SAN FRANCISCO

AFTER A RELAXING eight-mile bike ride from her home in Berkeley with a friend from Albany on Thursday, Leslie Crary found the last leg of her trip — from the free ride on the Oakland-Alameda ferry to her Financial District office — a bit intimidating.

Crossing the Embarcadero, she looked at the pedestrian obstacle course on the sidewalk and the traffic on Market Street and paused to consider her next move.

Throwing caution to the wind, Crary boldly pedaled into the street, charting a course down the narrow gap between the curb and trolley tracks.

It was, after all, Bike to Work day, and sporting her cyclisthusband's Pearl Izumi biking gear, she was not about to be cowed by a bit of traffic or clanging transit vehicles.

Arriving safely at the rear entrance of the Battery Street law offices of Gordon & Rees, she concluded that it was well worth the hour it cost her over her normal BART commute.

"The ride from our neighborhood (to the ferry in Oakland) wasn't bad at all. It wasn't scenic, but it was kind of nice."

There was only one more hazard to get past.

"Showing up in front of your peers in Spandex when you're 46 years old. No, I'm not looking forward to that."

Crary and her pedaling partner, Susan Suong, were among the thousands of novice and hard-core bicycle commuters who powered themselves at least partway to work Thursday, the 12th Bay Area Bike to Work Day.

Riders were lavished with tote bags, Clif Bars and even coffee and pastry at 172 area "energizer stations" along popular bicycle lanes and pathways.

"Normally, I bicycle to BART, and I have a bike locker there," said Rodney Paul, a 43-year-old software engineer who lives in Kensington. "It's about a mile, and that's not fun enough for Bike to Work Day."

So Paul pedaled down to Jack London Square in Oakland and hopped aboard the ferry, which offered free rides to cyclists for that day. Rather than call it "Bike to Work," one habitual cyclist called it "free ferry day" as he coasted onto the dock.

Gwelen Paliaga, a 33-year-old mechanical engineer from North Oakland, met co-worker Molly McGuire from San Francisco so the two could ride to their jobs in Alameda.

"I actually commute by bicycle to Alameda through the Posey tunnel, which is a horrible experience," explained Paliaga, who was spared the danger of rubbing elbows with SUV drivers by the free ferry ride.

Scooter Marriner, a member of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, got up early Thursday to make sure he was not last in line for free pancakes at Oakland City Hall — a Bike to Work Day tradition.

"I'm only taking the ferry because I know that I won't be able to take my bike on the (transbay) bus the way I normally do" from his home in Oakland. Bike to Work Day attracts so many sometime riders that regulars get crowded off the bike racks.

"We call that bike congestion, which is a good problem to have," Marriner said.

By the time Marriner was sailing from Alameda, fellow members of the coalition were arriving at City Hall to find that so many hungry cyclists had shown up that all the flapjacks had been devoured.

A few hours later, elected officials and bureaucrats in suits gathered at the corner of Broadway and 14th Street to dedicate a new set of eight bicycle lockers that will be operated with a card with an embedded data chip.

The new facility, for which some assembly is still required, is being installed next to the 12th Street BART station with part of a $60,000 grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

It was another testament to the clout enjoyed by area bicycle advocates, who have lobbied for more facilities in the name of the environment, traffic congestion and healthy living.

"This is just metered parking, only it's high-tech," observed Robert Raburn, executive director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. Someday, he predicted, "wherever bicyclists go in the city, they'll be able to take a card, rather than a Kryptonite U-lock."

And that is as it should be for a group of people who will save the nation from the scourge of fossil-fuel dependence, from Kathryn Hughes' perspective. 

Hughes, Oakland's Bicycle-Pedestrian Program manager, insisted that "bicycling is an alternative energy source" to be nurtured in the face of questionable sources such as corn-based ethanol and nuclear fission. "All the other alternative energy sources are problematic."

Once she got cleaned up, changed and situated at her computer, Crary was able to report, via e-mail, that some of bicycling's side-effects also could be avoided.

"I made it to my desk without too many people seeing me in my Spandex," she wrote, adding that Gordon & Rees treated its dozen or so cyclists to yogurt, granola, smoothies and fresh fruit.

"I got lots of congratulations as I wheeled my bike into my office. Frankly, I think several of my colleagues doubted I would actually go through with it," she said.

Contact Erik N. Nelson at enelson@angnews-

papers.com and read his Capricious Commuter blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/transportation.