With Lance Armstrong and the rest of the world's best cyclists lining up in Rotterdam this Saturday for the Tour de France's grand depart, we here at T+L have biking on the brain. But with the realities of the ol' nine-to-five standing in the way of most everyman cyclist's yellow jersey dreams, it's hard to squeeze in midweek rides. Timbuk2 CEO Mike Wallenfels found a solution to that dilemma, deciding to trade in the morning commute behind the wheel for one on top of two.
We recently caught up with Mike to talk early morning rides, city cycling culture, and the pleasures of finding those perfect European cafés when business (and the bike) takes you on the road.
Q: How long have you been commuting to work for? How did you get started?
A: I have been commuting ever since I started working for Timbuk2 which was November 2009. In fact, on my first day of work I commuted by bike to the office from the SF Ferry Building. Previously, I worked where bikes were not allowed to cross a bridge and couldn’t ride my bike or take public transportation. As soon as I had the opportunity, I committed to riding my bike into work at least three days a week. I consider it to be a key part of my personal fitness regimen as well as a helluva lotta fun!
Q: Are there ever any mornings when you just want to reach for the car keys instead?
A: Absolutely...when it is dark, cold, and rainy it is hard to get motivated. The best way to get over that is to have a commute buddy that will egg you on and vice versa.
Q: What's your favorite part of the commute? How many hours does it take?
A: I happen to have the world’s most beautiful commute! I ride along the San Francisco Bay through Marin County where I have views of Mt. Tam, the shore of Sausalito, and of course you can NEVER top crossing the Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise! I will never get tired of that view and experience. I either do a 20-mile 1.5 hour or a 38-mile 2.5 hour commute depending on my goals for that day and week. The difference is either riding from my door to the office or driving part way and taking the ferry back from the City to my car. Both are amazing rides.
Q: What type of gear are you using and what types of weather variations are you mostly preparing for?
A: I use a waterproof backpack from Timbuk2 called the Mavericks Swig that is super stable and can handle any rain or fog without getting my iPad or laptop wet! For me, I wear a 6-ounce rain shell from Mountain Hardwear that is stretch and keeps me dry on the worst of days. I just wear long biking tights and get my legs wet during the winter, but shed layers as it gets warmer. Keeping the wind out is the most critical thing to do in the cooler and wetter months. As they say, the coldest winters are the summers in San Francisco, so I have to be prepared for both hot and cold year round.
Q: When you're on the road for business, do you still find time to bike?
A: I do, but never enough time. Fortunately, many of our retailers also sell and ride bikes, so I try to arrange rides as I travel (and rub elbows with the right people). I have biked in New England, Seattle, Austria, Switzerland, England, and Colorado regularly (or at least for me) on business trips.
Q: Aside from Marin, do you have any favorite rides in other parts of the country/world?
A: The two that come to mind are riding through the hills of Tuscany above Lucca and along the Chamonix Valley in the French Alps. The whole bike culture and availability of great coffee and food take it to a whole other level in Europe that you can’t compare in the US. However, that said, riding through northern Marin and Sonoma County coast is hard to beat! I am spoiled that I get to ride it every week.
Q: What's your advice for readers that want to begin commuting to work via two wheels, but don't know how to get started?
A: Start small and build from there. Using a combination of bike and public transportation is super helpful, and if you can get the support of another bike commuter, it always helps. Even if you just do it once a week or once a month, it is going to change your perspective on life. Things are slower on bike than by car and you experience so much more.
Q: With a 38-mile slog home waiting at the end of every workday, we take it you aren't hitting happy hour after 5, are you?
A: I have to admit that I ride the 38-miles in and take a bus back home most of the time. If I am training for a big century race I will muscle up and ride both ways, but happy hour is good either way. My favorite day to ride is Friday when I part at the Ferry lot in Marin and then have happy hour on the boat with views of the Golden Gate Bridge on my way back to my car. Exercise, friends, and Fat Tire Ale are my reward for a long week of riding...and working.
Q: In your travels, what cities have the best bike culture?
A: In the US, it would be Boulder, CO and Portland, OR. Both are amazing biking cities. Boulder is more of a road and mountain bike race crowd, but Portland is all about bike commuting. Even their Congressman, Earl Blumenauer rides a bike and promotes national awareness of commuting. The bike culture in San Francisco and Oakland have a unique flavor to themselves, which is very urban and based on lifestyle, and a focused fixed gear culture, that is very unique.
James Jung is a freelance editor at Travel + Leisure.