Alameda County: Gail Lillian

Gail Lillian is well known as the owner of Liba Falafel, an Oakland-based food truck. But she didn’t start bike commuting seriously until the day in 2014 she opened her brick and mortar restaurant of the same name on 17th Street in Oakland. In fact, Gail sold her car and bought an electric bike and hasn’t looked back.

A former serious road rider, Gail had to give up that passion when she slipped a disk. But knowing she wanted to bike commute, she tried the electric bike which took the stress off her back and made it possible for her to commute from North Oakland to the restaurant downtown.

According to the restaurant’s chef, she never stopped: “She goes everywhere on her bike and loves the change in her lifestyle. I’m always surprised that after a long day, she doesn’t wish she had a car. She leads a really busy life, but sacrifices the faster commute for the quality of life she experiences on the bike.”

“I love the ride, and I love being a bike commuter,” said Gail. “I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t appreciate that I’m not in a car, especially when I leave work and need the ‘downtime’ to shed my work stress before I arrive at home.” And biking through Oakland is a way for her to connect with the community and stay in touch with nature and neighbors.

Gail recently went to Japan on a belated honeymoon. “My husband, Sal, and I rented bicycles in Tokyo and Kyoto. Biking in Japan was a life-changing experience. There are people of all ages and lifestyles on bikes, including mothers with newborns on their chests and toddlers on the back of the bike in kid seats, traveling through crowded Tokyo with ease.” The experience of feeling safe biking in such a densely populated city was strange and fantastic.

Gail credits her husband as a key instigator in getting her on a bike as an adult. In turn, Gail has encouraged and inspired her employees to ride. Citing the huge personal gains she’s made by becoming a bike commuter, \ she looks forward to seeing more people getting on bikes.

Contra Costa County: Eric Odell

Eric Odell is a determined man. Riding to work every day from Richmond to Oakland is not enough for him: he needs to get his family biking as well. “Oh, they complain about it,” he says, but he keeps encouraging them to ride anyways. When his daughters were at a summer camp in Berkeley, he would stop by on his way home from work and pick them up – not in the family car, but on the family tandem+tag-along. And the girls would ride home with him.

On a regular day, though, his commute to the downtown Oakland UC Office of the President is a 22 miles round-trip ride to Richmond Heights, mostly along the Ohlone Greenway. “I used to work at UC Berkeley and bike to campus. When I got this job in Oakland I thought I might not be able to commute all the way,” said Eric, so he started biking to BART, and spent most of his commute on the train. “But I hated it and lasted all of two weeks. I bike for selfish reasons. I pretty much sit for a living as a keyboard jockey [or systems administrator] but when I bike to work I arrive a lot happier. I work out a lot of problems in my head on my way in. I’m more productive when I show up because I’m ready to go, I’ve pieced together what I’m working on.”

His two daughters, Aiko, 11, and Kaede, 10, don’t currently bike to school due to lack of safe route. But next year his eldest will be going to middle school, which happens to be on Eric’s commute route. “She doesn’t know it yet,” said Eric, “but she’s going to be riding to school.”

They do, however, ride centuries together, which is more than the average 10 year old can say. They’ve competed together in the last two Marin metric century bike rides (approximately 62 miles) as well as the Davis metric century. The first year, Eric and his wife Elayne both rode tandems with a daughter in tow. But just this April, said Eric, “we did a metric century in Chico and they rode on their own. They adamantly want to ride their own bikes.” 60 miles is a long way with kids, admits Eric, “but people take a shine to little kids doing something like that and they get a lot of compliments. It’s an achievement for them.”

Asked where this tradition of riding as a family came from, Eric brought up the summer of 1977. School had just let out and his mother did not have any plans for Eric, then 11, and his brother, 9. “Two days later we were on the road to Canada to visit my uncle. It was almost a comedy; our trip went from idea to on the road within 48 hours. We were dirtbags on bikes, so unorganized.” The family rode through Quebec, Maine and New Brunswick where they were featured in the local paper “The police had to escort us into St John’s with lights blazing late the night before,” recalled Eric, “as bikes weren’t allowed on the bridge over the St John’s River.”

The family’s not ready yet for a similar trip but they’re building up to it. And in the meantime Eric will continue biking to work, for great selfish reasons.

Marin County: Julia Busiek

While the breathtaking, 20-mile stretch of West Marin from Fairfax to Point Reyes Station represents a highly anticipated weekend ride for many Bay Area residents, it’s just another day of heading to work for Julia Busiek, Marin County’s 2015 Bike Commuter of the Year!

Julia’s route is slightly above ordinary and certainly multi-modal including a combination of bike and bus. Typically she secures her bike on the front of the Marin Stagecoach going one direction and bikes the other. Though the bus schedule is such that sometimes it only goes halfway there, she will often get off in Lagunitas and finish the trip by bike to Fairfax. Julia enjoys the many benefits of bike commuting and has gotten to know many of her Marin neighbors through roadside tire changes and riding the West Marin Stagecoach.

“I’m really grateful for the smooth pavement and courteous drivers of San Geronimo and points west. It is an uncommonly beautiful commute and I’m lucky to be able to do it regularly and watch the seasons change”.

Napa County: Jim Christman

Jim Christman has been a teacher at Napa’s Redwood Middle School for over 30 years. For almost as long, he’s been riding his bike to work – rain or shine.

“Riding is a great way to start my day – and unwind on the way home,” says Jim. When his old bike was stolen nearly 20 years ago, he shrugged it off, got a new one, and has been riding it ever since. Although Jim admits it’s almost an antique by modern standards, it suits him just fine.

When asked whether it’s ever a challenge to get motivated to ride the two miles to school each morning, Jim is quick to respond. “Not at all. I couldn’t imagine driving to work every day.”

Said one of his colleagues, “I would see Jim riding his bike every day during the beginning of the year. I originally thought he would only do it in fair weather. But during an early winter downpour I was standing in front of our school and, to my amazement, I saw Jim dressed up in rain gear riding his bike home. I asked him the next day why he rode in the rain, and he said his goal was to ride every day.”

Jim is occasionally joined on his ride to school by his two children, and his wife Judy who also teaches at Redwood.

San Francisco City & County: Rheema Calloway

Rheema Calloway is a native of San Francisco, raised in Lakeview (also known as the Ingleside district). She has been exploring her city on two wheels since November 2013, when she attended a Bike build, hosted by POWER (Causa Justa: Just Cause) and the SF Bicycle Coalition. There, Rheema had the opportunity to pick a bike, repair it and ride away on it the same day.

Last year, Rheema was one of many bicyclists pushing to pass the Unclaimed Bicycle Ordinance, which ensures unclaimed stolen bikes be given to low-income youth to give them affordable and reliable transportation. During her testimony in front of the San Frnacisco Board of Supervisors, Rheema described how owning a bike changed her life. “A year ago I couldn’t imagine myself owning a bike, let alone riding one. I now have a new therapeutic hobby! I ride 12 miles round trip every day from my home in the Ingleside district to my job in Bayview. During my ride time, I feel free, I’m relaxed and I’m burning calories. But most importantly, I am breaking the norms of my community and inspiring others.”

Having access to a bike has given Rheema a new perspective on life, as well as access to new opportunities. She is now a member of Heels on Wheels, a Bay Area woman of color bike crew. They empower women through holistic practices that range from ritual rides and reclaiming their neighborhoods, to skill shares about bicycle maintenance.

Not only has she been cruising on her Bianchi ever since, but every day Rheema challenges herself to venture further and further into the city. She has encouraged several friends and family members to get bikes and they plan to cruise all the way from Bayview to Sausalito.

San Mateo County: Nathan Losch

Nathan tries to ride his bike to and from work every day of the work week. Every once in a while, if it’s rainy, if he’s getting over a cold, or if he has to go somewhere directly from work that’s a little bit further away, he’ll drive, but over the course of the year he commutes nine out of every ten days, even in the winter.

Living in the pocket of San Mateo east of 101 on the Hillsdale exit just before entering Foster City, Nathan’s commute is a beautiful one. It takes him along the Bay Trail for almost the entire ride until he arrives at Redwood Shores Elementary School, where he’s a teacher.

According to Nathan, “Riding my bike to work on a consistent basis has legitimately gotten me into the best physical shape of my life, and I don’t need to pay the price for a gym membership. I never get frustrated by being stuck in traffic, and it’s simply fun to feel the rush of wind in my face.”

Santa Clara County: Katie Heaney

Katie Heaney is a familiar face around the local bike scene. She is an active volunteer with San Jose Bike Party and Silicon Valley Bike Coalition. She founded the San Jose Bike Party Ladies’ Ride in 2010 to inspire women to get on their bicycles and to acclimate them to riding in groups. Now in its 6th year, the Ladies’ Ride has proven to be a successful way of introducing new riders to the streets of Silicon Valley.

Undeterred by early mornings, Katie takes her daily seven-mile commute to her job as a school teacher, even in the winter cold. If you see Katie on the street, you might not realize how accomplished a cyclist she is. She rides modest equipment and eschews cycling clothing for her commutes and local rides. However, she is equally comfortable on long recreational rides as well and has completed numerous 100-mile century rides. Katie’s passion for bicycling stands out. On a recent holiday, Katie had no particular plans. She grabbed her bike and headed out the door for an impromptu 90-mile ride. Her everyday approach to bicycling is an inspiration to just getting out and riding.

Solano County: Mack Halstead

Mack Halstead started to bike to work the Monday after the bike lane opening on the Benicia-Martinez Bridge in August 2009, and has been riding to work ever since. His 34-mile round-trip journey starts from Fairfield at 4:15am with a peaceful morning ride where he watches the sun rise as he crosses the bridge to Martinez.

Mack rides daily, regardless of the weather. In addition to his daily rides to work, Mack participates in a half-dozen century and double century “pleasure” rides throughout the year. He tries to be a good cycling ambassador – following the rules of the road, making sure he’s visible to others, sees the road and himself from the car’s perspective and shares the road with everyone – cars, bicycles, motorcycles and pedestrians alike.

Sonoma County: Eric Eisenhart

Even though he lives in a county where registered vehicles outnumber people and driving seems to be an obligation rather than an option, Eric Eisenhart has never owned a car, never had a driver’s license and has always lived in a car-free household. In a County were less than 1% of all trips are made by bicycle, Eric truly leads by example.

Living north of Santa Rosa and working in Rohnert Park as the Lead Linux Systems Administrator at Sonoma State University, Eric has been pedaling his 23-mile round trip commute since 2006. To date, that’s added up to over 51,000 miles! And as someone living in a car-free household, he significantly adds to that total on the weekends by riding to visit friends, run errands and shop. 

But Eric’s commitment to bicycling doesn’t end with riding. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition for four years and is one of the leaders in bringing valet bike parking to Sonoma County. Eric would often ride 20 miles to an event, park bicycles all day and then ride 20 mile home at night. He also rides his bike to support bicycle advocacy. In 2011, Eric was one of the top fundraisers in the Climate Ride, a 320-mile ride from Eureka to San Francisco to raise awareness and support sustainability, active transportation, and environmental causes.