January 2011 archive

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?

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.

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.

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. :)

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.

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?

You might also like:

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.

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.

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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