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.
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 “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.