Monthly Archives: January 2011

Winter Cycling to the Shakespeare Theater

My love for Chicago is largely based on bike-ability and access to culture.  I try to take advantage of these as much as possible and, as a result, my favorite activity is cycling to see a play at the Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier.  This always makes for a lovely Saturday: 12 miles of bicycling, a stop at the bar for a bourbon, and an imaginative and original Shakespeare production.

On this particular Saturday, going to see As You Like It, the Chicago weather was on my side: a temperature of 32 degrees felt nice in comparison to usual winter temps.  My outfit of jeggings (oh yes, I bought jeggings – and I love them!), long wool sweater, and tall boots kept me warm. I was able to ride along the Lakefront path most of the way, diverting to the inner Lakeshore Drive for the stretch that is not plowed.

It’s a good thing that we love to cycle to Navy Pier because getting there otherwise is a pain. Public transportation to the Pier is not direct, requiring two L trains and a trolley from my place, while parking is at least $25 for a couple of hours (not that I have a car to park).

Navy Pier during the winter has an isolated and slightly Kafkaesque mood that I love.

That’s why I love going to the Shakespeare Theater so much. Not only for the excellent productions, but for the time spent cycling there and back along the car-free Lakefront, as well as the time meandering down the Pier – a combination of my favorite parts of Chicago.

I have a long history of cycling to the Shakespeare Theater, which you can read about in the following posts:

With Jennifer from Scotland
Almost exactly one year ago
Through the rain
Shortly after acquiring Betty Foy
Almost exactly two years ago
One of my first LGRAB posts

Where is your favorite place to cycle?

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Portlandia

Trisha and I are fans of the new show, Portlandia. There’s a sweetness to the pointed and laugh-out-loud humor.

After watching this, I actually had a dream that I moved to Portland. The dream of the 90’s…

The show premiered last week on IFC and you can find it online. Anyone else catch it?

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Cycling the Winter Lakefront Labyrinth

On a winter night, cycling along Chicago’s Lakefront Trail feels like embarking on a strange expedition, a la Labyrinth. Some areas are totally blocked off due to overwhelming ice accumulation, forcing bikes onto nearby dirt paths or streets; some areas have massive chunks of pavement missing, pulled out by the force of lake waves; some areas are especially dark and foggy, eerie as you look out to the blackness of the horizon. If I listen to David Bowie on my iPod as I ride along, the only effects missing are grotesque muppets with British accents.

During my first winter cycling, I rode the Lakefront Trail nearly every night. Last winter, with a new office further from the lake, I used the trail much less. This winter, yesterday’s ride was only my second time commuting along the trail. Nowadays, taking relatively quiet secondary streets that go straight home is a more attractive proposition than the out-of-the-way trail.

But sometimes the car-free environment, along with the moody mood, is too much to resist, even when the ride takes twice as long.

That’s when I cycle the Lakefront and I always enjoy the distinctive experience.

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A Quick Photography Note

This is a quick note about the photography I’ll be using to illustrate my posts.

When I started this blog, I used a point-and-shoot digicam and about a year later I bought a DSLR as I grew more interested in photography. Last spring I began shooting with vintage film cameras and posting film photos here often. In October, I sold my DSLR to buy an awesome old camera and nearly all of the photos I’ve posted here since have been film photos. I’m now taking an intermediate film photography course, where I shoot, develop and print black and white film.

This is relevant to LGRAB because you will be seeing a lot more black and white photos from me. Also, you will see more photos that I may not have taken the same day. For example, I may use a picture from a week ago to illustrate a story about my commute today because it’s not realistic to shoot and develop a roll of film every day. I develop at least 2 or 3 times a week, though, so the photos will stay fresh.

I wanted to point this out so you aren’t wondering what the heck is going on. I hope my little photo adventures add to and don’t detract from my writing here.

One more thing: this week I launched a collaborative photo blog with two other film photographers. The concept is three people in three different cities (Chicago, New York and Vancouver) shooting with the same camera, lens and film. If you’re interested, check it out at Triple Exposure. And yes, that brings my grand blog total to three, including Dream Camera.

Now back to regularly scheduled bikey programming.

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Coco’s Geometry

Because of the icy weather, I have not been riding Coco, my Velorbis Studine Balloon, as much as I desperately want to, choosing instead my studded-tire bike.  I can count the substantial rides I’ve taken with her on one hand – not enough for a real review, but enough to talk a bit here and there as I get to know her better.

After my first work commute with Coco a couple of weeks ago, I talked about her ride.  In that post, I mentioned how Coco’s geometry is different from Oma’s, even though the two look like similar style bikes.  The photos below demonstrate how Coco’s distinctive geometry affects my riding position.

As you can see, my hips and legs are aligned almost straight down, while my torso is slightly leaned forward.  My posture is straight, but not totally upright.  You can compare to my positioning on Oma here.

I thought this geometry difference would cause my legs to work more, but thus far I have not noticed a difference in the amount of energy required for pedaling. If anything, Coco may be a bit swifter, although I’m still trying to determine if that’s all in my head.

The geometry does make slight differences to the details of my ride. For example, starting from a stoplight is easier. My foot on the raised pedal simply goes straight down to propel the bike forward; I don’t have to simultaneously push down and forward on the pedal while my other foot pushes off the ground. Another detail is that I can stand up on the pedals for a boost of energy, which I cannot do on Oma. Also, good posture is easy to maintain; I don’t have to keep telling myself to sit up straight and roll my shoulders back as I do when riding Oma.

These subtle differences are hard to describe, but they make riding the two bikes not as similar as some may assume.

I do realize I’m firmly in the “splitting hairs” territory that EcoVelo recently wrote about. To me, at least, Coco and Oma are like apples and oranges. :)

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San Diego Bike Friends

Trisha and I spent New Year’s together in San Diego, as bridesmaids in our friend Wanda’s wedding. On Sunday, after we fulfilled our obligations, we spent the whole day hanging out with bicycle people, including two of our favorite bloggers, Beany of Brown Girl in the Lane and Eva of Eva.lu.

Beany organized a brunch in the North Park neighborhood with a group of her bike friends and Eva came from quite a distance to be there, too. Everyone was so cool and friendly and the restaurant, El Take It Easy, was a yummy and unique gastro-cantina. [Mole chicken nuggets, delicious taquitos and Truck Stout FTW! —T]

Trisha and Eva

Katie and her bike

Aaron and his bike

Stylish couple: Jay and Katie

El Take It Easy welcomes bikes inside!

Eva: ladylike and on a bike

Unfortunately, the day was dark and rainy. After 3-hour brunch we took a trip to the ocean. [D’s suggestion; would have been a nice break between bouts of eating and drinking had we not stumbled upon a fortuitously placed shop that sold ICE CREAM WAFFLE SANDWICHES. Yes, they are as wonderful as you are imagining! T]

Afterward, we had a small dinner at an excellent restaurant, The Linkery. [Which included an awesome cask-conditioned ale on its outstanding beer list. — T]

No bike riding for us, but great company, conversation and beer made up for it.  :)

You can see my color film photos from our beach walk here. You can read about our previous San Diego trip here.

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Silly Sunday Night Post

Disclaimer: This post contains absolutely no nutritional merit. A random outfit post only — but when better to get one of those out than on a Sunday night?

I’m getting into the long skirts to keep me warm during my commutes this winter. This particular one was filched from my grandmother’s closet over Thanksgiving, and I had yet to figure out a way to wear it without looking dowdy.


Enter Downton Abbey.  Suddenly the mid-calf length had a time period other than the 80s associated with it (though I did hike it up a bit regardless), and I was able to accessorize accordingly, adding a white ruffled high-neck blouse and a black jacket.

I think my curtsy needs some work. What would the Dowager Countess say?

This entry in the Masterpiece Classic series, written by Julian Fellows (Gosford Park) has caught some flak online for not being up to snuff, but I (and Dottie!) find this upstairs/downstairs soap thoroughly enjoyable. Anyone else into Downton?

My Arctic Air Bike Commute

I did it!  I biked to work 10 miles roundtrip with temperatures as low as -4F and a windchill as low as -20F.  As far as I’m concerned, any of you could do the same – and I know some of you have already.  All it takes is a positive attitude, an adventurous spirit and a few extra accessories.  If you put the time into preparation and hype yourself up enough to pull your bike out, everything else should be a piece of cake.

My ride felt similar to any other cold winter ride I’ve experienced this winter.  The biggest difference was that the air was very cold on my face, which I usually leave uncovered.  I ended up pulling my scarf up to my nose and then pulling it down intermittently to breath comfortably.

Important extra accessories:

  • Warming packs in my mittens and boots.  I never would have made it without these because my fingers and toes get extremely cold.
  • Safety glasses, a cheap pair I swiped from my husband’s work pile.  I need these to cover my eyes, which are very sensitive and water easily.
  • A scarf wrapped around my face.

With those extra accessories in place, my usual winter wardrobe would have worked fine.  However, I got so paranoid by the local news, I ignored my own experience and common sense and layered like crazy.  I wore capeline leggings under flannel-lined khakis, a slim wool shirt under a wool sweater under a long down parka, earmuffs under a wool hat under a helmet.  Too much, Dottie!  No part of me was cold, which is good, but I was so hot and itchy.  When I arrived at the office, sweat was rolling down my back and my hair was damp.  The parka was way overkill.  Lesson learned.

Overall, I consider the experience a success.  I’ll never be afraid of Chicago arctic blasts again.

Thanks so much to everyone for your helpful and encouraging comments! I don’t think I would have done it without your support and priceless advice.

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Arctic Air Bike Commute…Or Not?

The ride home today was cold, a dry and bitter 15 degrees.  Nothing compared to the cold expected for tomorrow morning, though.  -4 to be exact.  That’s -4 fahrenheit, -20 celsius.

The headline on the Chicago Tribune today:

An arctic cold blast from Siberia will barrel through the Chicago area tonight, driving temperatures below zero for the first time in a year and creating dangerous wind chills that could hit nearly 30 below.

Alright, team – who’s gonna ride their bikes with me tomorrow?  :)

I’m not one for riding to prove anything, but I’m attracted to the idea of pushing the limits with the temperature.  When we had an arctic blast last year, I set out to ride and gave up after less than a mile, as my hands started to hurt unbearably.  I rode directly to the nearest L train stop, locked Oma up and took the train the rest of the way to work.  I blogged about my defeat here.

But I learned from my mistakes and came up with a game plan to avoid that downfall tomorrow.  Pretty simple, actually: lots of layers, a scarf wrapped around my face and, the piece de resistance, hand and foot warmers that I will remove from the package an hour before leaving.  Maybe even two warmers per mitten.  That was my biggest problem last time – I didn’t open my hand warmers until I’d already set out, not knowing that they need time to warm up.  Also, I might ride Betty Foy, since the pavement is bone dry and I could go faster, thereby creating more internal heat and cutting the commute time by 5 minutes or so.  I’ll have a tail wind on the way to work, at least.  The ride is only 5 miles.  I think this will work…

…Or not.  Who knows?  I may wake up in the morning and think, “forget this madness.”  I’m not going to lay my reputation on it.  The wind chill scares me a little bit.  But there’s no shame in trying.  :)  Stay tuned.

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On the one day I didn’t have my camera . . .

I saw a guy pedaling a unicycle in the center turn lane in Hillsboro Village.

Clearly I need an iPhone like my father, who’s able to capture pictures of bike art like this while working in Detroit.

Seen anything interesting on your commute lately?

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How To: Cycle Sleek Winter Wear

As winter glides along, I continue to enjoy the beauty of the snow and the invigorating freshness of the cold air.  One thing that begins to feel oppressive about the season, however, is the heft of my usual winter wear.  As I wrap the same wool scarf around my neck, pull the same clomping snow boots on, and zip the same puffy vest up for the hundredth time, I heave a bitter sigh.  That’s when I know it’s time to get creative.

If you’re getting tired of all the bulky accessories that go with winter cycling and are biking less because of it, please read on.  A sleek and streamlined winter cycling outfit is possible, it only requires a bit more thought and care.

  • Legs: The trick here is simple: two pairs of tights, a thick wool pair underneath a regular opaque pair.  No one will know and it’s way warmer than a pair of jeans.  Then you can simply wear whatever skirt or dress you want to wear.
  • Feet: On top of the tights, a pair of thick wool socks.  However, this alone is not enough for me, personally.  Even with snow boots, my sensitive toes freeze quickly.  The only solution I’ve found are toe warmers.   With toe warmers, I’m free from both snow boots and freezing toes.  I can wear fashionable boots for the first time since October!  I get a lot of questions about the ones I’m wearing here – they’re from Nine West 5 years ago, not expensive at all.
  • Torso:   Once again, wool saves the day.  A long-sleeved thin merino wool shirt, topped with a super thick wool cowl neck sweater.  Add a wool caplet and done.  No coat needed.  But the trick here is a seriously thick wool sweater.  Invest in a good one, by which I mean dig around in thrift shops for hours until you hit the jackpot.  I bought the sweater pictured a decade ago and it’s still like new.  I bought the hand-knit caplet from an Etsy crafter.
  • Neck: Now you can leave the scarf at home – the cowl neck on the sweater can be pulled all the way up to cover the nose, if necessary.  If you don’t have a cowl neck sweater, use your happiest and least itchy scarf.
  • Ears:  A wool winter hat takes care of the ears.  Earmuffs would also be a good choice.
  • Hands:  Okay, I’m still stumped on this one, forced to wear ginormous ski mittens.  I just took them off for the pictures.  Like my toes, my fingers are susceptible to freezing.

The great thing about cycling is that you can actually get away with a bit less clothing, since your body will create its own heat.  This get-up might not keep me warm if I were standing at a bus stop, where it always seems like I’m waiting for an eternity, but it’s perfect for my bike ride.

Of course, a lot about how I dress for winter cycling depends on how I’m feeling on a particular day.  Sometimes I don’t give a care and end up in long johns and a puffy down coat.  No shame in that!  But when I feel the need to take it up a notch and escape the winter doldrums, I like to know that it’s possible, without leaving my bike at home.

If anyone would like to pull together a sleek winter look of their own based on this advice or show others how they’re already doing it, please send a picture and description to LGRAB [at] letsgorideabike [dot] com.  I’d love to create a group round-up, similar to my recent post on winter footwear. (Hint: If you do this, you’ll be one step ahead in the LGRAB Winter Games.  More details soon.)

Any questions or tips of your own? Please leave them in the comments!

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A Midwinter Celebration

On a very cold Saturday evening, a group of fun-loving city cyclists came together for a midwinter celebration at local Chicago shop, Dutch Bike Co. A time to recharge batteries, talk with cool people and drink lots of wine out of a cargo bike.  :)

Among the cool people there (I wish I’d taken even more pictures!) was Janet, a writer and illustrator who rides an Oma and blogs at Tuttle Tattle.

And Steve, who just returned from a whirlwind European trip, including stops in Amsterdam and Copenhagen.  You can read about his trip at Steven Can Plan.

The array of bikes parked outside was beautiful, including this Madsen owned by Ashley of new blog One Less Minivan.

Between chatting and sipping, I had time to gawk at all the cool stuff, including Po Campo’s new prototype laptop pannier made by local ladies, Maria and Emily.

Also on display, Dutch seat covers and Yepp kid seats.

And these amazing navy blue and green Brooks saddles.  Has anyone seen colored leather saddles like these before?  I’m intrigued!

I’m lucky to have such great local bike shops in Chicago. A good local shop can become a meeting place for like-minded folk and help create a feeling of real community, even in a big city.  This celebration was all about socializing, talking to old friends and meeting new ones.  Such opportunities are rare.  Usually in the bike community, every event is organized around either recreation, like a group ride, or advocacy work.  I think merely talking with other people who “get it” is an effective, subtle form of advocacy, and a fun recreation to boot.

I encourage everyone, wherever you may live, to approach your local bike shop about hosting a similar celebration.  Get the ball rolling in your own community!

(Dutch Bike Co. is a sponsor of LGRAB. It’s also my local bike shop, which I’ve been writing about since long before we had sponsors.)

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Car-free Shopping Strategies

This weekend I made another bulk product shopping trip by bike.  There’s no real game plan, every pannier in the closet gets thrown on Oma and Sir Raleigh, who make a rag-tag cargo team.  In the photos below, there is quite a bit of stuff smushed onto the bikes.

At the Dottie household, we have a good system for taking care of all our purchases without a car, while staying within a budget and valuing local, organic and natural products.

  1. Most of the food we eat comes from area farms, delivered by a CSA, Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks.
  2. A lot comes from Whole Foods natural grocery, which is a very short walk.
  3. The heavier and pricier purchases, like cat food for our three kitties, come from Amazon via the mail.
  4. Most of our clothes come from neighborhood thrifts shops and those are fun trips!
  5. Finally, occasional bike trips to the bulk product store take care of miscellaneous stuff like fancy olives, liquor and beer.  (Fun fact: while visiting local brewery Two Brothers, they told me that the bulk store is their biggest customer.)  Whether luckily or unluckily, the bulk store is on the edge of my neighborhood, a quick ride.

This system works well for us.  What is your system for shopping without a motor vehicle?

(A previous discussion specific to grocery shopping by bike can be read here.)

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Coco’s Ride

I rode Coco to work Monday, before Tuesday’s snowfall sent me back to Oma and her studded tires.  I was so giddy to have a new bike, I decided to take Coco on a spin to the lakefront during lunch with my camera and a roll of film.

I haven’t ridden Coco enough yet to provide in-depth opinions on how she performs, but I’ll offer some initial thoughts.  She feels great!  The ride is similar to Oma’s and nothing like Betty Foy’s.  She weighs a bit less than Oma and is a bit more sprightly, but speed (or lack of it) and comfort are on pretty much par.

There are some notable differences.  First, Coco’s balloon tires are super cushy and help me laugh in the face of Chicago’s potholes and train tracks (one of my biggest fears).  Second, Coco has only three gears.  I ended up using all three gears during my ride, depending on incline (ramps in and out of the Lakefront Trail) and wind direction, and the range felt spot on.  Third, Coco’s geometry is almost straight up and down, but a tiny bit bent forward to reach the handlebars, whereas Oma’s geometry is a tiny bit leaned back with legs pushing a tiny bit forward.  I thought this would make riding Coco feel substantially different after a few miles, but my body felt the same while pedaling and once I arrived at work, no more or less fatigued or energized.

I probably don’t even need to mention looks.  She’s a beauty that I love to gaze at.  Beauty should not be underestimated when choosing a bike.  If you’re going to ride a bike every day, it should call out to you.  Coco certainly accomplishes that!

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How Preparation and Maintenance Affect Winter Bicycling

Trisha’s post yesterday about the difficulty of riding in Nashville after snow has me thinking about the important role that city preparation and maintenance play in winter commuting. If streets are not cleared quickly after a storm, even a modest snowfall can ruin several bike commuting days.

Southern cities are getting more wintry weather this year than they’re equipped to handle. I heard on the news that Atlanta has 8 snow plows; in contrast, Chicago has hundreds. I assume road salt is in similarly limited supply.

Without salt and plows, Trisha has to walk her bike over large icy patches in Nashville

On top of this, Southern bicyclists are likewise less equipped to handle the weather, as there’s usually not enough snow to justify purchasing snow tires or studded tires. This results in more of Trisha’s commutes in Nashville being thwarted than mine in Chicago, despite the much greater snow totals in Chicago. You can see this happen with Bike Skirt Elisa’s commute in Alabama, too.

Meanwhile, this week in Chicago, I took one day off bicycling when the snow was actively falling on Tuesday. The next day, after 5 inches of snow, all but the small side roads had been cleared of snow and ice.  Plus, to handle any surprises, I have studded tires.

Streets are reasonably clear a day after a Chicago snowstorm

Unfortunately, the bike lanes are still a complete mess, which is something the city needs to work on improving, but at least I could ride in the main lanes safely.

Unfortunately, bike lanes are mostly ignored in the snow-clearing process

Therefore, it seems like so far this winter, snow and ice have been more problematic for bicyclists in the South than in areas to the north that regularly get snow.

Of course, I have not forgotten about the crazy blizzard action going on around New York and New England. How long does it take after one foot of snow falls before roads are reasonably clear for bicycling?

And for everyone else, feel free to leave a comment stating your location and how well your city has been dealing with wintry weather this year.

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What is this, New England?

I cannot count how many times I’ve heard those words over the past week—most recently, this morning, when I strolled into Fiddlecakes through falling snow with ice crunching underfoot in search of a cheddar and bacon scone (totally worth it).

Yesterday I rode to work. It was right around the freezing mark, so not too cold, and the night before the roads had seemed pretty clear. Thinking I wouldn’t be walking, I traded the snow boots I’d been trapped in all weekend for my heeled leather boots. Mistake! Icy, slushy patches had me on foot for about half my commute. Fearing I wouldn’t be able to spot these in the dark, and feeling discretion was the better part of valor, I accepted a ride home with a co-worker. The Bat is currently installed in my office, hoping for clearer streets (and perhaps an earlier departure time) tonight.

More pictures, from a snowy walk to watch my alma mater Auburn win the National Championship at the Melrose on Monday night.

I know other people have had to put their riding on hold because of the weather—let’s hope we get back to our regularly scheduled programming, i.e. less snow, ASAP.

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Winter Bicycling Footwear

The women-who-bike brunchers are an endless source of regular cycling knowledge on all topics. For example, footwear. While chatting after Sunday’s brunch, I started to notice everyone’s unique, stylish and utilitarian footwear. I get a lot of questions about my winter boots, so I thought you all would be interested in seeing the varied solutions other female Chicago cyclists have worked out.

This is but a small sampling, but goes to show that there are many ways to maintain individual style while staying warm on a bike in the winter.

What footwear do you use when the temperatures drop?

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The Name Game

My new bike is perfectly lovely so far! Yesterday I took her to work and back and also for a lunchtime joy ride. I’ll write more about those rides later. For now I’m still mulling over her name. I briefly considered Chanel based on her rich and sophisticated look, but that would be a bit silly.

Maybe she is more of a crunchy granola hippie type, with her fun and rustic Fat Frank tires. What name would that be: Hope? Sunshine? :)

No, that’s really not her personality. She’s sweet and sophisticated. I think she may be a Chantilly.

Chantilly is my top choice, but I’m not ready to make anything official. I know there are quite a few Rustine fans, but that makes me think of my mom’s big, butch dog, Rusty.

Whatever her name, she certainly gets looks and compliments from all around, including from two midwestern tourists asking directions to H&M, two fur-coated women laden with shopping bags as they left the Chanel boutique (“and look at that bell!”), and a guy in lycra on a nice steel road bike, who said his wife would love it.

Sadly, Chantilly (?) will be staying home today. Snow is falling with several inches expected and the roads look treacherous. I could take Oma with her winter tires, but after a very stressful ride home in the falling snow on Friday, which included being buzzed, nearly right-hooked, honked at, and a car sliding next to me, I’m reminded why I hate riding in the the falling snow. Sure, fresh snowflakes are pretty, but the logistics of riding in the city don’t work out for me. So I am off for the L train. Once the snow stops and the plows have time to clear the roads, I’ll be back out there.

Update 1/13 – Coco it is!  Thanks for the suggestion, neighbortease.  I may hang on to Chantilly and say she’s Coco for short.  I’ll have to wait and see what comes naturally.

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January’s women-who-bike brunch

My third women-who-bike brunch was the biggest yet, with nearly 20 women gathering together on a freezing Sunday morning to enjoy each other’s company and $3 mimosas. I love these brunches for the opportunity to sit down and have great conversations with so many smart, fun women. Next we’ll expand to happy hours, in the spring we’ll start some group rides and from there we’ll take over the world.

What an awesome group! I tried to get everyone’s photo, but did not quite succeed. Here are some cool blogs that were represented: Ding Ding Let’s Ride, This Little Bike of Mine, Bike Fancy, Two Pitties in the City (cutest dogs ever), Po Campo, and Chicargo Bike. If I indadvertedly left anyone’s blog out, feel free to leave a comment to say hi and link to your stuffs. :)

As always, if you’re interested in attending our next brunch on the first Sunday of February, email me at LGRAB [at] letsgorideabike [dot] com.

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Cycling in 2011

Here’s a little bit of proof that yes, I’ve actually been doing it.

The reason for the lack of posts is not a lack of cycling adventures, but a lack of computer! My beloved hackintosh is having issues, and my reinstall of OSX resulted in the dreaded kernel panic. I have some theories and hope to get it up and running soon, but any Dell Mini hack experts out there should feel free to weigh in with suggestions. Enhancing my computer tech skills is all well and good, but I miss the internet!

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