Bay Area Bike to Work Day is May 12 (National Bike to Work Day: May 20th) and I urge you to take part. Given the pollution in the air and the congestion on the roads the Prius and Tesla-worshipping direction California has taken isn’t working. So it’s time to bike more - and since about 40% of Bay Area residents live less than five miles from their workplaces, optimal conditions to ride to work are already there.
As a freelancer, I am a telecommuter so I easily fall in the five-mile-or-less group. I also just took the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition pledge to bike to work (I admit my distance is shorter than most, but riding any distance on Bike to Work Day is an accomplishment - especially for those who don’t ride much.)
If you drove your car to work today please look out your windshield on the way back and think about how many times you sit at a traffic light and watch the light change from red to green and back again. Think of how much money you pump into your car every week to go what is probably a pretty short distance. Think about how nice it would be to put some space between you and your next $1,000+ car repair bill. How nice it would be to interact with humans with your voice and your smile instead of with a horn.
I could go on.
1) Choose the right bike for the terrain.
The perfect cycling outfit includes a mountain bike for trails, a fast road bike for Strava-bragging, a cargo bike for hauling things and a folding bike for travel. There may also be a hybrid bike good for all-around use. But what about telecommuting?
As it so happens I recently acquired a bike from a metal scrap pile that, after repairing, is just perfect for my Bike to Work Day - and the checklist works for non-telecommuters as well: a comfortable seat, a decent gear ratio for the landscape, functioning brakes, and added comfort of full suspension for when transitioning from carpet to laminate. I have no idea who made this or why.
If you don’t have the right bike I recommend Mike’s Bikes and Good Karma Bikes (I know there are other great shops in the Bay Area but I really don’t shop anywhere else).
2) Take ownership over your safety
Make sure your bike is safe to ride and you (and it) have the proper safety equipment. A properly fitted helmet is a great idea but I also recommend bike lights - even if you don’t tend to ride in the dark.
Lucky for me I have the best bike light: A Blaze Laserlight, which sends an image of a bicycle out in front of my bike. It was designed to remind motorists to be on the lookout for cyclists when making a turn or opening a car door after parallel parking, but I’m using it to make sure I don’t hit anyone on foot who enters or exits Bathroom Lane when I’m leaving Bedroom Boulevard at speed.
3) Know your route
Before cycling a route that you are used to driving on - or even walking - it’s important to look at everything with the lens of a cyclist and ask yourself some simple questions: What are the high traffic areas? Where am I likely to encounter pedestrians? Is there construction or are there obstacles I should be aware of? Where does it make sense to ride on the shoulder vs. taking the entire lane (or, rather, hallway?)
A lot of large thoroughfares in Silicon Valley have bike lanes. My house does not so I will have to share the road (floor) with other users. I have already made a note that the first right turn has a laundry basket I have to avoid and it is followed by a sharp left into the home office.
If you want help finding a route, the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition actually has a personalized route service called Virtual Route Scouts you can use. I just used my Measure Master (cutting through the bathroom would have added an unnecessary 19” to my trip).
4) Know your Energizer Stations
I think these went by a different name when I did Bike to Work Day in Connecticut, but peppered around Silicon Valley are Energizer Stations, which is a catchy way to describe folding tables containing or surrounded by food, drink, giveaways, and nice people. Whether you are a first time bike commuter or not they’re fun places to stop.
The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition has built a handy map to show you where the 80 or so Energizer Stations are. They lack in several key locations such as the East Side of San Jose and my living room, but if there’s one near you it is worth going out of your way to visit.
I’m going to have to create a DIY energizer station in my kitchen: my plan is to buy a pound of Chromatic Coffee - which has been recommended to me by someone at Cowgirl Bike Courier - and after parking the bike I’ll have a cup of coffee. This will make my commute about 60’ - more than double the original distance but I’m pretty sure I can do it.
5) Know where the Bike Away From Work Bash is located
I actually got to do this last year when I was still getting over internal combustion engine-lag after driving across the country from Connecticut. It’s fun, there are interesting and attractive people there, and you can buy a T-shirt/become a member of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition if you aren’t one already. SVBC has a Bike Away From Work Bash in San Jose. If you're not able to make it, create your own little gathering of fellow bicycle commuters and it may just turn into a bash.
And that’s all I have for now - I will live-blog about my commute on Bike to Work Day - but I will not use my phone while my bike is in motion (good advice if you bike indoors or out). Please encourage your motorist friends, family and colleagues to Bike to Work. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.
Follow me on Twitter: @michaelknorris