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 One week suddenly all these cherry blossoms had bloomed, and another week they were totally gone and had been replaced by thick green leaves.”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.”