In the Fruitvale district of Oakland where Sibley Bacon lives, people refer to her as "the white lady on the bicycle." It's a reputation long in the works. In August of 1991, two weeks before she was to move from outside Washington, D.C. to the Bay Area, the electrical system of her very old Datsun 210 wagon went up in a puff of smoke. She figured she just wasn't meant to have a car in the Golden State. So, instead of driving to California, she flew and shipped her new ride: a 1989 Novara Ponderosa mountain bike.
Once in Oakland, Bacon started going everywhere by bike, in every kind of weather, on streets mostly without bike lanes. “I laughed when people asked about my riding in the 'winter,'" Bacon said. “It's really not winter if there's no snow or ice, and no sleet hitting me in the face." It was a welcome reprieve from the harsh D.C. winters. Bacon's daily commute to work at REI ranged from five to ten miles each way, with the occasional connection on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. "Every day, regardless of the weather, I pedaled," she says. "I just love being outside. I love the smell of the rain, and when I'm away from any traffic concerns, I love being able to look up at the sky as I ride." I just cover myself from head to toe in waterproof layers, and I'm good to go," she says. Commuting is one thing, but what about when life demands hauling more than one's own weight? For groceries and errands, Bacon invested in a Trek Transport, the pickup truck of bicycles. “I could finally do Costco runs," she says gleefully. Of course, loading up a bike with days' worth of food onboard tends to draw curious eyes, and Bacon quickly learned to add an extra 15 minutes to her errand schedule for the inevitable conversations with curious onlookers. As a biking evangelist, though, she admits the fault is mostly her own. She's all-too-willing to engage those watching her as she loads her bike up. “People will ask me if it has a motor, and I'll smile and point to my thighs. Then I encourage them to try it sometime." Most folks look at her like she's crazy. Nevertheless, Bacon is encouraged by the fact that people are curious about her lifestyle, and the fact that she's not sealed off behind car windows makes connecting a lot easier. "Once while riding through a neighborhood," she says, "a boy came running from his yard just to give me a high five as I went by." Bacon believes there's something about cycling that promotes interaction—in other words, that allows humans to be human again.
So she's naturally delighted that the Bay Area community is becoming more and more bike friendly. The East Bay Bicycle Coalition has transformed the streets of Oakland and Berkeley with bike-friendly striping. Human-powered lifestyle advocates engage with and educate the public. Every time Bacon, who donated the rusted Novara in 2010 and now rides a Trek Soho, turns a corner and onto a new bike lane, her heart warms a bit. No longer at REI, Bacon now works at Google's privacy compliance division. Her days are drowned in the minutiae of global privacy law, and cycling has become a way to let go and focus. "Pedaling requires that I focus on the moment," she says. "This gives my brain time to take a break from work stuff. When I wake up in the morning I have answers, ideas and solutions about what needs to be done when I'm not on my bike."