Monthly Archives: April 2010

Millennium Park in the Morning

I stopped by Millennium Park on the way to work Thursday morning. The park is out of my way, but worth a visit. I have gobs more pictures of the gardens – this is only the first set.

I really appreciate Chicago.  The city has its problems, but there is also so much beauty.

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Playing favorites

For the last few weeks you may have noticed me riding Le Peug more often.

But I like to be fair (I was the kind of child who worried about stuffed animals being lonely if they didn’t sleep with me every night, which is why I only ever had one), so for the past couple of weeks it’s been the Bat’s turn.

The minute my butt hit the seat, I thought, no wonder I brought this bike back from the UK. Smooth, stylish, sturdy, easy to shift, built-in lights and zero maintenance. Why would I want to ride something else? Why have two bikes, again?

Funny thing is, I know I’ll feel the same way the next time I get back on Le Peug. Light, nimble, sporty and fast. Why would I want to ride something else? Why have two bikes, again?

Anyone else have trouble picking a favorite bike?

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Out of My Way, Boys!

What follows is a glimpse at the mindset of a female bike commuter. I assume I’m not the only one who has these thoughts and impulses. :)

I am not a competitive person, more happy when everyone is a winner. As the weather warms and I see all the – mostly male – cyclists jockeying for position in the bike lanes, I feel a combination of amusement and annoyance. Opting out of the commute-as-race mentality is one reason I love riding my Dutch bike.

That said, sometimes my ego kicks in when I ride Betty Foy and I end up pushing myself a lil’ more than usual. There is a correlation between this phenomenon and listening to Lady Gaga on my iPod.*

I’m not delusional regarding the limits of my skillz and my petite steel mixte, but I can ride pretty fast. On my Betty Foy, I pass the majority of cyclists on the lakefront path, except for those serious guys and gals in jerseys, especially in the spring when most are emerging from hibernation. (On the streets I usually take it easier due to all the traffic.)

Anyone who rides at least 10 miles a day, every day, all year is bound to get pretty good at it.

Today was one of those ego days.

On the lakefront path this morning, I saw in my rear view mirror a lycra commuter gaining on me. I decided to kick it up a notch, thinking he would eventually pass, but at least I would show that I’m not such an easy mark. To my surprise, the distance between us grew and soon he was far behind.

On the streets this evening, I had to deal with guys all up in my space, trying to crowd me out at lights. You know what I’m talking about – riders stopping next to me and creeping ahead before the light turns green. This behavior pushes my competitive button for two reasons. First, crowding me at an intersection is unsafe when I’m trying to maintain my line between moving traffic and parked cars. Second, the stereotypical attitude – based solely on my gender and appearance – that I am an obstacle to be overtaken irks me. Not so fast, boys! Methinks you should get out of my way. Yeah, I’ve got a pink helmet, basket, skirt, heels. And…? Sure enough, I soon left those guys behind.

Most of the time I’m happy to let others expend energy on this kind of stuff while I la la lalala along, taking in the scenery, especially while riding my Oma.  But sometimes I can’t help asserting myself.  It’s kinda fun!  I even start daydreaming about racing on a Sweetpea Little Black Dress wearing lycra, but really I’m very risk averse.  Plus, those hardcore women would kick my ass ;)

{And now, random scenes from my Chicago day. Note the very special Dottie fuel: gourmet cupcakes!}


*When riding in the streets, I sometimes listen to music, only in my right ear and at a very low volume. I’ve assessed the risk and determined it safe for my situation. Plus, it does wonders for my sanity and general cheeriness.

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Spring Wind in the Windy City

In Chicago much of the weather depends on the wind. In these photos you can see the sun, but you can’t see the WIND, which made the 50 degree temps pretty chilly. The 20 mph sustained wind was my friend this morning, pushing me all the way downtown. In the evening the wind was up to no good, but in fairness I had turned against her, not the other way around. Betty Foy was definitely the bicycle of choice today, as she’s much lighter and more aerodynamic than my Dutch bike.

Overall, a pretty good day. :) Chicago is the windy city, so I’ve come to terms with this extra challenge – a fair exchange for totally flat geometry. Does anyone else deal with such fierce wind as a daily variable?

p.s. Two lovely blogs are making me so happy with bike loveliness lately – Evoluer (how have I never discovered this site before?!) and Lulu Letty (a fave fashion blogger who recently acquired a vintage beauty). Definitely check out these happy places!

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Happy Birthday, Trisha!

Thirty years ago today, Trisha was born – mistress of bike riding, singing any lyric known to mankind, draping a scarf, interviewing famous authors, baking fancy treats, traveling Europe and goofing off. When we met four years ago, my life got way more awesome. For example, one year ago today, we were celebrating her birthday riding bikes in St. Petersburg, Russia, and in a few months we plan to be riding bikes in Paris!

But before that grand trip, I will be in Nashville this weekend to celebrate.

Trisha, if you supply the hula hoops, I’ll bring my dancing shoes and we’ll finally learn the In the Sun routine. Deal? Deal! :)

Bicycle Goddess Brigade

Bicycle Goddess Brigade – the kind of name that is formed while riding in the rain with a posse of fun women.

This morning I met some great new people, Arielle, Amanda and Anni (Yup, we all have blogs – Arielle created hers today after encouragement. Fun fact: Amanda’s brother is Lansing Photo Cyclist). Before today we were strangers and I knew them only through this blog. They all recently moved to Chicago and are interested in getting around the city via velo, so I arranged for us to meet for brunch and an easy ride.

I enjoyed myself so much, even though rain joined us for the ride. I figure anyone interested in cycling around the city must be pretty cool and I was certainly right when it comes to these awesome women.

Back to the Bicycle Goddess Brigade. Women of Chicago who like bikes: join the fun. You don’t have to be a hardcore cyclist or even own a bike (in fact, you could go bike shopping with Anni and me). I’m thinking of this as a low-key way to hang out and make friends, not so much for structured group rides, though we could do some. Seriously, don’t be shy! Email me at LGRAB [at] letsgorideabike [dot] com – or just leave a comment below – and I’ll keep you updated on the next get-together.

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Pop and Culture

I rode my bike 15 miles on Saturday, wearing a dress and boots, naturally. The rain stayed away for my ride, although the fog and wind were quite harsh.  I pumped myself up by pulling out my iPod on the bike path. The thumping beats of Lady Gaga and Kate Nash made me push myself harder and I accidentally got quite a workout.  I cooled down comfortably after five minutes of sitting on a park bench among the falling cherry blossoms.

My destination was the Art Institute of Chicago downtown. I met up with Melissa, who took the train from the suburbs, to see the temporary Matisse exhibit. Six rooms of Matisse was pure joy! I love Matisse. The exhibit was especially fun with such a cool friend, up for games such as, “Which do you like better?” and “Was he mad at his wife when he painted that portrait?”

Melissa the Muse

A little bit of pop, a little bit of culture, a whole lot of biking – that’s my kind of day.

More awesome rainy city adventures today, but that story will have to wait. I hope everyone else is having a good weekend!

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April Showers

April showers have arrived to mess up everyone’s weekend plans, but I’ve decided not to give in. After riding home from work yesterday in the rain, I changed into a fresh dress, donned my raincoat and headed out on the town with Elizabeth. Our destination was a music venue several miles north and soon rain began pouring. After meeting up with Ms. Elle and enjoying the show, we rode home through a steady rain at 2 a.m. And guess what? We had a blast.

The thought crossed my mind that most people – unbikey people – would consider riding a total of 12 miles through a rainstorm in the middle of the night to be extreme. For me and my friends, all of this was perfectly natural. It just was, and I really dug that.

Now I’m off for more city adventures. Maybe the rain will hold off during my ride.

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Deep Breaths

Riding in Chicago rush hour traffic can really raise my blood pressure, especially when it seems that every person drives a huge SUV while fiddling with a blackberry and passing within inches of me. Even after two years of daily riding, this still gets to me a bit too much sometimes. Today during my evening commute, I had to pull over for some deep breaths and springtime appreciation.

A few minutes later I returned to the road feeling calm and refreshed. I can’t control how others drive and I can’t control the appalling lack of bicycle infrastructure, but I can control my own moods. Sometimes I literally have to stop to smell the flowers.

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How To: Bike Commuting in a Suit

The need to look professional is an excuse I hear often for not bike commuting. Please. Don’t try that one with me! As a lawyer, I often wear business suits to work and – yes – I ride my bike dressed up. Riding a bike in a suit is quite easy, especially if the weather is mild and the distance is not very great.  I have only a few tips:

  1. If the weather is hot, leave your tie, hosiery, jacket at work.
  2. If the weather is freezing, layer sensibly as I discuss here.
  3. If you wear pants, secure your cuff from hungry chains and crank arms, unless you want your fine Brooks Brothers suit ripped (sob).
  4. If you get hot while riding and want to remove your jacket, roll it before placing it in your pannier or basket to prevent wrinkling.
  5. Take it slow and steady.  No need to race the yoga-pant and lycra crowd.

If you follow these simple tips, riding in a suit will be a practical and simple course of action.  As a bonus, you’ll find yourself sitting up straighter and feeling super dapper.

Sure, you will definitely stand out, but is that a bad thing?  Drivers will pay more attention, while pedestrians and other cyclists smile at you more than usual.  Public perception is far from acknowledging biking in business suits as normal behavior, but that’s all the more reason to do it :)

An example of public perception: I attended my company’s Wellness Committee meeting this week to propose that we participate in Chicago’s Bike to Work Week (hosted by the Active Transportation Alliance) for the first time. (Challenge accepted, and I’m the Team Leader!) I passed around a flier advertising the ride and one of the young women immediately saw the picture below and cried out: “He’s riding a bike in a suit! Ha!” General tittering followed. I piped up that I often ride in suits.  “Really?”  “Yup.”  End of story.

Now at least all of us here know that riding a bike in a suit is not at all silly.  If you want to try riding in your work clothes, have at it!

Does anyone else out there ride in a suit, at least occasionally? Any other tips?  I almost never see other cyclists in suits.  I’ve appreciated the dapper/ladylike eye candy on the few occasions I have seen suits out there :)

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365 Days of Batavus

April 18 marked the one-year anniversary of the day I met the Bat in Littlehampton, England. Dottie was with me for the first ride, of course!

Bikes by the sea

You can read all about that day here.

The bike made it to U.S. shores in early May of 2009, courtesy of my lovely parents (story here). Since then, we’ve enjoyed all four seasons together, as shown in the photos below.

Summer

Dottie and The Bat on our Garden Party Ride

Fall

The autumn leaves . . .

Winter

And back to spring!

I really need to take more scenic photos of my bike this year

One year in, I still think the Bat was the best bicycle bargain ever. My fellow Americans, the pound is pretty low again these days. It might be time to start trolling the clearance sections of your favorite British bicycle shops and contemplating a summer vacation. :)

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Cherry Blossom Garden

I love spring because everything is fresh and new. Colors pop from all corners, chirping “hello!” and “well done!” after a long winter. The cherry blossom tree encapsulates everything that is magical about spring, a burst of breezy energy between the icy winter and the sweltering summer.

All of these trees hid in plain sight in the garden where I often sit and read during my lunch break. I did not realize that they were cherry blossom trees until I approached the park on Friday to see millions of tiny blossoms smiling at me. Two days before there was nothing – then, everything. My heart hurt when I realized that I did not have my camera, so I returned during lunch today to capture the beauty that is already drifting off the limbs.

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Fashionable Sunday

Today I biked downtown to attend a fashion show for the Chicago Haute Couture Club, featuring the creations of a friend from work.  I am so impressed by creative people and her designs were so chic and beautiful.  I wish I had been more interested in my mom’s sewing as a girl, but I’ve never been at all crafty.

My work friends were totally unfazed by the fact that I rode my bike. Dottie riding her bike is perfectly normal to them by now, after six months of knowing me. I love that :)

{P.S. The picture above shows how I wait at red lights on Oma. Instead of dismounting, I simply put one pointed toe down. My legs are fully extended when pedaling, but I’m still able to reach a toe down while on my saddle. I’ve gotten this question a few times, so there you are.}

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Oma Appreciation

Now that other cyclists are out in full force, Oma gets compliments more than once a day.

“I love your bike!” “Awesome bike!” “Now that’s a bike!” “Beautiful, girl!” “Very elegant!” “Good for you!”

Usually I would not be crazy about strange men calling out to me, but all of these radiated a wholesome appreciation for my Dutch bike and the regular-woman-on-a-bike aesthetic.

All these photos were taken with my Diana Mini. You can see more at Ye Olde Flickr.

Have a great weekend! :)

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Heating Up

A fresh drink of water – my parched mouth would have appreciated that during the ride home today. The weather is suddenly extremely hot for Chicago in April, with temperatures in the 80’s the past couple of days. Soon I’ll have to start strategizing for freshening up at the office. After the long winter, I’m not complaining!

I rode along the Lakefront Trail again today. Irresistible with this beautiful weather! These photos are from my lunch break walk along the Magnificent Mile, where there’s a lovely public space for reading and people watching. I took these pictures with a 1979 Minolta XG-1 SLR camera that my mother-in-law pulled out of an old storage box for me. The camera is fully manual and a bit temperamental, with occasional leaks and a light meter that keeps dying, but it’s free, fun and film!

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A Tranquil Spring Commute in Nashville

Sometimes I wish I lived in a city with more of a cycling community. In other cities, there are more bike lanes. In other cities, at least in the spring and summer,  I might not be the only person riding a Dutch bike in heels.

But mostly, I appreciate Nashville — and my commute. While we might not have the infrastructure and density to allow me to bike everywhere, we do have lovely, quiet neighborhoods; considerate drivers; the occasional bike lane and a slowly growing cycling community.

redbird, redbud

I remember that I don’t like traffic, be it cyclists or cars. And there’s something to be said for a commute on city streets that is still quiet enough to let you stop and smell the flowers.

Lilacs

Is there anything more beautiful than spring in the Southeast?

Iris, the Tennessee state flower

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To the Bike Path, My Happy Place

For the first time in a couple of weeks, I retreated to the lakefront bike path for my commute to and from work. Taking the car-free path adds about 1.5 miles to my normal 4.5 mile ride, but the beauty and stress-free commute is worth it when I’m not focused on getting to work quickly.

In stark contrast to the winter, when I have the path to myself, lots of people are out and about. Most of the cyclists on the path are lycra racer types, with a smattering of tourist on rental bikes, plus joggers, roller bladers and dog walkers. Despite the crowds (which have not yet hit summer congestion heights) I love taking the path.

As I’ve discussed before, without the path I never would have attempted to ride all the way downtown to work when I first started cycling. Even now that I am a seasoned city street rider, I still appreciate the protection and beauty of the bike path, where I feel safe enough to let my hair flow freely without a helmet* and just chill out without cars breathing down my neck.

{*Riding 10 mph on a Dutch bike cautiously without cars, I have decided that this is not risky. Please resist the urge to argue with me otherwise.}

I’m so lucky to have a happy place to retreat to when needed (thought not quite as luxurious as CYLRAB Adrienne’s happy place). :)

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Getting Serious About Bicycling Safety

How much of the push for bicycling is about encouraging people to be braver, rather than actually fostering a safe and welcoming environment for cyclists?

An editorial in The Times (UK) by Janice Turner, which Copenhaganize brought to my attention, has me pondering this question. My observation is that there are more cyclists on the road now than before, but the cyclists are overwhelmingly of the type expected to engage in perceived risky behavior – young males.

An Example of Chicago's "Bicycle Infrastructure"

Chicago's Bicycle "Infrastructure"

This morning a pack of cyclists accompanied me on my commute. They resembled a rag-tag peloton, shuffling for position, weaving around traffic and speeding through intersections. Of the dozen or so cyclists in my proximity, not one was a woman and not one appeared to be wearing regular work clothes. The evening commute featured a few women. (You can read more about my regular commute here.)

Mind, I am not criticizing this group. I appreciate them and their presence on the road. My criticism is for a transportation system that fails to accommodate a more diverse – and risk averse – group of people on bikes.

As individuals, Trisha and I don’t have the power to build infrastructure or enforce traffic laws. Therefore, the best we can say is that, despite the awful state of cycling infrastructure in North America, the U.K., Australia, et al, you should ride your bike and enjoy yourself. While we show that cycling is not as difficult and dangerous as it seems, mixing it up with cars every day still takes courage. For every woman who tells us that our blog inspired her to bicycle regularly, there must be several others who were inspired to try, but gave up due to fear.

Even the most conscientious and experienced cyclist is not immune to danger. For example, last week my husband Greg was taking the lane to pass a stopped bus safely, when a car driver squeezed around him, hitting his arm with the car’s side mirror and causing his body to bang against the passenger door. The woman sped away. Thankfully, he was able to regain his balance and escape injury. The responding police officer was respectful, but said there was nothing they could do without a full license plate number and witnesses. That woman cared so little for the man I care for the most, apparently knowing she could behave this way without legal consequence. Even if the police could have tracked her down, we would be lucky if she received a warning ticket.

Of course, no one is immune to danger. Life can be risky, and certainly I would not put bicycling on a list of high-risk activities. If I thought otherwise, no way would I be out there on my bike every day. I am risk-averse. However, there is so much that could be done to make bicycling safer, both objectively and subjectively.

I love bicycling. I usually feel safe riding in Chicago. I hope this blog helps counter the negative and ugly rhetoric that so often accompanies bicycling discourse in media and society at large.  But every now and then, inevitably, I am frustrated and disappointed by the failure of governments to provide a safe place for all road users.

Many citizens have answered the call to be braver, and in the process have found themselves healthier and happier. There is a beautiful momentum of regular people on bicycles, and failing to acknowledge our growing numbers with a comprehensive plan to foster a safe and welcoming environment would be criminal.

I worry over Ms. Turner’s conclusion in the Times article that “a big fat flaw at the heart of democracy is that politicians will never invest in the long term if voters’ initial inconvenience and expense are not rewarded with results before an election.” If that is always the case, we will never move forward.

As of now, we are here. Whether in dresses or lycra, on Dutch bikes or fixies, we are all getting around in a way that benefits ourselves, society and the environment. Will the government embrace us or desert us?

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Black and White Spring

Did I dress today to match the blooms? Maybe ;)

Happy to be reunited with Oma, I enjoyed sitting as straight and tall as possible on my Sunday ride, parading down the crowded Chicago streets. Everyone was out this weekend, including lots of people on bikes, though no other dresses that I saw. This spring feels like the most beautiful ever, but I think that’s because I’ve been slowing down to appreciate it more.

Sadly, when I arrived at my favorite shop, Haystack Vintage, this is all that remained.  Closed with no warning that I saw. After standing dumbly in front of the store for five minutes, Oma said, “Such is life” and brought me over to the bookstore.

Simple pleasures like riding a bike, wearing a pretty dress and smelling flowers make Life beautiful, even if life with a little “l” is not going perfectly.

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Cherry Blossom Oma

Oma triumphantly returns to LGRAB, ushered in by cherry blossoms and ladybugs!

During the winter I rode only Oma, keeping Betty Foy in the garage due to her lack of studded tires and protection from the elements. After the first signs of spring last month, I started riding only Betty. I missed Betty’s peppiness and also was too lazy to remove Oma’s winter studded tires.

Today, missing my sweet Oma girl, I finally brought her to the shop for the tire swap. Boy, was she glad to be out in the spring air!

{I adore these cherry blossoms. I believe this is the same kind of tree Trisha captured yesterday, but the ones in Chicago are all white.}

Anyone else tend to ride certain bikes during different times? And then feel guilty for neglecting the other(s)? ;)

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