When Dave Bain goes to Costco, he never has any trouble finding a parking space.
He goes by bicycle.
An electric bike with pedal assist is the primary mode of transportation for the 57-year-old marine biologist for commuting from his Bothell home. The baskets on his bike can hold more than 50 pounds of bulk goods. More often, though, it holds a Sno-King Watershed Council mobile stream monitoring lab.
Bain is on a team of volunteer scientists monitoring stream health in north King and south Snohomish counties. He also volunteers as a consultant to environmental groups such as Friends of North Creek Forest, Sound Action and Natural Resources Defense Council. He previously worked for the Marine World Foundation and as a contractor with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
“Inland problems are built around the use of cars,” he said. “I wanted to try something else. I gave a bicycle a try.”
He encourages people to give it a whirl.
“People can think about biking as something they’ll phase in,” he said. “Originally, I set a goal of making most trips within 10 miles of home on a bike, and figured if I made it 2,000 miles total, it would be worth the trouble. After doing that for about 18 months, I upped the goal to trips within 20 miles of home, but am not afraid to go a little farther.”
He kept track of the miles. Last year, he hit a goal: He pedaled the circumference of the earth, 24,901 miles.
Talk about going carless and how it got started.
I’m a killer whale biologist who helped write Canada’s killer whale recovery strategy. In the course of preparing the plan, it became obvious that how we use land inland is a greater problem for them than what we do at sea. A big part of the problem is living in a society built around cars. So, I wanted to find an alternative to driving, and decided to give an electric bike a try.
You pedal an electric bike like a regular bike, but it has a small electric motor that lets you go about 5 mph faster than you would otherwise. How far you can go on a charge depends on a lot of factors, but I use 2 miles per amp hour of battery capacity as a rule of thumb. Most have a few different settings ranging from the rider doing all the work to the bike doing all of the work (electric wheelchair mode).
I can do 3-minute miles on my electric bike, compared to 5-6 minute miles on a traditional bike, and going up hills is a lot easier with the pedal assist.
I need to be more organized to get by without my car. I have to plan my trips so I can keep the battery charged, and bring along the appropriate clothes (weather can change a lot when I’m out and about for 14 hours). If I’m on a long trip to a new place, I need to think about how to keep my phone (used as a navigation device) charged.
I don’t need to worry about time of day. There’s no stop-and-go rush hour traffic, no getting stuck in long lines at stop signs and traffic lights. I don’t need to worry about finding a parking place and when my parking meter is going to run out.
I still have a car, so I can drive when necessary (trips that are over 25 miles from home, during thunderstorms, when roads are icy). It’s nice being able to go two or three months between trips to the gas station. I haven’t had to give anything up, so I don’t feel like switching to biking has been a sacrifice. Overall, I do about 80 percent of my miles on the bike, and the other 20 percent in the car.
What are the environmental perks?
Cars leak about 7 million quarts of oil into Puget Sound each year. Bicycles don’t contribute to that. Impervious surfaces negatively impact salmon and whales. Bicycles can use much narrower lanes than cars, and you can fit seven or eight in one car parking spot. The reduced pavement needs let us imagine putting up buildings where we currently have pavement instead of in a forest, or taking a parking lot and putting up paradise.
Any close calls with biting dogs or obnoxious drivers?
I’ve had one close call with a driver running a stop sign. The annoying thing that drivers sometimes do is pass me and then slow down to turn right in front of me, requiring me to slam on the brakes. I haven’t had any trouble with dogs here, but did have one chase me in Friday Harbor. I had a Canada goose try to block my path, Gandalf style.
You can carry how many pounds of groceries?
My baskets are rated for 55 pounds. But I accidentally came home with 65 pounds once.
What do you want motorists to know about cyclists?
When you’re turning left, keep an eye out for us. A high proportion of fatalities seem to be associated with cars making left turns.
While we generally move predictably, there are times we need to dodge road hazards like broken glass, slippery leaves, potholes and standing water, so please be prepared for that.
I apologize for the bicyclists who run stop signs — drivers should not have to deal with that. I want to thank all the drivers who have stopped for me and waved me through intersections, even when I had a stop sign and they didn’t.
What are some recent changes that made biking easier?
Being able to use navigation on a smartphone has been the biggest change. It’s much easier to get where I’m going with real-time directions for bikes than it was using printed directions or directions for cars. LED lights provide a lot more brightness than the older incandescent lights.
The use of green paint to mark where bikes should go has clarified things for me, and hopefully gives cars a heads up for where they need to watch out for bikes.
Better maintenance of pavement has helped. There were a lot of places where defective pavement would be spray painted as a warning, but in the last couple of years they actually get fixed.
AAA now provides roadside assistance to bikes as well as cars.
What can we do to get people to ride bicycles more?
I think the biggest barrier to biking is safety. There are places you can’t get to safely, and simple things like replacing faded stripes of paint with physical barriers (e.g., curbs to keep distracted drivers from straying into a bike lane) would make people feel safer.
Time is another concern people have. When you take into account time spent working to pay the cost of driving, biking is competitive timewise with driving, especially at rush hour or when paid parking or ferry rides are involved.
If you could have a drink with anyone alive or in history, who would it be and why?
There are friends, family and colleagues who have passed away I’d love to be able to see again. There are witnesses to history I’d like to know more from than has survived in their records. I think it would be great fun to bounce ideas around with Leonardo da Vinci. But, if I had to pick one, it would be Martin Luther King Jr. I’d like to hear his thoughts on the country that elected both Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Finish this sentence: People would be shocked to know …
That many of the creeks around here have E. coli levels that are so high after the first rain at the end of summer that it’s unsafe to retrieve a ball out of the water.
What’s your most proud moment?
Rescuing the killer whales entrapped in Barnes Lake in Alaska. It required planning the actions of a team of volunteers by predicting how the whales would respond to the people and the environment, how kelp would respond to tides, and doing it accurately enough to meet fairly precise timing requirements. It also required the ability to navigate the bureaucracy, whose first response was an offer to arrest me. It was really rewarding to see the whales feed under a double rainbow right after they were freed.
What are three things in your fridge?
Milk, orange juice, cranberries. I consume a lot of liquid to stay hydrated, so don’t eat a lot of solid food to finish out my caloric requirements.
What is your pet peeve?
Policies that are designed to fail. I hate it when decision-makers say they will solve problems by “doing the following things,” knowing full well that those things will not solve the problem.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I consume too much fat.
Do you know someone we should get to know better? Send suggestions to abrown@herald net.com or call 425-339-3443.
What are some of your favorite cycling experiences?
Beating a Ferrari in a race from the University of Washington-Bothell to I-405.
The view from the Lions Gate Bridge.
Riding with the owls at night.
Being able to stop and enjoy the view without worrying about holding up traffic.
Riding my bike to and from Link light rail to get to Sea-Tac, and catching BART at the other end to get to and from my destination.
Passing long lines of cars stopped at a stop sign or traffic light.
Watching people change from wondering whether I need a ride to thinking I’m crazy to expecting me to have ridden my bike.
Being able to fit all of my stream monitoring gear on my bike.
Being able to say I’ve avoided 10 tons of CO2 production.
Thinking about how far I’ve ridden, and where I could be if I’d gone straight instead of around in circles.
Realizing I ride at the same speed as crows and eagles fly.
Losing weight at the rate predicted by the extra exercise.
Getting a rain jacket with a built-in taillight.