Biking in Stanford

Hi all,

I’m Vesa, a 4th year Finance student from the Aalto School of Economics, and I’m also taking part in the Stanford Summer Session 2012 as one of the six students in our Aalto group.

We’ve already been here for almost three weeks, and after settling down I’d like to write to you about one of the many things that I’ve really enjoyed at Stanford: the campus, and especially biking! So this is what I will write about in this post (don’t worry, I’ll tell you more about academics as well as all the other cool things here later on during the summer).

This post thus has two functions: I would like to tell a bit about what it is like to live on a university campus (I know we have a campus setting at Otaniemi in Aalto, but for someone like me from the School of Economics in Downtown Helsinki this experience has been something totally new), and about how easy it is to do all your daily commuting on a bicycle here. I hope to also share some practical tips with those of you who plan on visiting Stanford in the future, as well as the students that will take part in SSIHP in the years to come. So here we go:

The Stanford Campus

The Stanford Campus is very large, and I can assure you that it also undoubtedly is one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. If you don’t believe me, just search for some photos. The campus is the size of a small town, with over 13 000 residents, 690 buildings, 43 000 trees, its own 49 megawatt power plant, post office, golf course and three lakes and dams (look for more facts here). The campus also has its own small shopping center, dozens of restaurants, cafes and dining halls, a football stadium, swimming center and hospital. So in short, it is quite a bit larger compared to the five or so buildings of the School of Economics that are scattered around the Southern Toolo District in Helsinki… In addition, everything is set in the beautiful Mediterranean type Silicon Valley climate, all buildings are architecturally interesting and the campus actually seems and feels more like a garden than an actual town or city.

In addition to offering a very beautiful and peaceful place to live in, campus life has many practical benefits as well. For example, living on campus means that everything that you need during the semester is close by (from dining halls to a fitness center, from several libraries and computer clusters to a golf course) and so no time needs to be wasted on commuting, going shopping or just generally on spending a lot of time in moving from one place to another, as everything is nearby and easily accessible. This means that it actually becomes quite difficult to not to study or to not to focus on your research…

Biking in Stanford

After describing the campus environment, I’d like to share a couple of things about bicycling in Stanford. I personally haven’t owned a bike in Finland since my school years, and I doubted whether I would need or want to have one here either. However, the day that I arrived it became apparent that biking is the perfect way of transportation for getting around Stanford.

First of all, the climate is very gentle and warm, with rain being a very rare phenomenon. Despite being very warm on Finnish standards, the weather is not at all humid, which means that bicycling is very comfortable and when biking with a normal speed you get around without getting too hot during the day.

Secondly, the campus has been very well planned to accommodate biking. All buildings are equipped with bike racks, most road walls have been rounded in order for bikers to get around easily, in addition to which the campus is interconnected with a network of well kept bike paths. Furthermore, the campus is actually so large that sometimes you may need to “commute” quite long distances from one class to another, so that biking actually saves a considerable amount of time.

The campus also has it’s own bike shop, which in addition to selling and fixing bikes also offers rental bikes (links and more on this below). The bike shop also offers free air pumps and tools at a station next to it, which allows riders to make small tune-ups for free. Similar stations are positioned elsewhere on the campus too.

In addition to bike paths, the campus also features a free shuttle bus system (called the Marguerite). The shuttles are equipped with bike racks, and it’s free to take your bike onboard. The town of Palo Alto is only a 10-20 minute bike ride away, and is easily accessible along the bike paths that follow Palm Drive from the university’s Main Quad. The easiest way to get to other areas of the Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay is to take the Caltrain from Palo Alto. What is extremely convenient is that most Caltrains have two bike cars, into which riders can take their bikes for no extra charge. During the past two weeks, I’ve already taken my bike on the Caltrain several times and ridden to San Francisco, Mountain View and San Jose and explored these cities on my bike (something that I would not have imagined doing only a few weeks back).

Buying and/or renting a bike in Stanford

If you plan to stay at Stanford for a longer time, I highly recommend renting or buying your own bike (the bike shop also has daily rentals, if you want to explore the campus during a short visit). The people in our program have explored several options for buying bikes after arriving here, and I’ll try to list some of them here to help out future visitors:

Renting : The Campus Bike Shop rents bikes (see rates on their website). This is a good option if you want to be sure to get a bike that is in good condition and to not have to worry about fixing it, as the bike shop will take care of tune-ups and fixes if they are needed during your stay. The rental rate this summer for a period of 2 months is around 190 USD.

Buying: In addition to the Campus Bike Shop and other bike stores in the Palo Alto area offering a comprehensive range of new bikes in all price categories, the discount stores Walmart and Target offer amazingly cheap bikes (around 100 USD for a new bike), but from what I have heard these are not necessarily of the highest quality. However, I you just need your bike for getting around on campus, they will probably serve the purpose well enough.

Another option is buying a second hand bike from Craigslist, which is what I ended up doing. I emailed several people selling their old bikes on Craigslist, and bought a used mountain bike for 60 USD (which is far from perfect condition) from a software engineer working at a start-up in Palo Alto. I’ve already had to do several tune-ups to the brakes and the back wheel, so I only recommend this option if you are willing to take the risk of having to do fixes yourself and have the time and energy to do that. Luckily I haven’t had to buy any major spare parts yet (apart from a new saddle for 20 USD, and a U-lock for 30 USD as I didn’t think of bringing one from home), and it looks like I’ll be able to make it through the summer with my bike as it is…

Bringing your own bike: One option that I thought of only after arriving here is to actually bring your own bike with you if you’re planning to stay for a longer period (e.g. like us for the entire summer). I checked with my airline (British Airways) that taking a bike as extra baggage only costs 50 USD per flight, so for the cost of 100 USD you could fly your own bike back and forth. Looking back, this actually seems like quite a good option if you have a good bike at home, because it is probably cheaper than renting when staying for longer, and as an additional benefit you can enjoy the luxury of using your own bike. Especially if you are into road or mountain biking and want to use your own gear I would recommend this option, as the areas surrounding the University feature a lot of great bike routes for both styles.

What else to bring: Whatever your plans may be, I recommend bringing your own helmet, a proper U-lock and other biking gear (gloves, rack-bag, lamp etc. – however, some of these items can also be rented from the bike shop) if you own them, as you will most probably find yourself wanting to ride a bike during your stay at Stanford!

I hope that this post on biking is Stanford is useful to those who plan on visiting here later. If you have questions or comments or want to share your own tips, don’t hesitate to comment the post! I’ll blog more on other subjects later on during the summer!