To get us in the Bike to Wherever Day spirit, we wanted to highlight someone who inspires folks to ride a bike and promotes the joy and fun of riding a bike in their community. Meet Paul Valdez, our Bike Champion of the Year. We hope his story encourages you to ride to wherever is special to you on May 20 for Bike to Wherever Day and get others out there with you!
Tell us about yourself and how biking is part of your life here in the Bay.
I am a native of the Bay Area, born in Oakland, and have lived in San Francisco for the last 32 years. For the last 15 years, I have been a proud resident of the Mission District. The bicycle has allowed the peaceful freedom to navigate our incredible city. Biking is my “everyday,” as it is my means to get to work, do shopping, run errands, be with friends, and visit and support our local small businesses in the different neighborhoods that characterize our remarkable city.
Where’s your favorite place to bike in the city?
There are so many special places in San Francisco. However, my favorite place to bike to is historic Sutro Heights Park. It’s a place where not only are you at an elevation for bird flight, but you have a stunning view of a lovely vista of Golden Gate Park with the Murphy and Dutch Windmills peeking up from a canopy of trees. It is married to Ocean Beach and the most outstanding “teacher” of them all, Mother Pacific. For me, it’s a place that sparks a historical imagination of what used to be there, and a meditative place of contemplation. Ending a bike ride there is epic and brings me to a centered space of calm. I have a tradition of riding there on the first day of the year, January 1.
How do you bring the joy of biking to your community?
I like bringing the joy of biking to our shared streets throughout San Francisco. One example is that if a MUNI bus stops behind me at a stoplight on Market (or any other) street, I always turn around and wave to the operator. Doing so acknowledges we have an equal level of sharing the streets, and most operators then drive safely behind me. It also brings a big smile to their faces! Additionally, I always say hello to fellow folks who are riding bikes beside me, and “road-waving” friends that I see riding on the opposite side of the street or walking on the sidewalk. Also, a good friend of mine and I make it a point to visit the different neighborhoods in San Francisco, sometimes calling them “zig-zag rides”. Of course, we would use a bike route, but tend to veer onto side streets and explore a neighborhood or an area we’ve never explored before. Also, I share my bike stories and adventures with those who do not ride a bike. Three of my friends witnessed my heightened well-being during the heart of the pandemic, and at different times, each one of them bought a new bike and started riding throughout San Francisco! Finally, I believe in biking to and supporting our local small businesses (with my faves being The Royal Cuckoo Market and Stable Cafe). Be sure to tell these businesses that you biked to their shop. Also, if a small business that I frequent needs a bicycle rack, I will request one for them. It is a great joy to see their businesses thrive, and the image of bicycles parked in front of their stores is glorious!
Any words of encouragement to folks that want to start riding a bike in our city?
There’s no rush; take your time, bike safely, steer clear from MUNI tracks, ride by example, and advocate for more protected bike lanes and slow and car-free streets for our communities. Make your biking experience a positive one. Finally, wear a smile while biking. If biking brings you joy, a smile will happen naturally!
Get ready for Bike to Wherever Day with us!