The Agony and Ecstasy Of A Bleeding Edge Commute

This is a love story and a cautionary tale of my first bike commute on my new super-light folding bike.

It is safe to say I have a challenging bike commute: 41 miles each way; 7 miles of crash to cross each way; and 300 meters of vertical to climb on the way home. Given all that, I leverage public transit all I can to ensure I don’t spend 4+ hours a day commuting. That means going over to San Francisco on BART (Bay Area Public Transportation) and down the peninsula on CalTrain or down the East Bay on BART and across the Dumbarton Bridge on bus. The first option was preferable because the CalTrain system on the peninsula has dedicated bike cars. No other system in the Bay area does.

The Challenge
Therein lies the problem. No public transit, except for CalTrain, is very keen on seeing cyclists around rush hour. BART outright bans them for each of the two rush hour periods.

The Initial Solution
Instead of crossing the bay and then heading down to work, I would head down and then cross the bay. I would take BART south to Union City and either cycle or bus across the Dumbarton Bridge.

Some Bridges Like Bikes
I was astounded and impressed to find that the Dumbarton is the one transbay bridge that has a bicycle/pedestrian lane all the way across. A heartening fact in the face of the recent Bay Bridge reconstruction’s new bicycle/pedestrian bridge from Oakland to Treasure Island, but not beyond (aka a “bridge to nowhere”).

Anyway, for the first few weeks of April, this plan worked fine. If I got up early enough, I would BART down and cycle across the Dumbarton. The whole trip took 90 minutes, but who’s counting when this includes a workout? (aka a reprieve from a gym visit).

Some Buses Like Bikes
Whenever I woke up late, I would bus across with my bike in a bus rack, and the whole trip took 70 minutes.

Neither option was super-fast, but given that a traffic jam could make a car trip last 90 minutes or more, neither wasn’t bad. Not to mention, one could fill the whole time with web-surfing or reading, instead of driving.

The Reality
Then Spring hit. It stopped raining and warmed up enough so that other cyclists started having the same idea for crossing the Dumbarton. This ensured that the Dumbarton Express bus racks were always full. I tried getting to it a little early, but no dice: still full. After all, there were only two racks.

I quickly realized that the Dumbarton bus route was not a reliable option for a cyclist given the limited capacity. This produced a real bind. I didn’t have time to cycle the bridge everyday, and I couldn’t reliably get up early enough to beat the bike crowds to the Dumbarton Express bus.

Hefty Hiatus
Right about that time, someone asked me to carpool so I took a bike-commuting-hiatus. However, this felt more restrictive than all the bicycle curfews I was avoiding. No longer could I stay late at work or run errands at lunch with my bike. Carpooling wasn’t working but, by then, I had really fallen off the wagon with early rising so it felt like I couldn’t turn back. Months passed. I gained 10 pounds. I had failed to replace the cycling with another form of exercise. This wouldn’t do.