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The No Sweat Way to Bike to Work

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the Mountain View Voice on April 14, 2014.

It’s the 20th anniversary of Bike to Work Day in the Bay Area, celebrated this year on Thursday, May 8. For two decades, casual riders have pumped up their tires and dusted off their bikes for a short ride across town, while weekend warriors have charted longer commute routes and come up with a post-ride cleanup strategy. For people who bike to work year-round, the weeks ahead of Bike to Work Day are a time for answering questions from and giving advice to new bike commuters, like me back in 1997.

Like so many others, Bike to Work Day launched me into bike commuting. I went to a short “getting started” information meeting at my workplace, learned the best way to cross Hwy 101 from the local bike expert, then pedaled the 12 miles to my office in North San Jose. (The secret, by the way, was to cross under Hwy 101 at Ellis Street and to avoid the roads that cross over Hwy 101). The ride was about an hour so I stowed my clothes in my new bike panniers and cleaned up at my workplace’s gym locker room when I arrived.

Over the years I kept it up once or twice a week during daylight saving time, whenever my work sites gave me access to a shower. Bike commuting was a great way to get miles in when I was training for triathlons and long century rides. When I wasn’t training per se, two hours a day a couple of times a week was a great workout.

Then I took a job in Palo Alto that was less than five miles from home. It was too short to be a workout and hardly seemed worth putting on lycra and packing my work clothes, plus a towel and toiletries. Five flat miles just wasn’t worth the trouble.

Then one day in late summer I slapped myself on the forehead and said to myself, “It’s only a 25 minute ride, why do you need to change clothes anyway? Just wear your work clothes.” I put a summer dress with bike shorts underneath, slipped on flat shoes and stowed my laptop, purse and heels in my bike pannier. I rode slowly, keeping my heartbeat down at the equivalent of a walking, not running, pace. When I arrived at the office I took a moment to switch into my heels and cool down before walking in the building. No sweat!

It worked so well I was biked every day that week, then the next, and the next. Somewhere along the way I figured out that heels aren’t hard to bike in so I stopped packing my shoes. And I learned that if I stopped and took off a layer as soon as I started to warm up I could arrive sweat-free wearing almost anything, even a suit.

It helped that I started reading blogs from bike commuters in cities like Chicago, Boston and Portland. If they could ride in a professional dress there, even during the cold and stormy winters, California would be easy. And it was. Once I got a proper raincoat and boots, I was able to keep riding every day through the rainy season.

When I switched jobs two years ago to one back in North San Jose, I learned to combine my bike commute with a Caltrain ride so I could keep commuting in my work clothes. Occasionally, I’ll pack my work clothes and ride the full 13 miles to the office when I want a workout. But 95% of the time I choose my multi-modal bike + Caltrain commute. That way I can bike to work every day instead of 1-2 times a week.

There are lots of ways to make your commute no- or low-sweat. Here are my top tips:

  • Ride slowly. Save your workouts for the weekend or the times you’re planning to clean up on arrival.
  • Don’t worry so much about wasting time going slower. If you don’t change clothes at the end of your ride you’ll save at least five minutes.
  • Remember that it’s cooler in the morning here than in the evening. If you sweat on the way home you can always shower there.
  • Nothing heats you up like wearing a backpack or messenger bag. Get a rack or basket instead and get that bag off your back.
  • Underdress so you’re a little chilly for the first 5 minutes of your ride. As soon as you feel like you’re starting to warm up, pull over and strip off a layer.
  • Stow some wet wipes or a towel at work just in case you sweat more than you expected.
  • Consider partial clothing changes for your commute. Replace a dress shirt with a t-shirt or flat shoes instead of heels.
  • Wearing a helmet doesn’t have to mean you’ll have a bad hair day. Sweating, not the helmet, is the bigger cause of helmet hair. Experiment with different helmets and/or hair arrangements until you find what works. For me, all I have to do is finger comb my hair on arrival.
  • Riding a more upright bike helps. The extra windchill from being upright cools you, and somehow being upright discourages riding hard.
  • I installed a front basket so I can grab everything I need while I’m riding or walking my bike. I can strip a layer off and stow it without pulling over and my train pass, my phone, and my sunglasses are all at my fingertips.
  • Not packing clothes means I have room in my panniers to pick up a few items at the grocery store on the way home from work.

Are you riding to work on Bike to Work Day this year? Will you wear your work clothes or wear cycling gear and change on arrival? How far is your trip?

work dress heels

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A Ride 2 Recovery for Wounded Warriors

For most of us, the challenges of bicycling lead to growth as cyclists: climbing a long, steep grade to the top of a hill, staying balanced and pedaling through a difficult section of trail, taking a deep breath and merging into traffic on a busy road. But for some, bicycling takes them beyond growth and into transformation.

For the men and women who serve in armed forces, being strong and capable–physically, mentally and emotionally–to meet the challenges of battle is core to not only their job, but to their identity. To be wounded and permanently lose capabilities is a life crisis for anyone. For warriors, the wounds can run much deeper.

Through cycling, Ride 2 Recovery “makes a difference in the lives of healing heroes by providing life changing experiences that can help speed up the recovery and rehabilitation process.” A few weeks ago, they started their California Challenge ride at the VA Center in Palo Alto. It was cold that morning, but I rolled out of bed early to see them off on their 450 mile ride down the coast to Santa Monica. I wanted to see these courageous wounded warriors on their ingenious adaptive bicycles.

Ride 2 Recovery designs and builds adaptive bikes that it make it possible for almost any injured veteran to participate in the program. For a veteran who lost an arm, it might simply be adjusting the brake and shift levers to be one-handed. For veterans who cannot use their legs due to paralysis or have lost their legs, hand cycles get them rolling. For balance issues, recumbent trikes allow riders to lean back with their legs forward. Each bicycle is customized to the needs of the rider, and adjusted as the rider’s needs change through the training process.

Ride 2 Recovery hosts day and week-long ride challenges throughout the United States for wounded warriors as well as non-injured riders who raise money to support the program. The challenge rides let the injured veterans set individual goals while working in a group, and lets them accept help when needed. Sometimes a gentle push on a climb is all they need to reach the top.

Out of respect for their privacy, I didn’t talk to any of the injured veterans about their challenges: why they decided to do it, what were the biggest hurdles, how it’s changed them so far, what’s next for them. But we don’t need to know the details, do we? Even as outsiders we can imagine that it’s physically and emotionally hard every step of the way, that the rewards are boundless, and that the experience is transformative.

I cannot imagine that these wounded warriors see themselves in quite the same way after learning to ride a bike again as a double above-the-knee amputee or after being blinded–or both.

I was honored to have the opportunity to see them gather for the start of their 7-day challenge, and was humbled as I struggled to catch the group after it sped down Foothill Expressway. After seven miles I finally caught them, only to silently bid them adieu and wish them farewell on their long journey south.

What were your biggest challenges in bicycling? Has bicycling fundamentally changed your understanding of self, your beliefs, your life? Has bicycling been transformative for you?

Wounded Warrior 2

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Who’s Ready for Bike Fun?

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the online edition of the Mountain View Voice on May 22, 2013.

If you haven’t noticed it yet, Mountain View is a great city for riding bicycles. It’s flat so you don’t have to work hard climbing steep hills. It has mild temperatures: cool in the morning and evening and even at midday in the summer it’s rarely truly hot. And it doesn’t rain much, even in the winter, and when it does it’s rarely amounts to more than a drizzle.

We have beautiful creekside trails where you can relax and perhaps bird watch, neighborhood streets where you can wave to your neighbors out walking their dogs, and bike lanes along many of the streets with faster moving traffic. Together they can take you all over town to parks, schools, stores, restaurants, coffee shops and more in a city that’s only about 5 miles from end to end. That’s only 30 minutes for most people at a mellow cruising pace.

We are very fortunate indeed.

But it’s not always that easy to figure out how to get around town on a bike without a little help. Some streets are very stressful places to ride your bike and it’s not always obvious how to avoid them or find a better route to take to your destination. It’s not always obvious how to carry everything you need on your bike or how to park once you get there. So many details to think about!

That’s what “Bike Fun with Dick and Janet” is all about. Every week we’ll give you tricks of the trade to make your bike trips more enjoyable. We’ll help you find low stress bike routes for errands, give you fresh ideas for bike outings and show you how you can set your bike up for success. (Trust me, you can carry more on your bike than you can imagine.) We’ll even show you how to take your bikes on transit to increase your bike trip range.

Before we begin, I’d like to introduce us. My husband Dick and I live in Mountain View’s Rex Manor neighborhood, pretty much in the geographic center of town and a block away from Mountain View’s original “bike boulevard” on Montecito Avenue. We ride our bikes almost every day, for commuting to work, for doing errands, for visiting friends, for going out to dinner and for taking longer rides in the hills on the weekends. We’ve even taken overnight excursions to San Francisco and beyond.

It only seems natural that I met my husband Dick in a bike shop. Our first date 10 years ago was a bike date and our love of wheels turned into love ON wheels. We love everything about bikes: the wind in our faces, the slower pace that allows us to truly see and interact with places, and the way we feel better after even a short spin. But most of all–it’s FUN!

We look forward to having you come along with us for the ride.

Do you ride your bike around Mountain View? Where are your favorite places to go? Where do you wish you could go but don’t feel comfortable riding there? What does “Bike Fun” mean to you?

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