Santa Rosa doctor recommends simple path to fitness: bike to work

Tracey Jones is a committed bicycle commuter. Her journey takes her 3½ miles from her Spring Street house in Santa Rosa’s McDonald Avenue neighborhood to Kaiser Permanente’s medical offices on Old Redwood Highway. It takes the doctor about half-hour on two wheels. Weather - hot or cold or wet - does not dissuade her from the saddle of her Kona street bike, a heavy steel frame tank strong enough to carry a load, including groceries, which she picks up from Safeway on her way home.

She can pack 30 to 40 pounds in each of her panniers - which resemble kayaker’s drybags - without wobbling.

Jones goes everywhere on her bike. To the swim centers at Finley and Ridgway, out to visit her horse in far west Santa Rosa, over to the Arlene Francis Center near Railroad Square where she teaches the Brazilian martial art, Capoeira.

“Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always biked everywhere,” said the 50-year-old physician, who strategically chose her home because of its close proximity to work.

Jones’ dedication to her two-wheeled commute earned her the title of Bike Commuter of the Year by the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. Each May, to coincide with National Bike to Work Month, the coalition honors one super commuter. On May 10, Sonoma County will participate in the Bay Area Bike to Work Day to encourage people to get out of their cars. Energizer Stations will be set up during the morning commute that day from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. along cycling routes throughout the county to pass out snacks, swag, and encouragement.

“She walks the walk, or rides the ride, by cycling to work,” said coalition board member Genevieve Navar in explaining why Jones was picked for this year’s title. “I was impressed that she didn’t leave cycling behind after moving from the bike mecca of UC Davis and that nearly a full ?20 years later she continues to commute by bike.”

Relying on a bicycle for basic in-town transportation comes naturally to Jones, who commuted to school while growing up in Boston, establishing a lifelong habit. Back in 1989 when she was teaching English in Madrid, she determinedly rode her bike everywhere although few people were doing the same. She was forced to share a lane with the buses, whose drivers resented the intrusion. During the year she served as an intern in Michigan she kept up her two-wheeled commute, braving snow and icy roads to get from home to the hospital seven miles away.

“People who cycle in Sonoma County don’t realize how good they have it,” she said, smiling.

Back then her “ride” was a clunky Schwinn, which still sits in her garage. But about 10 years ago she upgraded to the Kona, equipped with disc brakes for added safety. Although no “equipment geek,” she’s all about safety and practicality, and she hasn’t looked back.

“I just feel like it’s more solid and comfortable. The other thing is I got carpal tunnel syndrome on my aluminum frame bike. The steel frame has much more give so you don’t have as much jarring.”

Jones has commuted to Kaiser ever since she moved to Santa Rosa in 2005 with her husband Larry Meyer, a computer software engineer. Since the ride is so short she barely breaks a sweat, and Jones can wear her work clothes on her ride. She only has to don her white coat after locking her bike into a bike locker at the medical offices.

“Rain or shine. Day or night. Hot or cold. Dr. Jones can be seen riding her bike to and from work,” said Dr. Todd Weitzenberg, who has known her since their residency rays at UC Davis and who nominated Jones for the Bike Commuter of the Year award. “I often was told when I commuted to work that commuting was dangerous and I would reply that it was precisely by riding I felt it could make it safer. It’s so good to see others do so, especially with the sphere of influence she has as a healthcare provider.”

Jones shares that philosophy. As a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, she frequently is in a position to recommend exercise to patients. But she knows that some roads can be treacherous. She would recommend a stationary bike for anyone. But it’s up to the individual to judge whether their cycling skills are good enough to ride city streets, many of which don’t have bicycle lanes.

Cycling is an excellent form of exercise, she maintains. It’s good for people with knee and hip arthritis and she said it’s a great way to maintain a good baseline of muscle strength.

“As we get older it’s harder to do. It’s easier to lose muscle mass when you get older. To have something built into your day-to-day routine that doesn’t take a huge effort, like cycling even five miles a day, will keep your muscles toned and you’ll function better. You’ll be stronger and you’ll support your joints.”

Jones said it takes her ?15 to 20 minutes to get to work on her bike. The route takes her on Franklin, past the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery on a stretch without bike lanes. She’d love to see that area blocked off to through traffic to make it easier for runners, walkers and cyclists to enjoy the peace of the area without risking life and limb. Jones said driving the route takes 10 to 15 minutes, so there is really no time incentive to get behind the wheel.

She has another second, more high performance bike for long rides and competition. It’s an ultra lightweight Cannondale made of carbon fiber that she had fitted at the Bike Peddler precisely to her body measurement.

She doesn’t track the miles she racks up on two wheels. But she said she’s done many century rides, the Vineman triathlon and she has traversed King’s Ridge many times, the west county road serious cyclists have dubbed “the best ride ever,” and “God’s cycling theme park.”

Jones also gives back to the cycling community, serving on the Santa Rosa Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board. And she’s a member of Kaiser’s “Green Team,” to make operations more sustainable.

She’d love to see Santa Rosa become even more bicycle friendly, but she understands that it’s a “chicken or egg” situation. To create more bicycle lanes, paths and bridges she knows there needs to be a critical mass of cyclists on the road. But that is less likely to happen with fewer accommodations.

But she believes companies can encourage their workers to community by offering rewards for not driving, shuttle rides to SMART, more bicycle parking and bike repair stations with extra lights, tubes, repair kids and a pump.

“The lot here is often full,” she said of her own workplace at Kaiser. “If more employees took alternative transit, there would be more parking for patients.”

She advises anyone just starting out cycling to start small, even riding just once a month or once a week at first. Make it easy, she said, by planning ahead, having your clothes and everything ready the night before so you’re not tempted to default to the car. Start out using easy bike paths for short rides while learning how to handle your bike, then gradually increase the distance and difficulty.

“It’s not all or nothing,” she said. “You don’t have to go from driving everywhere to bike everywhere to make a difference. If we can just get people to stop and ask the question before they get in the car, rather than just jump in without thinking, that alone would be revolutionary.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at or 707-521-5204.

Meg McConahey

Features, The Press Democrat

Like most everyone, I love a good feature story that takes me somewhere I’ve never been or tells me something I don’t know. Where can I take you? Who in Sonoma County would you like to know better? I cover the people, places and ideas that make up Sonoma County, with general features, people profiles and home and garden, interior design and architecture stories. Hit me up with your tips, ideas and burning questions.


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