December 2010 archive

Out with the old year

The last few weeks of the year have brought snow and ice to Tennessee, which meant little bike riding time for moi (it doesn’t snow enough here to make special tires worthwhile).

But like much of the country, Alabama got a White Christmas! The 2 inches that stuck for more than 48 hours was the first Christmas snowfall in 25 years. Me, my brother and my aunt took the opportunity to make a snow family, complete with pets.

The snow cat was my favorite!

Dottie and I will be ringing in 2011 together—and starting it off right by meeting up with two of our favorite bike bloggers in Southern California—so we’ll be back to our regular bike-scheduled programming soon after the holidays.

Happy New Year!

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Winter Street Dynamics

The end of December has brought an interesting mix of personality dynamics among road users.  In my experience, Chicago drivers are much nicer in the winter and so far I’ve had no issues.  They’ve been giving me generous passing room and follow slowly when necessary.  I haven’t seen a lot of cyclists out there, usually sports types who ignore me.  Meanwhile, pedestrians and onlookers have been more outgoing than usual, with a road crew waving at me, a guy enthusing as he crossed the street, “You are brave!  Look at you!  Be safe!” and a Streetwise vendor telling how he loves to see me ride by on my bike every day.

As for travel conditions – although nothing like the northeast blizzards, several inches of snow fell in Chicago over Christmas, piling on top of the existing snow.  The plows cleared the streets decently, but bike lanes are full of snow and slush, while small neighborhood streets are still pretty snowy.  No problem – I stick to main routes, ride outside the bike lanes and feel extra security from my studded tires.

How is the end of the beginning of winter going for you?  Any interesting encounters while riding around?

Christmas Bicycling

Hello!  I have returned from Christmas in North Carolina.  I miss my family already, but it’s nice to be back with my bikes and cats.  I’ll write more about my trip soon.  Spoiler alert: there was no bicycling involved.

In the absence of bicycling as part of my Christmas, I enjoyed reading about Velouria’s Christmas road cycling.  Did anyone else have a holiday bicycling adventure?  Please share in the comments and I will live vicariously.

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Back to Bike

If anyone was wondering about the cliffhanger of Monday’s post, I did not ride my bike to work.  As many of you mentioned in the comments, it was not worth the risk of leaving my bike parked outside downtown overnight.  Of course, as life goes, the snow storm did not begin until later in the night, when I was safely home.

Riding the L train is a great back-up option, though.  As a bonus, at the L station I got to shake Rahm Emanuel’s hand, as he greeted the commoners and kissed babies and such.  I wanted to say, “More bike lanes!” but all that came out was, “Oh, hai!”

Today I was back on my bike.  Yay, bike!  Above is an unglamorous representation of my winter wear, hat, helmet, scarf and all.

Tomorrow I’m flying out to North Carolina to be with my wonderful family for Christmas.  I haven’t seen them since last year, so I’m very excited!  Too bad I don’t have a folding bike to take with me.

Happy Holidays!

FAQ’s – Part II

Earlier this year, Trisha and I opened a Formspring account and welcomed you all to ask us questions.  We’ve been answering the questions on Formspring individually as they come in.  Now we’re putting the answers together as a cohesive FAQ section, although some of the questions are not so frequent.  :)  This is the second half.  Read the first half here.

Amsterdam is flat. Chicago is flat. Is Nashville flat? What effect does topology have on how bike-friendly a city is? I suppose Portland is not flat.

I don’t think Portland is flat, no. And Nashville definitely isn’t! IMO that is not the biggest consideration for bike-friendliness, although it may be an obstacle in developing a large bicycling culture since hills can be intimidating. You will develop the necessary muscles, and there’s always the downhill stretches! And hey, as Dottie pointed out in a recent post, there’s no shame in walking your bike up a hill if you need to.

Don’t your feet get sweaty when wearing heels? Even when I wear just flats its definitely not as comfortable as when I wear socks + some sort of sneaker

No, my feet are actually cooler when I’m not wearing socks and sneakers. Maybe you could throw a bit of talcum or baby powder into your heels before you set off and see if that makes a difference.

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Winter Weather Forecasts

Winter cycling is going smoothly now.  Temperatures have been in the teens (Fahrenheit) but I stay warm by wearing my wool coat, boots, mittens, scarf and hat over my work clothes.  I’ve been using chemical warming packs in my mittens and they are pure bliss.

I have Santa along for the ride. I can’t find my snowman from last year.

I have to keep a close eye on the weather forecast, since I do not feel safe riding in fresh falling snow, before plows can do their thing. Unfortunately, there is a winter weather advisory for this evening’s commute: up to 4 inches of snow and reduced visibility. If I ride my bike this morning, I may have to leave it outside at work overnight and take the L train home. In situations like this, I sometimes leave the bike at home and take the L the whole way so I don’t have to worry about it. What would you do?

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FAQ’s – Part I

Earlier this year, Trisha and I opened a Formspring account and welcomed you all to ask us questions.  We’ve been answering the questions on Formspring individually as they come in.  Now we’re putting the answers together as a cohesive FAQ section, although some of the questions are not so frequent.  :)  This is the first half.  We’ll post the second half soon.

How and when did Dottie and Trisha meet?

Trisha and I met through our mutual friend, Erin, at a group happy hour. The first meeting I really remember was at a Russian dinner party I threw at my apartment. Trisha showed up with a shirt that said, in Russian, “I love Russian.” Awesomeness. Soon after, we went to a midnight showing of Gremlins and I drank too much beer and had to leave before the movie ended (beer buzz + crowded theater + gremlins driving Barbie cars = overwhelming). From then on, we were fast friends.  :)  That was, I think, about 4 years ago when I lived in Nashville for law school.

What saddles do you use on your bikes?

I (Dottie) have Brooks saddles, which I love. On Oma it’s the B67 with springs – the most comfortable saddle ever. On Betty it’s the B17S – no springs and took longer to break in, but still great. Trisha’s Batavus came with a Selle Royale and her Peug has a vintage saddle.

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Amazing Deal on a Real Dutch Bike

J.C. Lind Bike Co. is a sponsor of LGRAB, but I stumbled upon this deal myself on Groupon.  If you’ve been considering buying a Dutch bike, check it out:  you can buy a Gouden Leeuw Oma for only $499 from J.C. Lind!

Oma from J.C. Lind Bike Co.

The regular value is $900.  This is not some cheap look-alike, this is a high quality traditional Dutch bike, single speed with coaster brakes, LED lights, skirt guard, chain guard, kick stand, fenders, integrated Abus wheel lock, Schwalbe tires, rack and bell.  The bike will be ordered from Holland and delivered in 10-12 weeks.

Here is the link to the Groupon.  The offer lasts for 3 more days and at least 10 people have to buy.  If you have questions, I recommend contacting Jon – he is super friendly and really stands behind his products.

Update: Looks like 10 have already sold, so the deal is definitely on.  The deal could sell out before the 3 days is up – I don’t know what the max quantity is, but that’s something to keep in mind if you’re considering it.

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Mia Birk on ‘Joyride’

Last month, Dottie and I were offered a chance to read Joyride, the new memoir from Mia Birk. Birk was the Bicycle Program Manager for Portland from 1993-99, and at the end of her tenure there, Portland had become the most bicycle-friendly city in America. Her fight for more bike lanes, sharrows and more is chronicled in Joyride—her first step as Bicycle Program Manager was to take her own bike on “dog and pony shows” to various civic groups, educating them on the “win-win” of cycling for transportation, whether they liked it or not. If you read Joyride (and if you can’t tell, we recommend it!) you’ll finish the book impressed by Birk’s accomplishments and inspired to take steps in your community. In addition, it’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at civic life: how and why bike lanes get made, for example, and the reason there aren’t more bike paths on bridges.

Birk is currently President and co-owner of Alta Planning + Design, an international firm dedicated to creating active communities where bicycling and walking are safe, healthy, fun, and normal daily activities. She took the time out to answer a few questions about Joyride for LGRAB readers.

Mia Birk: photo by Beth Nakamura

You faced a lot of obstacles as Portland’s bicycle coordinator. Just reading about them raised our blood pressure! What kept you motivated to press on?
Every challenging battle was mitigated by the awesome stories of people starting to bike, getting fit, changing their lives for the better. Plus, we (remember, it wasn’t just me alone – I was working with a team of terrific folks) were/are 100% solid in our commitment to bringing bicycle transportation — a simple, win-win solution to our many complex problems – to Portland. Anything worth doing is worth fighting for.

Giving up then was not an option, nor is it today. We are not just fighting for a bike lane here and there. In my mind, we are engaged in a larger struggle for a healthier planet for our children and generations to come. It’s an honor to have been able to build a career on this, to work side by side with a bunch of great people doing this great work.

The “dog and pony shows” you went on to explain cycling to the community made for some good stories. It must have been nerve-racking to face these audiences, some of which were quite hostile to the idea of bicycle transport. Why did you choose this approach?
The City of Portland has an extensive history of involving the public in decision-making. This can make for maddening slow processes, but on balance ends up creating better, longer lasting outcomes, as evidenced by the many good facets of our city. My bosses at the time had had positive experiences conducting outreach for concepts like traffic calming and light rail, so the bike-oriented outreach made sense.

These days you work as a consultant on cyclist/pedestrian issues in cities around the world. Is there a city you see as the next Portland?
A bunch of cities are full-steam ahead doing incredible things very quickly. These include New York, Long Beach, Minneapolis, Seattle, Washington D.C., Chicago, and Vancouver. There’s probably another 200 cities making great strides all across North America.

What was/is the most effective way to humanize cyclists for drivers?
The one-on-one approach – cajoling and charming colleagues and friends to give it a try. Bike commute challenges and celebrations. Big, game-changing, eye-opening events like Portland’s BridgePedal, Sunday Parkways, and other such Ciclovias. Connecting community to the many joys of bicycling through repurposing used bikes to needy families. Empowering women through bike maintenance classes and rides. Modeling that you can look fashionable while on a bike (like you women do!); it’s not all about lyrca and speed. And starting safe routes to school programs. Many aggressive drivers get awfully tame around kids. All in all, the more we get motorists to ride bikes at least part of the time, the better it will be.

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The Return of My Winter Wheels

Ladies and gentlemen, my winter wheels are back!  After choosing not to ride on Monday due to road conditions, I set out Tuesday morning enthusiastically, but my enthusiasm was short-lived.

The edges of the streets and the bike lanes were still full of slush, forcing me to take the lane.   The rising sun created massive glares on the wet roads and snow, making it hard for me to see and surely hard for drivers to see me.

I almost turned around to ride back home, but instead I turned on a shady side street with less sun but more slush.  Half-way to work, I decided to drop Oma off at Dutch Bike Chicago to have her studded tires put on.  The shop wasn’t open yet, so I locked her up, dropped the key through the mail slot and left them a message.  Today I dropped off the studded tires and then picked up modified-Oma after work (Thanks to the shop manager Vince!  You can read about his own studded tire transition here.)

Finally!  My cycling confidence is back and the ride home was wonderful!

I felt totally confident on my two wheels, even riding through the icy slush.  Although I likely would have been perfectly fine riding without studded tires, I am miserable the whole time if I’m stressing about slipping.

Drivers were especially careful around me, possibly afraid I would slip in front of them (they don’t know about my studs) but whatever keeps them cautious is fine with me.  I smiled and laughed the whole time, in response to my Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me podcast (yay, WBEZ Chicago!).  As a cherry on top, I went by a man riding something like a WorkCycles Fr8 with a kid on back and we dinged bells at each other.

This is going to be a good winter, now that I have my wheels back.  Who’s with me?  :)

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