Dr. Sprocket’s Cycling FAQ

Dr. Sprocket assembled this FAQ to answer your questions about cycling, specifically to encourage people to try biking to work. See some recent questions here.

To ask your own question, send Dr. Sprocket an e-mail!

Q. Is the crosswalk a safe way for a bicycle rider to cross the street?
A. Before becoming a bicycle safety instructor I did not have a clear understanding of what my rights were as a bicycle rider. Like most people, I learned to ride a bike as a kid and it was about balance, pedaling and steering. Then I took these new-found skills and rode wherever it seemed like a good place to ride, trying to stay out of harm’s way.

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Q. How do I get off the island if I live on the West End?
A. Darn, I was hoping nobody would ask me this. This is one of the biggest gripes of Alamedans, trying to deal with the getting from West Alameda to Oakland. The only way to ride across is through the Posey Tube (this is the one going TO Oakland). The Webster Tube does not have a path and it is illegal to ride on the roadway of either tubes. Although one can technically bike on the sidewalk of the Posey Tube, it is not fun, and it’s not very safe. I would say that only the experienced rider should attempt the tube. (See this page for advice.) This leaves us with a few other options. You can catch just about any AC Transit bus at Webster Street, and place your bike on the rack on the front of the bus. You can ride East and take one of the bridges off of the island. Bike Walk Alameda is pushing for more alternatives to this situation!

Q. I haven’t ridden in years! Why start on Bike to Work Day?
A. Bike to Work Day is set up to help support people who feel that they ought to try biking, but just need a little support and encouragement. Well, we have both for you. On Bike To Work day, there are “Energizer Stations” around the island that you can stop by on your way to work to get advice, friendly conversation, and a bag of goodies as thanks for trying cycling. As long as you can get your bike in working order (by yourself or by taking it to one of the city’s many bike shops), you should be ready. They say that riding a bicycle is like … like riding a bicycle. You’ll remember how to ride!

Q. There’s no shower at work. Now what?
A. More and more, new construction is requiring shower facilities for employees. For those without, don’t despair. Alameda is very flat, as you may have noticed. If you dress appropriately (in layers, and if necessary in a T-shirt that you can change out of when you get to work), you should arrive to work fresh as a rose. If you commute into the Oakland Hills, I can’t help you there.

Q. How do I stay safe on the road?
A. I can give you two big pieces of advice. The first is to ride your bike as if you were in a motor vehicle. “Drive” your bike going with traffic and don’t dart. Stay to the right of the lane, but when you are going by parked cars, stay at least 3 feet away from the doors so you won’t be hit by opening doors. The second is to wear a helmet, and wear it properly! Too often I’ve seen kids and adults riding around with no helmet, or with a helmet hanging from their handlebars, or on their head but not fastened properly. Get a helmet from one of our wonderful bike shops, and get them to help you wear it properly.

Q. How do I teach my children how to ride safely?
A. We have a flyer to help you. See our Family Safety Flyer. (Other languages available from the Information page.)

Q. What do I do about flats?
A. Flats should happen rarely if your tires are in good shape, you stay on well-maintained roads, and as long as your tires aren’t ultra-thin like a racing bike. If the planets have aligned poorly and you do get that rare flat, you have a few options. You can bring a repair kit with you everywhere (be sure to practice beforehand so you won’t panic), or you can walk your bike and hop a bus – most of AC Transit’s routes have bike racks on their buses now. (One caveat: Avoid places where “puncture vine” is found in the late summer and early fall. See this article for more details.)

Q. I would like to ride with my children. How do I start?
A. Riding with children and babies is easy, if you have the right equipment and cooperating children. There are three basic means of getting toddlers and small children around:

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Q. What is the best way to get to Jack London Square from east of Park Street?
A. Go over the Park Street Bridge or the Miller-Sweeney Bridge, and head up the Embarcadero in Oakland. This page has the low-down.

Q. What is the best way to get to downtown San Francisco by bike?
A. There are a number of options, and the best way depends on your schedule and where you live. You can take a ferry from the West End or from Harbor Bay, with your bike. You can take your bike on BART (except during specific commute hours; see their website) – Fruitvale station is the nearest). You can put your bike on the front rack of an AC Transit bus, though there is only room for two bikes. The best website for researching transit options is 511.org.

Q. I’m nervous in traffic. Are there any resources for learning to ride among cars?
A. Fortunately, Alameda is pretty calm and traffic won’t be a problem, as long as you skip to the bike routes and the slow streets, and avoid the crowded streets like Lincoln, Webster, and Maitland. Check out Bike Walk Alameda’s website for some suggested routes to get around the island as well as online maps of bike routes. Or contact us with your specific itinerary and we’ll help you figure out a route.

Q. I want to start riding, but I need to buy a new bike. What’s the best one for me?
A. There is no pat answer for this question. It depends on the type of riding you will be doing. If you will be riding fast and on the pavement then a good ROAD BIKE is for you. If you will be riding on really rough roads or off road, then a MOUNTAIN BIKE will best meet your needs. If you will be doing a bit of both, you have the option of the CROSS BIKE. It’s not as tough as the mountain bike, and not a light as the road bike but it’s a good cross between them. Bikes these day s are offered in a vast array of specialty frames and prices. Decide what best suits your needs and then SHOP AROUND. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. A good shop will not push a certain brand but they will point out the bikes they carry that meet your needs. They will also answer your questions and help you make an informed decision.

Q. What’s the best thing to do when I get to the intersection of (for example) Sherman Street and Buena Vista Avenue? The light never seems to change to green!
A. The problem is that the stop signals on many streets have “loop” detectors embedded in the pavement that cause the signals to change. Unfortunately, many of these are tuned only to notice cars on the road. Bike Walk Alameda is working with the city to upgrade these loop detectors to respond to bicycles. In the meantime, you can either wait for a car to come by and trigger the light, or stumble over to the pedestrian push-buttons.

Q. I need to wear a nice dress at work. How do I bike with a dress?
A. Riding in a dress can be tricky if it’s a form-fitting dress. One approach is to dress down for your ride, and change clothes at work. You could leave a week’s worth of outfits at work. You can also buy a garment bag and carry it as a shoulder strap or a rack mount. Check out the local shops or online stores such as Nashbar.

I have developed my own solution to this problem. I wear full skirts which allow free movement. But to keep them from catching in the wheels, I use binder clips to make pleats on each side at the hemline. Realizing that this is not a very attractive option, my husband bought me a set of clips in lovely colors! If I take the 60 seconds necessary to install the clips I can ride safely and comfortably. – Susan Freeman