2015 Bike Commuter of the Year Awards

We are thrilled to announce our 2015 Bike Commuter of the Year award winners!

Every year during Bike Month, Bike East Bay recognizes two outstanding members of the cycling community - one from Contra Costa County and one from Alameda County - for their commitment to bicycling and for inspiring others to use a bicycle regular transportation. This year’s winners are Gail Lillian, owner of Liba Falafel, and Eric Odell, who commutes from Richmond to the UC Office of the President in Oakland.

Alameda County: Gail Lillian

Gail Lillian is well known as the owner of Liba Falafel, an Oakland-based food truck. She started commuting by bike in 2014 the day she opened Liba Falafel’s brick and mortar restaurant 17th St in Downtown Oakland.  She sold her car and bought an electric bike instead.  Gail was formerly a serious road biker, she had to stop riding due to a slipped disk. Facing a longer commute downtown from her home in North Oakland, “I realized that I could accomplish my need for stress reduction, increased health, and an easier commute by getting out of a car and onto a bike,” wrote Gail.

Experimenting with an upright electric bike to keep the stress off of her back, she started riding to work. And, according to the restaurant’s Chef, she never stopped: “She goes everywhere on her bike and loves the change in her lifestyle. I’m always surprised that after a long day, she doesn’t wish she had a car; but she doesn’t. She leads a really busy life, but sacrifices the faster commute by car for the quality of life she experiences on the bike.

It’s not something she’s going to sacrifice anytime soon, either. “I love the ride, and I love being a bike commuter,” wrote Gail. “I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t appreciate that I’m not in a car, especially when I leave work and need the ‘downtime’ to shed my work stress before I arrive at home.” Biking through Oakland, for Gail, is a way to connect with the community and stay in touch with nature and neighbors.

Gail recently went to Japan on a belated honeymoon. “My husband, Sal, and I rented bicycles in Tokyo and Kyoto,” wrote Gail. “Biking in Japan was a life-changing experience. There are people of all ages and lifestyles on bikes, including mothers with newborns on their chests and toddlers on the back of the bike in kid seats, traveling through crowded Tokyo with ease.” The experience of feeling safe biking in such a densely populated city, wrote Gail, was strange and fantastic.

It’s no coincidence that Gail Lillian, our 2015 Bike Commuter of the Year, is married to Sal Bednarz, the owner of Actual Cafe, our first ever Bike Friendly Business Award Winner in 2010. “Sal was a key instigator,” wrote Gail, “early in our relationship in getting me on a bike as an adult. I had been an occasional cyclist, but it wasn’t until I met him that we started biking around town together.” In turn, Gail has encouraged and inspired her employees to ride at work. “I’ve had such huge personal gains by becoming a bike commuter,” she wrote, that she looks forward to seeing more people getting on bikes. We can’t wait to see Sal and Gail take the East Bay by storm as a bike-friendly business power couple.

Contra Costa County: Eric Odell

Eric Odell is a determined man. Riding to work every day from Richmond to Oakland is not enough for him: he needs to get his family biking as well. “Oh, they complain about it,” he says, but he keeps encouraging them to ride anyways. When his daughters were at a summer camp in Berkeley, he would stop by on his way home from work and pick them up - not in the family car, but on the family tandem+tag-along. And the girls would ride home with him.

Photo by Tiffany Cheng.

On a regular day, though, his commute to the downtown Oakland UC Office of the President is a 22 miles round-trip ride to Richmond Heights, mostly along the Ohlone Greenway. “I used to work at UC Berkeley and bike to campus. When I got this job in Oakland I thought I might not be able to commute all the way,” said Eric, so he started biking to BART, and spent most of his commute on the train. “But I hated it and lasted all of two weeks. I bike for selfish reasons. I pretty much sit for a living as a keyboard jockey [or systems administrator] but when I bike to work I arrive a lot happier. I work out a lot of problems in my head on my way in. I’m more productive when I show up because I’m ready to go, I’ve pieced together what I’m working on.”

His two daughters, Aiko, 11, and Kaede, 10, don’t currently bike to school due to lack of safe route. But next year his eldest will be going to middle school, which happens to be on Eric’s commute route. “She doesn’t know it yet,” said Eric, “but she’s going to be riding to school.”

They do, however, ride centuries together, which is more than the average 10 year old can say. They’ve competed together in the last two Marin metric century bike rides (approximately 62 miles) as well as the Davis metric century. The first year, Eric and his wife Elayne both rode tandems with a daughter in tow. But just this April, said Eric, “we did a metric century in Chico and they rode on their own. They adamantly want to ride their own bikes.” 60 miles is a long way with kids, admits Eric, “but people take a shine to little kids doing something like that and they get a lot of compliments. It’s an achievement for them.” 

Asked where this tradition of riding as a family came from, Eric brought up the summer of 1977. School had just let out and his mother did not have any plans for Eric, then 11, and his brother, 9. “Two days later we were on the road to Canada to visit my uncle. It was almost a comedy; our trip went from idea to on the road within 48 hours. We were dirtbags on bikes, so unorganized.” The family rode through Quebec, Maine and New Brunswick where they were featured in the local paper (see picture below) “The police had to escort us into St John’s with lights blazing late the night before,” recalled Eric, “as bikes weren’t allowed on the bridge over the St John’s River.”

The family’s not ready yet for a similar trip but they’re building up to it. And in the meantime Eric will continue biking to work, for great selfish reasons.

Read about the winners from past years: