When Tiffany Wise-West decided to go without a car for a year, she invested in good quality rain gear, a helmet, and bike lights so she could ride regardless of the weather or time of day. When she had to commute across town or over the hill, she either caught a ride with a friend or took the 17 Express. Wise-West admits that she stayed close to home most of that year, but overall, she found it wasn’t as hard as she expected to make the shift from driver to cyclist. Although getting around town now required some extra planning, she found that the exercise, time outdoors, and cost savings far outweighed the easy convenience of commuting by car. She was hooked.
Making the shift from driver to cyclist
Today, 17 years later, Wise-West’s commute is a bit longer and her schedule a bit busier, so she does own a car for those days when biking isn’t realistic. As both a bike ambassador for Ecology Action and the Sustainability and Climate Action Manager for the City of Santa Cruz, however, Wise-West is still committed to cycling whenever her schedule (and the weather) allows. On those days when a car isn’t needed, she rides an ebike, her purse, lunch and laptop strapped with a bungee cord into a metal front basket, from Capitola through Arana Gulch to her office at the Santa Cruz City Hall. “I love going through Arana Gulch and seeing the cows and the sun sparkling on the grass,” says Wise-West. “I used to take the Harbor Bridge which I always hated. One reason why I ride so much now is because I have a safe route.” Another reason she’s again become a regular rider is her ebike. Even though Wise-West went without a car for a full year, she found that after she moved further away from work, she would go long stretches without riding her bike at all. “When I did ride my bike, I was coming to work a mess—we don’t have good shower facilities—and it took me 40 minutes to get to work.” She needed to find a way to speed up her commute and arrive at the office ready for a meeting, so she invested in her first ebike. “My 7-speed was discouraging me from riding, but I knew that an ebike would get me over those hurdles.” For Wise-West, giving up her 7-speed was the right choice. She now bikes to work on average three days a week during the dry months and insists that anyone, no matter your age or fitness level, can do the same. “You can work in a professional job and still commute by bike 5 miles one way,” she says. “You don’t have to be young or super fit. You can do this at any age without being a health nut.”
Reducing emissions and finding community
Like many cyclists, Wise-West discovered that in addition to improving her physical health, being a bike commuter also improved her emotional wellbeing. Through biking, she was introduced to a whole new community of fun, healthy-minded people. “The community of bikers is a really special group and it gives me a sense of belonging,” says Wise-West. “You don’t need to have lived here for 20 years; you could have just moved here and you can still be a part of that community. It’s a uniter.” Of course, as the City’s Sustainability and Climate Action Manager, Wise-West also cares deeply about her impact on the environment as a cyclist. Transportation represents the biggest sector of emissions in Santa Cruz County, so a big part of her job is figuring out how to reduce emissions in transportation. The City’s Action Climate Program has a goal of increasing bike ridership to 12% of local commutes by 2020, and they have been actively implementing programs to exceed that goal. These initiatives include bright green bike lanes, the Santa Cruz Rail Trail which will include 3.4 miles of bike paths within city limits, and the partnership with JUMP bikes. They also have an incentive program in the works for downtown employees to encourage low-carbon modes of transportation. To Wise-West, biking is a critical mode of transportation when it comes to reducing emissions and relieving congestion on our roads. “Every car you get off the road and replace with a bike reduces the emissions to zero,” she says.
Don’t give yourself a reason to say no
If you’re new to bike commuting (or need help getting back into the habit), Wise-West has come up with a few tricks to ensure she chooses her bike as much as possible. When you’re first starting out, she recommends setting small goals and trust that you’ll figure things out as you go. “Start incrementally with a goal of 1 day a week or even 1 day a month,” she says. “It’s about figuring out what conditions you can ride in and then making it happen.” She’s also worked out some handy systems to make the commute easier. “I buy shoes I can bike in, layer on a jacket and puffer vest, and wear leggings under dresses. Sometimes I change clothes once I get to work.” Lastly, she says to remove as many obstacles as you can that might prevent you from getting on your bike in the morning. “Every night before you go to bed, ask yourself, ‘What do I have going on tomorrow? Can I do everything by bike?’ If you can, get up early, pick out your outfit accordingly, pack what you need, and make it happen. Get yourself set up so you’re ready to go. Don’t give yourself a reason to say no. Set yourself up to say yes.”
Type of bike I ride: an Ebike called a Genze that I bought at Costco. It’s cheap but comfy.
Length of average ride: 5 miles each way.
Go-to route: Brommer to Arana Gulch to Broadway.
Days per week commuting by bike: 3 days a week on average M-F. On the weekends I also bike for recreation with my Terrier Chihuahua, Tom, in the front basket.
Biggest challenge of biking to work: Time. It’s really hard to get around quickly enough when I have back-to-back meetings in different locations.
Best thing about riding your bike to work: I love being outside. Getting outside twice a day brightens my mood, my blood is pumping when I get to work, and I’m ready to start. I look forward to it at the end to the day to wind down from work.
Molly Ressler is a part-time bike commuter and contributing editor for Ecology Action. She lives with her husband and pup in Seabright and loves biking through Arana Gulch to the Live Oak Farmers Market.