Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lessons from San Jose to Los Gatos, Part I


Of course, I've heard all the talk about California drivers and the west coasts car culture but I never really understood it until I'd experienced it by bicycle.  Not to criticize, mind you. Bob and I just got back from a five day visit and explored the San Jose, Santa Cruz and Carmel area by both bike and car.  We really do love California; truly is the land of milk and honey and we hate leaving it.  The driving style though is pretty aggressive. 

Although I had planned some months ago to take my little Dahon with us on the trip, we decided against it this time since my sister-in-law and her husband have bikes that we could use while we were there.  As it turned out her bike is a later version of my Specialized Expedition u-frame so there were no surprises.  After  briefly scoping out the area by car on Saturday, we decided to spend Sunday pedaling from the Almaden section of San Jose to Los Gatos.  Our intention was to visit some wineries for wine tasting.   The best laid plans . . . .

We struggled to find a good bike route.  Certainly, it seemed that in there would be a well-linked series of bike lanes and multi-use paths linking the city to the surrounding wine country.  Our recent experience in San Francisco had proved that large city to be exceptionally easy to navigate by bike, even with those notorious hills.  We found a bike route on-line but we had traveled it by car and that a significant portion was a twisting, narrow, drag-way, without a bike lane.  My in-laws cautioned against using that section of the route to get to Los Gatos, and of course questioned the feasibility of 20 mile distance there and back.  After multiple unsuccessful on-line searches, I remembered the bike route feature that I've rarely used on Google maps.  Cha-ching!  We were able to replace the twisting, drag-way with a parallel course through residential streets and short cut-throughs on a major road with nice, wide bike lanes.


The route turned out to be excellent.  We biked through streets lined with modest but attractive ranch houses with lovingly tended gardens.  On a longer ride, I definitely appreciate having beautiful sights to distract.


While Bob periodically consulted our printed out Google map . . .


I inspected the flora and missed having a garden in which virtually everything I planted thrived.


As this is National Bike Month, and also Bike to Work Week in Flagstaff, where I live, I'd like to mention that if you are new to biking as a form of transport or are considering giving it a try, planning out an advance route is a smart first step.  Many people ask me if biking on the street scares me at all and to be quite truthful, at first, the idea really did give me a little anxiety.  One of the first suggestions that I listened to when I began my experiment in bike commuting, was to create route for myself that I felt comfortable negotiating. Replacing race-track-like commercial streets that lack bike lanes with calmer residential streets was a perfect solution for me to gain comfort on road, bicycling skills and avoid unnecessary risks on streets that were designed with only the needs of cars in mind.  


One thing I noticed about our trip to Los Gatos was that the bike lanes did not accommodate left turns.  Given the unfamiliarity of the area streets and the speed at which many of the drivers traveled, Bob and I made most of our left turns by using the crosswalks.  This is not my favorite method of making turns, since I usually prefer going with traffic.  Unfortunately, I didn't have the added security of a rear view mirror attached to my handlebar so using the crosswalks felt like the best solution.  Writing this, I don't mean to dwell on the idea that one needs to be afraid on a bicycle.  I'm not afraid and you don't have to be either but just as when I'm behind the wheel of a car, I always try to drive in a way that, within the legal limits, makes me feel comfortable.  Whether I am on a bike or driving a car, I try to travel in the method that I can best manage.

In my next post, I'll share more about our bike trip from San Jose to Los Gatos, what we found there and some thoughts I had that might be helpful for those new to bike commuting.

5 comments:

Sharlene Washington said...

You were in my stomping grounds! I live in Campbell and am out on those devilish streets on my bike almost daily. I know what you are talking about. Look forward to hearing about your experiences here.

inspiredcyclist said...

Using googlemaps bike route...what a smart idea! Glad it worked out positively for you!

She Rides a Bike said...

Once I decided to turn to Google Maps I felt pretty dumb that I hadn't thought of using it earlier when we were struggling to find a route!

Rachel said...

Certain parts of California are better than others when it comes to biking. I live in Los Angeles and the city planning commission is really trying to improve the bike lane situation down here.

Looks like you had a nice ride, though.

She Rides a Bike said...

Oh, the ride was really enjoyable once we found a way to get around the not very bike friendly drag-ways. I best part was having so many beautiful gardens to look at and interesting places to ride through.