The value of multi-modal trips

Dirt road along levee

In transit lingo, “multi-modal” trips are those that use different modes to get to a destination. A common version is bike to bus/subway/rail, either taking the bike on the vehicle or locking it before one gets on. Today I had a wonderful trip that was multi-modal by accident.

The “out” trip was planned as multi-modal: I live in Berkeley and had a mid-day meeting in Redwood City. These cities are on opposites sides of the San Francisco Bay, and I decided that I would take two trains (BART subway and CalTrain diesel passenger/commute train) and ride the short distances between destinations and stations. I left home and rode five blocks to my local BART station, where I brought my bike on board and held it while sitting. Not too uncomfortable, not too crowded. When I arrived in SF, I got off at the first station (swiping my “Clipper” “smart-card”), then rode about eight blocks to the CalTrain station. I swiped my Clipper card while waiting, then when the train boarded I got on one of the two bike trains–these trains are specially equipped with bike rack space on the bottom level (the trains have two levels of seating). There were plenty of bungee cords at each bike rack,  and I bungeed my bike to the rack and chose a seat upstairs where I could keep an eye on my bike.

Continue reading “The value of multi-modal trips”

Reflections on 900 miles on a bicycle

On the northern California Coast




On the northern California Coast
On the northern California Coast



[I wrote this back in August of 2010]

Well, I’ve been back for a week, so it seemed like time to write reflections on my Portland to Berkeley bicycle trip.


Why did I do it? Was it turning 50, the old “mid-life crisis” reaction? Maybe, but probably only a small amount. I’m pretty satisfied with life (career I love, good friends and family, the body working pretty well). Was it “because it was there”? Probably a bit. I had started to think about riding up to the AAPT conference, but summer plans (and prevailing winds) pointed me in the direction of a return ride. And, hey, with two months off every summer, why not spend a couple weeks on my bike? In the end, why I did it is probably a lot like why I’m a vegetarian: “All of the above.”

Athletic accomplishment?

Many people are impressed with my ride, thinking it’s quite an athletic feat. I’m not so sure it’s that hard. One of the riders I met on my trip (Ineke, who is quite a commute/around town rider, but not a big cycle tourist) hit it right when she said “It’s not so much about the legs as it is about the mind.” Dalton, a 17 year old girl riding from Washington state to SF with her dad and 14 year old sister, also had a hint about what was going on when she asked me “Do you ever feel like just quitting?” I told her that I did often, and that seeing all the other riders on the Pacific Coast route is a great encouragement to complete my trip.

How much preparation did I do for the trip? Not that much. I rode a few 30-70 mile rides over the past year, and several 20 mile commutes home from work (in the fall I was great at 1-2 times/week, but this fell apart when it started getting dark early, when it was raining, and when I got a sore throat). Other than that, my bike is my primary means of getting around town, so I am on it almost daily for 2-10 miles of errands and commute from the subway to work. I think that being familiar with and comfortable on my bike, especially in traffic, is probably the best preparation I had for my trip.

So, can anyone jump on a bike and ride 900 miles? Probably not. But I believe that one doesn’t need to do as much preparation as many would expect, especially if you are willing to plan your days as not that long, and are willing to take each day “slow and steady.”


In Oregon, my first night
In Oregon, my first night

I tend to overpack for just about anything, and while my tour was not a complete shift from this, I did cut down from what I might have packed on another day. My bike and packs weighed in at around 110-120 pounds (depending on how stocked up on food and water I was at any give time). My bike with racks, fenders, kickstand, etc. weighs close to 40 pounds. Not sure of the empty weight of my bags (two sets of panniers, one rear rack, one handlebar rack), but I clearly was carrying a lot of “stuff” in my bags.

Tent: I only have one tent, a wonderful self-supporting two-person tent. I could have saved some weight here, but it was nice to have the extra room inside. I didn’t need it so much on this trip (no rain), but if it had rained, being able to put my bags inside is a great plus.

Stove etc.: I have an older MSR “Whisperlight” stove that burns white gas. The fuel bottle connects to the stove, so the stove itself is minimal in size and weight (you could easily put it in a small shoe). It burns hot, and can burn just about any liquid fuel you can find (although white gas can be found in almost any sporting goods store in the US). The stove does take priming (big flames at first), and I had a bit of “stove envy” when I saw other cyclists whip out their compressed gas stoves and have them give off nice blue flames on the light, but I’m trying not to replace good equipment I have just because there’s something “better” available. I have a “cook set” that contains two pots, a pan, and two plastic cups. The pan I never used, and I had another cup so the cups I didn’t need either. I have a stainless steel insulated coffee mug that fits nicely in my waterbottle cage (and holds drinks hot for hours!), so there’s another cup. I think next time I’ll leave the pan and plastic cups at home.

Clothing: I pretty much rode with just my wool outfit: long-sleeve and short sleeve jerseys, cycling shorts, and leg warmers. I had an extra pair of shorts and tights that I never used, but I think they were important to have (a cyclist needs to be able to care for her/his bottom in any conditions, and if it rains it’s great to have a pair of dry shorts to change into). Perhaps the street shorts, pants, and sweat pants were a bit much–but the shorts were great for swimming in.

Making friends and acquaintences

Highway 1 on the Pacific Coast is probably the most social bicycle tour one can take. You can find a state campground with hiker/biker campsites about every 30-50 miles, and during the summer there are plenty of cycle tourists riding southbound (and a few northbound). Nights turn into social gatherings for those so inclined. I met several people who I have kept in touch with over this past year [I’m writing this section in June 2011], and will have a chance to visit with Morris this summer when I’m in his neighborhood in Arizona for three weeks for a teacher training.

Beachcomber Cafe, Trinidad, CA
Beachcomber Cafe, Trinidad, CA

My blog from the trip

I blogged my trip on

Blogging my SF-San Luis Obispo bike trip on

I’m riding a six-day bicycle tour from San Francisco (well, Daly City BART, actually) to San Luis Obispo. I found a great web site for posting bike trips, You can follow my trip there.

I’m riding a great touring bike, the Surly “Long Haul Trucker.” The bike is not light, but it’s sturdy I’m fully equipped with Ortleib panniers on the front, a handlebar bag, a “trunk” bag (sits on back rack), and Arkel panniers on the rear.

Berkeley Traffic Circles – Share the Lane

No passing in circle
No passing in circle

The traffic circles in Berkeley neighborhoods have created confusion for many car drivers. One of the difficulties is knowing how to interact with bicycles. The Bike Friendly Berkeley Coalition’s email chat list has been discussiong what signage could be placed at the circles to help drivers understand how the circles work. One of the main concerns is to let drivers understand that they cannot pass bicycles in the circles (there’s just not enough space). I developed the sign on the right as a draft sign to provide an image of what a sign could look like. Click on the image to see it larger.

And here’s a second version, including a pedestrian:

Traffic circle sign #2
Traffic circle sign #2

It was interesting to discover that in the US, it seems that all pedestrian sign icons show the pedestrian walking from one side to the other. I found a pedestrian walking forward on a German sign.

I’m sure that if either of these gets selected by the city, professional graphic artists will modify them using standard images and font (mine approximate standards).

The 15th Annual Bike to Work Day is Thursday, May 14th, 2009

The San Francisco Bay Area’s 15th Annual Bike to Work Day will take place on Thursday, May 14, 2009. Bike to Work Day is the premier bicycling event taking place in all of Northern California with all nine Bay Area counties participating in the celebration. The event is just one day of many events taking place in May as part of National Bike Month.

Complete details here:

“Day lighting” or “Peek a boo”: pedestrian safety at intersections

From Eric McCaughrin at East Bay Bicycle Coalition:

Another great clip from Streetfilms. This time, they show how removing parking spaces around intersections (“Daylighting”) can greatly increase visibility for pedestrians and cyclists. Even better: the reclaimed space can be used for low-cost bike parking.

In Berkeley and other Bay Area communities, similar kinds of treatment have been done with pedestrian bulb-outs. These bulb-outs are hideously expensive (particularly when there are drainage issues). Simply plopping bike racks in that space accomplishes the same thing, without the huge cost.

If the video doesn’t show up above, you can see it at StreetFilms website here:

Two hundred people can commute…but how would Lenin do it?

Poster from ferryGreat poster on the ferry. Be sure to click on the larger image to see all the details.

The options shown in the poster are: By car, by bus, by light rail, and by bike. Very descriptive.

Lenin in SeattleThen, there’s Lenin in Seattle: A guy found this in the former Czechoslovakia, bought it for its artistic importance, and brought it to the US. You can buy it for $250,000 if you have a better place for it.

Bicycles in Paris

Bicycles rentals in ParisI’m on a nine-day trip to France with students from my school (the benefits of sharing my classroom with a French teacher!), and we spent the last couple days in Paris. Paris is doing some good things to get more folks on bikes, including rental bikes all over town:

Rental bikes similar to but easier than City Carshare. You buy a 30 Euro ticket for the year, then you go to one of the many stations around the city and wave your card over the lock on a bike. You then have it for 30 minutes for free. After 30 minutes, it’s about one Euro for each hour, but it seems like most folks have figured out that you just ride it for 25, then swap for another bike, and it stays free.

I can’t find a link to the city’s info on it (and most of us probably can’t read French anyway), but here’s an NPR story:

Also, lots of nice bike routes, both on streets, off streets, and on streets but segregated for bikes and buses only.

I uploaded photos to my gallery at
if you wants to look at them. I haven’t had the chance to add captions to most of them yet, but I hope to soon. (If you hit the “View Slideshow” link in the right menu, you can have them automatically rotate through at whatever pace and size you desire).