Bike To Work Month 2009

I’ve been meaning to post about my experiences since I started regularly biking to or from work about a year ago, but haven’t gotten around to it. But since tomorrow marks the start of May, which is National Bike Month (Bike to Work Day is May 14, 2009), I thought I’d post about some of my recent thoughts. I still play to write up and post some of my past stories (like having three bikes stolen in the span of six months last year), but that will wait until later.

This summer marks the opening of a remarkable number of bicycle and pedestrian improvement projects (trails, bridges, etc.) in the Bay Area. The two that most impact my commute opened this week: On Sunday, the Stevens Creek Trail opened the new segment to Sleeper Avenue, and today, the Mary Avenue Footbridge opened, connecting Cupertino and Sunnyvale with a cable-stayed steel pedestrian and bicycle bridge across Interstate 280. I went with a group of people from work and attended the dedication this afternoon. It was fun; the Homestead High School band played, there were speeches by mayors, city council members, bicycle advocates, VTA and engineering firm leaders, and they cut a ribbon with oversize novelty scissors. I got to chat with an employee of the engineering firm that designed the bridge, and learned the secret to why they were able to design a steel bridge to fit the city’s budget after the bids for a traditional concrete bridge all came back about $10 million too high; the materials actually cost more, but they were able to make a design that could be built simply and quickly (twenty nights of closing single lanes of 280), saving time and labor.

I’ve been biking home from work almost every day for a year, and I had settled on a route home I liked (and then again after we moved last fall), but the past few weeks I’ve been experimenting with different routes to try to find faster or better ways to get to and from work. These new projects definitely help. My door-to-door times had been around 45-50 minutes; this week I’ve been taking the Stevens Creek Trail home all the way from the new Sleeper trailhead, and yesterday I got home in 39 minutes. Today, using the Mary Ave bridge I made it home in 36 minutes. So that’s a big improvement; if I biked both directions (which I haven’t been doing, but might start again), this saves me 20 minutes a day.

One thing I find interesting when comparing routes is that speed and distance have only marginal correlation. The route I took home today is almost a mile longer than the one I took home a week ago, but it got me here ten minutes faster. And the route I took today is about a quarter-mile longer than the one I took yesterday, but was almost five minutes shorter. Bicycles do best when they are moving, and finding straight flat routes with minimal stops, sharp turns and obstacles is more important than pure distance, although that does matter. I also avoid some routes that might be faster, because they either seem unsafe (automotive traffic) or boring. I find certain streets very tedious (Grant Road, for example) and can’t bring myself to include them in a regular commute.

Another approach I’ve been trying the past few days is collecting GPS data about my commute. I downloaded an iPhone app called Trailguru that captures the GPS information and uploads it to their Web site where you can view it in Google Maps or download it. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a good way to analyze the data yet; the Trailguru Web site shows you the route, but doesn’t attach speed information to it in a way that I can use. Their app is very well done, but the analytics aren’t very good. The best thing I’ve found so far is to export the data from the Web site in GPX format and import it into an Mac OS X app I found called TrailRunner, which at least lets me select a segment of the route graphically and shows the distance and speed for that segment. I’d like to find something better, though—without paying Garmin a lot of money, which seems to be the traditional solution.

Since this is my first post in quite a while, I’d better include this as well: I’ve tried most of the M&M’s Premiums flavors; they’re not really real M&M’s, but they are okay. For Easter this year, they did the usual pastel-colored M&M’s, but they printed Easter-themed pictures, like rabbits and eggs, which was cute.

Speaking of rabbits, I’m really enjoying the new Annie’s Organic Snack Mix Bunnies, which I found at Whole Foods last week. I hope they make the pretzels available separately.