Congratulations! Marin’s 2021 Bike Champion of the Year: Hilary Noll
Help us kick off Bike Month by celebrating our 2021 Bike Champion of the Year! This year, we asked you to nominate someone who inspires others to ride a bike. We’re excited to share this year’s Bike Champion with you: Hilary Noll. Hilary will receive a Timbuk2 Especial Supply Roll Top Backpack full of MCBC swag! (For a chance to win your own, check out our Bike Month activities.) Read on to find our Q&A with Hilary, and find all the other fabulous nominees listed at the end of the piece!
Can you describe your commute, how long you’ve been doing it, and how regularly (and/or other commutes you had previously)?
My current commute (for past 4 years) is a 32 mile round-trip ride from Mill Valley to downtown San Francisco, where I work as an architect specialized in sustainability and social impact design. Prior to that, for 3.5 years, I worked in downtown San Jose and bike commuted from Mill Valley to the 4th and King SF Caltrain station, took the 6:45am Bullet train to Diridon station and then rode a couple more miles to my office at First Community Housing, an affordable housing developer. Prior to that, I’ve commuted by bike for 20 years in many places, including Albuquerque, Boston, and DC.
A couple of your nominators mentioned your work at First Community Housing, and the bicycle related infrastructure and projects that you spearheaded there. Would you be open to describing these projects and what drove you to take them on?
I spearheaded both a bicycle infrastructure design standard and resident programs for new construction mixed use affordable housing developments as well as for the organization’s portfolio of 20+ existing properties, which serve low income families, seniors, developmentally disabled and formerly homeless people. FCH already does a fantastic job building transit-oriented developments and providing residents with free transit passes, but we learned many folks also rely on biking as a primary means of getting around. The vision is to empower residents to feel capable, confident, and comfortable bicycling as method of dependable transportation, as well as a healthy recreational activity in their daily lives. This was attained by fostering a bike culture and increasing convenience — by designing and building secure parking and on-site repair stations. Once the facilities were in place I organized bike workshops and clinics for the communities — teaching basic safe riding skills, maintenance fundamentals and giving away helmets, lights and other essentials.
More than one person also mentioned cycling fundraising that you have participated in. Would you tell me a little about that?
Nothing too unique here — I’ve ridden in a number of century fundraiser rides and encouraged friends and coworkers to participate too! From Ride for a Reason for Oakland Public Schools to Marin Century, Levi’s, to the Habitat for Humanity Cycle of Hope.
What kind of bicycle(s) do you ride?
Road, Gravel and Mountain. Many brands, builds and styles over the years… I even tried out the fixie fad for a bit.
What do you like best about riding?
Riding a bike is an enlivening, efficient and liberating way to move through the world. I love the way it awakens the senses, can be solitary or social, and of course how it fosters camaraderie with fellow commuter riders.
What do you like best about the benefits of riding your bike?
The list of personal and societal benefits is long, but the benefit to the environment is what got me started and continues to motivate me today. As a teenager when my friends all clamored to get their drivers’ permits, I abstained in protest to the multitude of negative impacts the car has on our natural and built environment. As an architect specializing in sustainable design, I can attest to the community benefit when cities and streets are designed for people first — that includes people on bicycles — not vehicles. Riding bikes has this powerful ability to connect us to each other and to place.
What would you have liked someone to tell you when you started?
“It doesn’t get any easier, you just go faster.” and “Keep the rubber side down.” 😉
Where is your favorite place to ride your bike?
Having had the opportunity to ride in some spectacular places, it’s hard to pick a favorite. My commute across the Golden Gate is up there on the list (so much in fact that I have a dedicated Instagram gallery of photos of biking that bridge! @hils_bikes_bridges) I have to say that my favorite is any place where that satisfying sound of gravel beneath my tires takes me back to the pure joy of riding as a kid in the places I grew up — country roads of the Great Plains or expansive quiet of the Desert Southwest.
What is your favorite ride/route in Marin County?
We’re so privileged to live among this landscape with a variety of terrain and routes, with good infrastructure as a result of the long cycling history and culture. On tarmac, a long day in the saddle among the backroads of West Marin and down the coast. On gravel, my favorite during the pandemic has been waking up painfully early to climb up Railroad Grade to East Peak for Dawn Patrol, and loop it out through the Headlands if I have time before work.
What part of riding would you most like to improve?
Anything that supports and encourages more people — all types of people — to ride more often. Protected lanes, better infrastructure and paths connecting us to destinations both urban and rural, especially in disadvantaged and under-resourced communities. Observation of bike etiquette, including more communication with road and trail users, with the great outcome eliminating animosity on the roads and trails.
What is your vision of bicycling in the future?
People from age 8 to 80 feeling comfortable biking for everyday needs. More women riding, especially as commuters. More women and minority owned bike-shops. A cycling culture in which everyone — from elite riders to everyday folks getting started — are welcomed and empowered.
Anything else you would like to add?
“On your left!”
Congratulations to all the Nominees for 2021 Marin County Bike Champion of the Year
Each of you inspire countless others to ride – thank you!
David Van Leeuwen