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Q&A: Brian Kemler, One of Google's Most Hardcore Cyclists

The program manager on Silicon Valley's expert-level peloton.

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To say that Google program manager Brian Kemler is an avid cyclist is a bit of an understatement. After All, he commutes 42 miles by bike everyday from his home in San Francisco, CA, to his office in Mountain View and is an avid member of SF2G, a Google-founded cycling club where Silicon Valley techies bond while making a fresh rubber print in the earth. (Check out his blog here).

How did you get into cycling, commuting from your home in Mountain View to San Francisco every day?

I've been biking my whole life, but when I moved to San Francisco, I found out that there was this group of people who were basically road riding, and then on the side they would find a way to get to work in San Francisco from their homes outside the city. 

Cycling is a big part of how people connect in (San Francisco) socially whether or not they think about it. It's not like one of these things where people say, "Hey I'm going to get into cycling because it's a good way to network." I think people do it because there's high utility and high value in terms of ease and mobility, being able to get your commute and your workout in. It just goes in really organically with the way that people live their busy lives here, and such a great way to connect professionally and personally. Most of my closest friends and I have cycling in common. I feel like it's the sort of binding agent that really firms up relationships.

Why do you love it so much?

There's so much positive about biking for me. Cycling has changed the way I view the world. I, like a lot of Americans, grew up in the suburbs around a car culture. I think when you have that perspective, you look at the world through a certain lens. I'd say by getting out and trying not only to rely on a bike but also structure my physical life, where I shop, how I commute, everything around cycling, I'm looking at the world through a different lens, and I think that lens is a more human-filled one. Cycling is really a way of life that can transform individuals, helping them become more fit, transforming your life in the way you look at things, the way you feel about things, the way you feel about yourself.

You commute a long way. How long does it take you?

It's quite long. Even if you go the most direct way (which you can't because it's illegal to ride your bike on the 101, the big highway to San Francisco), that's about 35 miles. The shortest way we do the bike commute is about 42 miles, optimizing on roads that have light traffic and bike paths where they exist, so you do a trade off with length and pleasantness of ride.

How would you recommend training for an intense commute like yours?

For somebody who's just coming into it for the first time, I would say they would need to train a bit, and they would need to get some experience for starting from scratch, not only physically but also for the other dimensions of cycling such as getting comfortable riding in a group, riding in traffic, and understanding the route, and how to be safe. That's why riding and commuting with a group is so beneficial.

Are you a fixed-gear kind of guy?

I do have a fixed-gear. I have a beautiful Bridgestone Keirin bike that I bought from somebody in Japan and built up. It doesn't have a brake, and I kind of pride myself on that. That said, I don't recommend that for anybody else. You have to be pretty experienced to be able to ride it. But, hey, plenty of things don't have brakes: skis, snowboards, roller skates, you know there's just a way to stop them. With a fixed gear you just resist; your legs are your brakes. So, I think people kind of hype up that danger.

Where do you like to bike?

Mountain biking is my absolute favorite thing. Everything else I do with a bike is ancillary to that. I love mountain biking out in Tahoe. There are amazing trails out there in terms of terrain as well as views. I also did this race called La Ruta De Los Conquistadores. It goes across Costa Rica, starting on the Pacific and ending in the Caribbean. It's a three-day, 300-mile crazy mountain biking race.

What's been one of your favorite moments cycling?

Recently, back in October I did a charity fundraising ride. I rode from San Francisco down to Los Angeles, which is about 550 miles. Riding down the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur and experiencing the light at dawn, the mist, the ocean, the mountains, the California condors, it was like this perfect moment of presence and feeling.

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