Monthly Archives: July 2013

Gear Up Your Ride: The Grocery Getter

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the online edition of the Mountain View Voice on July 25, 2013.

When people think of bicycling for practical reasons, bike commuting usually comes to mind first. But since
work commutes are often the longest trips we make all week, it may make more sense to bike around town for short errands at the pharmacy, post office, bank, coffee shop or grocery store instead. While it’s easy enough to slip a bottle of pills into your pocket or a small package to mail into a backpack, for errands like groceries you’ll want a bike that’s set up to carry a load. You need what my friend Katie calls her grocery getter.

My friend Katie works in the bicycle industry, which means she has all the hottest performance-oriented bicycles: sleek road bikes, plush mountain bikes and a custom cyclocross bike so hot it made the rounds as a display bike at trade shows internationally. What she didn’t have was a practical bike for errands.

But she did have an old 1990s mountain bike in the back of her garage. With a little work and the same cost as two trips to the gas pump we gave her old bike a new life as a grocery getter. First, we pumped her tires, checked the brakes, and lubricated the chain (just like I wrote about on May 24th) and wiped the bike down for good measure. Then we replaced her worn saddle with a spare she had on hand, and rode a couple of miles to her local bike shop to get geared up. She chose a rear rack, grocery-specific panniers and a kickstand which we installed ourselves in less than 30 minutes. Total cost was about $120.

We took a quick trip to the grocery store to test out her new set-up and found a new route through the neighborhood on the way back. Katie was thrilled. “I live within 2 mile of all the stores I need: Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, coffee, restaurants, the farmers market, so doing errands by bike makes sense,” she explained. “Panniers rock.”

If you’re thinking of setting your bike up for groceries or errands, here are some gear options to consider:

Rear racks support loads over your bike’s rear wheel, making for a stable ride. Most attach to the frame near the rear wheel axle and to the seat stays, the frame area just below the seat.

Panniers are bike-specific bags that attach to racks. Touring panniers are designed to be more aerodynamic and weather-proof for long trips, while boxy open-topped panniers like Katie chose are convenient for quick stops and shorter trips.

Baskets are usually mounted on the handlebars but can also be attached to a rear rack. Handlebar baskets are great for keeping things close at hand, like purses and small pets. Having weight on the handlebars affects steering more than when the weight is on the back, so be careful with a heavier load.

Elastic straps work well when you have an odd-shaped object or a few too many items to carry. The best ones are flat instead of round with two or three straps emerging from a single hook at each end, but I also keep micro-sized bungees on my bike just in case.

Kickstands are handy for making quick stops on errand runs and almost required when you’re carrying groceries on your bike. It’s a lot easier to load up when you don’t have to balance the bike too.

Bike trailers can carry far bigger loads than a bike alone. I use my cargo trailer when I’m buying the big stuff like 30 rolls of toilet paper at Costco, or when I want to buy more than three bags of groceries in one trip. Note that they’re less stable when empty. I learned the hard way.

More Tips for Selecting Gear
* When you go shopping for bike gear, ride your bike to the shop or otherwise take your bike with you. You want to make sure what you buy will fit your bike.
* Start small like Katie did. You can always add a front basket or buy a trailer.
* Make sure your racks, panniers and baskets don’t block your front or rear lights.

Tips for Shopping by Bike
* If you’re worried about buying more than you can carry, shop with a hand basket instead of a grocery cart. You can also test packing your items in your bags before you check out.
* During grocery checkout, either pack your bags yourself or expect to repack them at your bike. If you’re pinched for space, try removing some unneeded packaging.
* Realize that if you can’t pack it all, you can return items. I’ve had close calls, but I’ve always squeezed it in.
* To keep frozen food from melting, pack the cold items together and put them in a small insulated bag.
* With a heavy load, you may have to shift down a gear and may find can’t sprint for the light as easily.
* If you have multiple shopping stops, you can either bring the bags with you into the second store or take a risk and leave them on the bike, preferably covered. I’ve taken risks and never lost anything.

Is your bike set up for carrying groceries or other loads? What’s the biggest item or load you’ve carried?

Bike Fun Grocery Bike Photos:

Grocery Wide

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It’s a Picnic: Outdoor Dining by Bicycle

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the online edition of the Mountain View Voice on July 18, 2013.

I’m a big fan of dining al fresco, whether it’s a luncheon in a formal garden, getting away to nature with a hearty meal on lazy creek, or a good old-fashioned picnic in a park. So I’m grateful that there are prime outdoor dining spots within easy biking distance of home. For big group cookouts with barbecuing and outdoor games, city parks like Rengstorff Park or Cuesta Park are perfect. But I prefer picnics in quiet hideaways where the setting is just as important as the food and friends, and where we keep the food and gear simple enough that it all fits on the back of our bikes. Where exactly we go just depends on our mood.

Picnic in the Garden: Elizabeth Gamble Garden
If strolling thorough formal gardens on a historic estate suits your fancy, ride up to the Gamble Garden near Palo Alto’s Professorville neighborhood. The three-story home and carriage house were built in 1902 by Edwin Percy Gamble, the son of the co-founder of Proctor & Gamble. His daughter Elizabeth cultivated elaborate gardens on the two and a half acre property and bequeathed the family home and gardens to the city with her passing in 1981.

Today, the impeccably maintained grounds include a flower garden that offers something new every month, vegetable plots, fruit trees and a restful shade garden between the main house and the carriage and tea houses. For picnickers, there are three large tables under a heritage oak tree with adjacent bike parking. The gardens are open every day during daylight hours, although the bathrooms were closed when we visited in the evening earlier this week.

The Ride: If you like flat rides on shady neighborhood streets lined by beautiful homes, you’ll love this route. See map link below for details. Approximately six miles from downtown Mountain View.

Picnic in the Woods: Stevens Creek County Park
Founded in 1924, Santa Clara County’s first county park is just upstream from Mountain View on Stevens Creek. At the center of the park is a 92 acre reservoir formed by the Stevens Creek Dam that was built by the Work Projects Administration (WPA) in 1936. The reservoir is open to non-motorized boating and fishing and has hiking trails on its eastern side. Mountain biking is allowed in adjacent Fremont Older Open Space Preserve which is accessible from the park, albeit after a long, steep climb up a dirt and gravel road.

Picnic sites are sprinkled throughout the park, with the Lakeshore, Cooley and Canyon Picnic Areas along Stevens Canyon Road being most popular. But my favorite sites are the tables in the quieter Bay Tree Picnic Area along the banks of Stevens Creek. Grills are available at each site for those who are willing to lug more than chips and sandwiches up to the park.

The Ride: Unfortunately, the Stevens Creek Trail does not extend this far south so you’ll need to ride on Foothill Expressway and Stevens Canyon Roads, which have shoulders or bike lanes for most of the route. You can avoid the Hwy 280 interchange on Foothill by taking the secret passageway at Rancho San Antonio, though. A general uphill grade with a few short and steep hills means this is not a fun ride on a heavy cruiser bike. Approximately eight miles from downtown Mountain View.

More Picnic Destinations
Shoup Park: For those who want to picnic in the woods without riding up hills, Shoup Park is a shady delight under big redwoods just across Foothill Expressway from downtown Los Altos.

Shoreline Park: Mountain View’s premier park keeps it low-key with blanket picnics only. For those who want to keep it really low-key, you can order food to go at the Lakeside Cafe and sit on the lawn to watch the sailboats, paddle boats and boardsailors.

Palo Alto Baylands: Tucked between the duck pond, small plane airport and nature center is a picnic area with tables that’s ideal for filling hungry little stomachs between kid-friendly attractions.

Bike Picnic Tips
* Bike with racks and baskets are easiest for carrying food and picnic gear. Backpacks will work too, especially if you pack light and spread the load across members of your group.
* If you plan to eat on arrival, you don’t need an ice chest or insulated bag if your ride is under an hour. Just pack cold items together and use a table cloth, picnic blanket or paper bags for insulation.
* A mini-broom or brush comes in handy for sweeping picnic table tops and seats. I highly recommend one if you plan to sit at a table and aren’t bringing a tablecloth.
* Don’t forget a small bag for garbage and cloth or paper towels for cleanup.
* Be careful with sparkling water and carbonated drinks. Bumps on the ride can make for a messy opening.
* Please consider using reusable plates and cups and cutlery. It cuts down on waste going to the landfill and I swear the food tastes better when it’s not on a paper plate.
* My favorite easy picnic foods are: cheese, bread, smoked sausage, olives, green salad, sushi, fruit, cookies.
* Want to keep it really simple? Pack sandwiches and a drink in a backpack and just ride!

Bike Fun Picnic Map:
Bike Fun Picnic Photos:
Elizabeth Gamble Garden:
Stevens Creek County Park:

Picnic 2 Wide

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All Aboard! Taking your Bike on Transit

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the online edition of the Mountain View Voice on July 11, 2013.

My bike alone can only take me so far so fast, and sometimes I’d rather arrive somewhere without looking like I’ve been pedaling for hours. That’s when I turn to trains and buses to extend my cruising range. Here in the Bay Area, we are really lucky that almost all of our transit operators allow bikes on board.

Caltrain leads the way in bike-friendliness not only here in the Bay Area, but in the country. Every train is equipped with two bike cars where lower-level seats were replaced with bike racks. The old-style train cars hold up to 40 bikes and the newer cars hold 24, which means every train can accommodate 48-80 bikes. The service is so popular that Caltrain reports that one in 10 riders brings a bike aboard. Some days it seems like all 4,200+ daily bike commuters are getting off the baby bullet as I get on for my commute to San Jose.

When I take my bike on Caltrain my no-sweat 10 mile cruising range grows to a 50 mile corridor from San Francisco to San Jose. It helps that the rail line has stops every 1-3 miles and runs through the downtown business districts of most Peninsula cities, which are my favorite places to eat and shop.

While VTA light rail and buses don’t have the bike capacity of Caltrain, they dedicate space for 6-12 bikes inside every light rail train and every bus has a front rack that holds two bikes. When the rack is full, the bus driver may allow up to two bikes inside the bus, as long as the bus isn’t too full. VTA light rail and buses are not as fast as Caltrain, but they offer more frequent service, longer running hours and their lines fan out across the whole valley.

Your bike + transit options don’t stop on the Peninsula and South Bay. From San Francisco, ferries can take you and your bike to Sausalito, Angel Island, Oakland, Vallejo and more. From San Jose, you can roll your bike aboard the Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains to Sacramento or the ACE train to Stockton, or you can rack your bike on a bus to Santa Cruz or Monterey. And as of this week, BART has loosened its restrictions with a five month trial of all-hours bike access.

When do I appreciate bikes on transit the most? On my work commute when riding five miles instead of 14 means I don’t have to change clothes when I get to the office. On trips to places like San Francisco where I don’t want the hassle of driving or parking and would rather get around town on a bike. On recreational rides when I’d rather ride one-way and go further than ride out-and-back. On any ride where my bike has a mechanical problem that I can’t easily fix on the road. Yes, VTA has rescued me more than once on a ride.

Have you ridden a train or bus with your bike before? Where did you go? Why did you take transit?

Riding Caltrain with your bike
* Each train has two bike cars that are labeled a large yellow sticker near door. One is the northernmost end of train, the other is in the middle of the train.
* Before boarding bicycles, let people without bikes get off and on first.
* Bikes share racks. Either choose an empty rack or put your bike in front of a bike that will be getting off at a station after yours.
* To keep people from loading their bike in front of yours, create a destination tag and attach it to your bike. Post-it notes work fine.
* Use the bungee cords provided to secure bikes to the rack. Don’t lock bikes to the rack.
* Sit in bike car and watch your bike to make sure no one with a destination after yours puts their bike in front of yours.
* Children must be at least 6 years old to bring a bike aboard. Children under 12 years old must ride with an adult and be able to carry their own bike on and off the train.

Riding VTA Light Rail with your bike
* There are four racks in the center of the train car where you can hang your bike by its front wheel.
* If your bike is heavy, you can hold it on the floor in the turntable area of the car.
* Unlike Caltrain, there are no stairs required to board.

Bay Area Bikes on Transit:
More Tips for Bikes on Caltrain:
Bikes on VTA Guidelines:

Caltrain Bike Profile Wide

Categories: Bike Routes | Leave a comment

Going the Distance on Bay & River Trails

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the online edition of the Mountain View Voice on July 6, 2013.

Last Thursday was Independence Day, a day to celebrate freedom: breaking away and being in control of your destiny. As a child I found my freedom through my bicycle. On our bikes, my friends and I roamed the neighborhood, rolled down to the creek to throw rocks and explored trails that led to distant and unexpected places. Freedom was knowing we could go wherever we wanted under our own power.

That’s still how I feel when I venture out on the creek and bay trails, exploring to see just how far they’ll take me. You’d probably be surprised to learn how far your bicycle take you starting directly from your front door even if you stick to off-road bike trails. Little known fact: you can ride 20 miles from downtown Mountain View to downtown San Jose and only leave the trail for about 1/4 mile, provided you and your bike can handle riding on some gravel sections.

Exploring trails is also a great way to increase your fitness. You don’t have to be training to race the Tour de France, where riders average 100 miles per day for three weeks every July, to see health benefits from amping up the distance. By gradually increasing your mileage five miles each week you can go from 10 miles this weekend to 50 miles by Labor Day. And you can do it all on trails.

The trick to going long off-road is to take the Stevens Creek Trail to Shoreline Park, turn right and cross the footbridge onto the gravel Bay Trail to head south behind Moffett Field. Then continue through Sunnyvale to catch the newly paved Guadalupe River Trail down to San Jose. Out-and-back is close to 40 miles from downtown Mountain View, but there are good turnaround points along the way. If you’re like me and don’t like out-and-back routes, you can also ride further, then bail out by taking Caltrain or VTA Light Rail home.

Here are some highlights of the route. Note that all mileage is approximate and starts at the downtown Mountain View Caltrain/VTA transit station.

Mile 5: Moffett Field
Built in the 1930′s to house dirigibles, Hangar One is so massive that folks say clouds form inside. Once slated for demolition, they’ve torn off the toxic shell leaving its graceful and impressive lattice framework exposed. If you’re lucky you may catch military, research. or other aircraft taking off or landing from its long runway.

Turn around here for a 10 mile round trip.

Mile 7: Sunnyvale Wastewater Treatment
Wastewater draining from indoor sources in Sunnyvale flows through sewer pipes that direct it to this plant for treatment before being discharged into San Francisco Bay. The odor-free plant has two treatment ponds on the bay where you can add an extra 3-4 miles per loop.

Turn around here for a 14 mile round trip or ride 1/2 mile to bail out at the Borregas VTA Light Rail Station.

Mile 11: Alviso
There’s a lot of history in the unassuming town of Alviso. Back in the 1800s its port was the hub for the Santa Clara Valley, with steamboats bringing passengers and goods on daily trips from San Francisco. During the depression what was once the country’s third largest cannery closed, the salt pond operations expanded, the port silted up and the town’s regional economic role declined. It’s still a one-of-a-kind place to visit, though, and a perfect place to add extra mileage on the large salt pond loop.

Turn around here for a 22 mile round trip or ride 2 miles down the Guadalupe Trail to a bail out at Lick Mill VTA Light Rail Station on Tasman.

Mile 16: San Jose International Airport
The Guadalupe River Trail runs for 10 miles from Alviso to just south of downtown San Jose and passes alongside the full length of San Jose International Airport. The trail’s proximity to the runways means great views of airplane takeoffs, approaches and landings. The airport viewing location near the Hwy 880 underpass has seating plus interpretive signs to keep you entertained between airplanes.

Turn around here for 32 mile round trip or ride 1 mile to a bail out at Metro VTA Light Rail Station.

Mile 18: San Jose’s Little Italy
As the Guadalupe River Trail approaches downtown San Jose, it crosses through the former River Street area, home of dozens of Italian immigrants who came to San Jose in the late 1800’s to work on farms and orchards throughout the Santa Clara Valley. Many immigrants first stayed in the Torino Hotel, which is now the home of the iconic Henry’s Hi-Life BBQ.

Turn around here for a 36 mile round trip or ride 1/2 mile to bail out at Diridon Caltrain Station.

Mile 19: Children’s Discovery Museum
Inside this bright purple building is a world of fun for the little ones, with interactive exhibits designed for open-ended explorations. If you stop in, check out the exhibit featuring skull, femur and pelvis fossils from Lupe, a Columbian Mammoth discovered along the Guadalupe River near the Trimble Road in 2005.

Turn around here for a 38 mile round trip or ride one mile to bail out at Diridon Caltrain Station.

The Guadalupe River Trail continues south to Almaden Valley with several on-street segments required. With a little adventure and a good map, you may surprise yourself with how far you can go. Keep adding 5 miles a week and by Thanksgiving you could be riding 100 miles in a day.

Tips for Going the Distance on Your Bike
* Carry water and refill wherever available. Plan to drink 1 bottle of water per hour of riding.
* For trips longer than one hour, carry snacks. It doesn’t need to be sports bars, just portable and easy to eat.
* For trips longer than an hour, consider wearing padded bike shorts. If you don’t like the tight lycra look, you can wear bike shorts under loose-fitting shorts.
* Go long and try transit for the return trip. It’s a lot more fun to see more new places instead of doing an out-and-back. If you’ve never taken transit with your bike, come back to Bike Fun next Thursday for details on how to get started on transit with less stress.

How far from home have you ridden on your bike? Have you ever followed an unknown path and found an interesting new route? What has been your most interesting discovery?


Bike Fun Bay & River Trail Map
Photos of Bay & River Trail Highlights:

Going Distance Wide

Categories: Bike Routes | Leave a comment

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