So, a few months ago, I got on a plane and accompanied my partner to the always lovely San Francisco. Being a cyclist, the trip was an exciting one. In comparison to Chicago, the vast majority of the drivers I found myself sharing the road with were used to the presence of cyclists and moved a lot slower around me than my fellow steel encased peers in the city I call home.
I soon found that it had taken a lot of work by some fierce advocates to get it there (and they’re still doing real work to make it even better). I also came to hear that the majority of bike-related nonprofits in the Bay Area have women at the helm. While visiting, I was lucky enough to meet up with Mary Kay Chin, a super passionate Bay Area native who finds her day job and nighttime volunteer gig centering on her true love: the bicycle.
I thought she was rad, and so will you.
Lauren: So, how long have you been on a saddle in this city? Where did your interest start?
Mary Kay Chin: “I’ve been riding in San Francisco for the last 12-14 years or so, with the last 6-7 years being much more connected with the community. I started working with the San Francisco Bike Coalition years ago, and back then I also used to race a ton more. I did triathlons too. I also worked with Cycles of Change in Oakland, getting young people on bikes.
These days I haven’t been racing as much. I definitely see myself needing to lead by example more as my role in the bike riding community evolves. Nowadays, I have a day job with Rickshaw Bagworks–a company that makes awesome, high quality, handmade bike bags and I spend my time as a co-founder of SF Yellow Bike and as one of the lead organizers for Bike Party which is a monthly group ride in the city.”
L: Tell me a little bit more about SF Yellow Bike. I know it’s a smaller organization that’s been gaining momentum in the last few years since it got its start in 2011. How did you come to get involved and what kind of work do y’all do?
MK: “SF Yellow Bike is based on a model that has its roots in Austin. My friend Nathan (Woody) learned bike-wrenching skills there, and when he came to the Bay Area he brought back his knowledge. We’re a co-op with an Earn-a-Bike program. We are extremely DIY. We work with adults and youth and basically exist to help anyone whose got questions or needs related to the bike. We don’t buy parts or bikes or do trades so that we can ensure we’re not participating in the local bike theft ring. Everything is volunteer-based and all money we take it goes to sustaining us and paying our rent. Our current shop setup is in the Tenderloin neighborhood.
We’ve got shop hours run by volunteers, too! We also partner with community organizations to pair bikes to those who want to ride them. Our job isn’t to find communities who “need” bikes, we’re here to facilitate learning and riding. Our goal is to take whatever need you have and to teach you how to do it and empower people with the skill to ride and fix their own bikes. We take the time out to explain, which not every bike shop can do.”
L: And what’s up with SF Bike Party? Seems like a fresh, new take on Critical Mass?
MK: “We like to think of Bike Party as an alternative social ride, a subversive bike party. It’s similar to Critical Mass in that we’re getting a ton of people together as a community of bike riders to get on the road together, but the finer details are a bit different. It’s a ton of costumed fun. Usually, we have a theme for each ride that takes place the first Friday of every month at 8pm.
We set up and test routes that are comfortable for all riders and we emphasize the importance of building community by bicycle and doing it safe. We ride on the right. We yield to cars. We stay predictable. “Roll past conflict” and “Stop at red lights” are some of our rules.” Comfort and community is key and cars are part of the community on the road, so we work to keep it as safe for everyone as possible.”
L: Tell me what’s great about being in the bike community in San Francisco!
MK: “We have a pretty devoted ridership. It’s rad to see such a huge cross-section of the demographics out on the street everyday. We live in the epicenter of ingenuity and innovation and with the “start-up culture” that is kind of in place here, we get to be the first eyes on new products and what’s on its way for the bike riding community at large. We’ve got places like MonkeyLectric here, and Public Bikes, and Mission Bicycles. We’ve got a deep-rooted bike history and have one of the oldest and largest bicycle coalitions in the country! I truly believe bicycles are the vehicle that will free us, and I think it’s started here in a lot of ways.”
L: If someone is taking a trip to the Bay Area, and plans to have a bike, what do they have to Absolutely Make Sure they do?
MK: “1.) Ride down Market, always. You’ll get a good experience of what the city is really like and all it holds and offers.
2.) Go to Golden Gate Park, it’s largely closed to car traffic, and ride across the bridge!
3.) Take your bike on the BART, to Oakland or other parts of the city. I know–get on transit when you’re here? Well, there are no blackout hours for bikes to go on them and it has some of the best infrastructure that’s worth checking out to see what is possible for bikes in an American city. The hope is it becomes the norm, but any bike person or public planning person should find it rad.
4.) Ride across the world’s longest pier! It’s the Bay Bridge and is eventually stretching as a direct route from here to Oakland.
5.) Go to a bike party! As a guest of our city, you can expect a safe city tour full of musical bikes, costumes, and just a lot of positivity. “