Big Box Store, Little Bike Trailer

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the Mountain View Voice on December 12, 2013.

For the vast majority of my shopping trips, my bikes do a great job. Between a pair of oversized panniers in the back and an ample basket in the front, I can carry up to three bags of groceries filled to up to 40 pounds. I’ve also figured out how to attach garment bag to my rear rack for dry cleaning or for buying clothing at the mall. You’d be surprised how easy it can be to carry things on a bike if you’re creative.

But every once in a while I make one of those shopping trips where what I’m buying something too heavy or too bulky for my bike alone. So last year I asked Santa for a cute little bike cargo trailer.

It felt a little frivolous. After all, we have a car we can use for those rare shopping trips. But now that I have the trailer, I realize it’s pretty darn useful. Especially during those times, like right now, where driving to the mall or shopping center is painful and parking is a nightmare. So when our microwave gave up the ghost last week, I hitched up my little trailer and pedaled over to a few big box stores for some comparison shopping, holiday shoppers be damned.

Best Buy

Target, Costco and Best Buy are all within 2-3 miles from home and it wasn’t tough to plot a route that hit them all. Before I left home, I checked online for what each store carried and read the product reviews, but I wanted to buy locally so I could have a replacement immediately. You’d be surprised how some microwaves had really poor ratings after hundreds of reviews, by the way.

With the critical consumer data in hand, my little trailer and I rolled out in search of an oven with all the features I wanted, in the color I wanted and sized to fit my countertop. It took visiting all three stores, but I found the perfect oven. I probably should have measured to see if the box would fit in my trailer before checking out, but it fit nicely with several inches to spare. The ride home was delightfully uneventful and my new microwave fits my kitchen as well as it fit my trailer. Thank you, Santa.

Microwave in Trailer

If you haven’t done much shopping before by bike here are a few tips:

  • A rear rack with large panniers can carry more than you think. Most racks are built to carry at least 40 pounds.
  • Front baskets are great for overflow items, but be aware that heavy items up front can affect steering.
  • Bring bungee cords for securing bulky items on top of the rear rack or to secure them in a front basket. A deep pothole or hard bump can bounce your purchases right off of your bike.
  • Treat packing your purchases on your bike like a working a puzzle. Sometimes I'm sure I've bought too much, but it always works out. Knock on wood, I've never had to return anything.
  • If it’s dark or dim out, make sure your purchases don’t block your bike lights.
  • Bike trailers don’t have to be expensive. My cargo trailer cost $250 new and is holding up well after a year. Another alternative is buying a used child trailer from someone whose kids have outgrown it.
  • Parking can be more challenging for bikes with trailers. Bike racks are designed for single bikes and many are placed without enough room for the extra length of trailers. Bring an extra lock to secure the trailer, either to the bike or to the bike rack.

What’s the most awkward thing you’ve purchased by bike? What made it tough? What made it work?

Want to see 36 rolls of Costco toilet paper on a bike? Check out my Shop by Bike gallery for that and more.

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Bicycle Getaways: The Riviera on San Francisco Bay

When most people think of traveling by bike they think of bicycle touring, where you carry everything you need to be self-sufficient for long distances: clothing, sleeping bag, tent, cookware. Like backpacking on wheels. Or perhaps “credit card” touring, where you skip the camping and stay in motels or hostels. Or supported tours, where guides plan your route and vehicles carry your gear (and you too, if you don’t want to ride that day).

When my husband Dick and I bought our touring bikes last year, we didn’t really have a plan. I suspected we’d set out for credit card type tours, and we still may. But so far, our overnight bike trips don’t fit any of these models. I would call them “bicycle getaways,” 2-4 day trips, more urban than most touring trips, using transit to increase our travel ranges, and with luxury accommodations. Ideally a hotel with a fuzzy robes and great restaurants nearby.

So far, we’ve done four bicycle getaways: San Francisco, Sacramento, Folsom and one I planned last year for Dick’s birthday. Instead of giving birthday gifts, we have a tradition of surprising each other with short trips. Dick’s birthday always falls near Thanksgiving, which makes planning more challenging for me. Airports and highways are full of holiday travelers, and after ten years together we’d already visited all the closer spots. I was running out of ideas.


Then I thought of Tiburon, a small town on the north end of San Francisco Bay that along with neighboring Sausalito and Belvedere Island make up what’s affectionately called the San Francisco Riviera. I was sold.

Like our other bike getaways, the train made it easy to ride from home. The late-morning Caltrain bullet got us to San Francisco, where rolled slowly up the waterfront under clear blue skies. Since Thanksgiving is the traditional start of Dungeness Crab season, we stopped for lunch on Fisherman’s Wharf. Messy but tasty, I was grateful for the seafood bib they provided.

After lunch we changed into bike wear for the 30 mile ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and around the bay to Tiburon. Having ridden across the Golden Gate in the fog and wind of summer, I must say the late fall crossing was a delight. We hugged the bayside then rolled down Tiburon’s historic Ark Row, named for former houseboats converted to stores when the lagoon was filled, and arrived with plenty of time to rest and clean up for Thanksgiving dinner on the bay.

The next day we rode to San Rafael along the scenic Paradise Drive and through the new Cal Park Hill Tunnel, then finished the ride with a 360 degree tour of hilly Belvedere Island. From Belvedere, the complete view of the “San Francisco Riviera” could be seen in all its glory, from Sausalito to Tiburon. Getting home the next day was just a ferry ride, a short spin down the Embarcadero, and train ride away.

San Francisco from Tiburon

Starting from home in Mountain View, we traveled this route for a total 165 miles: 80 miles by train, 75 by bike, 10 by ferry, for less than we’d spend on a tank of gas. No holiday traffic like a driving trip would be, and more luxury than a traditional bike touring trip. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

Where have you ever done loaded toured with your bike? Did you go hardcore with fully-loaded touring or did you “credit card” it for a lighter load?

Check out the photo gallery for our trip.

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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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The Rolling Romance of a Bike Date

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the online edition of the Mountain View Voice on June 20, 2013.

A few years ago my husband Dick and I were in a dining rut. Unlike when we were dating, we just didn’t go out anymore. We decided that we needed a standing weekly date night, one set in stone on our calendars. Otherwise, it would be too easy to say we were too tired, or to fritter away time at home and then decide to eat in rather than face the crowds and a long wait for a table.

Dick’s day off from work was Friday, so that was an easy decision. I wanted the romance of him picking me up like a real date, so Dick offered to come by my workplace and get me. The twist: since I rode my bike to work, he would ride his bike too.

At the time I was working in Palo Alto, where a seemingly limitless choice of restaurants were a short ride from my office near the Baylands. That first Friday, I waited for him in front of my office building with all the excitement of any first date. When he rolled up I was tickled to see he was wearing a nice sweater and his going-out shoes. He had swapped the clip-in pedals on his bike for flat pedals just for our date.

We rode across the bike bridge over Hwy 101, rolled down to University Avenue for a relaxed and tasty Italian dinner, and then cruised home by the light of a full moon. With rush hour long over, the neighborhood streets were quiet and peaceful so we continued our dinner chat the whole way home.

It was a very romantic night.

That’s why nearly three years later, we’re still at what we now call Bike Date Friday. The rules are simple: we eat at a different restaurant every week and we arrive by bike. In the winter we grab heavy coats and bright lights. If it’s drizzling, we grab our raincoats. And if it’s raining hard, we grab a big umbrella and walk the mile to Castro Street.

Now that I work near the airport in San Jose and commute on Caltrain with my bike, our options have expanded. Sometimes we meet at the Diridon Caltrain station and eat in downtown San Jose. Sometimes we meet at the Mountain View Caltrain station and ride across town or to Palo Alto, Los Altos or Sunnyvale. And sometimes we meet on a northbound train for dining in San Carlos, San Mateo and beyond.

In three years, we have yet to exhaust all our dining options. Some restaurants have been better than others and some routes were more fun than others. But one thing’s for sure: our dining rut is now a romantic roll.

Planning the Perfect Bike Date

For your first date, keep it simple and stay closer to home. Castro Street is a perfect destination since it’s within three miles of home for almost every Mountain View resident. To make the bike ride a bigger part of the date, head across town or to a neighboring city. The map link below shows our preferred quiet neighborhood routes to destinations like University Avenue and Town & Country in Palo Alto, Murphy Avenue in Sunnyvale, downtown Los Altos, and more.

More Tips for Bike Dates

* Choose a calm route, even if it takes longer, so you can chat. It’s a date, not a race to get to work on time.
* If you ride slowly you won’t sweat much, so can wear nicer clothes if you like. I love riding in dresses.
* Bring front and rear lights for evening dates, even now when the sun doesn’t go down until 8:30 pm. Dinner may take longer than you think and it would be a shame to have to skip dessert to beat the sunset.

About Bike Lights. To ride legally and safely at night, you need: a front light that’s visible from the front and side at 300 feet away; a red reflector visible from the rear; and white or yellow reflectors on your wheels and pedals, shoes or ankles. A red rear light is very highly recommended. I also installed amber spoke lights to make my bike more visible from the side. Don’t forget that people out walking don’t have headlights to hit the reflectors.

Have you ever gone out on a date on a bike? If so, where did you go? If not, where would you go?

Bike Date Map:
Restaurants Reviews on Yelp:

Bike Date at Cafe Vitale

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Where Grant Road Ends, A Farm Lives On

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the online edition of the Mountain View Voice on June 13, 2013.

Baby goats frolic, piglets squeal, and little children frolic and squeal along with them at Deer Hollow Farm. Nestled in a small valley where the hills open up to Santa Clara Valley, the farm lets visitors imagine farm life in the 1800s on a working homestead with the complete range of livestock, orchards, gardens, tools and historic buildings. The farm and the surrounding Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve draw large crowds, so finding a parking spot on a weekend can feel like striking gold.

But for those in the know, there’s a more pleasant way to enter the park that’s only open for people on bikes or on foot. To find this secret passage to the farm, follow Grant Road to St Joseph’s Avenue. The connection becomes obvious once you learn that back in the gold rush days, what’s now Deer Hollow Farm was the Grant Ranch, and that until the 1989 earthquake, the farm’s neighbor was St Joseph Seminary.

The Grant family bought the land for their ranch in the 1850s and worked it for almost 80 years, raising wheat, horses and dairy cows whose butter they sold in San Francisco after a long weekly wagon trip. Their neighbors the Snyders were the first in the area to grow grain crops without irrigation. The Snyder farm included a vineyard, a large winery and 25 acres of orchards.

Nowadays, the cash crops at the farm are fresh eggs, orchard fruits in season, compost and manure. The hens produce about four dozen eggs per day that sell out quickly. The farm opens at 8:00 am daily and an inside source tells me that by 8:30 the eggs are usually gone.

But the most popular attraction at Deer Hollow are the farm animals, especially when the babies are born in Spring. This year’s piglets were born in January, Luna the cow gave birth in February, and the newest additions are two sets of triplets: goat kids born to Jenny and Athena in May. And another nanny goat is due any day now. Hurry over to see these cuties, they grow fast.

If wild animals are more your interest, the nearby trails in the Rancho San Antonio open space are a great place to find mule deer, wild turkeys, quail, hawks and gopher snakes. The Rogue Valley trail is particularly active for wildlife in the evening. And if you’re lucky (or not) you may see the rare bobcat or rattlesnake. We have.

More things to do at Deer Hollow Farm:
* Hike up High Meadow Trail to the vista point hill. On a clear day you can see San Francisco and Oakland.
* Pack a lunch and picnic in the hay barn. Note that you’ll have to pack your garbage out with you.
* Check out the massive bay tree near the tennis courts. It’s the third largest in the state.
* On the third Saturday of the month, a nature center is open in the historic Apple Shed.
* Come back in October for Ohlone Days to learn how the area’s original residents lived off this rich land.

How to bike there: The route is not steep, but gradually climbs about 300 feet in about five miles from downtown Mountain View. The secret passage is at the end of St Joseph Avenue where the road is closed to cars at an Interstate 280 underpass. See map for route details.

Bike Fun Map with Routes to Farm:
Bike Fun Photos of Deer Hollow Farm:
Deer Hollow Farm Information:

Barn & Tandem

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We All Scream for Ice Cream

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

Hey parents, want to treat your kids for a good report card? Hey kids, want to treat your Dads for Father’s Day without breaking your piggy bank? Hop on your bikes and take them out for ice cream. You’ll find an ice cream, gelato or frozen yogurt shop in almost every neighborhood. And if you want to work up a bigger appetite, try biking to a shop on the other side of town.

With so many choices all over town, I’ve created a new map that adds ice cream shops to the Secret Passages map from last week (see link at the end). Here are a few that are fun for a bike outing on a warm day:

48 Flavors at Rick’s Ice Cream
For a good old fashioned, locally made ice cream shop, Rick’s Ice Cream has a surprising number of flavors with exotic ingredients: ginger, lavender, saffron and sea salt, to name a few. But don’t worry, kids, Rick’s also has kid-friendly exotics like Cotton Candy and Birthday Cake and traditional favorites like Rocky Road. Rick’s has ample shaded outdoor seating: two benches out front and large picnic tables for bigger groups.

To get there, cross San Antonio at the old Mayfield Mall and use the secret passage from Nelson Drive. Bike parking is available nearby on a large, school-style rack.

Frozen Yogurt vs Gelato: Faceoff on Castro Street
He says yogurt, she says gelato. To please everyone, head downtown where you’ll find Gelato Classico and Yoogl Frozen Yogurt Cafe right across from each other on Castro Street. There’s outdoor seating on cafe tables on the Gelato Classico side and planter bench seating on the Yoogl side. So everyone can get what he or she wants without having to ride all over town, and everyone can eat it together outside.

Bike parking is available along Castro Street, but these days it tends to fill quickly.

Sweeter with Candy at the Sweet Shop
What was once a small market on a country lane in Los Altos is now a destination no one with a sweet tooth should miss. For candy lovers, there’s a wall of delights of every variety, from jaw breakers to malt balls to sour gummy candies. For those seeking frozen treats, there are three flavors of yogurt with a wide assortment of toppings. The Sweet Shop is one of few stores outside of tourist locations that sells Dipping Dots.

From the south side of town, you can take Marich, Portola and Loucks Streets. From the northeast, you can take Monroe, Del Medio, Showers or Escuela, but you have make a jog after crossing El Camino that may have you walking on the sidewalk for a bit. Bike racks and a lovely shaded patio with tables are available.

Baskin-Robbins All Around Town
For over 60 years, nothing has defined American ice cream quite like Baskin-Robbins and their 31 flavors, one for each day of the month. Now available in 49 countries, it’s not surprising that there are three Baskin-Robbins locations within three miles of downtown: one on El Camino near the Sunnyvale border that’s easy to access from the Stevens Creek Trail, one on El Camino near Shoreline that’s convenient to McElvey ball field, and one in downtown Los Altos. This month’s Flavor of the Month is Triple Vanilla, which swirls three variations of America’s #1 ice cream flavor, which also happens to be Dick’s favorite.

See the map for details on bike parking and outdoor seating at each location.

Ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt: which way do you lean in the frozen treat standoff? Which shop is worth riding a few extra miles for the pleasure of summer’s favorite dessert?

Bike Fun’s Ice Cream Shop Map:
Ice Cream Shop Reviews on Yelp:

Ice Cream Profile

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