Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dates Are Better on a Bike!

Last Friday night I combined a date with the Planner Guy with a  product test for review on Bike Shop Hub's blog Commute by Bike   Inspired by my husband's deep love of Oregano's pizza, we biked over to Milton Avenue and tested the Hybrid Backpack as a pizza carrier.  Why not?  Two great things, bikes and pizza, just might belong together.

We had quite a good time on this particular bike date and I'll tell you all about it and everything I discovered about the Hybrid Backpack in a soon to be written post, which I'll link to on SRAB.  Then I'll get back to my final post on our recent bike date in Los Gatos, CA.  I haven't forgotten; I've just been very busy.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lessons from San Jose to Los Gatos, Part II

I now return to my story of our bike trip from San Jose to Los Gatos, California. 

Eventually, we left large wide roads like this one . . . . and it did have a bike lane . . . .

and quiet suburban, residential streets like one . . . . and it also had a bike lane . . .

to streets like this when we got into Los Gatos . . . . that for the most part, did not have bike lanes.  I felt perfectly comfortable pedaling through traffic since cars are forced to travel at a slower speed since the streets of Los Gatos are not particularly wide and parked cars line sidewalks on each side.  My personal experience early on as a bike commuter is that I almost always prefer to bike in downtown traffic if the streets are narrow and on the busy side.  It might sound counter intuitive but I find that drivers are forced to pay more attention to what is going on around them.  I live on a wide suburban street that some engineer determined should be wide.  Unfortunately, too many drivers speed up and down the streets, even when taking curves.

So anyway, we found the town square and we took a short break to consult Google maps again and some of our winery literature, since we understood from Bob's sister and brother-in-law that some wineries were located nearby.  Indeed, there were three but they all required considerable pedaling on steep hills for quite a distance.  Even on light-weight bikes, the trip would be a challenge.

Bob pondered the revelation that we would need to pedal up very steep hills to reach the nearby wineries.  We were on 35 lbs bikes.  Could we do it?  I insisted, yes, yes, of course!  But . . .

The answer was NO!  The above photo cannot adequately convey just how long and steep would be the trek to one of the wineries.  This is how the most of the car handled the twists and turns up the hill.  We did make an attempt.  We hadn't pedaled that far when I accepted that after 10 miles, while the spirit was with me, the strength was not.  My willingness to throw in the towel actually shocked me since I DO live at 7000 feet in a hilly, mountain town.  How could this be?  Honestly, we considered about just walking our bikes up the road but we just kept thinking "what a great location for a gondola with a bike rack!".

Bob remembered that the Fleming Jenkins Winery had a shop just around the corner on West Main, so away we pedaled (downhill).  After a tasting, we purchased three bottles of wine and a tin of dark chocolates.  Very tasty.  The moral of the story, when you really, honestly can't take the unusually steep, twisty hill while on 35 lbs bikes just go have a nice glass of wine and don't get hung up on the Catholic (or Jewish) guilt.  This is especially true when on vacation.

Next post, we're on to late lunch on a Los Gatos patio.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Couple of Random Thoughts While on My Bike

View of the San Francisco Peaks from the bike path next to my neighborhood.
I'm really, really, really a city girl at heart.  It is where I feel the most at home - and the safest.  Nature by it's very nature scares me just a little.  Still, I have to admit (reluctantly) that the view of a snow covered mountain in late May is quite lovely.  I just wish the San Francisco Peaks were just a little bit closer to San Francisco.

A Little Later at the Railroad Crossing . . . .

I waited for the train to pass at the crossing of San Francisco and Route 66 and stared at this guys messenger bag.  Has he really been to all those places?  Heavy sigh . . . . . I gotta get out of town.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stuff People Who Ride Bikes Like - Community Gardens

I was pedaling through the Southside neighborhood yesterday when I came upon the Southside Community Garden filled with gardeners so I had to stop and snap a few pictures. 

About 8 or so people were busy at work turning soil and getting things in order for the garden season, which tends to be late and short at this elevation.  Hard at work they hardly took any notice of me and my camera.  That's the way gardening is; totally absorbing.

Was it any surprise some of the community gardeners arrived to work their plots on bikes?

Wonder if those who are exercising more transportation choices than just jumping in the car are also exercising more thoughtful choices about where their food comes from?  Are those choices based on health?  The economy?  More sustainable living?  Perhaps a touch of each.  I know we'll be throwing down our seeds and planting some starters in the next couple of weeks.  Nothing like fresh lettuce from your own garden.  Let me know what you think.

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.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bob and I were in Santa Fe, New Mexico for our fourth anniversary recently and stayed in the historic downtown, a Planner Guy's dream.  We took our little dogs, Jade and Ashby, along with their kennels to keep them safe and calm when they were by themselves in our hotel room so we didn't have room in the Element to take our bikes.  Too bad.  Downtown Santa Fe looks like a great place for getting around on a bicycle.  Despite the fact that we saw very few empty parking spaces along the sidewalks, we didn't see a lot of automobile traffic on the street.  Instead, people walk.  The Santa Fe streets and sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians; so much so that we were constantly walking around people. 

Maybe this is what happens when the buildings are eye-catching and constructed to last longer than 10 years and merchants maintain their establishments with window boxes and planters filled with flowers and are out sweeping the storefront and picking up stray litter throughout the day.  Traveling on foot is a pleasure then one has something beautiful to look at just around every corner.  Not to ignore the fact that a beautiful streetscape and architectural standards are cheap.  I don't doubt merchants and property owners are paying for it somehow, otherwise known as an investment in success.

In any case, the streets appeared to be very bike friendly and we saw numerous people on bicycles; many of whom appeared to be downtown workers, all very cycle chic. Unfortunately, I found spontaneous operation of a camera and managing an excited Smooth Fox Terrier on a leash nearly impossible didn't get in much photography.  I couldn't resist this old town bike we saw one night on our way to dinner. 

Someone does love this bike.

The horn confirms the enthusiasm of the owner.

And this might be the largest headlight I've ever seen on a bike. Doesn't look like a bike-specific light, does it?  Love to see just how bright it shines.  Anyway, if any readers are familiar with biking in Santa Fe, let me know what your experiences has been.  We didn't see any bike shops a near where we stayed and probably would have rented bikes had we seen any available.  Santa Fe definitely looks like a great town to explore on two-wheels.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Enough with the Whining about Gas Prices Already!

My life on a bike has been dull and uneventful for several months.  I haven't had much inspirational material to write about as I did when I worked downtown.  I only pedal about 8 minutes to work each day, almost a straight route from my suburban neighborhood up the road to the airport where I work.  I pass national forest on my way in and have an outstanding view of the San Francisco Peaks on my way home.  This sounds great, I know, but believe me, as a confirmed city girl, if you've seen one tree you've seen 'em all.  I really miss living around the corner from coffee shops, pubs and art galleries.  Speaking of corners, they should all come equipped with a decorative iron litter receptacle mounted to the sidewalk.

Living in land of the play dates and undeveloped lots that are frequently mistaken for "open space", I'm one of the few that does not climb into an over-sized SUV for each and every trip.  Even though I live less than 1/2 mile from work, many people are still surprised that I ride a bike to work.

Before anyone accuses me of being smug, I'd like to point out that my husband and I also choose to drive our car when it is more convenient for us, so we do have to fill up the gas tank at least once a month. Yes, we are quite aware that gas is more expensive than it was last year and that higher gas prices can drive up the cost of other items that we need to buy. We do not have anything even approaching unlimited financial resources so we are affected by higher has prices, but . . . we are not flipping out about higher gas prices.

I suspect that most regular readers of and new visitors SRAB are not flipping out about the price of gas either because they have rejected the following refrains:
  • "Oh, people will never do that'";
  • "That's just not what Americans will do''";
  • "Americans need their cars.";
  • "You can't tell Americans not to drive.", or my personal favorite;
  • "That won't work here."?
When do we get to start having a real, lasting conversation about more sustainable, economical and healthier transportation options outside of the blogosphere?  Those tired excuses for doing the same old stupid thing are themselves so stupid that I'm at a loss as to how to effectively respond when I hear them.  Am I not American?  Didn't I go from complete car dependence to become an experienced rider and enthusiastic fan of public transit?  I could be wrong but I'm pretty sure that if forced to go car-free, we'd manage with our bikes and ingenuity. 

I try not to indulge too many political rants on this blog but I'm just so tired of all the whining.  And embarrassed.  I wonder how it sounds to our fellow Americans who have never had any other option but to live car-free?  I have occasionally heard of these car-free people referred to as "the invisible" - the people that we pretend not to see.  They sell us fries in the drive-thru or clean up our office after we leave at 5.  They are the people who traditionally do what they have to do to make ends meet, often the things upwardly mobile Americans were told they would never do or assured that they will never have to do.  So now that the upwardly are increasingly finding themselves the downwardly (did I just make up a word?), would this be a convenient time to begin taking a look at what American can and will do to confront challenges like gas prices that go up and down and a standard of living that will not likely match that of our parents?  I don't recall a time in my lifetime when ALL of us have been asked to do something really big and hard for the betterment of our country but I understand from my grandparents, now deceased, that they were.  If they were alive today, I'd love to ask them if they recall a whole lot of whining about it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Product Review: The Xootr Crossrack - Where No Pannier Has Gone Before

The Xootr Crossrack attached to a Dahon Eco3.
Where have I been?  Wouldn't you like to know?!  Okay, okay . . . . I've been to Santa Fe with my husband for our 4th anniversary and working on some non-bikey projects around the house that have just kept me generally busy.  Not too so busy to keep me off my bikes, however.  Or so busy that I haven't had time to review a really cool product for Commute by Bike.  The Xootr Crossrack is like no other bike rack you've ever used and it's perfect for carting around your stuff on a folding bike.  Check out my review here: 


The Xootr with a Detours pannier attached.
I really enjoyed testing the Crossrack, especially since I've been following Russ and Laura of the Path Less Pedaled and their preparations for another cross country bike tour, this time on Brompton folding bikes!  The Crossrack definitely got me thinking about my Dahon's touring potential, now greatly enhanced.