Davis: Velotopia, USA

Back in 2012 I attended the National Women’s Bike Summit in Long Beach, California. I really didn’t know what such a summit would look like, but the mere fact that it existed, and so close to Los Angeles, compelled me to register and check it out. It was so inspiring to be surrounded by so many women who are as excited about bicycling as I am. One of the women I met there is Maria Contreras Tebbutt from Davis in Northern California. Maria told me about the work she does in Davis and nearby Woodland, helping people in the community with access to bicycles and repairs. It was through her that I first learned that Davis is an incredible bike city with a remarkable history exemplifying how a US city can be designed to work for bicycles. Ever since then, a visit to Davis has been on my bike-it list. Every now and then, I would look online to see if there were any bike events coming up in Davis that might give me an excuse to go there and perhaps sell my bloomers. Finally, in August, I discovered just what I’d hoped to find, a great excuse to go to Davis.

I stumbled across an announcement about the International Cycling Safety Conference that was going to be held in Davis. The Conference was being held in conjunction with the celebration of 50 years since the first bike lane was installed in Davis. This was also the first time the International Cycling Safety Conference was being held in the United States. I checked the conference website to see if there might be an opportunity for vendors there. They did have some sponsorship opportunities, although it was a little pricey for my micro business budget. I decided it was worth inquiring to see if there was a sponsorship level that I could afford and that would allow me to at least display my product, if not sell it. I was figuring there would be people coming to this conference, not only from all over the states, but also from other countries, all of them enthusiastic about transportation cycling — just my kind of people. I also looked at the program, and saw that many of the speakers were women, giving me hope that this wouldn’t be one of those bicycling events dominated by males. The response from the conference organizers was favorable, so I decided to just do it. I booked a hotel, paid my sponsorship and registration fees, and started thinking about how I would present my product to this audience. I was also excited to see that the program included an opportunity to participate in the Davis Bike Party on Friday evening, and also to get a tour of the bicycle infrastructure of Davis on Saturday.

Bike racks everywhere on the UC Davis campus
My first glimpse of the bike nerds at the pre-conference reception

Never having attended a conference of this nature, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But, that Wednesday, I packed my car with all my Bikie Girl Bloomers product and display set-up, and drove up to Davis. As it turned out I arrived just in time to catch the last part of the opening night reception. I didn’t have a name tag yet, and although I recognized Maria among the attendees, she is obviously a popular celebrity in this social circle, and I never did get a chance to talk to her. But I met a nice couple who lives in Davis: Steve Tracy, and his wife, Susan. Susan was not part of the conference and seemed happy to talk to someone who also felt like a little bit of an outsider. She is a retired schoolteacher, and he is a retired Davis city planner. I learned that Steve would be leading one of the five tours on Saturday, and decided that I would sign up to join his tour, since he obviously has extensive scoop on the history of Davis’ bike infrastructure.

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The Bikie Girl display at the conference

Thursday morning I drove to the campus and set up my display. It turned out I was one of only two sponsors with display tables at the event, and they had put us at the opposite end of the conference building lobby from where all the attendees were congregating, an unfortunate arrangement. I then was able to walk over to the campus Bike Barn that I’d heard about, a facility started by Maria Tebbutt to provide an on-campus service for all student bike needs, including sales service, rentals, and accessories. The conference organizers had made arrangements so that registrants could borrow a bicycle from the Bike Barn to use during our stay. So I picked up my bike, and enjoyed exploring the campus on two wheels.

The Bike Barn

It quickly became apparent that this was unlike other college campuses I’ve seen, in that it was clearly designed to facilitate moving around campus by bicycle. There were bike paths and traffic circles everywhere. I had fun marveling at the vast arrays of bike racks, the many bike repair stands, and thoughtful infrastructure details designed especially for cyclists.

Not just bike paths everywhere; beautiful bike paths
Note the thought given to bike access on this campus road: the gate arm is short enough to let bikes pass freely
Bike repair stands all over campus

At the end of the day, I was able to pick up my bike from the friendly bike valets provided for the conference attendees, and bike on over to a downtown restaurant for one of the scheduled group dinners. The organizers had offered dinner group sign-ups, with each group having a stated topic for discussion over dinner, and each attendee could sign up to join a group of 12 or so to have dinner together at one of the local restaurants. I signed up for a group led by Susan Handy of UC Davis and Director of the Sustainable Transportation Center, where the topic would be “How do we get more women cycling?”

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Bikie Girl Karen Lovegrove wearing her new Hitchable Flounce Skirt (with polka dot bloomers underneath!) for the tour of Davis

I loved my table of bike nerds. We had folks from Vancouver, Toronto, Atlanta, Davis, Iowa, North Carolina, and, well, you get the idea: cities of varying sizes and cultures. It was helpful to think about how the cultural context influences the factors that affect women’s interest and comfort with cycling. I shared my hope to get more women cycling by expanding the notion of what we wear while biking (it’s not only OK, but fun and comfortable to bike in a skirt, plus you don’t have to change clothes when you arrive at your destination). Others talked about women who worry about helmet hair, or safety. Certainly one takeaway is the appreciation that no one approach will get more people cycling everywhere, and such efforts must take into account the local culture and conditions, and also provide a variety of ways to draw folks in.

Bike path on campus
Bike path on campus

The locals gave me pointers on the best bike route back to my hotel that night. I’m so glad, as Google Maps was directing me toward a very high traffic route, when a much more pleasant, low stress route was available. It got a bit odd at one point, though, when I realized I wasn’t on a road any more. I had missed a right turn, and suddenly, in the dark, found myself riding through a parking lot, which wasn’t so bad, but then I found myself riding across what seemed to be a grassy, bumpy field. I managed to find my way back to a road eventually, and all ended up fine, but in the light of day the next morning, I could see my folly. Then I missed a turn on my way into campus that morning, and ended up at a dead end before realizing I needed to turn back about a quarter of a mile to catch the bike path that leads to the campus. All part of the bike adventure!

My rental bike poses on a bridge during the ride into downtown Davis
Riding through the botanical garden is a lovely way to get to and from the campus
A bike bridge on campus

Although I spent most of the time at my display table, I was able to attend some of the presentations. It got pretty exciting at a couple of the talks, when the speaker called out the absurdity of the road designs fostered by the long-clung-to American notion of “vehicular cycling“. This term refers to a theory that bicyclists don’t require any special infrastructure; instead they should just obey all the same rules of the road as any other vehicle, and use the same lanes. This view was promoted heavily by a man by the name of John Forester, who unfortunately had a tremendous influence on how road design standards in the United States treated bicyclists. Not one, but two of the three keynote speakers of the conference let it be known that the notion of vehicular cycling had failed us. It was a treat to be in the room for these moments, including watching Mr. Forester raising his hand, eager to speak as soon as the talk ended. Of course, vehicular cycling has its place, but the shame of it all is that the vehicular cycling movement was a movement against cycle tracks and other infrastructure designed to make cycling safe and inviting for everyone, not just the daredevils. I would look at Mr. Forester and think to myself: “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

In my view, we should design all of our roads with the intent that our children can bike to school safely on them. Have you ever noticed how much traffic congestion worsens when school is in session? So many parents are chauffeuring their children to school, with individualized door-to-door service, it adds tremendously to the number of trips taken by car each morning and afternoon (not to mention creating a chaotic traffic nightmare in front of school buildings). Meanwhile, the children are kept dependent on their parents for transportation, and fail to learn their way around their own city. Studies have shown that children who bike to school perform and learn better than their car-bound classmates. We can all benefit from a safety-oriented road design.

Bikie Girl Katie shows off her new BlueBandana Pettipants on the high wheel

Friday evening was the big night of celebration. First, we had a reception at the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in downtown Davis. We were greeted with beer and an opportunity to tour the museum, including a chance to sit on a high-wheel bicycle.

U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame

Here’s a slide show with a few samples of what’s on display at the museum:

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My turn at the high wheel. So glad I chose my hot pink zebra Bloomers for this night!

Awards were presented to the best presentations of the conference, and we got to hear from the mayor of Davis. Dinner was provided by a local taco truck, and afterward, we got to join Bike Party Davis for their monthly party on wheels. We rolled around Davis by night, with colorful lights flashing, and reggae music blaring (each month, the ride has a different theme, this one was “One Love. One Life.”). Part of the tradition is to holler out to folks you see as you roll by, “BIKE PARTY!” That was an easy one for newbies to embrace, so we did. We took a fairly leisurely pace, and ended our ride in West Davis, at a pizza place that was offering a donation to the charity of the month (the Youth Education Branch of the Sacramento Food Bank) with any pizza purchased by the revelers. I was still full of tacos, but enjoyed a beer and was able to give a little cash directly to the cause.

Getting ready to roll with Bike Party Davis


Saturday morning was the tour of Davis’ bike infrastructure. We started out from the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, with our first highlight the “bike lane of shame” (the pathetic thing is only 26 inches wide). We then rode to campus to see the first bicycle traffic circle in the U.S. We also saw the city’s first bike tunnel (Davis now has 23 of them – so bikes can pass under a busy street, rather then confront a busy intersection full of cars). In addition to showing off the city’s best bike infrastructure, Steve pointed out some road designs that were flawed, and explained how they would be fixed. He talked about the importance of observing how people behave at intersections, and then designing the infrastructure to encourage safer behavior and avoid collisions.

Protected bike lane near a school
Protected bike lane facilitates the transition between an intersection and a bike path along a route used by many students commuting to school

Steve explained, as he led us through a series of residential neighborhoods, that the city requires each development to provide access to a greenway. We rode bike path after bike path that was positioned in a greenway that traveled behind rows of homes. We saw many cul-de-sacs that fed directly onto the bike path running through the greenways, and greenways would lead to playgrounds, soccer fields, and schools. Children in Davis can bike to school (or to a playground, or a soccer game) without encountering very many street crossings. It is amazing, and brilliant! And in places where they did need to cross a street, the crossings were designed with safety in mind. One example had a median, so the bicyclist only has to cross one direction of traffic at a time. And in the median, the crossing is angled, positioning the cyclist so they are facing diagonally toward the oncoming traffic, making it easier for drivers and crossing cyclists to see each other.

A cyclist rides along a greenway that runs behind residences
Residential streets all provide easy access to the greenways, which connect with schools and parks

 

Another greenway; residences on the left, and a school on the right

We also visited a development built in the 70’s/80’s called Village Homes, a community designed to facilitate community and energy-efficient living. We got our first taste of the community as we entered a path that runs through a bee-friendly garden. There were a number of people busy weeding, and they explained that they all live in the community and that was their monthly weeding party to maintain the plants that support bees. As we moved through the development, we saw almost no roads, lots of greenery, and attractive homes, most with solar panels. Steve explained that it was a major struggle for the developers to get permits for their plans, as they needed a number of variances. They intentionally put the homes closer together than we normally see, because they wanted to have a large common area rather than lots of individual yards. They have a huge grassy area in the common space, as well as an orchard and community garden. It’s a beautiful space, and a great place to live, if you like living in community.

Large common lawn at Village Homes; common orchard can been seen on the left

Monthly weeding party at Village Homes

One of our featured stops was at what Steve calls the “Faux Dutch Junction”, which was supposed to be an embrace of a Dutch style of intersection, but ended up an unfortunate hybrid of US and Dutch styles of intersection design. The junction was initially designed by Dutch experts. Then some local traffic engineers looked at the plan and thought it needed some revisions. They added an extra bike lane that creates confusion with the special side ramps designed to position bikes where turning motorists could more easily see them. They also added right turn lanes for motor vehicles. The modifications added considerable width to the roadway, and were believed necessary to meet “level of service” requirements (code for maximizing the number of vehicles passing through an intersection over a set period of time). Ironically, these modifications made the road so much wider, they required increased time to be allotted for pedestrian crossings, which, in turn, defeated the level of service objectives. Unfortunately, it isn’t just ironic, it also creates significant safety hazards that will require expensive corrections.

“Faux Dutch Junction”. Note the green lane for cyclists crossing, which feeds them into a special carve-out at the corner curb, guiding cyclists to a safer crossing of the perpendicular road.

I loved all the bike tunnels we saw around Davis. I made much use of a bike tunnel that passes under I-80 to get to the UC Davis campus from my hotel. On our tour, we went through one tunnel that was rather modern-looking, and surrounded by a new residential development. Steve told us that the tunnel itself had been there for 25 years, even though the development just went in a few years ago. Turns out that, when the major road the tunnel passes under was being built, the engineers recognized that this was an area likely to be developed in the future, so they figured it would be smarter to put a culvert in place when the road was being built, rather than have to deal with the greater costs involved to add a tunnel later.

Bike tunnels allow bicyclists to safely cross heavily trafficked roads

Another significant piece of bike infrastructure that shows Davis’ commitment to cycling is the $12 million bridge that crosses over I-80, including over 6 lanes of freeway, two frontage roads, a railroad track, and a bike path. The Dave Pelz Bike Overcrossing is named after the man who served 36 years as Public Works Director for Davis. This bridge connects east Davis and south Davis, and is used by many junior and senior high school students. It also represents the highest “hill” in Davis.

Bicycle roundabout

We ended our tour with a look at an example of the new street standards and lane widths. The old standard was 11feet for a vehicle lane, 5 feet for a bike lane, and 8 feet for a parking lane. The new standard changes that to 10 feet for the vehicle lane, and 7 feet each for the bike lane and parking. It works, and I love it!

Steve shows us the new standards giving more lane width for bicycles

After the tour, I enjoyed a cup of coffee with Steve, Susan, and Arend Schwab, a professor at Delft University of Technology, who’d been at the conference as well. They shared stories from a recent trip to the Netherlands. Afterwards, I rode my rental bike back to the Bike Barn, and, while walking back to my car, I snapped photos of the many bike racks waiting for the returning students. The walk was a chance to reflect on my visit to America’s best bicycling city. Quite the velotopia!

Row upon row of bike racks, ready for the start of classes

So long, my velotopia. I’m sure I will return!

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Fun bike art adorns this fence along the bikeway.
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Biking the Big Easy

As I write this, I am on my flight to New Orleans (I started writing this post on June 19th; it’s now halfway through July). This is an exciting trip for me for two reasons. First, I have been itching to ride a bike in New Orleans ever since El Cochinito and I spent a weekend in the Big Easy last September. I hadn’t been there since 2001 (post 9/11, pre-Katrina), and it was just enough fun to make me want more. I also saw lots of folks biking around town, which I hadn’t seen before, and many of them were women – in dresses no less! (All hail the skirt rider!) Second, I’m bringing my Bikie Girl Bloomers skirts, tops and shorts with me. I’m going to be one of the vendors in the Exhibit Hall at the Convention Center, where my fellow Unitarian Universalists (“UUs”) are holding their annual General Assembly. I know how much UUs care about taking care of the planet (see Principal 7 of their statement of values), and this is the ideal crowd for my mission to encourage more women to use bikes for transportation. If I can’t inspire UUs, who can I inspire?!

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Public art in front of the Convention Center
A poster I made to display at my booth for the UU event
Here’s my plan for my free day before the event begins: first I will have a Lyft driver deliver me and my luggage full of Bikie Girl Bloomers merchandise to the Convention Center so I can set up my booth. Then I’ll walk a mile to the nearest bike shop, A Musing Bikes, where I have reserved a bike rental for the week. I can then have the rest of Tuesday to explore the city by bike, perhaps check out a shop I love to follow on Instagram: Dashing Bicycles, and then use the bike to commute between my hotel in the Marigny neighborhood and the Convention Center, which means riding through the French Quarter each day.

So that was the idea, until I realized that a tropical storm by the name of Cindy would be dumping rain on New Orleans all day. I decided to hunker down in my hotel room and wait for a break in the storm, and then give it a try in the afternoon. I was waiting for a large box of additional merchandise to arrive that day, so why not wait until it arrives, and then everything goes at once. Well, afternoon came, my package had arrived, and the originally anticipated break in the storm vanished from the hourly forecast on my weather app. I went ahead with my plan, got my inventory and display set up at the Convention Center, and started walking toward the bike shop. It was warm, so I wore my Crazy Daisy Bloomers with a blue tank top, and figured I’d be fine if I got a little wet on the walk. img_1687Just as the rain was starting to come down harder, I found myself walking past an intriguing food place: The Fatboy Pantry. I hadn’t had any lunch, so, heck, why not wait out the downpour in here and grab a bite?

Cuban coffee affogato with donut ice cream & caramel sauce
Fried lobster po boy with more fries than anyone can eat in the same meal as a sandwich like that!
 

 

 

 I had the specialty of the house: a fried lobster po boy. They also had a delectable selection of coffee drinks, so I indulged in an affogato made with Cuban coffee and donut ice cream (hey, my server recommended it), topped off with some caramel syrup. It was divine. And the lobster po boy? Holy moly, it was delicious! I ate as much of it as I could.

Well, the rain was still pouring down, but I realized I had better get a move on, as the bike shop would be closing soon. Gustavo was there, and set me up with a cute orange cruiser bike. I could have opted for a hybrid, with gears and hand brakes, but I thought a cruiser might be fun, and it’s not as though New Orleans has hills to worry about.

A Musing Bikes in the lower Garden District, a one mile walk from the Convention Center
They have LOTS of bikes to rent, including both cruisers and hybrids
 

 

 

 

 

 

When I ventured out on the bike, the rain didn’t seem too bad, so I thought I’d still route myself past Dashing Bicycles on my way to my hotel, and perhaps be on the lookout for a drug store where I might be able to purchase a rain poncho. First, I got a wee bit lost in the Garden District, but it’s so beautiful, it’s hard to object. By the time I was riding through the Central Business District, the rain was really coming down hard, and heavy winds were adding to the challenge. I had not found a poncho, and I was getting quite thoroughly soaked. I knew I needed to just go straight to my hotel, and that was more than enough. By the time I arrived, I was so wet I craved a hot bath. Unfortunately, my room had a shower stall only, no tub. I changed out of my wet clothes and found myself regretting the failure to pack socks for this trip.

The storm continued all night. I woke several times during the night, wondering if there was an earthquake (so L.A. of me), before realizing that it was the storm that was making the house shake. Wednesday morning, the weather forecast showed a respite from the heavy wind and rain, at least until about 10:00. I decided this would be my chance to ride out to Metarie Cemetery, a destination I had originally planned for my free day on Tuesday. I didn’t have to be at the Convention Center until about 11:00, so I got me an early start, with my first stop planned for a nearby Walgreen’s to purchase that poncho I knew I would be needing.

The ride was delightful. I enjoyed bike lanes much of the way, and stopped to snap photos and post on Instagram along my route. So many big, beautiful trees providing canopies over the streets, and the gorgeous artchitecture revealing the intriguing history and culture unique to New Orleans left me agog. Shortly before I got to Metarie Cemetary, I passed a few others, including a Masonic Cemetery and a Catholic one. Such a vast expanse of real estate devoted to the dead. I had a bit of trouble figuring out where exactly Google Maps was telling me I was supposed to ride when it came to the very last little stretch. As it turned out, I had to ride on a busy street that serves as an on-ramp to the freeway. It was a bit scary to ride a bike on Ponchartrain, as it seemed all the other vehicles were large pickup trucks travelling at rather high speeds.

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Riding to the cemetery in my rain poncho
But I made it to the cemetery intact, and began my quest. The last (and only other) time I was at Metarie Cemetery was when my late husband’s brother had passed away in November 2001. Bill and I had flown back to Bills’ home town of New Orleans from Los Angeles to attend to his brother’s final arrangements. His brother’s casket was entombed in a family crypt. Yes, one of those fascinating above-ground crypts. I kind of remembered the crypt being near a rotunda or circular something or other, and could visualize in my memory where that area was with respect to the building where we’d met with the mortician. The night before, I’d also done some looking online and noted the location of section 103 where the Tebault family crypt was located.

I toodled around the cemetery for awhile, snapped a few photos and posted them to Instagram, and then noticed I was in the familiar area near the Tebault crypt. I found the intersection of Avenues D and H, which should have put me right near Section 103, but I couldn’t find it.

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When the rain lightened up, I took a break from the poncho, glad that I had sense enough not to wear the skirt for my bike ride.
I started doubting my internet info, and decided to ride to the building and then head from there to the area that I recalled from 15 years ago. I discovered some fascinating extended areas, and the more I explored them, the more certain I became that I was not getting any closer to my target. After wandering all over the cemetery, the magic hour of 10:00 arrived, and pretty soon, as forecast, the rain was becoming more than just a manageable drizzle. The thought of just leaving without finding the crypt bothered me, so I searched again using my phone, and decided that the intersection of Avenues D and H should have been right. I studied the map of the sections more carefully, and searched in earnest for Section 103. It didn’t help that the sections are not in numerical order. When I finally found Section 103, the rain was really coming down. I checked each and every crypt, and none said Tebault, even though I distinctly remember the crypt had been labeled with that family name. Finally, I parked the bike and carefully stepped between the forming rivers that separated each plot, and at last I found the Tebault site. No wonder I had not been able to spot it on my first several passes; it was no longer an above-ground crypt. Perhaps Katrina or another major storm had destroyed it. What remained was the stone outline and the tombstones engraved with the names of those who had been entombed there.

I spent a few minutes contemplating the end of the Tebault/Passera family line. Bill’s father had died when Bill was a baby, and his mother had died in 2000, followed by his brother, Phillip in 2001. When my Bill died in 2003, no one was left. No parents, siblings, nieces or nephews, as neither Bill nor his brother had had any children. And then a hurricane (presumably) came along and wiped away the family tomb. Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.

Speaking of storms, the rain was really coming down hard, and I needed to move along. I rode over to the Funeral Home, where a covered driveway allowed me to take a break from the storm and refuel with a snack bar before biking on to the Convention Center. My hopes that the storm would give me a break for the six mile ride ahead of me were dashed, as the winds only got more intense. I couldn’t wait any longer, as I had to get to my booth in time to finish the set up before the Exhibit Hall opened at noon.

So, with my poncho over me, and a plastic bag over the tote bag in my bike basket, I headed out of the cemetery. My shoes and feet were already soaking wet from the puddles around the tombs, but I wasn’t really thinking about my wet feet once I started pedaling.  It was one heck of an adventure biking in the storm. I felt like I was working so hard just to move forward. At times, the rain was coming down so hard, I could barely see out my glasses. I worried that I might not know the difference between an exciting adventure and taking stupid risks, especially when the winds were strong enough to blow both me and the bike around on the road!

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This tree did not survive the storm
I made it to the convention center, but it sure seemed like it took me a long time to ride those six miles. I arrived soaking wet, but so many others had been caught in the storm just walking in from their parked cars, I don’t think anyone thought much of my wet hair. I was so glad I didn’t wear my skirt for the morning ride – it was safely rolled up inside my tote bag, and had stayed dry. I just wished I had a dry pair of shoes. My feet sloshed with every step. 

I ended up venturing out again that afternoon. An order had come in to the online store for something I had with me, and I thought it best if I just get it into the mail, and I wanted to get it to the post office by 5:00. The storm was still going, but it was much more mild at this point. It was a short ride, and I was happy to get back outside for a few minutes.  Mostly, I just enjoyed experiencing a few new streets by bike.

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Bike parking across the street from the Post Office
Unfortunately, the errand wasn’t as quick as I’d hoped, mostly because the post office was inside a federal building, and it took quite awhile to get through the security screening before I could go inside and get in line to mail the package.

We vendors had to stay at the Exhibit Hall until 7:00 that evening. By the time I biked back over to my hotel in Marigny, I was thoroughly exhausted. I didn’t even have the energy to go out and get some dinner. I walked two blocks from my hotel to a funky food co-op and enjoyed browsing the aisles. I selected a few intriguing healthy snacks, plus some chocolate (so comforting!), and a ginger beer.

More orders came in to the store that evening, including a repeat customer ordering 3 pairs of Bloomers from our clearance special. Since I knew the clearance Bloomers would do well at the UU event, I had brought all of them with me. This meant I couldn’t arrange to have my assistant back in Los Angeles ship out the order for me, and I did not want my customer to have to wait until the next week before the order shipped. I was so glad I had brought a few mailers with me. I packed up the order and found another post office not far from the convention center that looked like it might have a self-service machine and perhaps not require a security screen to enter.

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Commuting through the French Quarter
It was fun to commute through the French Quarter, and the weather was quite agreeable now that the storm had passed. Even then, as soon as I crossed Canal Street, I found myself struggling against tremendously forceful winds. I pedaled that cruiser bike as hard as I could, but I swear I wasn’t moving forward at all! It got a little scary at one point, as it was hard to maintain my position on the road, and a streetcar needed to pass me. I decided to pull over and wait a bit, although that only solved the streetcar passing problem, not the strong headwind challenge. It was such a relief when I got to the street where I needed to turn and head north to the post office, as I no longer had to fight the wind.

I made a little slide show of some of the interesting buildings I saw on today’s variant of my commute – this time heading a little into the Bywater area before turning toward the French Quarter:

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By Friday, I was feeling like I had my routine down, and I was excited that we vendors were free to leave at 5:00, significantly earlier than the first two nights. This meant a little extra freedom to do what I wished with my evening, instead of just collapsing in exhaustion from a long day on my feet, and perhaps also from biking into gale force winds. My neighbor in the exhibit hall had asked if I’d like to go out and get a bite or a drink that evening. I told her I was planning to pay a quick visit to a bike shop, and then catch a jazz show. She wasn’t interested in seeing a show, but she had never explored New Orleans’ French Quarter and wanted to check it out. I couldn’t believe she had never visited the French Quarter on her past trips to New Orleans! We agreed to meet up after my bike shop visit and after she had tended to some business.

The ride from the Convention Center to Dashing Bicycles was pleasant, with a simple 3.4 mile route of bike-friendly streets getting there. I went inside to check out the shop, and visited a bit with the mechanic on duty. I told him I was visiting from L.A., and that I’m a fan who enjoys following their shop on Instagram. He said the owner wasn’t in, and shared a bit of the store’s history with me (has relocated from a small shop closer to the French Quarter to allow for more space). I told him how much I love the way they post a picture of a customer with their new bike in front of that gorgeous wall, and asked if I could take a picture of my rental bike there. I was so pleased with how well my orange cruiser paired with the bright colors of their wall. I also love their big sign at the roof line, and snapped a photo of that as well.

I started heading towards my hotel in Marigny (MARE-in-EE; just east of the French Quarter), thinking I’d have time to drop off my big tote bag and lighten my load for the evening. The route Google maps set me on seemed like a great one, until a few blocks into it, the street was closed off for police activity. That was a frustrating disappointment, as I had been on a street that cut across diagonally towards my destination, and there weren’t any similar alternatives. But I managed to get almost back to my hotel when Minda contacted me to make our plans. 

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Our pedicab driver
We met at the entrance to Cafe du Monde, at which point I learned that Minda had never been there, nor had she heard of it. I couldn’t allow her status to stay that way, so we started our outing with beignets. We then used yelp to search for a place close by to grab a little dinner. She’d landed this great parking spot, and had limited mobility, so we decided on a place about a quarter of a mile away. We were a couple blocks from the destination, when she expressed dismay at the length of the walk, and just then, we happened on one of those pedicab drivers who offered to help. He pointed out the location of the restaurant we sought, but did not have a very enthusiastic recommendation for it. Of course, we was glad to recommend a place some distance away, but his sincerity (and the offer to pay what we like for the ride) won us over. We took the pedicab ride all the way back near the convention center (!) and had charbroiled oysters at Drago’s. They were quite good. The pedicab ride back over to Cafe du Monde was in the dark, which made it fun. From there, I decided it was a little too late to catch the jazz show I had in mind, but I was satisfied with my evening On the town.

Enjoying our pedicab ride
Enjoying our pedicab ride
Saturday morning, I had my act together such that I was able to leave early enough to stop for breakfast at one of the interesting coffee shops I pass in the neighborhood where I was staying. For my first “coffeeneuring” of the trip, I went to Flora Gallery and Coffee Shop. My first delight was the ginormous pile of bicycles locked up at the rather large bike rack out front. My second delight was the dozens (or perhaps hundreds?) of masks on display and covering all of the wall space that wasn’t already covered with paintings or architectural oddities. My third delight was the friendly guy at the counter and what appeared to be a parade of locals getting their morning fix.

Biking around the French Quarter and surrounding neighborhoods of New Orleans is interesting in that, on the one hand, it’s an easier way to get around those narrow, old streets than in a car, and there are plenty of bike-friendly routes.

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Pothole extravaganza
On the other hand, many of those bike-friendly streets are in a sad state of disrepair, making it necessary for cyclists to be extra attentive to cracks, potholes, and other obstacles. Of course, that’s all part of the urban bike adventure!

Some of the houses there are so cute, I can’t help but stop and snap a photo. This one I had to snap quickly, as a van was backing into a parking spot that would have ruined my shot.

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Saturday night, I took myself out to dinner. I had grabbed a late dinner on Thursday night at a fantastic restaurant, The Franklin, just a short block from my hotel, and it had reminded me how much it is possible to enjoy going out for a good dinner even when traveling alone. But for Saturday night, I didn’t have to start late, and it was my last chance of this trip to try out a place my friend who knows New Orleans quite well had recommended, Mariza. This meant biking over to the next neighborhood to the east, Bywater, and past more interesting architecture. 2017-06-24 18.03.10On my way, I stopped to gawk at the Marigny Opera House, which appears to be quite old, and perhaps undergoing some needed restoration.

The dinner was one of those excellent experiences that can be had when you sit at the bar at the beginning of dinner time, before the crowds have arrived, and chat with the bartender. This bartender mixed me a great cocktail, made some excellent food recommendations, and told me a bit of the history of the neighborhood. The Bywater/Marigny has gone from a low-rent, rather run-down neighborhood, to a hip area of opportunity. Beautiful buildings are being fixed up, but long-time residents have had to move to the other side of the river to find affordable housing.

Sunday morning, I tackled my logistics quite well, if I may say so myself. I had left all of my luggage at the convention center (hiding under the table), and had kept only a backpack at my hotel. I packed all my clothes into the backpack, checked out, and was on 2017-06-25 08.47.36my way, able to bike with all my things either on my back or in the front basket. I stopped for breakfast at EnVie Espresso Bar and Cafe in the French Quarter, passing more potholes on the way. I made it a hearty breakfast to last me until the event closing at 2:30 p.m. Note the interesting clientele at this establishment.

Going into the convention center for this last day was exciting. I had already sold enough to pay for my travel expenses and the booth rental, and this last day, although shorter, the event is open to the public, not just those attending the UU General Assembly. I had been running Facebook ads during the week, hoping to draw in some local women bicyclists. Alas, I did have one customer who had seen my ad and decided to come in, since it was close to where she’d been at the gym. She bought a pair of Bloomers (she went for the Leopard print), and that sale paid for the Facebook ad (!), but no others from the general public came by. I had a couple other sales, but it ended up being the lowest sales day of the week. Although that was disappointing, I was still thrilled to have come out just a nudge ahead of even!

After the show closed, I packed up my merchandise, took one bundle of product I just couldn’t fit into my luggage (still less than the large box I shipped to New Orleans in advance) to the FedEx Office store across the street, and hopped on my rental bike for my one final ride to return the rental bike to A Musing Bikes. Although I had enough time to walk the mile back to the Convention Center to collect my luggage, it was raining again, and I just didn’t have it in me to walk another mile in the rain. I gave my rain poncho to the folks at A Musing Bikes, in case they’d like to offer it to the next crazy person to rent a bike on a rainy day, and summoned a Lyft to get me back to the Convention Center and on to the airport. Still a very satisfying logistical accomplishment.

On reflection, I have to admit that it may not make much business sense to take a week off from work (I do have my patent clients to attend to, an important element of making my living) in order to spend 5 straight days selling clothing for bike commuting at a gathering of UUs. However, as an excuse to experience biking in New Orleans, it was absolutely worth it! And I loved visiting with the people who came to my booth. A couple of times, I even remembered to snap a photo of customers who bought bloomers:

And here is what I wore each day (not counting the first two days when I got drenched!). I have fun styling the Bike It Or Not Two Piece Dress in various ways. You can tell which is from the last day by the backpack on my back.

And last, but not least, here’s an example of what the UUs were up to all week. This is a mural that grew a bit each day, based on input from attendees, and reflecting the social justice goals of the organization.

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Bikie Girl Takes a Bite Out of the Big Apple

What manufacturer wouldn’t love to see their product retailing in a Manhattan storefront? The invitation to participate in a shared pop up shop on Manhattan’s lower east side was that exciting. While it’s not the same as having an established shop carrying your line, it’s still a big deal. At least for me it was, and I was determined to make the most of the opportunity.

Maria Boustead, founder and designer behind Po Campo Bike Bags, was the organizer who came up with the idea and brought it to fruition.  She brought together 8 different independent brands who all support biking in style, pooled our resources, and rented a storefront in Manhattan’s Lower Eastside/Chinatown area for Bike Week (May 12-21), and called it the Ride In Style Shop.

I wasn’t able to be there until the closing weekend, but I arrived just in time to join the group for a special, one-night pop up in Brooklyn at the Bike Home From Work Party. I went straight from Newark Airport to the Dumbo Triangle in Brooklyn.

Ride In Style Pop Up Shop at Brooklyn’s Bike Home From Work Party
Sawako Furuno and her beautiful helmets
Vespertine NYC makes stylish reflective clothing
Maria of Po Campo shows her bike-friendly bags
Superpedestrian’s Copenhagen Wheel
TiGr designs gorgeous and super strong bike locks
Super stylish cyclist shows Brooklyn how it’s done
Dumbo Arch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a great night, and we met a lot of people. It was my first time to see the Dumbo Arch, and I was struck by its architectural beauty.

First thing the next morning, I had to rise and shine and get to the Ride In Style Shop for my turn to staff the store. I was excited to wear my black Bike It Or Not Two Piece Dress with the new Romantic Ruby Bloomers from the Jeweltone Collection, topped off with a gorgeous Japanese silk scarf that had been my mom’s and would look great with the bold red of the shorts. I had just received a few samples of the Jeweltone Bloomers in time for the trip, but then realized I had left them at the shop after the Brooklyn event! This photo shows me in the blue sample shorts that don’t match the scarf, but pair wonderfully with the Citibike!

Bike style meets Citibike The Bikie Girl display at the shop
Sawako Helmets
Limos helmets and TiGr locks
The Copehagen Wheel and Po Campo bags
The Willary
Vespertine NYC

Each brand hosted an event during the pop up shop week, and on Sunday, I hosted a workshop called Bike Commuting Made Easy. My tips for making it easier to incorporate biking into your everyday transportation has been posted on the blog here.

I enjoyed commuting from my friends’ place in the Village to the shop in Chinatown/Lower Eastside. It’s always fun to explore a city’s bike infrastructure. While biking the busy streets of Manhattan can seem intimidating at first, when you realize how slow traffic moves with all the congestion, it’s actually quite easy to take the lane when necessary (which is any street that lacks an available bike lane).

Protected bike lane on Allen
Taking my lane, with the taxis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a free day in the city before my return to L.A.  Although it was rainy, I had fun walking around the Village. I treated myself to a delicious lunch at Lafayette Bakery & Cafe. It was also my first chance to try out the new Shimmering Sapphire Bloomers.

Charming architecture in Manhattan
Shimmering Sapphire Bloomers under the Hitchable Flounce Skirt
Treating myself to a Croque Madame (hidden behind tower of fries), and a cafe au lait, at Lafayette Bakery

That evening, I had to thank my gracious hosts, Alex and Miki, who provided me a place to stay so convenient to the Ride In Style Shop. We went to Robataya, a Japanese place Miki knows nearby that specializes in robata, a Japanese grilling method that I love. It was beautiful inside, and made me feel like we were in Japan. The food was excellent.

Front row seats at Robataya

All in all, it was a fantastic trip. A little crazy, figuring out how to ship my product in advance and plan for a set up that would be implemented by others in my absence, then squeeze in a cross-country trip for the weekend. It all worked out, and I have no regrets!

 

 

Bikie Girl’s Guide to Bike Commuting

1Bikie Girl recently participated in the Ride In Style Shop, a pop up shop held during Bike Week in Manhattan, and featuring eight indie brands, all providing gear to help city cyclists ride in style. To make it more fun, each brand sponsored an event. Bikie Girl provided a workshop called “Bike Commuting Made Easy”. Here’s a summary of what we covered in the commuting workshop, as well as a glimpse at the different brands featured in our shop.

Getting Started: Keep It Simple

Keep it simple at first. Establish a small goal: to bike to a nearby store for an errand, or to bike home from work one day this week. You will be going through the planning and execution logistics, and perhaps overcoming some trepidation, and that is enough for the first time at it. Make sure you are ready by thinking through the following items to ensure a positive experience. If you are new to city riding, you might start out with recreational social rides led by a local bike advocacy group. Riding with a group can make city riding safer, teach you city riding skills, and introduce you to others who like to ride. It’s also a great way to discover parts of your city you never knew.

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Social rides and open streets events can be a fun way to get more comfortable with city riding.
Gear: Start With The Basics

If you will ride your own bike, consider taking it to a local bike shop for a tune up and safety check. If you don’t know how to fix a flat tire, now is the time to learn and practice (you can find tutorials on youtube). The weekend before your first ride, check your ABC’s: A – air in the tires; B – brakes working properly; C – chain is clean and lubed. Re-check these before each ride. It’s normal for your tires to need a little more air, or for your chain to need some cleaning, about once a week or so. Checking these items regularly will also make it easy for you to notice when the brakes are getting worn, or another repair is needed.

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Commuting by bike share means you don’t have to worry about bike parking and maintenance.

If you will use bike share, go to the web site for your city’s bike share system and familiarize yourself with how it works, what you need to check out a bike, and where the docking stations are for your start and stop points. Download an app to make it easy to find bike share stations while out and about. The Spotcycle app works with most bike share systems.

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Sawako designs helmets in high style.

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The Lumos Helmet
The basic gear needs include: helmet, lights, and something to carry your stuff. Helmets are available in stylish designs (see those by Sawako), and with lights to signal braking and turning (see the Lumos helmet).

If taking your own bike, you will want to carry a patch kit, extra inner tube, a pump, and bike tools, such as a multi-tool. Keep a quality lock with you, even if you can park the bike inside, as you may need it when stopping for an errand. High quality theft-resistant locks can be heavy, but TiGr offers titanium locks that are strong, light and stylish.

TiGr Mini
TiGr Mini Bike Lock
Gear that makes the commute more pleasant: fenders, a chainguard, a good saddle properly adjusted, a basket and/or rack, phone holder, and a kickstand. Other gear that can be worth the investment: handlebars/bike that support upright riding position, dynamo lights, panniers, platform pedals that work well with street shoes, and a power bank to re-charge your phone or lights. An electric assist bike can be practical if the commute is long and/or hilly. Although electric assist bikes cost significantly more than regular bikes, they are a fraction of the cost of a car, and well worth it if it makes it possible to commute by bike more often or at all. Superpedestrian offers the Copenhagen Wheel, which can turn a regular bike into an electric assist.

The Iconic Red Copenhagen Wheel
I had fun trying out the Copenhagen Wheel at the Ride Home From Work Party in Brooklyn. The Wheel really gives your ride a boost.
Clothing: Go With What Works For You

You are likely able to ride in whatever clothes you wear to work. Exceptions are avoiding or adjusting for long, flowy items that might get caught in the spokes, or dealing with hills, distance, or weather that leaves you too sweaty or wet. You can pin up, anchor, or tie a knot in a long, loose skirt, or use a pant clip or slap band to keep pant legs out of the way. For sweaty situations, you can bring fresh clothes with you and change at work. Some work places offer shower facilities or have a gym close by. Many bike commuters keep extra clothes at work, or bring a week’s worth to the office at a time. You can also keep a kit of toiletries at work to use for freshening up. Consider a small towel, cleansing wipes, deodorant, and a comb or brush.

Bloomers Underneath
Bikie Girl Bloomers can protect your dignity in style.
Experiment with different clothing to find what is most comfortable. Some prefer pants, others prefer the freedom of movement provided by a skirt or dress. Pants can easily wear out from bike riding, so consider a style designed for the durability and flexibility biking requires, such as The Willary’s Core Pant. Skirts and dresses can be combined with a lightweight bike short, tights, or leggings for coverage and/or warmth. If needed, you can wear a padded bike short for the ride in, and switch to regular pants upon arrival. Let the bike shorts air out during the day so they are at least partly refreshed for the ride home.

Willary Pants
The Willary’s Core Pant

Planning Your Route: Map It Out

The best route for biking to work is likely different from the route you would take by car or other means. Most cities provide a map of bike routes, bike paths, and bike-friendly streets. Google maps and other bike routing software can help you figure out a suitable route. Test ride your route on the weekend to make sure there aren’t any unpleasant surprises and to get familiar with your route when there is less traffic on the roads. Keep in mind that occasionally Google maps will direct you to cross a major street without a traffic light. If you get stuck in such a situation, consider taking the sidewalk (walk the bike if sidewalk riding is not legal in your city) to access the nearest crossing with a traffic light.

Carrying Your Stuff: No Sweat

Options for carrying your things include: a messenger bag (make sure it is stable while riding), backpack, basket or panniers. A bag that is against your back will create much more sweating, so many prefer a basket or a pannier that attaches to the rear rack. Po Campo provides a variety of stylish options that include bags that hook on your bike and can also be your professional-looking briefcase or handbag. Rear-mounted bike baskets allow for a more stable weight distribution, while front baskets provide easy access while riding. Your choice will also be influenced by what you need or will have to carry with you upon arrival. Think also about whether your arrangement will be used for shopping or carrying children.

Po Campo Uptown Trunk Bag
Po Campo Uptown Trunk Bag
Staying Safe: Take That Lane

Know your local bike laws. The most important keys to safety relate to being visible and predictable to others and being prepared for the unexpected. Ride with the flow of traffic, and take the lane when sharing the road with motorized vehicles. Riding too close to the edge of the lane makes you less visible to motorists and can encourage drivers to pass you too closely. Allow 3-5 feet between you and parked cars to avoid getting doored. Avoid weaving around parked cars, as that can catch motorists by surprise when you re-enter the traffic lane. Be aware of others traveling on foot, bike, or by car. Signal your turns, and use vocals or a bell to let others know you are approaching them to pass or to alert pedestrians. You can increase your skills and confidence by taking a class with your local bike advocacy organization. Click here to see some examples of the skills that will help you handle dicey situations that can arise on city streets.

Vespertine Reflective Vest
Vespertine Reflective Vest
Riding At Night: Be Visible

Wear reflective clothing at night, and use a white light in front and a red light in back. Brands like Vespertine NYC provide stylish reflective vests, jackets, scarves, and dresses. Flashing lights can make it harder for others to gauge distance and are unsafe (to others) as front lights. Lights vary, so be sure you know how effective the lights you have will be. Consider also whether they will require battery replacement or can be recharged. Lights are often stolen from parked bikes, so consider lights you can easily carry with you. Alternatively, dynamo lights whose power is generated by the front wheel and integrated into the bike design are less easy to steal from a parked bike.

Multi-Modal Options: Create A Back-Up Plan

If the distance is too great, one direction is too hilly, or you feel more comfortable knowing you don’t have to ride both ways, look into the options for public transit. Some cities allow bikes on trains, buses, and/or subways, others allow them only during non-commuting hours, or have limited space. Some commuters use public transit for part of their route, or in one direction. Others take public transit (or drive) at the beginning and end of the week to carry clothes and other items for the week, and use the bike in between. These options can also be your back-up in case of weather or an equipment mishap.

Bike Commuters
It’s true: bike commuters have more fun!
Go ahead and give it a try. Keep in mind that it gets easier the more you ride to work, as you will get more comfortable on the bike, discover better routes, and hone your gear logistics. It’s OK to start out as a fair weather cyclist, or to hold off before you start riding at night. Riding in inclement weather or in the dark or every day can be goals to set for the future. You can strive for more as you gain confidence (and the addiction sets in).

And don’t be surprised if you start noticing an extra spring in your step when you arrive at the office!

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Can you spot all the Ride In Style gear in this photo?