Interview with Janet LaFleur by Melissa Balmer

Janet LaFleur's love affair with the bicycle began with a crush on her first red tricycle that she pedaled in circles on the driveway. The crush grew into full-blown passion when her dad threw Stingray handlebars and a banana seat on her older sister's outgrown bicycle. Suddenly, the whole neighborhood was hers to explore as her friends and she cruised around with her handlebar tassels streaming backwards.

Fast forward a few decades and not much has changed. Janet and her husband Dick live on the San Francisco peninsula in Mountain View, a block away from Mountain View's original bike boulevard. They ride their bikes almost every day, for commuting to work, for doing errands, for visiting friends, for going out to dinner and for taking longer rides in the hills on the weekends. Janet LaFleur writes both her own blog "One Woman. Many Bicycles" and also "Bike Fun" for the Mountain View Voice.

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Melissa: What brought about the starting of your own blog?

Janet: The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition had a "Dress Up for Bike to Work Day" promotion where they asked you to post your dress-up photo on their Facebook page. I did, but also posted my photo on my own Facebook page. I wanted my roadie and mountain biking friends to see that it’s possible to ride a bike in a dress. The response was overwhelmingly positive, so I took a photo every day for 16 days leading up to Bike to Work Day. The blog evolved out of those fashion photos.

Melissa: What has been most surprising about becoming known as a popular "style" bike blogger?

Janet: Being recognized in public a few times.

Melissa: What is the biggest misconception about the power of style and why does bike advocacy so need it in their toolkit?

Janet: That dressing up on a bike is a silly fad that makes bikes a fashion accessory. Instead, it's important because wearing normal clothing makes bicycling look like a normal activity. Going one step further and wearing fashionable clothes makes bicycling look high-status and desirable.

Melissa: How has your own background in marketing strategy and communications helped you create not only a popular blog but become a bike columnist for your local paper?

Janet: Here's a secret: I think my blog helped my work more than vice-versa. Both rely on storytelling skills and knowing your audience and what's interesting to them. Both are more effective when you put emotion in the writing and images and aren’t afraid to be a little vulnerable. I started out as a software engineer, by the way. I ended up in marketing and writing because I had a talent for it that I didn't realize when I was twenty.

Melissa: Share more about how important it is to make bicycling desirable and fun if California wants to become a top bike-friendly state and we really want to make some progress battling the sedentary disease pandemic.

Janet: We need to go beyond the sport influence of bicycling that focuses on "longer, faster, harder" to bring back the joy of a slow and simple ride where you hop on the bike and go. Not that there's anything wrong with sport-style bicycling, it's just not for everyone. And we want bikes to be for everyone. Our biggest challenge for all styles of bicycling is having enough pleasant and comfortable places to ride, whether that’s city streets for taking kids to school, dirt trails for mountain biking or back roads for long road rides. In places where there’s nowhere pleasant to ride you’ll find few riding.

Melissa: Since becoming a bike blogger have you also become involved in trying to move your city or other places into a more bike-friendly stance on infrastructure or other things?

Janet: I started blogging right around the same time I decided I was going to stop complaining and start writing letters. Writing the blog was driven by advocacy, albeit in a “soft-sell” way. I use fun and fashion in the blog to deliver strong statements about where you can go and what you can do with a bike. What looks like a simple story about riding a bike to dinner is a strong statement that you can ride at night, in a dress and heels, in January. It tears down a lot of excuses about why people can't bike all at once, with a tasty dinner photo as the diversion.

Melissa: Why did you decide to ride every day? And did you have any idea what might blossom from that?

Janet: I was working at a job less than five miles from home. It wasn’t far enough to be worth putting on lycra to ride to work. Since it wasn’t a workout, I drove. Then I slapped myself on the forehead and said: “Why do you need to change clothes anyway? Just wear your work clothes. It’s only 25 minutes.” I had to get beyond the idea that you have to shower after every bike ride. I was heavily influenced by bike bloggers Let's Go Ride a Bike and Lovely Bike.

Melissa: How would you like to see California based health companies, style companies and leading innovators (i.e. tech) help our state to become more bike friendly?

Janet: Make it easy for employees and company visitors to ride bikes to your site. Make parking safe and convenient for all, not just employees who do it regularly. Provide showers for those who ride longer distances. Consider campus bikes for travel between buildings. Let city leaders know that bike access is a criteria in where you chose your company location. Donate to bike advocacy efforts. In Mountain View, Google leads the way by doing all these things and more.

Janet will be a new contributor to Pedal Love coming soon with a blog called "Bike Fun with Dick & Jane!" In the meantime please make sure to check out her blog Ladyfleur blog  "One Woman. Many Bikes."