Bike to Work Day: Tips for a Smoother Commute (From KQED's Experts)

3 min
Rik Panganiban, on New York City's Manhattan Bridge in 2010, swears by his folding bike — which he can take with him into work. (Courtesy of Rik Panganiban)

It’s Bike to Work Day this Thursday in the Bay Area. Are you already biking to work? Or, are you contemplating joining the cycling throngs and becoming a bike-to-work commuter?

Several people who work at KQED report for duty on their bicycles and love it. And they've got lots of advice to share on how to do it right (we hope this helps you newbies!).

Good Cycling Citizenship: Don't Run Red Lights ... (Yes, It Needs to Be Said)

Denise Sauerteig, who runs research and evaluation for KQED Education, is a cycling advocate who has been biking to work for 19 years in San Francisco. Her three keys to safe cycling: awareness, eye contact and good citizenship.

“Be always aware of your surroundings. You want to try to make as much eye contact as possible with the drivers around you. You want to really be a good steward and a good bike citizen."

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Don'ts: Do not run red lights. Do not run stop signs.

Dos: Obey the law as much as possible (but, Sauerteig notes, "you always have to really ride defensively”). And, pass on the left — not on the right.

“I'm not expecting you to pass me on the right, and this goes for people on motorized skateboards or scooters,” she added.

Denise Sauerteig, a cycling advocate who has been biking to work for 19 years in San Francisco, is seen here in 2015 in the city's Potrero Hill neighborhood.
Denise Sauerteig, a cycling advocate who has been biking to work for 19 years in San Francisco, is seen here in 2015 in the city's Potrero Hill neighborhood. (Pamela Palma)

Be a Dork: Use Those Hand Signals and Light It Up

Sarah Hotchkiss, visual arts editor: Don’t be afraid to be a dork. Use those hand signals.

“It’s useful for you, the cars around you and the cyclists behind you. It looks really dorky, but it’s effective. I embrace the dorkiness of being a law-abiding citizen on my bicycle,” she said.

And make sure your bike is bedecked with lights (white in front, red in back): “You really shouldn’t be biking at night if you don’t have lights,” Hotchkiss said.

Bikin' in the Rain

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KQED News digital producer Miranda Leitsinger, who commutes from the South Bay, said you can learn to enjoy riding in the rain, but safety is paramount: Buy rain gear (jacket and waterproof pants; you'll be so grateful), make sure your bike lights are on and be extra mindful — drivers can change their behavior during bad weather so keeping a close eye on the traffic around you can be lifesaving. Also, if it's cold out, make sure you're wearing layers.

But biking in the rain is "not everyone's cup of tea," said Rik Panganiban, online learning manager for KQED Teach.

"If you're really uncomfortable, if you're really cold, if you're really nervous, you're not going to bike well. So I think having your body kitted out with the right gear and having a bike that you feel comfortable with in wet weather is super important," he said.

If you aren't comfortable riding in the rain, don't do it, Leitsinger said.

The BART-Bike Tango

Chloe Morizono, news and radio coordinator, bikes to KQED from Berkeley, getting on BART at Ashby Station. This is the BART-bike etiquette:

  • Check where the other cyclists in your "stack" are going and re-arrange bikes if needed, with the ones getting out first on top.
  • Bring a little velcro or tie to hold your brake shut. If you do that, you can be sure your bike’s not going to be moving around.
  • Avoid peak commuting hours.

And, those lockers at BART stations actually work:

“They're super cheap and you can pretty much be sure that nothing will get stolen, like your bike seat," said Morizono. "You're not going to come home and have to bike all funny because your bike seat's missing."

Sarah Hotchkiss uses a hand signal as she turns onto York Street in San Francisco on May 6, 2019.
Sarah Hotchkiss uses a hand signal as she turns onto York Street in San Francisco on May 6, 2019. (Stephanie Lister/ KQED)

Caltrain Has Cars Just for Bikes

Olivia Allen-Price, host of KQED's Bay Curious, cycles 6 miles a day and uses Caltrain on her commute. She appreciates that Caltrain has dedicated bicycle cars, but wants all cyclists to use them efficiently.

“Oftentimes, people will get into the bike car and they'll put their bike on the very first rack in the car. If you're the only person getting on the train, no big deal," she said.

Normally, though, there is "a line of people behind you and you're blocking the door by putting your bike on that first rack," she added. "So I definitely have a policy: first bike on needs to go to the back of the car and then we should all file in. It's the fastest way to load."

And, she added: "If you are not a cyclist, I encourage you to try any other car than the bike car.”

You Can Bike to Work and Have Fabulous Hair

“I think a lot of women are a little intimidated to bike to work because of getting sweaty and ruining your hair and some of the aesthetics," Allen-Price said. "I urge them to jump right in. At least for me, I find if I let my hair be a little bit wet after I get out of the shower and I don't completely dry it — I do it once I get to work — I don't worry about helmet hair.”

Olivia Allen-Price sometimes takes a lap around San Francisco’s perimeter before heading into work, stopping at sites like the Sutro Baths, for a breather and to take in the view. Photo from October 2016.
Olivia Allen-Price sometimes takes a lap around San Francisco’s perimeter before heading into work, stopping at sites like the Sutro Baths, for a breather and to take in the view. Photo from October 2016. (Courtesy of Olivia Allen-Price)

Baskets Are Cool

Leitsinger said she uses a basket to carry some of the heavier items in her backpack to lighten her load (she also uses it for groceries on the way home, too). It's easy to install a basket on your bike; just remember it's easy for someone to take it off, too. She takes her basket with her into work so it doesn't get stolen.

Keep Your Bike Safe

Panganiban swears by his folding bike. He can be anywhere within a few minutes, and can take the bike into a store, a restaurant or work (where he stores it under his desk).

"I used to live in New York City and I lost several bikes," he said. "The safest way to keep your bike from being stolen is to never have it leave your side."

Finally, Use Those Bike Lanes ... They're for Your Safety

Families bike in San Francisco on July 18, 2014.
Families bike in San Francisco on July 18, 2014. (Adam Grossberg/KQED)

KQED's Erika Kelly and Miranda Leitsinger contributed to this report. 

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