Sunday, November 14, 2010

Diverse Cycling Fashion

Updated on 2010-11-14: See Casual Californian and the Loquat Lady.
In honor of Bike to Work Day, here's a survey of some of the many ways you can dress while cycling to work or play. They illustrate that it doesn't have to be all about spandex bike shorts, loud tops, weird bike shoes, and bulbous helmets. Here are some gals cycling back from dinner on a Friday evening in the bike crazy Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, California. They've got a nice mix of safety and style going.

If cycling as serious transport is ever going to go mainstream one of the many things that has to change is the perception that cycling means dressing up like a giant "day glow" lollipop. Folks seem to have many different issues with that look.

Folks don't seem to like the crisp formality of this look. One reason for that may be the similarity it has to these guys. These fellas are two of Vancouver's finest. I ran into them at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games while they were guarding the Olympic torch. Many folks simply don't want to look like they are in uniform when they cycle.

What follows are some pictures of folks I have met on the road recently showing you can get it done on bikes without all that.

A perfect case in point is this guy I met at Polk and Geary one Saturday while doing the story on Johan and his bike accident. This guy is looking fabulous in his green and black striped knee socks, matching green T-Shirt, and Elvis-style sunglasses. He's getting his PhD in urban planning and transportation design at San Jose State. He is big in to bike commuting but you wouldn't know it from this outfit.

He's a great example of the opposite end of the spectrum from the sporty or cop look. He's got no helmet, gloves, or special shoes. He's not letting the bike dictate anything. Still, he is definitely sporting an equally bold look.

This fellow is demonstrating the same thing albeit from a classic Californian perspective. The bike even ties in to it. His beautiful Saluki bike with its vintage leather/spring seat and canvass bag looks as comfortable and casual as he does. You've also got to love the "Wallaby" shoes. Don't see those that often anymore. Very cool.

This gal also is not sacrificing style or comfort or even her options for free speech. She's looking very comfortable in a beautiful skirt. Apparently, those are not a problem to ride with. She's also put on her bike the same bumper stickers she would have on her car. A pleasant surprise was her bike rack which was full of freshly-picked "loquats". Delicious! Other than the helmet, you wouldn't know she was a cyclist.

There are lots of folks showing a hybrid approach to safety/style/comfort. This guy, for instance, is pedaling and looking fine in his business suit. His side rack ensures no backpack straps will wrinkle his blazer. Nevertheless, he's got a helmet and gloves just in case. He was really moving when I took this so, for him, a little extra safety is probably not a bad idea.

This fellow has taken it up a notch with his pleated slacks and his sweet all chrome Bianchi Pista. These dress clothes didn't get in the way of performance. He tore out of the BART station and pretty much kept up with car traffic across an intersection.

Here's father and daughter who've balanced safety with style while going out to breakfast at The Creamery (a cool new café across from the SF train station) on a mellow Saturday morning. Love the Pea Coat on dad and the cute "wellies" on daughter. Also, a gorgeous red bike for two. Apparently, dad makes these himself.

Another look I found interesting was this gal. She's dressed in regular clothes. She was just pedaling home from work. No need to sport a special look for that. Like most folks, she's opted for a helmet but otherwise, you wouldn't know she was a cyclist. Nevertheless, check out those shoes.

She's riding home in clogs. Definitely a very comfortable choice for walking but not an obvious choice for cycling. I asked her if they ever slide off while she rides. She says they work fine. Those particular clogs are beauties too. Check them out in the close up. Since then I've met lots of folks who swear by slip on shoes. I never would have guessed that.

Swinging back toward the sporty direction is this guy shown by the BART train. He's got special cycling shoes for clipless pedals. I'd bet he's got other bike-specific clothing underneath. On the outside, though, its just jeans and regular clothes. I see this look a lot and for good reason. With this you get the comfort and efficiency of the bike-specific attire but you avoid the lollipop look. This guy had a sweet race bike as well. Nothing like driving a Ferrari to work every day.

Below is a picture of me cycling on the Las Vegas strip. I'll admit it. I'm like the "day glow" lollipop. I go the whole nine yards: bike-specific pants, shoes, gloves, helmet, and jacket. After biking for years, I've succumbed to the full bike uniform. I mitigate that by just throwing something over my bike attire when I arrive.

Street clothes work if you are going a few blocks but after a few miles (for me at least), they chafe, soak with sweat, or get bike soile with chain grease or gutter runoff. Not to mention, if you take a spill with no gloves or helmet you use your skin to stop. I've torn through gloves after falling at only 5 miles an hour. Luckily, I've never taken a high speed fall but Johan can attest that it warrants a helmet. All this is not to mention the rain which begs for the water-resistant or quick-drying bike clothing even more.

In the end I found that, as with anything, a bit of planning for the worst-case scenario pays off. Given that, I bite the bullet and wear the bike suit. Slipping regular clothes over spandex when you reach your destination is remarkably quick, easy, and socially acceptable. I've also found that bike shoes with mountain bike clips are decent walk shoes that look decent with black or blue jeans.

Regardless, the beautiful thing is that all these people are out there looking however they want to look while making their health, the air, and the traffic a lot better. Bless them and anyone new who cares to join them on Bike to Work Day or everyday.

P.S. Here's a CNN story on John Leguizamo cycling to work in NYC. Go John! I hope you start a trend amongst celebrities.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cycling The Giants World Series Parade

Willie Mays
After the Giants won the 2010 World Series, there was the usual mayhem in the streets the first night. Several fires were lit. Buses were stopped dead in their tracks and used as grandstands. One motorist foolish enough to try to drive through a crowd was taken out and beaten and his car was trashed. For me, that all added up to a nice cycling challenge: how to get around insanely crowded streets during events like these.

Some of my friends discouraged me from taking the bike. They thought the density of pedestrians would make it problematic. There was probably no way for any vehicle to negotiate that scene the first night. However, I thought the bike might negotiate the traffic snarls that would inevitably surround the parade area 2 days later. This event should be a bit more organized and so have a bit more space to get places. I decided to find out.

San Francisco has a metro system called BART but one of its many shortcomings is the fact that it doesn't allow bicycles on the trains during rush hours. This is precisely when you want people cycling, i.e. not driving, it seems to me. Nevertheless, BART was out for getting into town with the bike on parade day so I decided to take the ferry. This turned out to be an excellent choice. It accommodated bikes no problem. It was a nice sunny day and beautiful ride. Better still, it was not crowded at all even though BART was a mad house. I love it when the path less traveled turns out to be the best.

From the SF Ferry Building, it was a breeze pedaling along the embarcadero a few blocks, then in a few blocks to the base of the Transamerica Building where the parade was starting. I literally pedaled right up to the blockade, and parked my bike. Sweet! And totally impossible with any other vehicle. I was off to a great start.

I was a bit worried about locking my bike. I doubted anybody was gonna show up to the parade with bolt cutters but I did worry about crowds kicking or crushing my bike if things got super wild. Still dreaming of a day when there's ubiquitous bike parking, I bit the bullet and locked it to a parking meter without incident.

Sergio Romo (as the Beard)
Once done, it was time to relax and enjoy the parade. Although it was heavily front-loaded with everybody except the players, it was a great show. For starters, there were bicycles in the parade. Cool! Bicycle taxis had been utilized to cart a few sets of VIPs down the route. Unfortunately, I didn't recognize who they were but it was great to see the bikes there anyway.
Madison Bumgardner
After a long stream of back office staff that were enjoying their day in the sun along with the team they support, some familiar faces started to arrive. The mayor, Gavin Newsom, one of the senators, Diane Feinstein, and the icon of Giants baseball, Willie Mays, all participated.

Finally, the real stars showed up. Sergio Romo, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgardner, Buster Posey, and Aubrey Huff, were all on display. They each got their own end of a trolley-style bus in which to bask in the glow of being the first Giants to win the World Series in 56 years. Unfortunately, for baseball ignoramouses like myself, a lot of them were on each other's trolley. I didn't know who I was looking at. The worst was "Sergio Romo" who sported "the beard" and park himself inside Brian Wilson's  bus. Fun stuff.

Buster Posey Matt Cain

Aubrey Huff
I'm not a big baseball fan but I found the details of this team's win very interesting and moving. 56 years since the last win for the Giants. Never a World Series win on the west coast, despite participation in a couple. Almost as interesting were the team members themselves. These guys are like the Bad News Bears or something. In interviews, more than one expressed surprise and gratitude for having a job at all this season. And now they are World Series Champs. Right on!

After the parade, I took a ride down the peninsula on CalTrain to see what that was like. Thanks to some considerable lobbying by cyclists, CalTrain has had dedicated bike cars for years. Nevertheless, try telling that to thousands of weary and/or inebriated Giants fans when they want to go home. The bike car was difficult to get a bike into, to say the least. That said, I have to hand it to the conductors that fearlessly guarded the space for cyclists. Thanks, guys!

Tim Ryan
While waiting for the conductors to get all the occupants in order, I bumped into Tim Ryan, a reporter for CBS News Radio. It turns out, he's a hardcore cyclists both for sport and for transport. For fun, he does solo bike trips over the Rockies. For work, he sometimes take his bikes on a story. So cool! Today, he was taking his bike on the train for the same reason I was: to have an elegant way to quickly zip around the crowds while he reported on the event.

He says he doesn't always bike to work but does so when it is a good fit for his itinerary on a given day. He's also done this in other cities he's lived and worked in as a reporter. Meeting Tim and hearing how cycling helps him do his very dynamic, time-sensitive, job embellished my positive bike commute experience to celebrate this historic event.

Given how well it worked for me and how well it seems to work for demanding bike commutes like Tim's, I wouldn't hesitate to ride my bike into such crowds again.