100 Miles of Pizza

I got a new bike a couple weeks ago (this one is named Steve, or Steven when he’s in trouble), and since I will never turn down an opportunity to track things longhand, I started logging every mile I rode on the little beast into a Google Sheet. Last Friday, exactly two weeks after his first ride, Steve passed his very first 100 mile mark.

100 miles on a bike means different things to different people. For some it seems impossibly far, while others rack up those kinds of numbers pretty regularly before lunch. Luckily, we can translate those miles into a unit that everyone can understand, the radian of the caloric-expenditure-and-redemption world: slices of pizza.

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Constantly.

Using this handy (and completely unverified) calculator, I can see that someone my size (~140 pounds) cycling at my commuting pace (~10-11 miles per hour) for one hour will burn 381 calories. One hour is exactly how long it takes me to complete my daily total commute of 10.4 miles (15 minutes for each 2.6-mile leg, back and forth and back and forth). That brings me to 36.6 calories per mile, and we’re going to call it 37, because at Reno Bikes, we round up.

When you google “how many calories are in a slice of pizza”, Google says 285. I’m willing to accept this. I eat a fairly monstrous amount of pizza, from homemade slices that are probably slightly smaller than Google’s estimate to Wild Garlic’s insane braided-crust basket o’ pizza style slices that are more like dinners for three. We’ll just go with 285.  

Also from that Google results page, courtesy of Wikipedia: “Pizza is a flatbread generally topped with tomato sauce and cheese and baked in an oven.” Ah, to be the early hive minder that dropped that tidbit of knowledge into Wikipedia!

Anyway, 37 calories per mile for 100 miles divided by 285 calories per slice equals 13 slices of pizza! Embarrassingly, I eat significantly more pizza than that in an average fortnight, but still. Digging myself 13 slices out of the caloric pizza pit in which I constantly dwell is not insignificant.

Considered from another angle, it costs money to drive a car. My employer compensates us $0.575 per mile driven, and some estimates put that number even higher. For simplicity’s sake, and because biking isn’t quite free, let’s assume that driving a mile in a car costs $0.50 more than biking a mile. The 100 miles Steve and I have traveled together already saved me about $50! Assuming that an average slice of pizza costs $4, I could take my savings from not driving those 100 miles and use them to buy 12.5 of the 13 slices I earned calorically by biking.

There you have it, folks. Bike to work for a couple weeks and you get to basically binge on pizza, for free, with no consequences for your waistline. That’s all the encouragement I need. See you in the bike lane!

Oh, the Places We’ve Been!

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Last week I bought myself a brand new bicycle. It came about fairly quickly – I was frustrated with my old bike (a dark green Windsor Tourist affectionately named Mike the Bike), I saw a good review of a decent workhorse bike in Bicycle Times, I found a similar bike in my size on clearance at the local REI, and I bought it within an hour of testing it. I LOVE the new bike, but it wasn’t until I was riding to work the next morning that I realized that an era had come to an end. For nearly five years, I rode Mike the Bike at least ten miles almost every day, and then as suddenly as he came into my life, he and I were over. I’m not ashamed to admit that it made me a little emotional. And on that note, I thought I’d clack out a little tribute to Mike the Bike.

The San Francisco Years

I first rode Mike to work on December 1, 2011. I couldn’t come to a complete stop, I went downhill slower than I went uphill (due to terror), I couldn’t take either hand off the bars (sorry, signaling!) and I absolutely couldn’t stand up on the pedals. That first commute was rough, and my heart started pounding that afternoon at the thought of having to make the return trip home. But Mike was a solid bike, and he stayed in tune despite my newbie efforts to kill him. I quickly improved and started to look forward to riding. Before long, my commute was my favorite part of each day.

Together, Mike and I completed the classic San Francisco cyclist’s hat-trick from hell: We were hit by a car (not our fault), hit a pedestrian (NOT OUR FAULT) and bit it over the Muni tracks (totally our fault), all in the space of a calendar year. For our final San Francisco performance, Mike and I were severely right hooked by an unmarked van, leaving both of us dented and shaken up, but undeterred.

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Young Mike and young me with the Golden Gate Park bison, mere minutes into our first bike tour together.

The San Francisco era also ushered in our first long-distance bike trip, from our San Francisco apartment along the coast to Morgan’s childhood home in Santa Barbara. I fell in love with bike touring and Mike fell in love with his granny gear.

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Mike and I about to take on the Bixby Bridge, swallowed in fog on the California coast.

The Auburn Experiment

Auburn was a wacky place to live, but damn, was it a fun place to ride a bike. I worked 16 miles north of home, so twice a week Mike and I would enjoy the 32-mile round-trip commute along gorgeous Placer Hills Road, with a total of 3,000 feet of climbing. Our fastest one-way time was 1:21, after which I nearly ralphed. We often rode home in the dark, getting spooked by the roaving packs of deer lurking just beyond the road’s edge (record deer sightings for a single home commute: 32). Once, we were about to roll through a desolate three-way stop when a crashing sound made me jam on Mike’s brakes. A second later, two enormous bucks careened down the roadside embankment straight into the intersection, horns locked in epic combat. Mike and I escaped to higher ground to watch the fight play out.

During our time in Auburn we were gifted a Burly trailer and watched our leg muscles quadruple in size as we hauled Banner back and forth from the dog park. Mike and I would frequently coast down the hill to meet Morgan pedaling up from his office in Lincoln, stopping a couple miles from home to get dollar ice cream cones to fuel the return trip. Due to our almost complete lack of a social life in Auburn, I was in the best shape of my life and I think Mike was among my top five closest friends.

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Just hanging out with my best friends on a bike camping trip. Poor Banner had recently had a cup of scalding tea spilled on his head.

Getting it Right in Reno

We moved to Reno in July 2014, and Mike and I immediately fell into a groove. Bike to work, bike home for lunch, bike back to work, bike back home. Bike to get groceries thanks to that sweet Burly trailer, bike to the bar, bike to the river. We quickly discovered that almost everywhere in town was super easily bikeable, and Mike’s stout construction and zillion gears made short work of any stray trips up into the hills.

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Mike, Burly and a group of scragglers take advantage of Costco’s bike parking while shopping for our Christmas cabin trip.

Since moving to Reno, Mike has been able to indulge his inner traveler a little more with tours through Oregon (amazing!) and Utah (less amazing!). Mike currently lists Bend, OR as his favorite city on earth and earned his beastly stripes on the 26-mile climb up to Crater Lake and the 20-mile, 4,000-foot climb out of Utah’s Cedar City.

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Mike checks off a bucket list item, meeting Mt. Bachelor in 2015.

Mike has kept me fit, happy and not broke in Reno, but he’s really shined the most here in his ability to attract friends. Thanks to the Reno Bike Project’s repair class and group rides, and to the somewhat small but very active group of cycling enthusiasts in town, my introverted self has been able to forge more genuine friendships with fun, like-minded people than I ever thought possible.

Sadly, in late May of this year, Mike’s (mil)age and my admitted total neglect of his care and upkeep started to catch up with him. One of his wheel rims exploded, he began shifting like a garbage truck and eventually lost his ability to shift at all. As is the fate of so many bikes, when it became apparent that it was going to cost more money to fix Mike on an annual basis than to replace him, I decided the time for his retirement had come.

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Mike’s last tour in the red rocks of Utah.

Mike and I traveled around 15,000 miles during our years together. He put dollars in my pocket that I didn’t spend on gas and allowed us to become a one-car family. He let me consume literally thousands of slices of pizza while steering clear of obesity. He transported me to some of my favorite places and best days and nights on this earth through the magic of bike touring. Most importantly, he put me in contact with great friends and brought be closer to my husband and to both sides of my fantastic bike-friendly family. This little assemblage of steel and cables has had a more profound impact on my life than I could ever have imagined on that first December commute. Mike and I may have ridden our last miles together, but he’ll forever have a special spot in my heart as the bike that started it all.

On Bike Lanes: We Can Do Better

Yesterday I was biking back to work after lunch (in this unbearable, gates-of-hell, filthy heat) and came across this on the south side of California Avenue in front of Old World Coffee:

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Apologies for the quality and angle of these photos – for reasons that I hope are apparent, I didn’t want to stand in the middle of the bike lane (or car lane) to take them.

What we see on the surface is two cars parked far enough (two feet?) from the curb that they obstruct more than half of the bike lane. What’s lurking just beneath the surface is pure laziness (or inexcusable lack of skill) on two other people’s part that resulted in very real and totally unnecessary danger to me, to other cyclists, and yes, to other drivers in the car lane.

As a cyclist coming into this situation, I had a full lane of traffic to my left (cars in front of, next to and behind me). While truly good drivers will be scanning ahead for situations like this one, realizing that there’s a cyclist coming up to an obstruction in the bike lane, and moving to the far left of their lane to give me room to scoot over, the reality is that most drivers aren’t devoting that level of attention to the road. Even if all the drivers in the car lane were to have given me that level of consideration and courtesy, the situation still would have been dodgy, since I wouldn’t have had the right angle or low speed needed to assure that no one was in those crappily parked cars, waiting to throw their driver’s side door open and send me flying. The result? I came to a full stop, waited around until the car lane cleared and then swung around the offenders to get on my way.

This might not sound like a big deal. My trip was delayed by maybe 20 seconds (and an additional voluntary 30 seconds to take the photos above). But to me, it IS a big deal, and here’s why:

  • It was completely unnecessary. Would I bitch if there was an ambulance parked in the bike lane, loading someone up? Probably not. How about a broken-down car, with an owner clearly in distress? Nope, because their situation is likely a little more dire than mine at this point. But what was the emergency here that necessitated this hasty, botched parking job? Is your noontime coffee stop really that urgent?
  • It leads to unpredictability, which leads to danger. Cars and bikes (and peds) get along best when everyone knows the score and acts predictably. But the cars driving next to me in this situation couldn’t predict what I was going to do – swing around, squeeze by, stop altogether? Following mutually-agreed-upon traffic laws is a form of communication, and when someone decides to go rogue, that communication breaks down.
  • Disregard for cyclist safety is contagious. Notice that there are two cars parked like jerks in this photo, almost perfectly lined up along an imaginary extended curb. Coincidence? Or did the second car come along, see the first one parked carelessly, and think, “Whatever, I guess this is how we park here.” I probably wouldn’t be making a fuss about this if I didn’t see cars parked this way on this stretch of California Street every damn day. Again, is this coincidence, or a spreading acceptance of the need for coffee, NOW, over the need for safety on this block?
  • This is indicative of a larger issue. From my perspective, the current transit climate in our fair city is like this: Cars own the streets, and everyone else is a guest. We have some bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, but the minute that infrastructure could be useful to a car, the cars can just take it back. We see this through my friend Andy’s veritable crusade against construction signs in the bike lane (JUST. MOVE. THEM. OVER.). We see this when someone rushing to get their coffee splays their car sideways in the bike lane and I have to deal with it. Cyclists feel this every time we see a “Bike Lane Ends” sign looming ahead as we approach a busy intersection, wondering what we’re going to do on the other side. And we see this when plans for new and improved streets in our busiest districts prioritize a handful of parking spaces over safe access for thousands of cyclists.

So what’s the solution? In the immediate, call out abuse of bike and ped infrastructure when you see it. Thanks to the comments on Addison’s excellent post on this issue, I called RPD dispatch at 775-334-2121 and reported the two cars and their plates. I’d encourage you to do the same when you encounter this level of carelessness. I didn’t expect a team of officers to surround the perps, but if all of us called out every offender we saw, some of them would start to get ticketed, creating a real financial incentive for drivers to behave better.

In the long-term, we just need better bike infrastructure. This Slate article does a great job of demonstrating that a disconnected series of unprotected (and unenforced!) bike lanes does not constitute an acceptable transit network. So show up to community meetings when transit is on the table, tell your Councilmember that safe infrastructure for all travelers is a priority, and above all else, get on your bike and ride.

How to Bike In a Skirt

My least favorite season has descended on Reno with a stifling hot vengeance. I ride home every day for lunch in addition to my regular ride during commute hours, so when temperatures are in the 80s and 90s as they have been for the past couple weeks, I feel the brunt of that heat. At this point in the year, wearing long, fitted pants is basically out of the question, so you can find me most days riding to and from work in a dress or a skirt.

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Here’s one way to do it. Could be a bit much for a Reno summer, though.

A lot of people (and clothing manufacturers) make a pretty big deal about riding in a skirt. How can it be done?! Won’t yards of lace get tangled in the spokes? Won’t our dignity be impeached? Lucky for you, readers, I have put together an exclusive Reno Bikes two-step guide to riding a bike in a skirt:

Step 1: Put on a skirt.

Step 2: Ride a bike to your destination.

It really is that easy. A typical dress for me is semi-roomy (no yards of extra material but not skin-tight) and hits just above the knee, and I bike in these with no other special accommodation most days with no incident. In my experience, the dress rides up maybe to the mid-thigh level, still keeping things far more covered than an average pair of shorts. Occasionally, a sturdy gust of wind will introduce a little flutter into the skirt, such that a little more leg is exposed and I have to readjust the material. What can people see as I bike toward them in this getup? Not much. First off, I’m pedaling in a dress, not standing stock still in the nude. Even if they could see right up the old skirt, it would only be for an instant, and all they’d see was some fairly tame leg. Second off, all the information they’d get from this rare glimpse is readily available at your nearest public pool. This is just one fairly body-confident woman’s opinion, but I don’t see the presence of skirts as a good excuse to avoid riding, or as a reason to spend a bunch of money on very specific bike-friendly technical skirts with uncomfortable built-in shortlets to preserve the delicate modesty of my more uppity neighbors. If you are wearing a skirt and you want to ride a bike, you have my permission to just do it.

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Rad ladies, rad clothes. Dignity in tact.

If covering up a little more when you’re wearing a skirt or dress would make your ride more comfortable and pleasant, then by all means, do it. On extremely windy (or cold) days, or with quite short dresses and pencil skirts that I have to hike all the way up around my bum just to get on the bike, I’ve been known to slip on a pair of bike shorts underneath so I don’t have to think about it. If you don’t have bike shorts, a pair of low-profile regular shorts will work just fine as well. The point is to just to wear whatever makes you feel comfortable in your own skin on the bike, and to know that your choice of attire doesn’t have to dictate your choice of transportation.

Here’s to Small Victories

I’m easing back into work this week after a bike-filled vacation (more on that in a few posts to come), and it feels like a good time to take things slow and celebrate some small victories, in no particular order:

Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve has started saying some positive things about green bike lanes. This doesn’t exactly sound like the start of the revolution, but it’s nice to see our mayor adding positive things to the conversation about bike infrastructure, safety and culture. Even more encouraging are the slew of comments on that Facebook post, the vast majority of which are from cyclists and drivers alike in support of better bike infrastructure. This article goes a little deeper, including a nice quote from bike-friendly Coucilmember David Bobzien about the importance of connectivity when considering an alternative transportation system. We can’t rely on Reno’s fantastic proximity alone – we need sensible connections and I’m happy to see that on the City Council’s radar.

I don’t need any additional reasons to love outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia with my whole heart and soul, but they gave me one this week: the company’s Reno distribution center matched every mile their employees rode during Bike to Work Week with a $1 donation to the Reno Bike Project, for a total donation of $5,535! What a fantastic idea. Biking to work made those employees happier and healthier, their awesome employer benefited from the boost in morale and matched that good feeling with a donation to an organization that gets more butts on more bikes, which ultimately leads to increased demand for safer and more streamlined bike infrastructure, which loops right back around and benefits those original employees. This is how it should work, folks. Like many people in Reno, I have personal connections to Patagonia, but even if I didn’t I would love this company.

I was out for a run early this morning – I’m getting back into running after a hiatus – when I came across a striping crew putting in (or maintaining?) a crosswalk at California and Nixon! This might not faze too many of you, but for me it’s a red letter day. Many of my running routes cross California at Nixon, and the traffic flow combined with a somewhat blind corner mean that I’m forced to either stand around for minutes waiting for a clean traffic break or play a dangerous game of Frogger. I am 100% DELIGHTED by this crosswalk. One little victory in the fight for a ped- and bike-friendly city!

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This tiny bit of infrastructure will make a real difference in my day-to-day as a pedestrian in my neighborhood. Thanks Reno!

One of my coworkers has started riding his bike to work regularly (with a sweet ride he picked up at the Reno Bike Project, of course), and it makes me smile every time I hear him wheeling his bike through the office.It’s easy to start feeling like a mild freak when you’re the only one showing up to work slightly sweaty and helmeted day in and day out, and it’s just so nice to be “one of the bike people”, instead of “the bike person”. On a related note, summer has descended on Reno and the masses have taken to their bikes! Throughout winter, I consistently see 4-5 other cyclists on each leg of my commute; now, there are almost that many bikers waiting at each intersection. It makes me so happy to see the simple and lovely phenomenon of people getting it right and riding to work.

Finally, Sundance Books and the Reno Bike Project are hosting an evening of bike chat and yummy food next Wednesday, June 8 from 7 – 9pm at Sundance. Elly Blue is one of the speakers/hosts/whatever, which I’m stoked about since she wrote Bikenomics, a story intertwining my first and second loves. I’ll definitely be there. Tickets here.

Five Takeaways from the ReImagine Reno Focus Group

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From the cover of the ReImagine Reno Draft Guiding Principles and Goals [PDF]. A bike:kayak:car ratio of 3:2:1 seems about right to me.
As previously mentioned, I participated in the ReImagine Reno focus group at City Hall on Tuesday night. The format was decent, snacks were provided, and I think we got some good work done. Rather than marching through a recap, I thought I’d share a few things I took away from the session:

  1. There are a lot of people in Reno who are way more awesome than I am. Don’t worry, I was already aware of this, but it was brought home at the focus group. I spoke with people who are regularly biking more than a dozen miles each way to get to work, in spite of substandard bike infrastructure. I spoke with people who have owned businesses in MidTown for years and have been steering the city toward transit-friendliness and walkable neighborhoods the whole time. I spoke with retirees who are active and invested in the reinvigoration of Downtown as a walkable, attractive neighborhood. Renoites are a great bunch, and I feel lucky to have stumbled into their weird and wonderful ranks.
  2. Planning takes forever, and parts of it are boring. We are in Phase 2 of the ReImagine Reno process, where we are trying to define the specific goals that will guide the Master Plan. As in, we are literally dithering over the wording of the goals. This meant that most of the evening was spent debating the relative merits of words like “functional” and “comprehensive” and whether “encouraging” something is the same thing as “incentivizing” it (spoiler alert: it’s not!). I am a professional copywriter and I still found this shit crazy boring. However…
  3. Words are really important. The reason we spent a whole boring evening parsing synonyms is that the words that we choose to define the City’s overarching goals really do have substantive meaning. When we decide to develop a “functional” transportation system for all modes of travel, rather than a “balanced” system, we are deciding to focus on actual results – can I use this system to get from A to B? is it functional? – rather than on perceived equity. Much later in the process, when we’re trying to establish actual policies based on the overarching goals, we can point to this wording and show that it’s not enough that you put in a few bike lanes (there are lanes for bikes and lanes for cars: see? balanced!). Those bike lanes need to connect to each other and get me safely all the way to my destination (that’s a functional system).
  4. We all basically want the same stuff. I haven’t met a single person who wants Reno to become a dystopian resource-annihilating hellscape, and yet that seems to be what we all suspect of others who don’t share our views on the nuanced topics of city planning. I don’t want cars to be wiped off this earth – I get a lot of benefit from mine and I recognize that even if I went car-free, the society I depend on could not. At the same time, the more car-oriented transit advocates at these meetings probably don’t just want to pave over the entire state and call it good. We just need to see that there really are ways to accommodate everyone. Proper street design and thoughtful planning can allow us to have a 20-minute town that you can still navigate safely and easily by bike or on foot. We all basically just want to get around a pleasant city without fearing for our lives or sanity. We can get there.
  5. Everyone is appalled by the current treatment of the majestic Truckee River. Can we just start here? Can we make it so that no crappy institution can ever back itself up against the Truckee ever again? Can we as a metropolis make a pact to dust off this natural and economic jewel and to never mistreat it for as long as we live? The new Virginia Street bridge is a great start. I vote for more of that, forever.

You can learn more about the ReImagine Reno effort here. I’m hoping to participate and update throughout the process, and as always your thoughts and input are welcome in the comments.

Life at Biking Speed: The Hobo Art Walk on Riverside Drive

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One of my favorite things about riding a bike is that it really combines the best of all transportation worlds. For errands within town, I often find walking to be prohibitively slow, which could point driving as the obvious choice. When I’m driving, though, I miss the level of observation that I get when I’m on foot – I like to be able to slow down and say hello to people that I know (read: pet all the dogs) or check out a shop or an event without the hassle of maneuvering the car and finding parking. Bikes shine because they get you around town almost as quickly as cars do, but they’re super nimble when you want to stop and explore. This came home to me this weekend when, while biking home from a grocery run, I stumbled upon the Hobo Art Walk.

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Several times as I’ve walked, jogged or biked along Riverside between the Hub and the Booth Street bridge, I’ve noticed little piles of river rocks that suddenly come into focus as mini sculptures. The first time I saw one, I thought it was a cute one-off. Then I started seeing them more and more frequently, though always just one or two at a time. This weekend as I biked by, I noticed that there were a whole bunch of them dotting the grass up and down the riverbank. When I actually saw a guy tinkering with one, I pulled my bike over to say hi and check them out more closely.

It turns out the force behind the rock sculptures is a friendly guy named Cyrus, who was happy for me to take some photos and stop for a chat. I was surprised to learn that he’s been making this kind of art off and on for more than 25 years. Even more surprising was that he takes the sculptures down every night and puts them back up every morning. He seemed to like the ephemeral nature of the project, making little adjustments and moving his figures around as the seasons and the river change. As I spoke to him, he was adjusting the posture of one of his reclining figures, and it was basically magic how fast he was able to shuffle the rocks around and give the piece a whole new attitude. This guy probably knows the physical dynamics of river rocks better than anyone on the planet.

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Cyrus, the artist, was perfecting this little guy’s coiff when I rolled up.
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Gah!

Cyrus told me he had just hosted his fifth “Hobo Art Love” event the day before. For these events, he makes more permanent sculptures (still made from river rock, but bolted together) and sells them on Riverside. But instead of keeping all the proceeds, he asks the buyers to pay the price forward to those on the street that need help. He estimated that the weekend’s event put $500 into needy hands. Regardless of your opinions of the Downtown homeless population and the ethics of giving money to people who beg, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a nicer guy who’s making a more positive impact in a community that matters to him.

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My favorite, of course.

Cyrus seemed genuinely content to see people out enjoying his creations, but he also had a bucket for donations, so next time I go by I’m definitely going to bring a few bucks to contribute. When I got home I found a nice KOLO piece with a little more information about the Hobo Art Walk, which you can check out here. If you’d like to see it in person, take your bike down to the Hub on Riverside for a coffee and have a wander along the river. It’s such a mellow, positive, community-based way to spend a half-hour: in short, all the things I love about bikes and Reno.

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