Biking is Constant

Aparna Jain by Natalie Orenstein

It’s been a year of transitions for Aparna Jain. She left her job at Zynga to work at the Fox Network and she moved with her husband from Mountain View to the Bay Meadows housing development in San Mateo.

The constant throughout all the change? Aparna’s bike.

The software engineer began biking at the age of six in rural India, where she lived until she came to California to get a Master’s in Computer Science at the University of Southern California. There, her bike gave her access to the massive campus and to a totally new environment. Now she brings it with her on Caltrain each morning and bikes the rest of the way to work from the station in San Francisco, significantly cutting her commute time by avoiding walking.

And once or twice a week, Aparna wakes up early and pedals with a few friends all 24 miles between San Mateo and the city.

Although she’s a seasoned cycler, getting out of bed and biking for two hours before work didn’t come entirely naturally for Aparna. “Since I moved here I had been thinking of riding, and every day I’d say, ‘Next time, next time,’” Aparna remembers. “One day we just said, ‘OK, you better be there at 7 a.m.!’ It’s a hard commitment but if you have company, that helps a lot.”

As soon as she got into the new routine, Aparna began “craving” the morning rides. “It’s more of a stress-buster than a commute,” she says.

And probably the prettiest stress-buster around.

“One of the really interesting routes we took was the Bay Trail,” Aparna says. “I took the train to Milbrae and from there went to the SFO area. There’s a nice stretch of the Bay Trail which is about 45 minutes to an hour, and it was so beautiful. You bike along the bay and you see planes flying in and out, and the ocean and people fishing and running. There’s no traffic so it’s just a peaceful route.” And she still got to the office in time to shower and eat breakfast before settling into work.

Aparna figures biking is good for herself and her surroundings. “I’m not burning any fuel – just the extra calories!” she says.

She doesn’t limit her adventures to the work week. Recently, she and her husband took their bikes to Monterey’s 17-Mile Drive. “It was just a different world on our bikes,” Aparna said. “We’ve been there in cars, and you can stop and get out, but it’s not the same at all. A bike doesn’t have windows – you’re always actually experiencing the moment.” Plenty of her best commutes and bike trips wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t spotted a hidden trailhead or new route while on her bike.

Aparna’s advice to new bikers is to find people to ride with.

“It’s a lot more fun. You can discuss your ride and learn from them,” she says. “I have friends who do longer rides so I’ve taken inspiration from them and become a stronger, better biker. Especially when we do something like Twin Peaks. Those are nasty climbs, but it’s so fulfilling to reach the top of the mountain. And you’re 40 miles an hour coming down.”

Aparna appreciates that her housing complex encourages residents to make even simple trips to the grocery store by bike. And she cites resources like REI’s free tune-up classes as crucial. Support is out there, she says.

If you’re in San Mateo or San Francisco on Bike to Work Day, look out for Aparna and her cohort.

“I really like the spirit of Bike to Work Day,” she says. “I’m making sure I have my morning clear!”

Bike to Work Day Volunteer

Jean Kao, by Bonnie Walton

Jean Kao is a longtime San Francisco Bicycle Coalition member and volunteer. She volunteers at many of the SF Bike Coalition’s fundraising events, but there's one event in particular she is excited to be a part of year after year. Bike to Work Day is one of Jean's favorite events, where she has volunteered for the past six years.

Jean started volunteering because she had such a positive experience bike commuting, seven years ago on Bike to Work Day. “My first Bike to Work Day in 2007 was so much fun - bagels and coffee and happy volunteers - that next year I decided I wanted to return the favor and help cheer on those cyclists myself.”

Wanting to share cheer and encouragement with cyclists is what has kept Jean motivated to volunteer and she celebrates this year, her sixth, volunteering at an evening Energizer Station on May 8th.

Beyond the positive experience she has had as a bike commuter, the camaraderie and joy she feels and spreads while manning an Energizer Station during Bike to Work Day keeps Jean coming back. “Everyone is excited to talk to passing cyclists. It's also a lot of fun to step aside and watch the commute from the sidelines. As someone who's usually in the scrum, you don't really get to see the big picture. It's really amazing to see how many cyclists are commuting to work now, and the variety of bikes and styles is incredible. Also, the cyclists themselves are so happy to get snacks and goodies. It's nice to bring a smile to someone's face.”

When Jean isn’t donating volunteer hours to the SF Bicycle Coalition, she is organizing bike tours and camping trips as one of the principal organizers of the NorCal Bicycle Touring and Camping Meetup. “We’re just a group of people who love touring by bike and organize trips to explore the local area - or even further.”

If you’re thinking of possibly volunteering on Bike to Work Day, Jean would like to share this advice: “It's fun! It's easy! Think of it more like a social where you can hang out with other cyclists with a tiny bit of "work." One piece of real advice is dress in layers. I usually work the evening shift and it gets cold as the sun goes down.”

Ridden on Bike to Work Day before? Felt the love from the Energizer Stations? Want to help spread that love? Consider volunteering on May 8th! It takes hundreds of volunteers to make Bike to Work Day a success.

Sign up to volunteer for Bike to Work Day with your local bicycle advocacy organization:

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The Changing Face of Biking in SF

Lorraine Goodwin, by Mai Le

When Lorraine Goodwin moved to San Francisco in 2004, she made a conscious decision to ride her refurbished 1980s-era Piaggio to BART and bike to her job (at the time in Oakland). Keeping up this habit has been easy and this year she will celebrate a decade of participating in Bike to Work Day.

Moving to San Francisco from her Long Island hometown, meant that Lorraine never got in the habit of driving a car, though she has her driver’s license. Living in the Mission District means that most of her cycling, especially for errands, are on flat terrain. She finds that, more often than not, her ride home through the streets of SF is often downhill.

Now, Lorraine works at the Asian Art Museum, where her commute is a quick 1.7 miles down Valencia Street, onto Market Street and into the Civic Center. It helps that the Asian Art Museum supports bicycling as a commute option by providing secure bike parking in the basement of the building, as well as commuter checks with a bike commuter benefit.

Lorraine bikes everyday, no matter the weather and will often bike 10-15 miles a day, depending on what social and recreational activities she may have planned. Living an active lifestyle in San Francisco has made it a convenient necessity to make use of pedal power. Muni and BART just doesn’t cover the City enough to reach every dive bar, art gallery, or pop-up restaurant that she’s interested in trying.

Often her planned itinerary for the evening means she is hitting up several galleries in different neighborhoods, situated miles from each other. Biking is always the most time and economically efficient option. Biking lets Lorraine see more of her City in a deep and comprehensive way. “Biking is the most efficient way to get around SF. No waiting for Muni/BART, no need to find a parking spot…plus, it's a great way to enjoy the city, it's good exercise, and it's fun!”

Riding the streets of SF for a decade has allowed Lorraine to see the progress in SF bike infrastructure firsthand. She rode on Valencia Street before bike lanes and the green wave were implemented, she embraced the Wiggle and the bike path through the Panhandle, she donated to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition when bike corrals proliferated all over town, she applauded the greening and protected lane of Oak Street, rejoiced in the victory of lifting the time restriction on bikes on BART and looks forward to the day that bicycling down Polk Street will feel more secure.

Though the City’s bike infrastructure has changed for the better in the last decade, one thing that hasn’t changed is the San Francisco bicycling community. The people have always inspired Lorraine to keep on with her pedal power. When she first moved to the City, she was friends with bike messengers “…who spurred me on.”

She continues that tradition by inspiring and encouraging others to do the same by her own year-round biking lifestyle. You can often see Lorraine biking with her husband and close friends to events throughout San Francisco. And in case you’re curious about biking, she’d like you to consider this: “There’s a lot of camaraderie along the bike routes -- bikers look out for one another.”

If you’re thinking of participating in Bike to Work Day for the first time this year, she has this advice for you: “Start with finding the best bike route/lanes to your work place using the bike maps put out by SFBC. You'll see that it's easier and more fun than you could have imagined. Give it a go!"

Bike Commuting in Oakland

Ali Aronstam, by Natalie Orenstein

Almost one year after graduating from college, Ali Aronstam is beginning to figure it out. She has a job as an Americorps member at West Oakland Middle School’s health center, and she’s found a cozy place to live just within her budget. But it’s Ali’s bicycle, which she rides to work most days, that is primarily to thank for her newfound sense of independence.

“There’s a special kind of gratification for getting yourself somewhere, for propelling yourself there,” Ali says. “It’s self-sufficiency.”

The four-mile commute from her Rockridge abode to the school takes just under half an hour, providing ample time for observation and reflection. “I work somewhere that’s pretty different from where I live, so it’s helpful to not just hop in a car and get out somewhere different,” she explains. “I can see the city transform, and go through different neighborhoods.”

Cycling is also “a nice way to appreciate Oakland and Berkeley,” says Ali, a Palo Alto native who went to school in Southern California. “When I’d just moved here, I really liked to bike and scope out the place. I’d get a little lost every day and it was a nice way to get to know my surroundings.”

Because she was new to the area, Ali, who doesn’t own a car, spent a chunk of time poring over maps and figuring out which streets were bike-friendly. She became so attached to certain bikeways such as Shafter Ave.’s and Woolsey St.’s, that the few times she did get behind a car wheel, she would have to remind herself that she couldn’t drive on them.

Ali was lucky enough to have parents who required her to ride regularly beginning at a young age. Although she resented their insistence at first, by high school her bike had become a part of her identity. Years later, it’s still her preferred mode of transportation; as a health educator, it’s important for her to know that she can model the behavior she promotes. “These days I choose to bike a lot because sometimes it’s the only time I know I’ll get to be outside and be active,” she says.

Ali still feels more comfortable on a bike than she does in a car, but she knows that riding in an urban area for the first time can be intimidating. “You have to give yourself some extra time, but it’s doable,” she says. “If you map out your route and try to find as many bikeways as possible, you’re set.”

Plus, she says, there are countless perks: cyclists save money they’d otherwise spend on gas, and they don’t have to worry about parking. Last week, when a car catastrophe made Ali miss a concert, she was reminded of yet another benefit of biking. “My bike has no chance of coming up with a dead battery!” she says.

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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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