Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lenore McDonald: Biking Feeds Her Soul

Lenore McDonald: "Riding is really part of what I do."

Lenore McDonald and Rick Helf: And now riding is part of what they do.

Lenore McDonald is the kind of bicyclist that makes other cyclists smile. Her bubbling-over enthusiasm combines with a history of long-haul rides and a commitment to more considerate use of city streets.

"I do love bicycling," Lenore proclaimed over night-time tea at Cafe Abir. "It's a central activity in my life that feeds my soul. This feeling, it's just a joy that spreads into me. I feel like a kid again, I just love it. I remember riding my bike as a kid. I grew up on the coast and went to the beach on my bike. I never stopped since then, although it's always been recreation riding."

When she lived in New Orleans, Lenore rode a Raleigh 10 Speed with her young daughter, Lillie, in her bike seat. "Lillie would fall asleep slumped against my back while we were riding, lulled by the constant rhythm." Considering that New Orleans streets were "not good" for cyclists and the notoriously steamy weather, a parent riding with a young child had to be an unusual sight.

Lenore moved from New Orleans to California more than 20 years ago with her husband, son Nick, and baby Lillie in tow. They settled in Marin, where one day she found an 18 gear Marin mountain bike at a garage sale. "It even had a kid carrier that came with it. I was as excited about that as I was for the bike, and it only cost $150." In 2002 Lenore took a job in San Francisco at Golden Gate University, working as a fundraiser and program coordinator for the alumni association. Workday mornings found her on a Golden Gate Transit bus (with her bike stowed on board) to get to the office and at the end of the day on her bike for the 22 mile ride home. In her free time, she volunteered with the Marin Cyclists Club.

In August of this year, Lenore moved to San Francisco. Now single with her children on their own, she first considered Oakland before friends persuaded her to look more in San Francisco. They mapped five neighborhoods for her to check: Hayes Valley, Glen Park, Bernal Heights, the Castro, and -- you know where this is going -- the North Panhandle.

She found a place on Golden Gate, a really large one bedroom with a garage. And there was no problem having a pet, her cocker spaniel. Now weekday mornings, Lenore is positioned on her customized titanium Litespeed at Golden Gate and Broderick Street, ready for the green light at Divisadero before she slaloms the descent and gets half way to her office with the momentum. But it wasn't just the apartment that sold her on NOPA. "I knew I was in the right neighborhood when I saw Mojo (Bicycle Cafe) here."

Lenore has completed a half-dozen Century rides all over California. "To have a whole day just to go out and ride is so wonderful." Lenore is especially proud that she did the Bicycle Tour of Colorado, "the grand daddy of them all," covering 450 miles in five days. It was one of her biggest physical challenges. "I had done Centuries before but I never got back on the bike the next day," Lenore said. "My legs did o.k.; it was my rear end that took it bad."

Cycling is so important to Lenore that it determined her choice of dates. "I was so insistent on meeting someone who also rides," she explained. When a mutual friend suggested she and her boyfriend, Rick Helf, meet, what really helped was learning that he rode also. "We went to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass together, and it was amazing there were so many cyclists there. Their bikes were parked everywhere; they wouldn't all fit in the bike lot. It was inspiring to see so many." Lenore fairly glowed when she added, "Riding home together in the moonlight after that ... it was magical. We were pinching ourselves, it was so great."

Lenore first met lots of NOPA bicyclists at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's NOPA Mingle at the On the Corner Cafe in September. Now she's ready to help organize regular neighborhood rides. "I'd love to see Mojo sponsor a bike ride, meet there at ten in the morning, go for a good ride, and then hang out for a beer somewhere after."* Lenore also hopes the popular Sunday Streets will come through NOPA next year. "It was a blast this year, and it's a great way to bring communities together and get them working together."

Relatively few bicyclists fit the stereotype that many San Franciscans hold of scofflaw riders blowing through red lights and ignoring the rights of pedestrians and motorists. But most cyclists recognize that there are problems. Cyclists who don't share space, who get too impatient, and who go to fast are Lenore's pet peeves. She is especially irked with some cyclists' behavior in Golden Gate Park, at Crissy Field, on Golden Gate Bridge, and on the Panhandle Path. "I get concerned with people's safety, especially where families interact." She added, "It's not very friendly on the bridge."

Overall Lenore reported that she is pleased with the momentum underway for bicycling in the city. "I'm very interested with the changes for city streets and with what's going on with Market Street," she said referring to the mandatory right turn for vehicles at 8th Street. The work of the SF Bicycle Coalition has also caught her eye. "It's great to see the whole cause get momentum. I'm looking to see how I might get involved with the coalition."

This Saturday Lenore and Rick will join the SFBC Good Roads Crew on its monthly ride to identify and report potholes, this time on SOMA streets.** The outing is just one more way to enhance this essential element of Lenore's life. In her words, "Riding is really part of what I do."

* Interested in a monthly bike ride starting in NOPA? Contact Lenore McDonald at .

** The Good Roads Crew meets this Saturday at 10 a.m. on the sidewalk in front of the SFBC office at 995 Market @6th Street. The ride lasts for about 90 minutes, followed by drinks and lunch. Everyone on two-wheels is welcome. They're a very friendly group, and it's another of those signature only-in-San Francisco events! For more info, contact .

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