New Bike Commuter Shares Her Story

Emily Brotman by Natalie Orenstein

When after school instructor Emily Brotman rolls into the schoolyard on her bike each afternoon, her curious fourth grade students swarm around her, asking questions and admiring her bike.

Serving as a roll (er, role) model to her impressionable students is just one of the many benefits Emily has reaped from biking to work. The recent college graduate only began riding from her apartment in the Castro to Francis Scott Key Elementary School in the Sunset about a month ago, when Daylight Savings Time made the evening commute much more pleasant.

Before she started biking, Emily would endure two 50-minute muni rides per day. Cycling has cut her commute in more than half. Now she takes a pleasant four-mile ride on the Wiggle (the city’s popular mile-long bike path) and through Golden Gate Park.

“It’s beautiful,” she says. “It’s fun to see the plants changing. One week suddenly all these cherry blossoms had bloomed, and another week they were totally gone and had been replaced by thick green leaves.”
Seasonal change is something Emily missed out on growing in Singapore. The Bay Area native learned to ride a bike in Palo Alto, but spent most of her formative years in Asia. She returned to California to go to Pomona
College near Los Angeles, in another relatively consistent climate zone.

Because the driving age is 18 in Singapore, Emily never got a driver’s license. Traversing San Francisco by foot was fun, but her ability to truly explore her new hometown was significantly hindered. When she bought her current bike – from a man who fixes dead bikes and sells them for nominal amounts – San Francisco opened up to her.

“Suddenly the city is much more within my reach,” Emily says. Biking has given her “a really different sense of the size and accessibility of San Francisco.”

Take her favorite destination, Scrap, a warehouse in Bayview that sells recycled art materials.

“I always had this idea that it was out in the middle of nowhere, because it’s in this industrial area,” she says. “When I’d go there by bus I’d have to budget 40 minutes or more because you don’t know how long you have to wait for a bus. I biked there the other day and I went through a pretty part of the Mission I’d never seen before. It was so easy and I couldn’t believe how close it was.”

Despite how recently Emily began biking regularly, her new routine has already had tangible effects.
“I feel like I’m actually developing muscle for the first time in my life,” she says. “I notice myself getting stronger and being able to go faster without taking breaks.” She surprised herself by soaring over a particularly challenging hill by her apartment in one go the other day.

Like many cyclists, Emily has figured out the value of a bike buddy. Her coworker bikes behind her during their commute, challenging her to keep pace and push herself.

Emily insists that it’s easy to become a bike commuter, regardless of one’s experience (or lack thereof) on a bike. Just take a moment to familiarize yourself with the established bike paths and map out the safest, flattest routes, she says.

“You get the sense of accomplishment of having powered yourself from Point A to Point B,” she says.
Will she eventually trade her two wheels in for four? Unlikely.

“I don’t see myself getting a license,“ she says. “No matter where I am, if I’m in a city that’s relatively bikeable, I’m going to try to make it work.”

Bike to Work Day and SF2G Commuter

Brett Lider, by Mai Le

"It's the closest thing to flying that I can experience on a daily basis. It's fast, efficient, and empowering. It keeps me healthy."

With such enthusiasm for biking, it isn't surprising that for the past 14 years, Brett Lider has celebrated Bike to Work Day.

Brett works in UX at Google, so it’s an impressive one-way trip of 40 miles from his home in San Francisco's Mission District to the office in Mountain View. (To be effective at work, he takes the Google shuttle home.) And he’s not a solo cycler: as a co-founder of the SF2G cycling club, he’s encouraged coworkers to bike commute by leading the monthly ride down the peninsula for the past nine years.

Brett started biking to work in 2005. It took some planning, but at least once a month, he and some colleagues would meet at a local coffee shop and bike together, trying out different routes, along the Bayway. Soon, a website was set up and SF2G was born.

Workers at other companies on the peninsula started inquiring about the Googlers’ routes asking if they could ride along. What began with seven bike commuters on their first Bike to Work Day in 2005 ballooned to 500 by 2013. The media has noticed and in 2012, news helicopters followed the cohort on their Bike to Work Day commute as they cycled from SF down the peninsula. SF2G has flourished, in part, because companies in Silicon Valley, such as Google, offer shuttles with bike racks, a flexible work day, access to showers and space for bike storage. This infrastructure supports active transportation, as long as employees are willing to do the hard work of pedaling.

Brett's love of cycling started at an early age with his parents encouraging his need for constant motion.

"From as long as I can remember, I was hungry for the speed that wheels gave me,” Brett says. “I had pushcarts as a toddler, a big wheel, and as soon as possible, a bicycle. So I guess I can thank my parents for overcoming their protective urges and providing me with the technology to move at speeds no child was engineered to reach."

Brett never grew out of his need for speed.

"I was a huge fan of riding my BMX bike on dirt and dirt trails. That got me into mountain biking as a teenager and despite the allure of cars, I mountain biked all through high school and got into road cycling in college. So I guess you could say that I never stopped being into bikes," he says.

If Brett isn't on a bike you can see him urban hiking the hills of SF or on a traditional hike in the Bay Area.

"I like to go on long hikes in the Bay Area, such as a McKnee Ranch to San Francisco coastal hike we did a year or so ago," he says.

Brett's founding of SF2G and his lifetime of cycling has made him a cheerleader of both transportation policy (he's gone to public meetings in support of completing the SF Bay Trail) and of those interested in bike commuting. To hold true to SF2G's policy of "no rider left behind," members of SF2G place (water soluble) arrows along the "best" route from SF to the Google campus in the days leading up to Bike to Work Day. The arrows are invaluable in keeping novice bike commuters on the easiest route down the peninsula and in ensuring that pedal power is the only concern of the day.

Brett promises that bike commuting is not an exclusive endeavor.

"Despite the fact that I'm obviously a bit of dedicated cyclist, SF2G and Bike to Work Day is not for people like me, it's for everyone!" he says.

Team Bike Challenge 2013

Kaiser Permanente cyclists
Mai Le —

In a fierce competition to bike as many commute miles as possible while racking up points that depend on an algorithm of team work and amount of trips taken; Bike to Work Day’s 2013 Team Bike Challenge broke records as 7249 Bay Area commuters rode over a million miles in May.

There were a record number of 1029 teams with 7249 individuals registered as part of 2013’s Team and Company Bike Challenges. This was a large jump from the 4,425 registered in 2012. Additionally, 356 companies participated in Company Bike Challenge, 30% more than 2012’s 249. A total of 1,126,332 miles were biked, a leap over 2012’s 701,710 miles during the same time period. The distance ridden was enough to circle the world 45 times over while saving 563 tons of CO2 and peddling 69,229,154 worth of calories.

Regional winners represent the wide range of bicycling enthusiasts in the Bay Area. Santa Clara County’s Tsunami of Hurt, was number 1 in both the regional and county team bike challenge contests with an impressive 462 points and 3,611.4 miles; second place in the region goes to Santa Clara County’s KTCC 7 with 456 points and an awe-inspiring 6,103.6 miles; San Francisco County’s Partycar.com blew everyone away by bicycling 8,466 miles throughout the month, coming in third place with 445 points. Partycar.com, also had the two highest mileage individuals on their team: Ramesh G rode 2,646.6 miles and Peter Chang, 2,394.0 miles. Taking third place in the individual contest, Daniel Ferriera of overall number 1 team, Tsunami of Hurt, cycled 2,133.3 miles.

In Company Bike Challenge, Apple in Santa Clara continued their domination. Consistently winning first place since 2010, in the large company category, they beat out the other 98 large companies in their category. Employees cycled 43,079 miles and earned 4,905 points. In the medium company category, Sun Light & Power of Alameda County covered 7,132 miles, winning 1,066 points. In the small company category, kW Engineering won with 2,729 miles, 509 points, and their ace in the hole, 1074 total trips.

This year’s interest and participation of both individuals and companies in increasing their bicycle commuting through a month-long challenge competition speaks to the Bay Area’s commitment to active transportation and the health benefits of bicycling.

The San Francisco Bay Area's 2013 Team Bike Challenge is a program of Bike to Work Day and is made possible through the generous support of: 511.org, Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and Kaiser Permanente. Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Clif Bar, Beyond Pix, Typekit, Balance Bar, Adobe, Revolights, REI, Public Bikes, Joshu Vela, ModCloth, and MonkeyLectric provide additional support for Bike to Work Day.

@ICC Sevathon
Mai Le —

(April 16, 2013) In less than a month, tens of thousands of Bay Area commuters will take to the road and trails as part of San Francisco Bay Area’s 19th Annual Bike to Work Day. On Thursday, May 9th, the largest event in California that encourages bike commuting as a fun, affordable form of transportation that supports better health every day takes place throughout the nine counties. Over the last 19 years, Bike to Work Day has put more people on the road to bike commuting than any other event in the Bay Area.

Presented by 511.org, MTC and Kaiser Permanente, Bike to Work Day is the largest of many events during National Bike Month in May. Events include Team Bike Challenge where teams clock miles biked during May for a chance to win prizes and bragging rights. A Bike Commuter of the Year award is presented in each county for dedicated commuters, these individuals are inspiring bicycling in their community by example. (Nominations close April 22nd.)

Biking to work is a great way to get physical activity in before a workday. In addition to the heart health benefits, a Japanese study in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health showed that men engaged in leisure-time exercise and cycling during commuting to work may be associated with better mental health.

Employers also benefit by encouraging employees to bike to work. Biking to work builds morale, reduces the number of sick days and the demand for car parking. Bike to Work Day will see hundreds of volunteers staff energizer stations throughout the SF Bay Area, offering complimentary refreshments, official reusable canvas bags, bicycle information and encouragement to push on.

Throughout May and on May 9th community events will be held by local bicycle coalitions and traffic congestion agencies throughout San Francisco, Sonoma, Solano, Napa, East Bay, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Silicon Valley and Alameda counties. For a complete list of stations and to register for a chance to win a Public Bikes bike, a Joshu Vela bag with MonkeyLectric lights or a ModCloth gift certificate visit the Bike to Work Day website.

Mai Le —

As part of a series highlighting riders that biked an incredible amount of miles during Team Bike Challenge and National Bike Month, we are publishing a series of questions from top riders throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Jeff Fishel is a bike mechanic at Cyclepath in Hayward and has been an active participant in Bike to Work Day for a number of years, consistently manning Energizer Stations and taking part in other aspects of National Bike Month. Biking 1,811.4 miles in May, he garnered the highest mileage in Alameda County and the second highest mileage in the San Francisco Bay Area region. His high point score of 93 attests to how many trips he took and the time spent on his saddle that went into garnering this impressive feat.

Where do you work, or what type of work do you do?

I work at Cyclepath bicycle shop in Hayward, as a mechanic. Is this the first time you've participated in the Challenge? (Please elaborate.) This was my first time participating in the Challenge, though I have been involved in BTWD throughout the last 7 or so years, helping with energizer stations, and various other aspects of Bike to Work Month.

What motivated you to start bicycling?

I started riding extensively as a teenager, really picking up cycling after a sports-related knee injury. I was hooked on the freedom it provided, and amazed at the accessibility it afforded me. Cycling vastly increased my physical horizons, opening up the world quite a bit. Suddenly I could get places I hadn't even known about previously. I still feel a sense of wonder when I consider what is possible by simply riding a bike.

What type of bike do you ride?

Mostly a carbon Jamis road bike for my longer commutes, but also a steel Jamis hardtail (it's super fun and easy to combine some trails with roads to liven up the commute) and an 80's beater bike for short errands or trips where I need to lock my bike up outside.

Did you bike every day?

Yup, at least 20 miles a day, averaging over 58 daily, and more than 120 hours of saddle time for the month.

Do you have a fitness/cycling motto?

It's always a beautiful day to ride; also "Shut up legs!!" -- Jens Voigt

What do you attribute your success in the Challenge to?

There are a plethora of great, bike-friendly roads in the East Bay, and I was able to vary my route to and from work considerably to avoid urban traffic and getting bored. It's great to be able to avoid riding straight through Oakland and ride by or through some of the great regional parks we have. I have to say also it was made easier by having a comfortable, well-fitted and properly maintained bicycle. During the month I had two punctures, but no mechanical problems otherwise. It can be incredibly frustrating to complete roadside repairs.

How did you keep up your motivation this month?

I try to advocate for more bike riding, less driving (I've been car-free for about 2 years), and thought it would be interesting to see just how much I could ride, and if I could use my bike exclusively for the month (no BART, no buses). I also have a goal to complete the Climb to Kaiser at the end of June, so I included a lot of climbing in my routes; I also appreciated the side benefit of slimming down considerably during the month, while eating anything and everything I wanted.

What is the best thing about being #1 in your county?

It was just fun to be part of such a rich cycling culture, sharing the roads with so many others pedaling to make the world just a bit nicer. I also developed some really cool tan lines.

Thank you Jeff! You are an inspiration to all of us who are committed to living car free in the Bay Area.

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