20 Years of Bike to Work Day

Ken Eichstaedt in SF, by Natalie Orenstein

Ken Eichstaedt has always biked to work – even when “work” meant simple arithmetic problems and playground games of kickball. The Marin County native treasures a photograph of his four-year-old self bundled up in a hooded coat, pedaling a tricycle. By age seven, Ken’s primary and preferred mode of transportation was the bicycle – and decades later nothing has changed.

Now a civil engineer in San Francisco, Ken has participated in all 20 Bike to Work Days. For Ken, cycling is the panacea. It’s his doctor, his desk, his social life, his gym.

“You can ride a bike and it can solve all your problems,” he explains. “You’re trying to contemplate something? Ride a bike. You’re trying to save money? Ride a bike. You’re trying to lose weight? Want to meet people? Want to treat the environment right? Ride a bike.”

Ken has been biking to his job in San Francisco from his home in Marin for 24 years. He’s lived in Mill Valley, in Fairfax, and now in the tiny community of Olema, so his commute has grown with each move. But he still manages to bike a significant portion of it most mornings, averaging more than 20 miles a day.

Since much of the workday is spent in meetings, Ken especially values the company of other cyclists during the commute. He meets up with his companions in Greenbrae and they ride into the city together.

“We get a good chin wag in, have safety in numbers, and ride responsibly by waiting at lights and riding single file when conditions dictate,” he says. Together, the crew logged over 5,000 bike trips to the city in 2013.

Of course, not everyone has the time or stamina to bike 100 miles a week. And Ken – the former president of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, a past member of the Caltrain Bike Advisory Committee, and a major force in the successful effort to get bike lanes in Sausalito – knows this. Really.

“What I try to encourage people to do is, just go to the grocery store,” he says. “You don’t need to wear special gear, you don’t need a fancy bike. Do a two-mile bike trip and you’ll be amazed.”

Ken had the fortune of meeting former Palo Alto mayor Ellen Fletcher shortly before she died in 2012. In her 80s, Fletcher encouraged her friends at her retirement home to hop on bikes.

“People like that, they help you see another way about things,” he says.

Ken himself takes the ferry home after a long day at work, and endorses riding a bike to public transit.
“There isn’t any place in the Bay Area you can’t get to non-motorized,” he says. “You do have to do a little bit of preplanning, which I think is a healthy thing.”

As the toddler on the tricycle, or the kid riding to elementary schools, it wasn’t the promise of lost weight or saved money that got Ken pedaling.

“It was the sense of freedom,” he remembers. “It’s still the same way. When I ride across the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning, I feel totally blessed. Independence is the big thing.”

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