1/3 blissful Bay Trail. It’s not all pretty on this route, which features some fairly gritty urban riding. To minimize the traffic congestion on the gritty part of the route, I leave early–between 6am and 7am. I really like getting to work on the early side and I really, really like leaving work by the fixed company-bus schedules. I tend to stay late to finish up work otherwise.

Company Shuttle: My employer provides bus service to and from work, with routes over the SF Bay Area. Two of the bus routes have stops that are ~2 miles from my house, so I use this bus ride-bike ride combination to get home on days when I ride to work in the morning. I put my bike in the luggage compartment below the bus, relax on the bus on the ride into the city, then ride home from the bus stop. My employer also offers a $2 each way reimbursement for not driving, showers/towels/bath products on campus and secure bike parking.

Sunrise over Mt Davidson

Group Ride: There is a surprisingly large community of San Francisco bike commuters going south in the morning, and I’ve been pleased to join various groups for the early morning ride in. I’ve been riding with SF2G about once every two weeks on their First Friday Friendly Frolic, a “no rider left behind” ride, and slower Style 3 rides. I’ll also leave earlier than a faster group, see how long it takes them to catch me, then attempt to hang on. I also commute with co-workers every now and then–either by plan or by running into them on the road.

The group rides are fun for a lot of reasons, including the company, the challenge (I always ride faster up the little hills when with a group!), and for the draft in the headwind-y bits. I also really like the reinforcement of committing to a group ride in advance–this helps get me up and out in the morning and keeps me out of the car. Riding with a group also breaks up the tedium of doing the same route again and again.

SF2G First Friday Frolic

I have several alternative routes that I take to increase the mileage and riding challenge and for variety.

Dawn of the Dead: “Dawn of the Dead” goes out of the city on Mission Street or Alameny, then circles around the backside of Mount San Bruno. It goes through Colma, the city of cemeteries, and if I time it right, I arrive at the cemeteries at sunrise. After a screaming descent, I cross the freeway and head to work on the Bay Trail.

San Bruno Mountain: I love this little mountain that sits right in the middle of my commute. While my standard routes circumnavigate the base of the mountain, I sometimes go right over the mountain on the way to work. I head out of the city on Mission, turn left on Crocker, which climbs steeply up the backside of the mountain. A bike legal dirt path winds around the ridge line, affording wonderful views over the city, the bay and the summit. A fun descent down Guadalupe Parkway and I’m back on the canonical route to work.

Fog on San Bruno

Commuting with Panniers: During the challenge I took my first trip in on my “new” commuting machine: my old road bike repurposed with a rack and single pannier to carry a heavy laptop. I won’t ride with it in my backpack as its weight bothers my back. The bike has been ready to go with rack and gear for a few months, but I’d been apprehensive about riding it in. I was worried that it would be less fun to ride in on the heavier rig: the bike weighs in at about 25 pounds un-loaded, and the rack, pannier and laptop add another 10 pounds.

I learned it was pretty nice to ride in without a backpack! The bike has lower gearing so I made it up my steep (18%) initial climb and the single pannier didn’t impact handling much except when I was out of the saddle. I felt sluggishly slow on the ride, but my ride in took 55 minutes which is within normal range. I did notice the weight while carrying the bike downstairs to exit my home in the morning and when lifting the bike to put it into the company bus on the way home from work. But the weight was manageable.

Overall assessment: I give the win to the bike commute with the shuttle ride home. I get the most exercise by riding, especially the alternative routes which add on miles/challenge. It’s also the most fun and least stressful, plus I get social benefit when I commute with others.

My best days at work start with a bike ride. I have noticeably lower levels of stress throughout the day. Endorphins in action? I don’t know but whatever the mechanism, I’ll take it!

Nadia Scorecard

*Biggest downside is the factor Nadia finds most significant

What’s the next challenge for Nadia: I bike commute 2-3 times a week at best–definitely something to keep plugging away at. This commute challenge has afforded me the opportunity to think about some other options for getting into work. The most obvious was getting my pannier-enabled commuter bike up and running so I can ride in when I have my work laptop at home. Another is to find an alternative route for post- 7am starts so I can ride in a little later if necessary, rather than driving because I dislike my normal cycling route at that time due to heavy truck and freeway traffic on a portion of the route. I have an alternative route in mind that I’ll try out soon.

Thanks, Nadia, for participating in the Anything Goes Commute Challenge! To learn more about Nadia’s challenge insights and her other adventures, check out her blog.

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All photos in this post are courtesy of Nadia and are used with her permission.

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Posted by on May 6, 2013 in Anything Goes


Anything Goes Challenge: Painful Learning Curves

I got up a few minutes early this morning so I could take my little scooter to the VTA. Now that I have two trips under my belt, I left my helmet at home and cruised down the sidewalk with confidence. My husband got up early too, so he could try a Caltrain + bike commute as part of his entry to the Anything Goes Commute Challenge. So when I crashed right outside my home on my scooter, he was awake to see the damage fresh.

Today’s lesson #1: Don’t brake while turning on wet pavement. Maybe don’t turn on wet pavement at all.


Other lessons I’ve learned on my scooter + VTA commute: The street is smoother than the sidewalk, so take the street if it’s wide or low traffic. Rubber soled flats work as well as sneakers, skirts that are a little short on the bike are fine on the scooter, and that little handlebar bag is much easier to access than the messenger bag.

Today’s lesson #2: The VTA smartphone app really helps when you get on the wrong train and end up in East San Jose. That’s what happens when you get engrossed in writing and don’t pay attention.

Whenever you try something new there are learning curves. If a skinned knee and coming home 45 minutes late are the worst of it there’s no reason to write off riding my scooter and taking VTA. Besides, how often do you get to see East Valley hills from a vantage point over a Chevron gas station and a McDonald’s parking lot?


The other big lesson I continue to learn is that assumptions we make often turn out false. When I started bike commuting in dresses I assumed I’d have to carry my heels. When I started working in San Jose I assumed I wouldn’t be able to grocery shop easily on my way home. When I started this challenge I assumed I couldn’t ride the 14 miles to work comfortably in street clothes on my city bike. All false assumptions.

I assumed that light rail would be too inefficient to be useful except as an emergency backup. With WiFi it isn’t, provided you get on the right train and you don’t get motion sickness reading while riding backwards.

Quick Update on the Anything Goes Commute Challenge: We’re just under a week from the deadline of April 30 and the entries have already started to come in. Margaret from Los Angeles sent me hers today, and I know Pep and Dick are working on theirs. So send your stories to me at!

What about you? Have you tried anything new on your commute? What have you learned?

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Posted by on April 25, 2013 in Anything Goes


Anything Goes Commute Challenge: How to Score It

I flew home from my busy week in Las Vegas yesterday and I’m settling back into my usual routine. Normally that would mean grabbing my bike this morning for my preferred Caltrain + bike commute. But in the spirit of the Anything Goes Challenge I grabbed my scooter instead and pushed off for VTA Light Rail.

Since I’ve only taken tried scooter + light rail commute once, I didn’t think not fair to judge it yet. We’re biased toward what’s familiar and like any route planning, it takes a few times to work out the kinks and otherwise optimize the trip. Plus the Wi-Fi on the train would give me some time to work on this post.


When I started this challenge, I thought I could come up with an equation that would definitively choose the superior commute mode given specific data points. But since we all value things differently, creating a universal equation would be as short-sighted as the usual method of simply considering travel time and cost. We know there’s more that drives our preferences than that. Here’s my personal value equation:

  • Time Wasted Score = overall time – (exercise time up to 45 min) – (50% reading time, 90% if Wi-Fi)
  • Lifestyle Convenience Score = 1 pt for each positive answer (partial credit given)
  • Determining Factor = A particular criteria that drives a particular choice.

Anything Goes Overall

Why didn’t I focus more on cost per trip? Because it’s not what drives me to choose one mode over another. I’m not strongly driven by environmental factors either. Except for driving, they are all equally good in my book.

To enter the Anything Goes Challenge: Take two or more distinct transportation modes to a specific destination you visit regularly (work, school, store, etc). Take the same mode a least twice to give it a fair shake. Collect data, tabulate your scorecard, and assess each mode according to your own value equation. Explain which mode works best for you and why.

Send your summary to by April 30. Please include one or more photos that I can include in a post about you, as well as your scorecard data and your personal value equation. Selected stories will be featured on this blog throughout May for National Bike Month. If you’re private about things, just let me know and I’ll use your first name only or an alias of your choosing.

And while this is a challenge, not a contest, my buddy Richard of Cyclelicious is seeing what he can do to scrape up a prize or two. So you may get something more than just bragging rights for your efforts.

So get out there and scoot, ride, pedal, paddle, run or glide today! Take a watch, take photos and be creative.

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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Anything Goes, Around Town


Anything Goes Commute Challenge: Caltrain + Bike

In 1863, barely 10 years after California became a state, passenger rail service between San Francisco and San Jose opened for service. The line paralleled El Camino Real, the Spanish “king’s road,” hitting every small town on the peninsula. Ridership declined after World War II and the service was nearly shut down in 1977.

It was spared the chopping block and reborn as Caltrain, which has continued to struggle due to lack of dedicated funding. But ridership is booming these days, in part due to “baby bullet” express trains that do the 50 mile trip from San Francisco to San Jose in an hour, and due to bicyclists. In the mid-90s Caltrain rolled out modified rail cars that store 40 bikes, one car per train. The bike cars became so popular that bicyclists were turned away, so now two of the five Caltrain cars are bike cars and bicyclists make up 10% of Caltrain ridership.

Caltrain in the morning

If you’ve read this blog for long, you know I ride Caltrain with my bike almost every day for my work commute. The Mountain View station is one short mile from my home, the train ride is 15 minutes on an uncrowded train, and when I arrive in San Jose it’s an easy three miles to my office on the delightful Guadalupe River Trail.

The Advantages: The train is fast with easy-to-use, plentiful bike racks, and full of interesting, friendly people aboard. The bike ride is long enough to get some exercise, but short enough that I don’t need to change clothes. And it’s on a low stress, quiet route with trees and birds and harmless homeless people. There’s a big shopping center with almost every kind of store just off the trail, and since I’m not carrying clothes I can buy a decent amount; the limiting factor is whether I can carry it aboard the train. I can also go anywhere else along the Caltrain line after work, even all the way to San Francisco, faster than if I drove.

The Disadvantages: Most Caltrain cars require climbing three tall steps to get aboard, which takes some skill in heels with a bike. As far as transit fares go, Caltrain is not that cheap and requires tagging on and off for most passes, which is surprisingly hard to remember. If you forget, it’s an expensive ticket.

Caltrain + bike

The Upshot: I love my Caltrain + bike commute because it’s the perfect low stress blend of exercise, reading, socializing and access to after work activities: shopping, dinner and meetings. Pretty efficient for 50 minutes.

Next up in the Anything Goes Commute Challenge is how YOU can take the challenge. Bike, train, scooter, skates, ferry, kayak: how will you do it?

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Posted by on April 13, 2013 in Anything Goes, Around Town


Anything Goes Commute Challenge: VTA Light Rail

When I moved to Silicon Valley in the mid-1980s, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) was busy launching their first light rail lines from the mostly residential South San Jose through downtown to the technology office parks in North San Jose. Then in the late 1990s, not long after I quit my job in North San Jose, they extended the line to the Caltrain station in Mountain View, a 20 minute walk from my home.

VTA Light Rail was specifically designed to reach the major South Bay employers and indeed it does. I’ve worked at five different employer sites within 1/2 mile of a station. That’s almost half of my total work sites. But I’ve never ridden it regularly. VTA Light Rail is not particularly fast and the walk isn’t particularly short or fun.

VTA Light Rail Wide

My current job is once again within 1/2 mile from a station, so it’s natural for me to try VTA light rail again. Since I now carry a laptop every day, the one mile walk to the station feels even longer. Bikes are allowed on board, but the racks are designed for lighter bikes, not city bikes with panniers and front baskets. My solution: a push scooter with a messenger bag. It shortens my time by 1/3 and makes me feel like a kid again.

The Advantages: At $2 a trip without a pass, VTA is definitely a bargain. The trains are clean and quiet with free Wifi that works well enough for me to work on the train. Using the push scooter exercises different muscles than I use on the bike and I get a solid 20 minutes of exercise and 50 minutes of work time.

The Disadvantages: The overall trip time is longer than riding my bicycle the whole way to work. That’s slow. There are decent sidewalks on the route, but the San Jose segment is not a pedestrian-rich area, so drivers are less careful. After almost getting right-hooked when walking across a driveway on N 1st Street, I switched to taking the sidewalk against traffic so I can see the cars coming. It’s harder to go out to lunch and the after-work shopping is limited to what I can carry in a messenger bag. And I can’t wear most of my heels.

Light Rail

The Upshot: Riding VTA Light Rail is great for getting a solid 45 minutes of work in route to the office, and riding a scooter is a fun way to work out your gluteal muscles.

Next up in the Anything Goes Commute Challenge is Caltrain with my bike. How will it will compare?

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Posted by on April 11, 2013 in Anything Goes, Around Town

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