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Biking San Leandro: Not Bad, and Great Over the Hills

A pedal-powered commuter shares her thoughts about biking in the city, and cycling out of it.

Now that the die-hard bikers and pedal-powered commuters have gotten through most of the wintry wetness, it's prime time for the fair-weather bikers to join us on the road. 

My experience of biking San Leandro so far has been for commuting and for recreational purposes.

For practical applications, San Leandro’s in-town commuting scene is decent, but not the best I’ve seen. It's hard to live up to the Southern California city of Santa Barbara’s network of bike lanes and paths that run all over town, even separate from the roadways in some areas.

But San Leandro could be worse, and with talk of a greenway being built along the BART line, there is promise for improvement.

The main thoroughfares of E. 14th Street and Bancroft Avenue are wide enough to feel safe riding along the shoulder where there aren’t explicit bike lanes. But one tricky spot is in front of San Leandro High School on Bancroft, where the bike lane disappears, and car and foot traffic can be heavy during school hours.

Another drawback is that the small blocks in residential areas mean a lot of stop signs. For a bicyclist who loves to get in a groove and just go, this stopping and starting is tedious and annoying.

This is why I love to get out of town and over the hills. Road bikers or anyone looking for an adventure will probably share my enthusiasm for anything east of I-580.

On the south end of town, you can take Fairmont Drive over the hill into Castro Valley. It is an intense climb, but a wide, lightly traveled road that comes down to the Lake Chabot Marina area. You can take a meandering cruise around the lake paths – just watch out for heavy foot traffic.

For a more intense road ride, continue straight on Fairmont, then take a left on Redwood Road and climb to your heart’s (or legs’) desire -- or ability. The turnoff for the Chabot Family Campground is two miles up the road, then another two miles down into the valley. This is a good two-hour ride from the center of town.

On the north end of town, you can reach the same area by going up Lake Chabot Road by way of Estudillo Avenue on the other side of 580. This road has some steep but short climbs at the beginning and is a much narrower road Fairmont. However, I’ve seen many bicyclists here, so frequent drivers should be used to sharing the road. At the end of Lake Chabot Road, take a left on Fairmont, and you’ll come to Redwood Road.

This brings up the question of bike safety. For a long time, I was a helmet harbinger, preaching to friends about the dangers of riding with a bare head. I usually wore my helmet, and if I didn’t, it was for vanity reasons – I didn’t want to arrive to my destination with ‘helmet hair’ – and I always regretted it once I was out on the road.

However, my safety measures did not go beyond helmets until I began bike commuting from BART to a job in San Francisco. A helmet is great if you get hit, but wouldn’t it be nice to reduce your risk of collision?

You can do this by increasing your visibility. The easier it is for drivers to see you, the harder it will be to hit you. Front and rear flashing lights are essential for nighttime biking. Also, a few months ago, I bought my first visibility vest with reflective stripes, and despite the fashion faults, I love the thing.

When I wear the vest, I feel responsible, like I’m upholding my end of a conversation with the drivers. By making it easy to see me, I am saying, "Thank you for sharing the road with me, and let’s work together to make it safe for everyone."

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