Monthly Archives: November 2010

Nothin’ lasts forever, even cold November rain

Oh yes, I’m pulling out the Guns ‘N Roses. This is my last chance to use the reference for a year, since tomorrow is the last day of November.

Today’s rain led me to take the Lakefront Trail. Even though the route adds another 15 rainy minutes to my commute, riding among cars in the rain frays my nerves. On the bike path I don’t mind the rain at all, especially when there’s a tail wind.

As usual, wool and boots kept me toasty warm. These super windy pictures are actually from the rainy day last week. The bike was different, but the outfit was pretty much the same.

Anyone else care for an ’80′s MTV flashback? Gosh, I loved this video as a wee lass.

And so, as I roll through the wet, cold weather, I remember that nothin’ lasts forever, even cold November rain.

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Cycling to the Christkindlmarket

As winter slowly but surely creeps in, one must take full advantage of any and all lingering above-freezing days. Such was the case today.  As the sun shone brightly and the temperature hovered above 40 degree, Mr. Dottie and I met up with our friends Dan and Janet for a leisurely ride downtown. That’s three Omas and a vintage Raleigh, taking it nice and easy.

We rode the inner lakefront path, a dirt and gravel trail that meanders along Lincoln Park, but eventually jumped on city streets at the Gold Coast and into the bustling Loop.

Our destination was the Christkindlmarket, a traditional German holiday market that sets up shop each year in Chicago’s main plaza. The market is a wonderful use of public space, filled with beautiful booths, Christmas trinkets and delicious sweets.

A particular treat that many people enjoy at the market is the Gluhwein, a hot mulled wine.  While it sounds good in theory, I thought it tasted quite nasty. I still drank every drop and I got a commemorative cermamic boot mug out of the deal, so it was totally worth it. :) As you can see, I hauled around my Basil pannier, which was not the best idea. Should have gone with the basket and purse set-up.

There are lots of delicious sweet treats to go with the alcohol.  Very yummy stuff like fresh roasted nuts, Bavarian gingerbread, baked pretzels, fried apples and chocolate covered marshmallows.

By the time we had our fill of holiday cheer and German junk food, the sun was already setting and the sky grew darker and darker as we rode along the Lakefront Trail, all before 5 pm. (Photo below is from Dan – thanks! – the rest are from my vintage film camera.)

Don’t you love the holidays? I hope everyone else is taking advantage of these final days of November!

{You can read about last year’s cycling trip to the Christkindlmarket here.}

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Winter Arrives in Chicago

Although snow has not yet arrived in Chicago, wintery cold has.

Yesterday evening, following two days of Thanksgiving hibernation and feeling the need to get out in the fresh air, I jumped on my bicycle for a freezing but rejuvenating ride along Chicago’s northside lakefront. That really hit the spot. Although my fingers and toes burn and my nose sniffles and my eyes water, everything about riding in the winter makes me feel alive in a way that sweating during the summer does not.

The 30 F temperature felt substantially colder with the 20 mph winds off Lake Michigan and constantly taking my gloves off to operate my camera. Once I got home, a slice of warm, homemade-by-me apple pie and glass of scotch warmed me up right quick.

Winter? I’m ready. :)

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Small Group, Big Time at the Nashville Tweed Ride

Last week’s Tweed Ride had a small turnout, but it was a great time.  We even had a pace car: My friend Erin’s scooter. I even had some help with photography (thanks TK!). We stopped at two pubs, then had dinner at Bella Napoli and a final drink back near our starting point on the patio at Jackson’s.

Steph & Tony

Whitney

Erin

And . . . we're off! (photo by Tony)

The weather was so beautiful that it was almost too hot for tweed.

At our first stop, Red Door Midtown

second stop: Flying Saucer

Erin & Tony after the Flying Saucer

Jessica at Bella Napoli, final stop (photo by Tony)

The group (photo by Tony)

Best of all, we came up with a great idea for our next Nashville theme ride: Rhinestone Cowboy Ride. Something tells me we’ll stand out a little more than  we did this time around . . .

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Freezing Rain

Today’s evening commute brought on freezing rain. Not the most fun weather, but not insurmountable. There was no ice on the road, so the only issue was staying dry and warm. A tweed skirt, long wool winter coat, knee-high leather boots, earmuffs and huge mittens did the job admirably. A thick leather Coach purse in my basket kept my belongings dry. As long as the rain is mild to moderate, this kind of set up works well – no raincoat and waterproof panniers needed.

The photo below shows why I hate to ride downtown in the rain at night. With the wet pavement reflections, I doubt my bike lights and reflectors bring much attention from drivers, which is why I choose routes with as few cars as possible during times like these.

I’m grateful that Chicago does not have a long rainy season. Soon this rain will turn into snow, which – although bringing its own host of problems – is more enjoyable to me.

{For another take on riding in the rain, read about my friend Elizabeth’s wet commute on Bike Commuters.}

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I Love My Cold Commute

I’m loving my commute this week, especially the mornings. I love it so much, I’m inspired to create my very first gif self portrait – pardon the silliness.

Although the look is distinctly autumnal, the feel is now wintry, with biting cold hovering around freezing to match the glowing sun.

Hey, don’t think of it as cold, think of it as refreshing. Right? Right! Stay on your bikes, peeps. :)

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Helmet obsession not helping

Today I received in the mail the new issue of Yes! Magazine. The prior issue featured me to illustrate bicycling as a resilient idea for a future without oil. As I munched on French bread and sipped wine in a delightful mood, Mr. Dottie handed me the magazine and pointed to the Letters to the Editor section with no comment. Uh-oh.

Wear a Helmet

My husband bikes to work year-round and I tote our two girls (one and three years old) in our bike trailer all around town. I was pleased to see Resilient Idea #3, a full-page picture of a stylish and burly biker in the snow, but wouldn’t a helmet be wise?

Lesley W., Newberg, Ore.

I’m sure Lesley is a lovely woman, but she ruined my appetite.

First, “burly?” – adjective: large in bodily size; stout; sturdy. Ahem, inaccurate description! Painful to vanity!

Second, it’s a portrait. I’m standing next to my bike. In fact, my helmet was in my basket. Context, people.

Third, it’s obviously off road, “along Lake Michigan.” When I ride on the lakefront bike path on my Dutch bike, I often go without a helmet. Free of the fear of getting creamed by a car does that to a woman. The studded tires and lights on my bike are much more important to my safety.

Finally and most importantly, a fixation on helmets does not help bicyclists. In any discussion about bicycling in mainstream or bike-specific media, some bicyclist always chirps about helmets. Helmets! Helmets! HELMETS! And the focus of bicycling instantly moves to danger – not fun or positivity or a damn smart way to get around.

Boooo, hissssss!

I wear my helmet most of the time. I wish the streets were safe enough for me not to feel like I have to. Sometimes I do not wear a helmet. Many bicyclists swear by helmets, while many others swear against them. But we all keep riding our bikes. Life goes on.

Fact is, bicyclists are losing the discourse battle and we are our own worst enemy (like the poor, beleaguered Democrats). Never underestimate the power of discourse. If every mention of bicycling is dragged into the ditch of “danger” and at the same time never gets around to mentioning, hey, motor vehicles and their drivers are the ones that create the danger – well, we’ve all lost.

Portandize said all of this much more eloquently and fully in his recent post, “The Downside to our Safety Obsession.” I suggest you check it out and then everyone stop chirping about helmets at every opportunity.

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Double Dutch

I love how the Dutch carry people on their bikes effortlessly, as seen often on Amsterdamize. After two years of owning my Dutch bike, I finally succeeded in riding with a passenger on my back rack.

Me and Janet

I promised a video, so I am delivering. However, I did not take into account beforehand the affect darkness and a few martinis among us would have on the video quality. Soon I’ll make a thorough how-to video. For now, enjoy this quick glimpse.

The only hard part was overcoming my fear of falling when starting. Once I got rolling, I could not feel a difference in the handling or any extra weight. Many thanks to Janet for being a perfect passenger. Having a confident passenger is necessary for this undertaking.

Dan, Janet and their two Omas

The trick now will be convincing bike-less friends to ride on my rack when it would be more convenient than me walking my bike alongside them. :)

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Nashville Tweed Ride 2010

Come one, come all (and bring your friends) to Nashville’s first (to my knowledge) tweed ride. The ride starts tomorrow at Fannie Mae Dees (aka Dragon) Park. We’re meeting by the dragon at 2 and setting off on a route that includes stops at Red Door Midtown and the Flying Saucer. I just found a jacket at the thrift store that is something Princess Diana might have worn on a hunting expedition, so I’m pretty psyched.

Hope to see you tomorrow!

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A Lovely Change of Pace

“You are a lovely change of pace,” a guy bicycling by me called out yesterday morning.  We had just launched off from a stop light with about 6 other cyclists and I moved over to the right after seeing that he needed to pass in my rear view mirror.  I don’t know if my helpful maneuver or my skirt and pink helmet elicited the remark, but it made me laugh and say, “Thank you!”

A change of pace is really what I needed, after a too-eventful week.  To that end, I chose to ride the Lakefront Trail yesterday evening and this morning.  Even though it’s quite out of the way and adds about 2 miles to my otherwise 4 mile work route, sometimes it’s totally worth it for a lovely change of pace, free of cars.

Happy Friday!

p.s.  I’m not trying to hold out on my new bike news, but I don’t want to post about it until I have it and there’s an unexpected delay, so probably by early next week.

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Biking to brunch—and beyond—in Nashville

On Sunday I had a little bike brunch with Whitney, a LGRAB reader who recently moved to Nashville. After a hearty meal at Fido, we decided to head to the Frist to catch the new Birth of Impressionism exhibit. (Funny story — my coworker was in Paris just after we were this Fall and went to the d’Orsay hoping to see the painting of Whistler’s mother. It wasn’t there—because it was on its way to Nashville.)

We got to the museum a few minutes before opening time, so we took a few photos.

The Frist used to be Nashville’s main post office, back in the 30s when the USPS was a source of national pride, and the building is an Art Deco masterpiece. Even the benches have those crisp, architectural edges.

It’s been a long time since I went on a bike ride with friends in my own city, and it felt great.

If you want to go on a group ride in Nashville — you’re in luck. I’m leading a Tweed Ride on Sunday, November 21. We’ll be meeting at 2 pm in Fannie Mae Dees (aka Dragon) park. More details about the route will come in a post of their own, tomorrow…

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More Ups and Downs – and Doubling Up

I’m going to continue with my “ups and downs” theme from Tuesday because it fits so perfectly.

On my way home from work last night, taking busy city streets, I rode by a group of people giving out free lights to cyclists. Up!

Dressed for 35 degree biking (thanks for the belt, Trisha!)

Not a half mile later, a driver passed me and then immediately swerved hard to the right to go around another car waiting to turn left. The maneuver put his speeding car dangerously close to my front wheel, causing me to scream and slam on my brakes. Soon the driver was stopped behind 10 other cars waiting for a red light. As I rode by, I looked in and saw a 30-something guy tapping away on his iPhone. This was too much for me to bear, so I tapped on his iWindow. He looked up with surprise and rolled it down. I said, “That was very scary back there.” He reacted with complete cluelessness and I calmly informed him that he very nearly hit me when he sped around the car just a few seconds ago. He apologized profusely and said that he never saw me.

Holy hell!! If that’s even true, it does not make me feel better. I kindly suggested that he pay attention to the road and then I turned onto a side street, anxious to get away from the rush hour madness and allow my hands and voice to stop shaking. These drivers are totally out of control. DOWN!

La Oma

But wait! Don’t give up on humanity yet: this is an overall positive post.

After that debacle, I met my friends and fellow oma-owners, Janet and Dan, for hard apple cider and sweet potato fries at a neighborhood pub. Up!

Afterward, this amazing husband-wife team demonstrated doubling up on a bike, with Janet sitting side saddle on the back rack and Dan pedaling. They made it look so easy and elegant! Then I got a chance to ride on the back rack – my first time doubling up. It was so much fun! Learning this skill is now high on my to-do list. Janet has graciously offered to be my trial passenger this weekend. Stay tuned for more detail as this progresses. There will be video. UP! :)

What have your ups and downs been lately?

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Amazing bicycle ballet

My brother emailed me this amazing video today. I think I may have found a second career for me and Dottie. :) This is pretty darn incredible.

p.s. does it look like they’re setting up for a soccer game at the end to anyone else?

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Ups and Downs of Bike Commuting

I’ve written before about the ups and downs of bike commuting. A year later, I’m revisiting the theme based on the ups and downs I experienced during the past two days.

Down: Last night, as I was riding up Lincoln Avenue, a major bike route, a woman in a van yelled, “Ride in the bike lane, retard!” Wow, really?? For the record, I was riding on the outside line of the bike lane because otherwise I would be in the door zone. Regardless, anyone who would yell such awful and ignorant words at anyone is a miserable person. Incidentally, wouldn’t Chicago be so much better if everyone felt safe to ride their bicycles, including the developmentally disabled? I think so!

Up: Tonight, a woman standing on the sidewalk whistled and called out, “Hey, I love your bike!” while the men with her nodded in appreciation. The fact that they were outside a cool live music venue and not a tool-central type of bar doubled the impact of the compliment. I smiled and called out, “Thank you!” :)

I’m pretty sensitive, so I can’t help but be affected by such incidents, but really, no matter what someone may or may not yell at me, I always prefer my bicycle over any other form of transportation. If someone offered me free daily door-to-door Towncar service with complimentary muffins and NPR, I would turn it down without hesitation.

If you doubt me, check out the scenery from my ride this morning.

The temperature was in the high ’30s, but with a dress, a wool sweater, tights, boots and gloves, I was set.

For some reason, a lot of the “citizen cyclists” seem to have packed it in for the winter already, leaving me and a bunch of guys on road bikes. Just as I was thinking, “Gosh, everyone out here is in spandex going really fast,” my friend Dan rode by on his WorkCycles Oma and stopped to chat. (You may recognize him as top hat guy from the cocktail ride.) I love that in a huge city like Chicago, I still run into people I know regularly via the Lakefront Path and bike lanes.

A little later, a guy on a WorkCycles Opa rode by and rang his bell. I don’t know if he’s a reader (hi!) or merely a fellow Dutch bike appreciator, but it was great to see!

Back to the “ups and downs” of bike commuting. This I know for sure: I’m totally enjoying the up of autumn before the down of a long winter. Oh, who am I kidding? I kinda love winter, too!

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Cocktail Party Ride – Fall 2010

On Sunday evening, 25 Chicago cyclists joined together to ride and drink in style, demonstrating that bicycling in a suit or dress and heels is easy.  The temperature was about 40 degrees with a stiff wind, but otherwise a lovely autumn evening, perfect for bicycles and sidecars.  Thanks to everyone who came out! You all looked fabulous and I wish I could have taken everyone’s picture! And special thanks to Mr. Dottie for putting on a suit – very rare.  :)

THE RIDERS

THE RIDE

THE COCKTAIL PARTY

To all Chicagoans: See you next time! Date TBD. (Likely to be co-hosted again by John of Vote With Your Feet.)

To all others: Start planning your own cocktail ride. It’s so fun and easy!

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The freedom of Vélib’

The hectic pace of life lately has me thinking about our vacation again. It was a real pleasure to go back over the photos and remember our day on Vélib’ cycles in Paris.

First, the practicalities: if you are an American, you must have two things in order to easily rent a Vélib’. First, an American Express Card (the only non-puce card that is accepted), and second, a rudimentary command of Vending Machine French—though the menu offers an English-language option, the translation isn’t the greatest and it reverts to French halfway through.

Armed with both of those things, we timidly approached our first Vélib’ machine outside a cafe a few blocks away from the Gare St. Lazare.

It took us about 30 minutes to get the three of us registered (you have to buy a day pass for 1 euro, after that renting the bikes are free for the first 30 minutes) and in possession of the bikes, but after that, we were off.

Riding in Paris was much, much less stressful than I had expected. Of course, it was a Sunday, but our ride to the Champs-Elysées was quick and easy. Before we left, we checked the map, decided on a route, memorized the few turns necessary (those long boulevards in Paris mean it’s unusual to have to turn more than 3 or 4 times on any given route) and set off.

Many of the bus lanes in Paris doubled as bike lanes. At first I was unsure whether that was a good idea, but it turned out to work amazingly well.

I think this guy's eye was caught by Dot's red dress!

Once we had them, we tooled around all afternoon and well into the night. There are so many stations that you don’t even have to plan to find them—half the time you’ll run into one on your way to your destination. And if you don’t walk, a block or two and you will.

Our itinerary included a stop for a drink at L’Hotel, where Oscar Wilde died.

And a break for Ladurée macarons (psst: Pierre Hermé‘s are better).

And of course, plenty of photo ops.

It’s true that you have to take a close look at your Vélib’ before checking it out—we ended up with a bike with a flat tire once, and another time couldn’t get all three of our bikes from the same station—but overall, the system was extremely easy and cheap, and by far the best way to get around Paris.We were kicking ourselves for not trying it out sooner.

large velib station on the boulevard Beaumarchais

And if you’re wondering how the city makes sure the bikes are evenly distributed between stations, or how the bikes are taken in for repair, we spotted this transporter loaded up with Vélibs on our way home from dinner.

Parlement at night

Parlement at night

Notre Dame at night, as seen from a Vélib'

Notre Dame at night, as seen from a Vélib'

Anyone else had any Vélib’ experience?

{snapshots by me, film photos by Dot with her Nikon}

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Happy Monday!

My title is overcompensating for my general hatred of Mondays, but looking at the words tricks myself a little bit. And now, a few quick notes before I leave for work this morning.

I’m fine after my collision last Wednesday, other than bandaged knees, and have been riding as usual. Betty Foy is unscathed, except a small scratch.

The cocktail party ride last night was a success. We had a fun and very chic group, despite the cold winds and, later, some light rain. I’ll post photos tonight after I develop my film.

A new two-wheeled creature is joining the Dottie family this week. I’m very excited, although my garage space is running out. If you can guess the brand in the comments, you win a smiley face.

Have you answered our city bicycling survey yet? I’m going to compile the results soon, so if you haven’t yet, please do.

Collision on the Lakefront Path

For the first time in 2.5 years of daily riding in Chicago (that’s at least 10,000 miles) I had a collision with a person today – as opposed to train tracks or ice. Both parties involved are fine, although my knees are a bit banged up.

While riding on the Lakefront Trail after work, I saw a skateboarder ahead of me and I slowed to make sure he was not doing anything squirrely. Once I saw that he was maintaining a straight line to the far right of the path, I moved to the opposite lane to pass. I did not ding my bell as I usually would because I saw that he had headphones on and I felt comfortable that he would maintain his line. Just as I got directly next to him, without warning he turned sharply to the left, crashing into me. I felt like I was tackled from the right, as he and his skateboard pushed me and Betty Foy sideways for a few feet, before I bailed/fell, landed on my knees and caught my upper body with my hands.

As this happened in apparent slow motion, I first thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” and then “Control the fall, control the fall, control the fall.” I think I did a good job of preventing worse injury. I was not in danger of hitting my head – or my teeth! – and two skinned knees isn’t so bad.

The college-aged skateboarder was very sweet afterward. He was perfectly fine and wanted to make sure that I was okay. He apologized over and over again and said that it was all his fault because he did not look before turning. I also apologized to him and said that I should have rang my bell or something before passing. He continued to insist that it was all his fault. Although technically that is correct, I should have been even more cautious before passing, maybe by calling out and making sure he knew someone was behind him, regardless of the fact that he had headphones on. I have a hard time understanding how someone could make a maneuver like that on a crowded multi-use trail without signaling or even looking, but the fact is – this guy did. I need to remember to expect the unexpected. As the least vulnerable user on the trail, I have the most responsibility to watch out for other, more vulnerable users (although it seemed like a pretty fair fight between burly skateboarder guy and me).

My gut reaction to the situation was kinda goofy: I was concerned primarily with reassuring the guy that I was totally fine and getting back on my bike and away from the situation. With the adrenaline pumping, I did not take the time to examine myself or my bike, instead jumping back on and finishing my ride several more miles to my destination before taking stock. I’ve heard from others who have had the same type of instinctual reaction after a collision. Luckily, everything was fine, except my bloodied knees and torn tights. Sadly, no one other than the skateboarder stopped to ask if I was okay, not even the cyclists going by.

On to the positive stuff about my day.

Oma group at Sunday's brunch: me, Samantha and Janet

My destination was dinner and drinks with three cycling ladies, Janet, Molly and Samantha, two of whom also ride WorkCycles Omas. Nothing cures the jitters of a collision like steamed mussels, garlic frites and Belgian beer, plus having an understanding group with whom to rehash the events. It was nice not to have to contend with any tsk-tsking about how dangerous cycling is. That’s certainly a huge bonus to having bikey friends.

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Bike Fancy Showcases Chicago Cycle Chic

Attention everyone: you must check out the new blog Bike Fancy. Pro photographer Martha Williams is documenting stylish cyclists in Chicago and sharing them with the world, including a selection of her own cycle chic looks.

Martha photographs Emily

A resource showcasing Chicago Cycle Chic has been a missing link in our bike community and I’m super excited that Bike Fancy is here to pick up this slack. I look forward to watching the gallery grow!

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Women-who-bike brunch

My inaugural women-who-bike brunch took place on Sunday. The focus was on enjoying good food and even better company, while bikes took a backseat as a tool for transportation and for connecting us all in the first place. To this end, a dozen awesome women rode their bikes without ceremony, in their regular clothes, and proceeded to chat for three fun hours. Here is but a sampling of the awesomeness that ensued.

Women who bike - photo by Martha Williams

Rebecca! of Active Trans

Emily! of Po Campo

Samantha! of Ding Ding Let's Ride

Martha! of Bike Fancy

Janet and Patty

The group checks out Po Campo prototypes

Me - photo taken by Martha Williams with my film camera

Are you a woman in the Chicago area who would like to join us in the future? Email me at LGRAB [at] letsgorideabike [dot] com. If you’ve sent me your email before but did not get the message about the brunch, please re-send. I might have indadvertedly left some people out.

I must sound like a broken record but women who bike are pretty much without fail smart, fun and cool. :)

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