Archive for the ‘Commute Excuses’ Category

Excuses, Excuses! The Weather

July 7, 2010

Early commuters. Cyclists ride through Napindan on their way to work in Taguig, Metro Manila.


In the Bay Area we can’t complain about the weather as a reason to avoid the bike commute. Still, some do. They say it’s too hot, too cold, or it rains. Ask people living in Minneapolis or Manila about too cold or too hot. They have a legitimate excuse.

Even though Manila, Philippines, has some of the worst possible weather for bike riding, horrendous traffic, and air pollution, bikes are everywhere to be seen. If you think it’s because the riders are environmentally aware, you need your head examined.

The only reason most anyone rides a bike in Manila is because it’s affordable. Filipinos do ride bikes for pleasure though. On the recently opened C6 you can see cyclists out riding for enjoyment at 6 a.m. Riding is bearable in the early morning and after a rainstorm.

Next time you’re complaining about the Bay Area’s weather, think for a moment about the less hospitable places on the planet. The Bay Area is Shangrila.

Excuses, Excuses! It’s Too Far

June 19, 2010

Up to 6 bikes can ride on a VTA light rail car (VTA photo)

A common refrain about not riding to work includes “I live too far away.” However, most people don’t live too far from work, if you believe the studies.

My rule is that I live within one hour of work, which could include taking public transit.

What many people don’t consider is combining public transportation with cycling. Now there are limits, for sure, but if you can get to work in an hour using public transit and cycling, go for it.

All public transit agencies in the Bay Area accommodate bikes, but the service varies. Caltrain offers a place to store your bike on board, as does VTA (Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority) light rail in the South Bay, but BART doesn’t allow bikes during peak commute hours. Almost all buses have bike racks. Even ferries take bikes.

For two years I took an express bus on El Camino Real between Palo Alto and Sunnyvale to get to work. Most of the time there was plenty of seating, and there was always room for my bike. Only once or twice the bus broke down or didn’t show up, so it was reliable transportation.

A benefit of taking public transit is that you have time to read, listen to music, sleep, or watch the world go by. When you’re driving you don’t have that luxury. Public transportation is also safer than driving.

Excuses, Excuses! Traffic

June 14, 2010

San Tomas Expressway in Campbell


Most people who don’t ride a bike on weekdays complain about car traffic. Yes, it’s bad everywhere, but if you leave early, or late, you can avoid the rush hour.

I leave between 7:00 and 7:15. I’ve noticed that there’s a lot more traffic at 7:15 than at 7:00. This avoids the rush hour, which generally runs from 7:30 – 9:30.

You can leave around 9:45 or later, to avoid traffic, if you like to work late.

Leaving early brings huge advantages. You ride when it’s cool, the bathrooms at work will be empty, there won’t be as much wind, you get off earlier when there won’t be as much traffic on the return trip, and it won’t be dark in the winter on the ride home. Of course, if you live in Alaska, you’re out of luck.

The worst time for early riding is before daylight saving time, when it’s dark in the morning at 7 a.m.

Excuses, Excuses! Flat Tires

June 10, 2010

Fatti-o tires are much less likely to flat than a narrow racing tire.


If you’re riding to work and don’t want to have a flat, you can take precautions by using the appropriate tire and tube, along with other inserts. A bus driver, for example, who can’t be late for work, would be wise to have tires that won’t go flat. Believe it or not, a U.S. company, Legacy, makes “solid” or “tubeless” tires. Another website that sells tubeless tires is Bikemania. There are probably more.

Other precautions you can take include heavy tubes, Kevlar tires, liquid sealants, and plastic liners.

As a commuter, you better learn how to fix a flat, because it’s inevitable. Most cyclists don’t know how to fix a flat. Even when you can fix a flat, it’s a chore for bikes without a quick release, three-speeds, and bikes with fenders: All the more reason to use solid tires, if you’re a commuter who wants hassle-free riding.

Most flats happen on the rear tire, because debris kicked up by the front tire winds up under the rear tire. I do not subscribe to wire scrapers that glide over the tire and supposedly catch debris before it can embed itself.

If you do flat and you have absolutely no other option, you can ride. I’ve ridden a flat tire up to four miles with no serious damage to rim or tire. Your results may vary.

Here’s a matrix that will help you determine your tire and tube needs.

  No Flats Occasional Flats Flats a Way of Life
Tube Heavy* Standard or heavy Standard
Tire Legacy solid Kevlar reinforced or Mtn bike Standard
Other Plastic liner Sealant  —-

* None if Legacy airless tire

Excuses, Excuses! It’s Dangerous

June 7, 2010

Insulting signs like this one on Page Mill Road typify hostility to cycling. Greg McQuaid photo post.


Perhaps the most popular excuse: “Riding to work is dangerous.” It gets a qualified, “you’re right.”

We need only look at the crazed motorist in San Francisco who mowed down four cyclists on Thursday, June 3, as evidence. What’s more disturbing, and does not surprise me, is the public reaction. Some 54 percent expressed outrage, but 23 percent laughed or were thrilled by the incident, according to an NBC Bay Area web poll.

I’ll never forget the time at the Summit Store (off Hwy 17) when some mountain rednecks drove up in their truck and saw us with our bikes. “More victims,” one said in a surly voice.

They won’t keep me from riding. That said, if you’re new to riding, start slowly. Ride every weekend for at least a month. Ride your work route on the weekend so you can familiarize yourself with the road. After that, only ride to work one day a week — say on a Friday — when traffic is usually light in the morning.

Looking at raw numbers, cycling is much less dangerous than driving a car, and only slightly more dangerous than flying a commercial airline, easily the safest form of travel.

Transport mode Fatalities (%) – 2008
Car 25,000 (64)
Pedestrian 4,378 (11)
Motorcycle 5,290 (13)
Bicycle 716 (1.8)
Train 457 (1.2)
Commercial airline 3 (0.1)

However, when you factor in distance traveled, journeys, or hours, it’s a different story. Cycling becomes more dangerous than driving a car — from a statistical perspective – but not by a lot. Motorcycles, as we know, lead the way by an order of magnitude.

Fatalities per billion passenger -

Km Journeys Hours
Air 0.05 Bus/Coach 4.3 Bus/Coach 11.1
Bus/Coach 0.4 Rail 20 Rail 30
Rail 0.7 Van 20 Air 30.8
Van 1.2 Car 40 Water 50
Water 2.6 Foot 40 Van 60
Car 3.1 Water 90 Car 130
Pedal cycle 44.6 Air 117 Foot 220
Foot 54.2 Pedal cycle 170 Pedal cycle 550
Motorcycle 108.9 Motorcycle 1,640 Motorcycle 4,840

Close calls
Having ridden some 115,000 miles, I have become accustomed to riding in traffic and the all-too-common “close call” doesn’t phase me. With experience, you will learn to anticipate hazards, such as parked cars (doors opening unexpectedly), slippery wet paint lines, and people talking on the phone while driving.

I learned through John Forester’s “Effective Cycling” that the safest cycling is for cyclists to act and be treated as drivers of vehicles. In other words, when I want to turn left, I merge into the left-turn lane when it’s safe to do so. I obey all traffic laws, including stop signs.

Another tip about riding in traffic: think of the times you see cyclists while driving. It’s no big deal to pass a cyclist, unless the road is extremely narrow. Even at night, if the cyclist has a light, it’s usually hard to miss a cyclist. In other words, you’re not invisible, although thinking that way will help avoid collisions.

As with driving, the drunk or drugged driver is the cyclist’s worst road hazard. That’s an important reason why I don’t like to ride at night.

Excuses, Excuses! Clothing Concerns

June 3, 2010

Keep your clothes at work in a garment bag ($10-$20)


Right behind body odor on the “Excuses Excuses!” hit parade is clothing. “My clothes will get messed up.”

The easy solution is to keep a garment bag at work. My situation is trivial because I don’t sweat much, so I wear my dress shirt on the ride to work. The garment bag stores five pair of pants. Every once in a while I’ll drive to work and take them all home to be washed. You can also take home one pair at a time, if you never drive.

When you arrive at work, change your pants in the bathroom. Done.

Note that cycling clothing, while fashionable on the bike, is well, er, a bit racy in the office. You can buy some mountain bike shorts that look like cargo pants, in place of racing shorts. Of course, if you like looking racy in the office, go for it. Rest assured, you will get comments.

You may have issues with a long commute and sweat a lot, preventing you from wearing your work shirt on the ride in. In that case, bring in a week’s supply of shirts, or longer time period, on your Monday drive in. Drive home on Friday and take your clothes with you.

What you don’t want to do is wear slacks! I tried that and it wasn’t long before I had holes in my pants. When I see a professional photo of a cyclist wearing a suit, I roll my eyes. Let’s get real here!

Women, unfortunately, may feel hemmed in by fashion. How you live your life is your choice, but many noted women cyclists, such as Jacquie Phelan, Denise Caramagno, and many others, rewrote the rules on women’s fashion and haven’t let clothing considerations get in the way of enjoying life on the bike.

Excuses, Excuses! Body Odor

June 1, 2010

Tom's deodorant is my favorite.


We begin our “Excuses, Excuses” series with a common refrain, “I sweat a lot and I will smell if I ride to work.” Heard that one before?

I can understand the paranoia surrounding bromhidrosis. Personal hygiene is a multi-billion dollar industry — playing off our fears.

These fears are unfounded. If body odor is an issue, believe me, someone will let you know.

Here’s why it’s not so much a concern as you think. Two types of sweat are produced: by nerves and by exercise. Nervous sweat has a bad odor, but body sweat from exercise, not so much, if at all. However, bacteria like sweat and they’re what cause body odor.

Now I’m not one who sweats much, but most people sweat a fair amount even during mild exercise. Here’s how commuters can manage their sweat. The only ride that matters is the one to work. What to do:

1) Leave early when it’s cool, around 7 a.m.
2) Don’t ride hard. Save the hard riding for heading home.
3) Keep a washcloth and a towel at work. Clean up in the bathroom at work. It’s going to be early, so the bathroom will be empty. If you have a shower at work, that’s a convenience, although it will take longer than using a washcloth.
4) Wear a clean jersey, if you wear cycling clothes.
5) Use deodorant. I like Tom’s natural unscented. Perfume or cologne is another option.


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