Leia Mehlman - Bike Commuter Profile

July 25, 2018 • Transportation

Leia Bike

Name: Leia Mehlman

Employer: Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Job: Manager, Safety Systems Management (although I am also a Registered Nurse)

Hometown: Various towns in Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Where do you currently commute from? I bike from Sunnyvale about three days a week.

Why do you bike? I like the air, being closer to the physical rather than being in a caged steel frame. On my commute I can appreciate what people are cooking for meals, literally smell the flowers, appreciate the breeze, enjoy my music or a podcast, and ponder an issue.

How does biking help you? When I was diagnosed with prediabetes about two years ago, I knew that I would not enjoy tying myself to some gym class everyday. Plus I had three perfectly good bikes in my storage shed, and I missed cycling (I used to do metric century rides.) It’s always been on my bucket list to do the Cinderella Century ride (100km), and I knew that I wasn’t going to get there unless I got back in the saddle. At that time, I weighed about 190 pounds, and was in no shape for any cycling tours. I decided to resume bike commuting in March of last year. I knew that dieting really doesn’t work with me, my metabolism needs a regular workout to drop any weight. Plus with prediabetes, studies have shown that regular exercise is as effective as medication for some people to maintain glycemic control. I’ve lost 37 lbs and many sizes since I began. I do not diet at all. My endocrinologist is very pleased, and so am I, because I have more energy for other activities too. I am hoping to keep my disease from progressing to full-on Type II diabetes, because that will lower my risk of other complications, like heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. I do pilates on my work-from-home days so I can work other muscle groups besides my legs.

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Leia riding in the Primavera Century. She signed up for three centuries (100 mile rides) this year, including the Primavera. Eventually she plans to do a metric century (100 kilometers) and has begun to look at bike tour brochures again.

How did it feel to get back in the saddle? I started small. My route is about 10.5 to 11 miles one way, and I knew I couldn’t do it all at once. Jazz finances Clipper Cards, and the VTA is right outside my door, so I began by riding in the first 5.5 miles via the light rail to the Mountain View station, and then biking the rest of the way (about 5.2 miles via California Ave. to Arastradero) to and from work. I gave myself 90 minutes to do the commute, because previous experience taught me that I needed to build up to making the whole route in about an hour or less entirely by bike. I incremented up to the total distance, and I started to bike home to the NASA Bayshore station and take the VTA the last three miles. From there, I added on biking all the way home and only taking the VTA in the mornings. Eventually, I was able to work up to biking the whole route up and back.

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Leia’s bike and gear, waiting for the VTA. “I can still use the VTA if it’s too hot or it rains or if my knee starts acting up.”

What other kind of cycling do you do? Recently, I have discovered fun bike ride events like San Jose Bike Party. It’s a group of bike enthusiasts who gather each month for an evening ride/party on a predetermined route. There are many cyclists with bikes lit up with glo-wires, LED lights, etc. Some have bike trailers with speakers, so you ride to a soundtrack. It’s fun, it glows, it’s noisy and sort of a Burning Man on wheels with food trucks stops, dancing and camaraderie.  

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San Jose Bike Party. Photo by Richard Masoner (www.cyclelicio.us/).

What you wish drivers knew? I wish the Uber and Lyft drivers would caution their passengers before they open the car doors into a bike lane, especially in downtown Mountain View. I’m looking not to be doored by parked cars all the time, but I really loathe it when some rideshare pulls in front of me or beside me, stops and then wham! Doors are opening everywhere and nobody checks before they do!

What would you say to new cyclists or those interested in giving it a try?

  • If you’re spending an hour in your car commuting, and you live within 15 miles or less of your job, you can consider bike commuting to work. This way you get your workout and commute done at the same time, no trying to cram in a class at the lunch hour or the end of the day. You can eat two breakfasts without guilt! One before your ride, and another when you arrive—I like my recovery bowl of cereal and fruit.

  • It takes some preparation and planning, but the hardest thing is to just start. Do it one workday a week to begin, and then work up from there. You don’t need to go full spandex, clipless pedal, Tour de France style. Lots of people around the world bike commute every day without gear beyond helmets, lights and a lock.

  • Start in increments. You don’t have to bite off the whole enchilada to begin bike commuting. Check your route options and try it out on the weekend to get a feel for how long it would take you, and what areas, routes, and hazards there are. Is there an e-bike rental? Try that if it’s a short route.

  • Consult with other bike commuters in your company.

  • Combine bikes with transit if possible.

Are you willing to help new cyclists in any way? Heck yeah! I’ve joined my company’s Well-Being Committee, and I’m planning on giving a presentation on bike commuting in an upcoming meeting. Getting started is the biggest hurdle, and people have some justifiable concerns, but I’m happy to assist with addressing them. For instance, I can assist with you route planning. Or if you work near me and our hours agree, I’d even help you ride the route until you feel better about doing it. I can give advice on bike types, what kind of lights work that won’t cost oodles and even teach you how to change out a tube. And I love finding sales on bike stuff!

What’s something unrelated to biking that most people don’t know about you? I love sewing historically accurate clothing for myself (because bustles dresses are pretty and corsets are comfortable—honest!).

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