Sunday, February 12, 2006

Bike Buddy

A couple of weeks ago I met Koya Tsukiji, an intern working at the Port of Seattle. The Port was having a transit fair for their employees and I was there to answer questions and provide information about bicycle commuting. Koya asked me about commuting from Bellevue to the Seattle waterfront. "It's kind of tricky to figure out the first time," I told him. I started to sketch out the route, asking him questions about where he lived and if he knew the locations of various local landmarks. Koya is new to the area (I think he's fairly new to the country as well) so we didn't have much to work with but I assured him he could do this. "You should have a buddy show you the way. My pal Andy showed me the route when I first started riding from the Eastside to downtown." I then told Koya about the Bike Alliance Bike Buddy program, where we pair up new commuters with experienced riders. I gave Koya my card and told him to email me his home address and some more specific information. Back at the office I had more routing info and my buddy list so I could make a good match for him.

Over the next few days Koya and I worked out the details. It turned out that my daily commute passes fairly close to Koya's home and much of our routes would overlap. We figured out our schedules and set up a meeting place. I would be Koya's Bike Buddy.

We'd planned on meeting up on Wednesday for Koya's first commute but Wednesday was a wet morning and rather than subject him to a soaking on his first commute, we rescheduled for Friday morning. Interestingly, that Wednesday I did happen to meet a couple of other commuters at the very spot Koya and I had picked as our meeting place. That was the first commute day for one of the riders and his pal was showing him the route. This Bike Buddy idea has caught on!

Friday was clear and cool. I left my house at 6:15 AM so I'd be sure to be at our meeting spot by 7:00, as always budgeting my flat tire buffer into the time calculation. As usual, I didn't flat and Koya was a little more than punctual as well. I'd quizzed Koya about lights and knew that he didn't have any, so I'd brought along some of my spare lights for him to borrow. Even though it's getting light by 7:00 AM, I explained that it's best to be prepared. You never know when you will wind up working late and in the dim morning or evening LED lights can do a lot to increase your visibility.

Koya's bike was far less than fancy, he'd probably spent more on his messenger bag than his bike, but he had a willing spirit. The bike had an alarming bit of play in the rear hub and while I travel with a fair number of tools, cone wrenches aren't part of my regular kit. I told Koya that I couldn't do much about the wheel right there but that once we got to the Bikestation, I'd be able to adjust his rear hub.

With morning temps in the mid-thirties I was glad to have my gloves and fleece earband and even though Koya lacked these handy items, he didn't complain about the cold. Once we'd fastened the lights to Koya's bike, we set off down the hill to Factoria.

The route is hard to explain and much easier to show. I punctuated my various hand signals with comments as we went through intersections, cautioning Koya about the hazards of turning cars and a section of the Bellevue trail that tends to be icy even if the air temperatures are a few degrees above freezing.

The trail crosses under I-90 several times and we stopped at the small info kiosk on the Bellevue side of the bridge to Mercer Island. I grabbed a Bellevue Bicycle Map and handed it to Koya, showing him where we'd come and where we were going.

We followed the trail across Mercer Island and I showed him the the handy water fountain. Koya had a bottle rack on his bike but no bottle. I told him that the first time I did my commute I wound up stopping a lot to eat and drink. "The first time is the toughest," I assured him as he gulped water from the fountain.

Koya did fine crossing the big floating bridge. I rode a bit ahead and took his picture as he came off the bridge. He handed me his camera and I took another shot where he did his best to look very tired. I could tell he was having fun.

We rode through the bike tunnel and I guided Koya through the tricky forks in the trail and the bits of urban navigation along Hiawatha, Dearborn and the International District. While we were stopped at a light another cyclist blew right through the red light. "Can we do that?" Koya asked. I quickly and firmly informed him that we could not. I didn't get into the legal, the safety or the bad example parts of it, I just showed him where the sensors were in the road and how to trigger the light with the pedestrian toggle if needed.

We stopped at the Bikestation and Koya scarfed down an apple while I adjusted the rear hub on his bike. I also gave Koya a water bottle from my stash of Bike Alliance commuter swag. Another commuter was at the station with a flat tire, so rather than continue with Koya the next few blocks to his office I sent him off with a quick, "follow this road till you you hit the water, then take a right."

Koya was leaving work early, so I wouldn't be riding with him on his return trip, but I sent him links to the Gmaps Pedometer layout of my commute, which would give him the info he'd need for his return trip.

Some jobs are just jobs and all you get is a paycheck. Some jobs are a lot more than that. I'm lucky enough to have one of those great jobs. Here's the note I got from Koya later on Friday.



Thank you very much for showing me the route, loaning lights, giving me a water bottle, and fixing my rear wheel! I deeply appreciate it! I enjoyed riding a bike with you.

I found the gmap-pedmeter wonderful. It helped me a lot find the reversed route! Thank you very much.

I will continue to ride a bike for work periodically unless it rains! I will return the lights when I buy new ones.

Thank you again. Have a nice weekend!

Koya Tsukiji


If you're interested in bicycle commuting and you live in Washington state, drop me a note at If you either want to help new commuters or you want to be a commuter, we're working to link up those who ride with those who want to ride. If you live elsewhere, check around. With luck your state will have something like the Bicycle Alliance.

Here are a few handy links for King County commuters:

Seattle Bicycle Map

King County Bicycle Map

Washington State Bicycle Commute Guide

Keep 'em rolling,

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