Tuesday, December 18, 2018



Controversial 'Dockless' Vehicles Must Cease Use by Dec. 31

"Enough is Enough,"

For Immediate Release (San Jose, CA) Dec. 19th After a lengthy meeting yesterday, San Jose's city council, led by Mayor Dan Liccardo, voted unanimously to ban motor vehicles from the city.

Controversial since their initial rollout over 100 years ago, motor vehicles, led by a secretive industry that has fought against safety and environmental regulations, have until December 31 to pull their 'dockless' vehicles from the city.

"We've given these companies time to innovate and make their vehicles safe for our streets, but at the end of the day we reached an impasse," said Mayor Dan Liccardo. "Motor vehicles have killed 50 people in the city in just the past year - 22 of which are pedestrians - and it is time for this reign of terror on our street to end."

The motor vehicles are notable for their ability to be stored anywhere with little if any repercussions for the end user. Complaints about the motor vehicles blocking sidewalks, driveways, access ramps, and intersections have been rampant since the century-old rollout but motor vehicle companies complained they have been 'misunderstood' and 'misrepresented' through the entire process.

"We provide a product that is very convenient for the end user," said Brad Travis, CEO of BMW. "Demanding that they be governed to city speed limits and that they have technology installed so they cannot be stored in a bike lane is a bridge too far for us."

Travis also complained of the recent, "Butt-Out-Of-The-Bikelane!" campaign which, over recent weeks, been attaching tiny dog-butt refrigerator magnets to dockless motor vehicles stored in the bike lane in an attempt to shame the user in changing his or her behavior.

The entrenched bicycle, pedestrian and scooter industries in the city applauded the San Jose city council's decision.

"There are cities that have changed to accommodate motor vehicles, but it isn't enough," said Camille Wallace of the Northern California Chapter of CCBBPP. "We know of several that have actually permitted 25% of their surface area for on-street storage of unused motor vehicles and the arrogant users of these motor vehicles keep complaining it still isn't enough. The streets have to be used for people instead of motor vehicles."

Because the decision made by the city council opens up thousands of acres for building affordable housing, non-profit home builder Leo Levin also applauded the decision.

"City land is valuable and it should go to people, not dockless motor vehicles," he said. "Now that all of this land has opened up and taken back from motor vehicles we can finally build affordable housing which is so desperately needed in the city."

As the meeting continued, a man identifying himself as Thorton Cornelious proposed an idea called "Closed Streets" in which motor vehicles would be permitted to use up to six miles of San Jose streets one day a year. City Hall is considering the idea in the next meeting in January. 

NOTE: the above is a parody and not to be taken seriously (but San Jose city hall is bringing up e-scooter regulations tonight!)

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Breaking Micromobility in San Jose

Lime Scooter (pre-recall) as spotted in downtown San Jose Nov. 8, 2018

Last week I began the unpleasant task of returning the prizes that were donated by sponsors of Cranksgiving San Jose. As most of you know, the Camp Fire smoke made the air in the Bay Area unhealthy to breathe so I made the unhappy decision of cancelling the bike-based food drive

I needed to go from my office on Santa Clara Street to La Dolce Velo on The Alameda and then to 947 Park Avenue to Be The Change Yoga & Wellness

That day (since the air was still smoky and I had a car-based errand after work) I drove to the office - like most people in the Bay Area do.

With limited time for both tasks but not wanting to use the car, I opened the Lime App on my phone, unlocked a scooter that was parked in front of Chromatic Coffee, and set off slowly down Santa Clara St.

And I do mean slowly: the scooters are now governed to a maximum speed of 12 miles per hour. This was put into place a few months ago - after pedestrians complained the scooters were too fast.

Being passed by a 30 pound scooter at 12 miles per hour while you're walking on a sidewalk isn't nice, but using a scooter that can't go any faster than 12 miles an hour on a city street is downright stressful. 

For the first time probably over a year, riding on San Carlos Street, I was honked at - by the driver of a blue Chevy sedan.

Before a public hearing in June, the city had done research on scooters and found that when there is a bike lane most riders of scooters use it. A huge chunk of the route to La Dolce Velo doesn't have them, and several motorists were giving me the 'angry pass.' I scowled at them but they couldn't tell because I was wearing my N95 mask.

Be The Change Yoga - 947 Park Avenue in San Jose
After spending maybe two minutes at La Dolce Velo, I headed to Be The Change. I could feel the minutes of my valuable break slipping away and, when I needed to make a left turn onto Park, I had to take into account that I couldn't (like you do on a bike) engage in a sudden burst of acceleration to stay out of the travel lane as much as possible. This is something I have to do every day I ride my bike on Monterrey Road: there is always at least one dumpster, one car, one obstruction in the bike lane that sends me into traffic so I try to get around it as fast as possible so I am in harm's way for the shortest possible time.

When returning to work, I had to make another left turn onto Alameda. I followed the rules and stayed in the left turn lane, and when the light changed, I moved through.

The white Mitsubishi sedan behind me wasn't having it. It honked at me and tailgated me in mid-turn - apparently unaware I couldn't go any faster and not caring that moving further to the right would put me in the path of the cars on the other side of the street turning left.

Back on San Carlos Street (right turns are always easier on a bike or scooter) a filthy late 1990s Corolla tailgated me for half a block and then passed me with less than 3' of space. It also did it slowly, possibly because the driver wanted to make sure I would hear her shout the words: "Get off the road!" at me before (you guessed it) accelerating fast before turning right on Market Street - putting her out of range of any kind of response from me but endangering pedestrians crossing Market Street.

I finished the ride not far from where I started and took a screen shot of the results.

I had traveled 3.6 miles in just under a half hour. Because it costs $1 to start and $0.15 per minute to use, the low speed hit my wallet to the tune of $5.35. I removed my N95 mask and my helmet (yes, I was wearing one the whole time!) and returned to work. 

I sadly concluded scooter share is truly at risk of being micromanaged out of existence. By adding the speed governor (I traveled on a Lime scooter that maxed out at 18 or 19 miles per hour in San Francisco several months earlier) we have officially created a vehicle that is too fast for the sidewalk and too slow for city streets. If I had taken my car I would have spent less money, experienced less stress, and have been done with my errands sooner. 

The San Jose City Council will soon consider regulations on scooter share. People everywhere were caught off guard when they first showed up on the streets - and even though San Jose has killed and is killing more people with cars that remains in our blind spot as we punish scooters for the unpardonable sin of having the potential to disrupt transportation. 

At the World Day of Remembrance for traffic victims event at Akiyama Wellness Center on Nov. 18th. 

Motor vehicles are bigger, faster, and deadlier but nobody seems interested in adding a speed limiter to those.

I understand the pressure from some people - some of which, I should point out, have never used a shared scooter that is limited to 12 miles an hour - to make these things slower, but  If I could speak to Mayor Liccardo and the members of the City Council, I would ask the following question:

Do we want micromobility to succeed?

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

You Are The Luckiest Person in California - And So Am I

Note: Please do some good - register for the San Jose Turkey Trot (which is tomorrow/Thanksgiving Day

I did not have a bad day on Friday.

What I did that morning - not 30 hours before Cranksgiving San Jose was supposed to start - was put on a N95 mask before heading into my garage, finding a roll of masking tape, and drawing the word 'cancelled' with an orange Sharpie across it before taking the photo you see above.

I used the homemade bike trailer frequently to promote Cranksgiving - even lashing 'Wally' - the decoy turkey bought from a hunting supply store  - to the top as a decoration. I had a plan to get sponsors. I had a plan for social media. I had a plan for the manifest, the weigh-in, the volunteers (and did I have some great ones and am forever grateful to them). 

I had found the perfect venue, too: San Pedro Square Market in downtown San Jose. 

I didn't have a plan for wildfire smoke.

Early morning on November 10, 2018. San Jose/Morgan Hill Border
The Camp Fire - which has been accompanied by the kind of news coverage and graphics that make most of my friends who aren't in California certain the entire state is on fire - began burning more than 150 miles away on November 8th. Eleven days have passed and it is still burning, and according to the most recent Associated Press story it has killed at least 81 and the list of people who are missing hovers around 800.

Last week I kept one eye on the smoke levels and another on the remaining tasks. When I learned even the most hardcover riders I knew weren't even taking short trips by bike - even with an N95 mask -  I knew it was looking unlikely by Wednesday. The next evening, San Jose Bike Party cancelled their monthly Friday night ride - the first time they've had to do that in 11 years.

So early Friday morning I went to my workshop, flipped my trailer on its side, made the sign (since I had no other ideas on how to convey the message Cranksgiving was being cancelled) and dutifully put the word out. I managed to return the bike racks I rented from the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition the same day and I'm returning the prizes to the sponsors this week. And wow, the sponsors this year were great:

Beryl - the bike light company in London I've had a long relationship with - donated both a Laserlight and their Burner tailight (they used to be known as Blaze) just like they did last year. They do have other products and new ones coming out - their latest Kickstarter campaign for Laserlight Core started last month and blew past $135,000 when their goal had been $50,000 - and it's still going

Ford GoBike - they're the bike share company in the Bay Area. I own a membership and even though I don't use it a lot I like that I have it. A bike share membership is the confidence that comes with carrying a folded umbrella when walking under an angry sky: knowing a bike is there when I need one, I walk taller.

Be The Change Yoga & Wellness - moving here three years ago and little to put my back up against, I met Be The Change Yoga & Wellness - a nonprofit yoga studio. They just moved to 947 Park Avenue and donated T-shirts and gift certificates for free classes. If you want to manage stress and just be in better shape, visit them. They're amazing. 

Good Karma Bikes - This is a nonprofit bike shop on 460 Lincoln Avenue in San Jose. They sell a few new bikes and parts but they also sell used bikes and parts. Just thinking about it the Mystery of South Norwalk, my City Bike and my California Cargo Bike all have hard-to-find or interesting components on them thanks to frequent shopping at Good Karma Bikes. A must for a maker on a budget. 

Retail Extraordinaire Francois, at left, with Good Karma Bikes founder Jim Gardner

Community Cycles of California This is another bike-based nonprofit in San Jose that gallops in the same direction as Good Karma Bikes but isn't in the same harness. They work in 

La Dolce Velo - This full service bike shop in The Alameda (not far from Recycle Bookstore) is probably one of the most well-curated I've ever been to. They also offer spin classes now that is it winter in California - even though California's definition of 'winter' differs from my own. 

Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition - if you ride a bike in the Bay Area get a SVBC membership. The bike lanes and traffic improvements that appear don't appear on their own and not without a fight. I borrowed five bike racks from them to use at San Pedro Square Market and they even gave me two helmets and two water bottles to use as prizes. Right now they're gearing up for #GivingTuesday so make sure you donate to Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition here

Gemellos Murals - Lila Gemellos is a local artist who has painted murals you have seen if you live in or around San Jose. I didn't know who she was until she showed up at last year's Cranksgiving San Jose without explanation and painted faces (and also my left forearm) while people were getting registered. She made the process feel more like a party and the cards she makes are beautiful thank-you notes that accompany the prizes being returned to sponsors.

As I write this, I'm looking out the window of a VTA light rail train on my way to work. My home is standing. My family and friends are healthy. I am not living in a tent in a parking lot. I'm not waiting to find out if a loved one is dead or alive.

Canceling Cranksgiving San Jose doesn't mean there aren't other ways to get your good on this holiday season, and in the coming days I'll post some ideas. In the meantime you can register for the Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot which takes place in downtown San Jose tomorrow. It helps a lot of great area nonprofits, including Second Harvest Food Bank, which can use funds every bit as much as it needs good donated by bicycle. 

I took this picture this morning of the sunrise in San Jose. The AQI is under 50 and the air doesn't smell like my college roommate's car. We were only inconvenienced by smoke but didn't have to run from the cause of it. 

I feel pretty lucky and hope you feel lucky with me. Thanks again to everyone who supported Cranksgiving San Jose - and thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Be The Change You Wish to See in San Jose

First off if you live in California vote No on Prop 6 (gotta lead off with that - it's kinda my brand for at least the next seven days. You've hopefully by now read and shared my No on Prop 6 post and LTTE. Also in San Jose vote Yes on V and Yes on Prop 1 and Prop 2).

But this morning I don't have time for long posts but I wish I had since I have good news on Cranksgiving San Jose to share - still on for Nov. 17th at 1:00pm at St. James Park. Cyclists will get together, get shopping lists, fan out across the city, and meet up at San Pedro Square Market for the weigh in, totals and prizes. Community Cycles of California and Ford GoBike have both stepped up as new sponsors this year - will have more about that; just follow Cranksgiving San Jose on Facebook for the updates. 

There's one sponsor in particular I want to single out for the moment: Be The Change Yoga & Wellness. My backstory with these people started at the tail end of the summer of 2016 which was about 3/4 of the way through the most difficult year in my adult life (and those of you who have known me a long time: yes, it even beats the summer of 2002 in New Hampshire).

I started doing yoga during the free 'yoga in the park' events to try to make peace with myself since I at the time, one year into living on the West Coast, I felt pathologically rejected by California. I felt like I was planting things, tending crops and everything would just die in a frost. Freelance work ground to a halt, hundreds of job applications went unanswered, and I felt like I had no tribe. 

But I met up with Be The Change and doing yoga once a week - or, rather, clumsily attempting to put my body through the poses once a week- was a good way to bring some light in. I made friends and just enjoyed talking with the people I'd meet - both the teachers of the class and the students in the class.

One student I met was a woman at least ten years older than me who was - and still is - very bubbly. We'd talk bikes often since I'd ride my bike to the yoga in the park. Once, I noticed a strange scar on her forearm and asked what had happened. 

Matter-of-factly she responded that a rat had bitten her while she was sleeping in the tent that she lives in. 

Be The Change is donation based and they're all about making yoga accessible to those who can't normally take an expensive class. People like my homeless classmate. Doing yoga classes once a week became a guiding force for me - I found that yoga would often help when I was in a creative rut

When I got a part time job last year (that, happily, was a couple of blocks from Be The Change) the first meeting I had with my boss about my hours factored in me taking a 90 minute lunch hour one day a week so I could attend class. The job eventually went full time and I still keep that schedule whenever I can. 

Be The Change sponsored Cranksgiving San Jose in 2017 and months ago, before Cranksgiving 2018 was on my radar, I asked the manager of BTC if they'd sponsor again and she immediately agreed. 

Sadly, something happened between that day and this morning: the rent, as it only seems to do anymore in downtown San Jose, skyrocketed and BTC won't be across the street from my office anymore - they have to move to 947 Park Avenue - and they are doing it soon.

You know what else? Even though this is a difficult and expensive time for them they are still stepping up to be a sponsor of Cranksgiving San Jose. 

I don't easily get floored by kindness or impressed by people, but the women and students of Be The Change are Those People (I also include the teacher in training who I startled last week when I fell asleep at the end of a restorative class - that I am not used to taking - and she tried to correct my posture. Sima: please tell her again I am so sorry about that!)

This is where I'm going with this: Be The Change needs help with their move and I want this to be the feel-good story you see on Bay Area Proud. A lot of people have already stepped up to help them with their expenses and I want you to do the same. Here is the link to their GoFundMe page:


That's really all I've got - value the businesses and organizations that are your neighbors and let's help a neighbor out. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

Monday, October 22, 2018

When Cyclists Don't Matter

I don't want to write what I am about to write. I want to tell you about a short mountain bike ride I just did near Lake Tahoe. I want to tell you to follow Cranksgiving San Jose on Facebook and to take part with Cranksgiving on November 17th. I want to write 10,000 words about how important it is to donate to help my yoga studio - the nonprofit Be the Change Yoga & Wellness - move to their new location. 

Instead, I'm writing about how important it is for you to vote and defeat Proposition 6. Again. I know, I know - I've been railing against Prop 6 since before it was even a number back in June.

What I did (and I urge you to do this too) was listen to Carl Guardino of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group debate Carl DeMaio on Proposition 6 on KQED Forum. Guardino kept his cool  going over why it is important that Prop 6 fail, while DeMaio spewed a lot of anger - and he gave some to cyclists at least twice when he said the gas tax shouldn't fund bike lanes - and both times he sneered "bike lanes" as though it was a slur. 

Later I took a listen to Carl Guardino debate Proposition 6 with Harmeet Dhillon - this time on KALW San Francisco and she dismissively said creating bike infrastructure amounts to 'social engineering.'

That left me baffled. The only 'social engineering' that is taking place is the work done over a period of generations to create a 'cars only' world where streets are unsafe and hard to cross on foot or by bike by design. It's as though California is that hot club everyone wants to get into but you're kept behind the velvet rope if you don't have a 3,000 pound, wallet-draining, air-polluting motor vehicle as your ticket.

But her words are a symptom to a disease of blindness - and selfishness - inherent in the Golden State. There is infrastructure in California that is seen as normal here but is odd to me since I've lived in other parts of the country.  Expressways - those three-lane mini-highways through neighborhoods? That's a California thing. Flyovers for what would be garden-variety intersections in other states? That's a California thing. Metering lights that regulate the flow of automotive cholesterol onto a highway? A California thing. The fact the highway is five or six lanes wide and still crowded? Also a California thing. 

It's as though California is that hot club everyone wants to get into, but if you don't have a 3,000 pound motor vehicle, you're kept behind the velvet rope.

The final straw was a Yes on Prop 6 Rally that featured California State Senator Pat Bates, who was talking about how awful a world with slightly fewer drivers would be and had this to say: "We will be forced to walk, ride our bikes or take a once in a while bus that comes our way." 

I considered Carl DeMaio, Harmeet Dhillon, and Pat Bates together. This isn't the normal kind of random yell you get from a motorist or an 'angry pass' you may get from a car that had been waiting to overtake you. This is something...else. This is a group of bullies picking on the weaker kid not just for their own enjoyment but as their way to bond as a group. 

We are the weaker kid in this scenario. 

And it's actually worse than that. To them, we don't exist and nothing we do matters. Our jobs, our families, our friends, how we partake in commerce - none of it matters. If you leave your car at home, you are an unperson. 

They don't notice the extra parking spot they get when they drive to work and we ride. They don't see us winning a successful battle with our weight, they don't see us as happier citizens, they don't think it's important for streets to be safe for anyone except drivers of motor vehicles. They literally go crazy when someone suggests that car taxes should only go to car things even though the geometry of both the cities, the streets and the suburbs shows that we don't have room for everyone to have a car. Not only that, but the last time California spent a ton of money on car-only stuff, traffic got worse (Google "405" and "$1 billion" or just click this link).

Today's Republicans are great at exactly two things: making ordinary people feel swell about getting pennies to rub together while being relieved of their dollars - and building an infrastructure that outlasts their time in office. Prop 13 in 1978 did that. Last year's deficit-exploding tax cuts did that. Confirming Brett Kavanaugh did that. And Prop 6 gives them a chance to do it again. 

And if Prop 6 passes - if cars are really kept on a pedestal and untouchable with any new taxes going forward - don't think they'll ever invite cyclists into this club. No, no, no: it won't be enough that cities will have to use tweezers to find funding for bike lanes - they won't hesitate to push a tax on bicycles, bike shops, or both. They won't answer your cries of hypocrisy.

They'll just go on ignoring us. Because to them we don't matter. 

This is a serious time for the state of California. Other states look to this state to set an example. What kind of example do we want to set? 

To do this we have to fight and we have to win. To do that we need to do a couple of things. First off: donate to the No on Prop 6 campaign even if it just a few dollars.

Also, you have a voice and it needs to be heard by people other than other cyclists. We need to get through to people that don't ride. We need them to know how important it is this measure does not pass. One way to do that is to write a Letter to the Editor of your local paper. I wrote one the other day for the San Jose Mercury News. You can read it here

One of the things I noticed when I first moved to California is how fragmented the cycling culture is out here. We kinda follow one another, have some kind of vague awareness, but you don't often find us in the same room. This is a time we need recumbent riders with the Felt carbon fiber set. The Strava and the Non-Strava. The custom lowriders with the off-the-shelf mountain bikers.

Stand together but spread out and speak. 

Your words have weight and the outcome of this election is important. We are nonpersons to the people who are backing Prop 6. Let's show them who we are and educate 39 million Californians on why Prop 6 has to fail and while bicycle commuting in this state has to succeed. Get involved but leave the Twitter trolls alone and write a letter to the editor (links for some CA papers are below). Thanks for reading and thanks for voting. 

Links to write Letters to the Editor against Prop 6:

San Jose Mercury News

Sacramento Bee

San Diego Union Tribune

East Bay Times

Los Angeles Times

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The House, The Car, The Vote...and California

The 800 pound hammer in Healdsburg was stolen. Police are relying on unconventional means to find the culprit.

Before I begin I need to remind readers of two things: if they live in the state of California they must Vote No on Proposition Six...and that the 800-pound hammer that was part of an art exhibition in Healdsburg, California is still missing.

Anyway I was looking through old copies of Sunset Magazine I had bought at Recycle Bookstore in San Jose. Specifically the February 1955 issue. 

The pages of these old magazines are kind of the original blueprints for the 1955 American Dream - the kind that today looks like every house you see on the first few minutes of Flip or Flop

The advertisements in old magazines are always entertaining to look at - usually more so than 63+ year old articles, and especially the ones that sell us a product that no longer exists.  

The ad that sticks out the most for me is the one with two huge 1950s cars. Dad and son are happily washing one while mom is pulling up in another, and two dogs are just looking on. I can just picture Don Draper responding positively to being shown this image at an ad agency meeting. 

This ad is telling readers that two cars are becoming a "must" so you should buy two cars - and why not make them both Fords!

Ads like these aren't just selling a product, they're selling a lifestyle. House, lawn, and at the center of it all: cars the size of small public libraries. And oh yeah: you need two of them. 

That part makes me smirk. I've been married for 13 years and my wife and I have had only one car between us the whole time. Between bikes, VTA (even though I'm still sour they killed the express train), Caltrain, ride share, bike share, scooter share we make our world work - by the skin of our teeth. We'd like living in California more if we didn't need a car at all.

But California was designed for a world like the one in the Ford ad - one where two adults would own two big, lead gasoline cars that you would drive guilt free and not think twice about it. The trouble is the infrastructure for 1955 California (which had about a third as many people in it back then) is mostly still with us today - save for the occasional $1 billion spent on highway upgrades that just make traffic worse

An unfortunate contingent of Californians are fighting tooth and nail to keep the romanticized, normalized world of driving and suburban life intact. They want to keep selling us on the house and the car and all that comes with it. California 1955: cheap gas, heavily subsidized roads you never quite see the bill for, and distance between your home and all the things you love that can only be covered by a car.* 

But like "The Surprise Car of the Year" California 1955 is a product that no longer exists. 

This November, we can decide if we want to vote for the California preserved in a specimen jar or a new one that recognizes that a new one can be made.  Please do not vote for Proposition 6, which keeps gas cheap and auto infrastructure baked in California's DNA - and please do vote for Proposition 1 and Proposition 2 - which makes housing less expensive.*

Also if you're in San Jose, please vote Yes on Measure V - it's an affordable housing bond measure that'll bring $450 million to help build more affordable homes and that has the potential of making a lot of people's commutes shorter - short enough to potentially bring additional cyclists into our ranks. 

The election is in 27 days and it's not enough just to promise to vote - you have to promise to convince others to do the same. Do that with me and let's not let the NIMBY contingency win this time. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

P.S. - if you're in San Jose and have a bike, a lock, about $20 to spend on groceries and want to spend Nov. 17th taking part in fun bike-based food drive, follow Cranksgiving San Jose on Facebook!

*I'm stuck by the fact that some prominent people are in favor of Prop 6 but against building more affordable housing. "Yes, let's keep gas cheap so poor people can get to the jobs we give them from the neighborhoods we assign them to that are far away from ours!"

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Cranksgiving San Jose is Back!

It's back!

The trailer is out, Wally the Turkey (the decoy I bought at a hunting store last year) has been dusted off, and San Jose's bike-based food drive is back for the third year. Hopefully you saw the trailer at Viva Calle San Jose last week - and even if you didn't I hope you got to attend Viva Calle SJ. They closed the street I usually use to bike home from work and it was a real treat to see human beings instead of cars out there on it. 

But back to Cranksgiving: We've got a time and place for the start (Registration begins at 12:00 noon and the ride starts at 1:00pm at St. James Park in downtown San Jose) and we've got a place to finish. That will be announced soon as well as sponsors to donate prizes.

For those of you that don't know, Cranksgiving is a bike-based food drive that started in New York City twenty years ago. San Jose started doing them in 2016 (check out NBC Bay Area's coverage of it here) and the tradition continues this year: cyclists meet up, get handed grocery lists and a list of stores they can go to, buy food, and meet back up for the weigh-in of all the donated food - last year we had 61 riders and over 900 pounds of food collected for Second Harvest Food Bank. Prizes are awarded on both the 'speed' and 'heavy hauler' categories.

But most importantly, a lot of cyclists get to ride together and help other people. And there are a lot of folks in San Jose - with the rest of the Bay Area - that need a lot of help. 

If you can ride a bike and can feed yourself, you an ride a bike and help feed others. Let's get together on November 17th in San Jose for sure - and if you are a local retailer or shop that wants to help us out with prizes let me know (or, if you are an all-around awesome place that is already on my radar, I will reach out to you.)

Be in touch and follow Cranksgiving San Jose on Facebook - lots of details and fun facts (like the new ending point this year) are forthcoming. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Biking Nations: In Porto, Portugal with the Urban Sketchers

I haven't been to Portugal since my biking adventure in Lisbon in 2011. It was a rented bike. I didn't have much experience riding in foreign countries. I didn't have a lot of wrenching skills. I had little sense of direction. How had I evolved since?

Let me back up a second.

The 2011 trip to Portugal was made for the same reason as the 2018 trip: the Urban Sketchers were having their annual symposium and they chose Porto. Last year they had chosen Chicago, Illinois and I didn't have a language barrier to contend with as I explored famous movie sights and rode to Gary, Indiana and back. 

Returning to Portugal did put me in a place where I wondered about how I had changed as a cyclist. 2018 Portugal Me had changed careers a total of three times since 2011 Portugal Me. I had moved from Connecticut to California. I had approached, hit, and passed my 40th birthday. 

What I hadn't done was change my equipment much. The first time in Lisbon was the only time of all of the eight Symposiums I've been a part of (see the #WhileYouWereSketching hashtag) where I rented a bike. The last seven in a row I've brought my 1998 Bike Friday New World Tourist.

Bike Friday's are made in Eugene, Oregon and in about fifteen minutes you can pack it into a Samsonite suitcase to avoid paying excess baggage fees - in about the same amount of time you can unpack it and set it up. Mine has been to the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, France, Singapore, Brazil, Japan, the Dominican Republic and several states in the U.S. - even lesser known ones like Florida. It's rugged, reliable and easy to fix since it takes standard components. 

The rugged part is especially important. Not only does any travel bike have to put up with the bruising ride from the bag drop area at the airport to the baggage claim section, but harsh terrain like...cobblestones.

The cobblestone factor was why I headed far from the city center of Porto on every trip. Along the Douro River to the Portuguese coast is a shared path of sorts. At the beaches be sure to yield to students crossing the path to take surfing lessons.

I can say that for the novice travel cyclist, Portugal is a good place to go since cars drive on the right and all of the cars are left-hand drive like they are in the U.S. So unlike, say, London, you don't have to relearn how to instinctively look for danger.

Portugul also has some inspiring food and patient restaurant workers. Being unable to speak Portuguese and riding far from the tourist centers where few speak English, going someplace to eat for lunch everyday proved to be just another part of the adventure.

That first day I biked across the Douro River using the Ponte De Arrabida bridge (which is just for pedestrians and the lovely light rail) so I could look down on the city. Then I rode aimlessly on this side of the river looking for a place to eat. I scored by finding a Piri Piri chicken place and using my tried and true method of pointing, I was able to order a "half dose" (which I assumed to be a "half order" of chicken.

What happened was the woman behind the counter took an entire chicken off the grill, sliced it up with a big knife, dunked it in the most breathtakingly amazing Piri Piri sauce, and handed it to me in a aluminum tray.

I looked around the take-out counter and not only did I not see utensils or napkins but I also didn't know how to ask for either of those things, so I thanked her and left. 

And it was inside a park I found a couple of blocks away I ate chicken with my fingers and was so hungry I didn't bother to remove my fingerless bike gloves first. The chicken was just remarkable And it was really, really good. I ended up rinsing my fingertips with the enormous bottle of water I bought (holding my hands out in the "I-once-caught-a-fish-THIS-big!" formation and asking for "agua.") and drying my hands on my socks. 

A bit of an inside-joke happened about fifteen minutes later, when I was riding through another residential neighborhood. I bumped into a guy grilling small fish on the sidewalk. He'd step out of a door, flip the fish over, and go back inside. Reminded me of my first lunch in Lisbon seven years ago.

It was a fun 30 mile first day, and the second day I decided to see if I could cross the border into Spain. In order to do that I'd need to take a train from Porto to Braga and follow a complex series of roads up a mountain and into Spain.

The second part of this did not happen. Trains are on what is known in the U.S. as a "schedule" and if you get on a train too late to get to where you want to go, you have to change your ride mid-stream. 

So after riding on a later train than I wanted I also ended up riding for ten minutes in the wrong direction. When I straightened myself out I realized I had no possible chance of crossing the border before nightfall so I decided to work my way east to the coastal town of Apulia and then head south back to Porto. 

I had wisely bought an international cell phone chip so I could use Google Maps to plot my route - but this part of the world has a strange love of traffic circles which led me to make a few wrong turns here and there. I didn't mind so much since it was mostly very pretty and peaceful.

Once again, when I got hungry I stopped at a restaurant. Unlike the Piri Piri chicken place, there was no menu, but here there was a young waitress who nodded at me eagerly and kept motioning for me to sit down, which I eventually did. 

At first she brought me some soup, which I ate reluctantly as Meghan Trainor's "All About the Bass" played on the restaurant's sound system. I could only shake my head and smile. The pop artist's song "No" was playing at the noodle place I found while biking in Japan two years ago - another Biking Nations adventure in a place with a big language barrier.

Before long the waitress brought me...this.

It would have to do. 

After lunch, I left the restaurant - being sure to photograph it first to document my journey.

I continued on - occasionally singing "'bout the bass, 'bout the bass...no treble." until I finally reached Apulia - a nice little beach town. While riding I found someone's functioning FitBit lying in the road, which I took with me. To this day I have no idea what I am supposed to do with it. 

I did two very smart things in Apulia. The first thing I did was I had a cappuccino.

The second smart thing was actually being in Apulia in the first place. The town is about 27 miles north of Porto, and I had already gone 43 miles. And because the wind - that otherworldly force I remember reckoning with on my last trip in Portugal when I rode from Sintra - was violently blowing south I knew I'd be able to have it at my back on my entire return ride. 

It was the N13 most of the way down. That road is a bit busy in places but most of the time had a generous shoulder. And with the wind blowing the way I was headed I broke 20 miles an hour most of the way. 

I did do something really stupid on this leg of the journey. I did not buy this bike seat, which I saw at a bike shop on the outskirts of Porto. I've seen these things in India a couple of times and I don't know why I didn't just pull out my Euros and point to the seat.

So dear bike traveler: if you come to a shop that looks like this, please go right in and succeed where I failed. Buy that springy chrome seat...cause it is kinda awesome.

The next morning my non-buyers remorse had faded to the point I wanted to try another direction to ride in. Knowing it would be my last full day riding (we'd be embarking on a 27 hour extravaganza of travel to get back to San Jose the following day) I wanted a predictable route that did not involve me having to stop every mile to see where I was. 

As luck would have it Porto has the Douro River, which runs east-west. I reasoned I could follow the river 35 miles in one direction, do an about face, and ride in the other direction.

I reasoned right.

The first stretch of the ride isn't too scenic, and parts of the entire trip were quite hilly but still fun. It really is a beautiful river.

On more than a few spots the road would bend and twist away from the river and I'd lose sight of it. At those points I did unfortunately have to pull out my phone to do some light wayfinding, but it was still just nice to stop and check things out - like a tree growing out of the roof of an abandoned house. 

About thirty miles into this ride, I made an amazing discovery. I found it. The pod birthing station. The hatchery. The womb from which the devil children spring forth. Yes, I found where they make cobblestones. I took a quick picture to remember where it was so that, when I come to power, I can close it down and create a decree that all cobblestones must be painted on if used at all. 

Around 35 miles it was lunchtime and I was hungry, so I stopped at another restaurant. This time was a little easier than the others since a gentleman sitting at a table nearby was eating something that looked rather good, so I pointed at it when the waitress came by with a little notepad. 

Fried chicken, rice, salad, and soup. Lunch of champions - or, at least, non-picky cyclists. I also ultimately pointed at a huge bottle of water and asked for it by pointing and refilled my now-empty Camelbak right there at the table.

I headed back the way I came - pausing here and there to admire Douro Valley - which I would have seen even more of if I had the time to continue following the river. 

I know I look strange from behind - or possibly any angle, for that matter - but after riding in 16 countries I've learned to be ready for anything. You can't see in the photo but that green pack on my back has no fewer than three bike pumps, three tubes, two patch kits, and a complete tire. I'm sure that one day I will have a cycling vacation cut short because of a catastrophic equipment failure (or just something I just can't fix on my own) but my pack conveys the "ain't gonna happen!" vibe. 

Oh - and another fun fact on this trip: I have not had a flat tire on this bike in over a year - which is a record I attribute to my decision to start using Mr. Tuffy bike tire liners after the debacle in Manchester. So I offer that nonpaid endorsement. Tire liners are worth it. 

The other thing I did on the ride back was stop at a couple of places for some incredibly strong - and remarkably inexpensive - espressos. This was actually the first coffee I had all day - and there is a method to this madness: I find that drinking coffee on your own "local" time a day or two before you fly back home will help your body clock; as in, if you're used to drinking three cups of coffee before 9:00am, like me, just drink the equivalent wherever you are to match up with that time to get your body used to craving caffeine at the usual schedule. 

Riding back the way I came helped with the wayfinding and I didn't mind covering ground I had covered before since the views were so lovely. Before long I was back in Porto.

Back on Cobblestone-Firma, I ran into The Portland Sketcher as she was leaving her hotel. I had met her in Paraty and we relayed tales of cycling and USK to one another before I returned to inPatio. 

I downed some more water and packed the bike up. After a mandatory shower I walked to the museum to see if I could intercept the rest of the Urban Sketchers.

I ran into my wife outside of the museum and she gave me some interesting news: The Urban Sketchers' 2019 symposium is going to be held in...

...wait for it...

...wait for it...


Hmmm. I wonder if they have good biking there. 

So long, Porto. You're a good city. And it was a good bikecation. I'm older now than I was when I first started these international cycling adventures but feel like I'm getting smarter, so that evens things out. Check out #USKPorto2018 and #WhileYouWereSketching on social media - and take a look at Suma's beautiful sketches. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.