The Oak Leaf

Biking in Santa Rosa: A Survival Guide

Brandon McCapes, Opinion Editor

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Getting around in this sprawling conurbation that fills the collection of valleys and highways we call Santa Rosa is difficult and dangerous on a bike, but there are ways to survive and—hell—even thrive as a cyclist in this godforsaken city.

I’m from Davis—City of Bikes, and pretense about bikes and also did we mention the bikes? If you ever want to go to the worst museum on Earth, go to Davis’s one-room bike museum. It’s terrible.

But Davis is a great bike town. It’s flat, flush with bike paths, and cyclists rule the road. Even though many of them know little about how to bike safely around the tons of metal speeding just feet away from them, those steering the four-wheeled would-be killing machines are trained to avoid even the most incompetent of bikers.

Santa Rosan bikers aren’t so lucky. Unlike Davis, this town is built for drivers, and the roads are unaccommodating to two-wheelers, whether they ride to work like peasants or, more respectfully somehow, for pleasure.

Santa Rosa’s general flatness should make it great for biking. Aside from the ritzy areas like Fountaingrove and Annadel Heights (where, let’s be honest, the only people biking are doing it as some bougie extreme sport despite the high mortality rate—I’ll never understand those lunatics), most of the city is relatively flat and theoretically easy to bike.

However, three problems insure Santa Rosa will never be a bike-friendly city. Read on to understand these challenges and how you can get by when your car is in the shop, stolen or in a police impound lot.

 

  1. Santa Rosa’s roads suck.

Potholes. Nonsensical dead ends. Highways with hills and blind turns. I know they’re doing some work repairing potholes out in West County, but Santa Rosa’s streets could use a lot of love. The thin bike lanes that pathetically accompany some streets are so narrow, one rock, fallen branch or homeless resident popping out of a bush could have you veering right into traffic to an untimely end.

  1. Santa Rosa is poorly designed.

Let’s be honest, Santa Rosa is a failure in city planning. In fact, the original city planner should have been publicly humiliated and run out of town.

Frankly, we should demolish the city and start over. There are no direct routes anywhere and it’s less a city than it is a collection of five-odd towns built around shopping centers connected by windy, hilly and roundabout roads.

  1. Santa Rosans are horrible drivers.

Whether it’s Oakmont retirees, tweakers off Santa Rosa Avenue, drunken wine tourists or kids with learners’ permits in their parents’ BMWs, Santa Rosa cannot boast a strong driving population between its picturesque mountains. Drivers don’t expect cyclists, and, even if they did, they’d be utterly incapable of respecting your safety. They are not to be trusted.

But, when like me, your car is “in the shop,” the tips below may help you get to your destination without being flattened by a bus carrying Chinese tourists to the next casino.

1. Avoid the main drags. It might seem like Farmer’s Lane is a straight shot between Bennett and Rincon valleys and downtown, but thoroughfares like this should be avoided because they’re made for cars, not you.  Take side streets to get around so you don’t get creamed. Get creative. Explore.

2. Bus when you can and bike to fill gaps. People hate on the bus system in this city, but it’s really not that bad. It can get you pretty far and across the most dangerous roads.

Plan ahead and don’t pretend you’re too good for the bus. You’re not. Santa Rosa Junior College students get free bus passes with their Cub Cards. Five dollars ain’t a lot to spend for unlimited rides.

Plus, you’ll meet some interesting people. Probably. I always wear headphones and avoid eye contact at all costs, as I do whenever I’m in public.

3. Get a light. If you’re riding at night without a light and someone hits you, it’s kind of on you. Get lights for the front and back of your bike.

Helmets are also probably a good idea, but there are limits. How old are you? Six?

4. Don’t put your earbuds in. You need all your senses on high alert. As nice as it would be to listen to some tunes while you clench your handlebars over uneven pavement three feet from a speeding semi-truck, it’s not worth your life.

Take this time near death to contemplate how you could be a better person. When was the last time you called your grandmother, anyway?

5. Prepare yourself emotionally for days when it smells like manure. I know we’re not supposed to talk about how this town smells like literal shit, but it does on occasion.

Anyway, you’ll have no escape from the smell, so accept it, trudge along and think about how one day, you might move far away from here.

6. Try to appreciate the benefits of biking. Sure, you’re exposed to the elements and could show up to work or class drenched in rain, sweat and/or blood, but it’s good exercise and nice to spend some time outside. Facing death on a daily basis will put everything in perspective.

Think of all the money you’ll be saving on gas, insurance, repairs and impound fees. Or hospital bills if you don’t listen to my advice.

Oh yeah, and the environment or whatever.

7. Be confident, but wary. You have a right to bike on the roads. In fact, you’d probably win a lawsuit if you got hit, so the impetus is on drivers to protect you. Still, it doesn’t matter if you had right-of-way if you’re smeared across the pavement.

Stay alert, but ride with pride, son!

All said, this is not a good biking town. It’s not a good driving town. It’s not a good bussing town. Getting around in Santa Rosa blows for just about everyone except Uber drivers. Wait, do we still hate Uber? Scratch that. Santa Rosa blows for just about everyone except Lyft drivers.

Now that I think about it, you should probably just take Lyft whenever you can. F*** biking.

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About the Contributors
Brandon McCapes, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Brandon McCapes was asleep the night of the North Bay fires. He certainly didn’t start them. He was asleep, not pulling a “Nightcrawler.”

Brandon...

Abraham Fuentes, Staff Writer

A friendly writer or photographer that does his best to help the Oak Leaf. 

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