June 2011 archive

Guest Post: Bike Commuting as a New Challenge

This is the first post in a new “novice” guest series. The idea is to get fresh perspectives on riding a bike from people who are relatively new to transportation cycling.

As I noted last month, my stories on bike commuting now come from a somewhat more experienced/jaded perspective. If no drivers do anything too terrible, it’s a great commute for me. So now and then we will ask novice bike commuters to share their thoughts from their unique perspectives.

If you are new to cycling, maybe you could more easily relate to the guest posts. If you’re a battle ax like me and Trisha, you could reminisce on the olden days.

This first guest post comes from Stephanie, whom I met through my Women-Who-Bike group. She recently biked all the way into the Loop (center of downtown Chicago) for the first time to attend the Bike to Work Day rally and confessed that the experience was rather terrifying. Although she works in the Loop, typically she bikes only the first half of her commute and then take the L train into the Loop – not because of the distance, but to avoid the insane traffic and stressed drivers that can make biking in the Loop, well, terrifying. I love this! It’s a great reminder that bike commuting should be enjoyable.

Stephanie on Bike to Work Day

Stephanie discusses this and so much more in her smart and eloquent own words below. I hope you take the time to read through and continue the discussion in the comments.

From Stephanie

I’m the kind of person who likes a new challenge, even if it’s scary or seems impossible at first. I have taken on all kinds of small adventures in the last five or six years, mostly physical challenges for myself. I don’t do things for competitive purposes, (I get too frustrated in competition!) but just to push my own physical ability and comfort levels and to keep myself busy. One year I took boxing classes, another year I took up olympic-style weightlifting (under the watchful supervision of a good coach), one year I took up yoga, and yet another year I trained for and ran a race for charity. I’ve learned a ton from all these things, and I have kept a lot of these activities in my exercise repertoire. This year, as it turns out, bike commuting was my new adventure!

The experience of learning to bike commute has made me think a lot about what keeps us from trying new things, and what the real and imagined barriers to new adventures can be. There were definitely barriers for me in commuting by bike; I learned to ride a bike like most of us do, as a kid in the driveway at home. Then, once again like many of us, I set my bike aside sometime in middle school and really didn’t look back. Until I was in my mid-20’s I didn’t touch a bike again, and when I did I started very, very small, just biking once in a blue moon for fun or short errands.

One of the barriers that kept me off a bike for so long was structural; until grad school I lived in a suburb, where biking was not really a practical transportation method, and there was no particular bike culture that I was exposed to at the time. When everything is massively spread out and the infrastructure is actively bike-unfriendly, it’s hard to start. Moving to a city (better environment) and getting rid of my car (removed temptation to drive) helped me with that. You can’t always change structural barriers like that, though.

But the mental barriers were actually much bigger. The reasons in my head for not biking (or not running a race, or not trying yoga) can grow way out of proportion to their real significance! For one thing, it felt strange to return to biking after somewhat internalizing the attitude that you find in many suburban environments that biking is for children. It’s not taken seriously as a transportation option, and the planning and design of suburban communities just exacerbates that by making biking uninviting and unsafe. It took a lot of time for me to think of biking as an option for a grown-up person.

Similarly, it was hard to feel safe and comfortable biking, even in the rather bike-friendly cities I’ve lived in for the past five years. I can relate to people who express fear about traffic, and accidents, and crashing- these are rational fears! But not even trying to bike is an overreacting response, I think. My solution to my own anxiety about safety was to start super slowly and get very familiar with my surroundings and routes. When I know all the potholes and sharp corners and badly timed lights in my way, I feel less nervous about bad things happening. I also stop at every red light and follow traffic rules as religiously as I can.

Intimidation is another mental barrier. It’s easy to be intimidated or overwhelmed by the culture of an activity. Do you see spandex and Lance Armstrong when you think of biking? Or do you see your neighbor or your mom or your first-grade teacher? Like with any activity, you don’t have to be super-intense or single-minded about biking or even bike commuting to do it and have fun. It’s something regular people with busy lives can do, and you can do it as much or as little as feels comfortable. I think people often look at new things and don’t try them because the commitment seems so huge; time, or money, or energy.

I got past this barrier by giving myself permission to take small steps. One thing that really helped me learn to bike commute was not trying to do everything all at once. By that I mean that I biked part of my commute at first, and took the train for part of it. It may sound super simple and obvious, but it took me a little while to realize that you don’t have to bike the entire way to work to try it and have fun! It’s not cheating, because there are no rules about how you have to do this. The ability to gradually work on my confidence in this way was really important for me- I think I needed to learn how to bike to work in steps, just like you have to learn in steps how to do a complicated yoga pose, for example.

I also think lacking role models is a mental barrier for lots of people. If you don’t know anyone who does something, it’s a lot harder to envision yourself doing it. I firmly believe that having friends and advisors who know more than you and are happy to help you makes a huge difference in adopting any new activity. When I first got the idea to start biking, I scraped together some money and some courage and headed out to the Community Cycling Center on Alberta Street in Portland (http://www.communitycyclingcenter.org/), where the most friendly people helped me get set up with my refurbished Specialized Crossroads. I asked them all the stupid questions I had, I got them to teach me to do basic maintenance on my bike and fix a flat and all that stuff. I was lucky, they were great and unpretentious- but a bad experience with bike repair or sales people can intimidate and discourage someone out of the idea of biking altogether. This really does make a difference.

Connected to the role model issue is the problem of not having social ties to an activity. If you can make something social, and make friends while doing it, you’ll have more fun! The friendships you make in a weight room at a good gym are a great example- when someone else is cheering you on or complimenting your lifting, it feels awesome and is very encouraging. In Chicago with biking, I have had the great luck of meeting other women my age who bike, and who are excited about biking, and are also just really nice people. It makes a huge difference to find people who seem basically just like you, except they participate in this activity- it’s fun and you see that you can do it too. Dottie is definitely one of these people- without her encouragement I would have been much less likely to try biking to work (all the way to the South Loop from Roscoe Village!) this year for the first time.

So, I overcame these barriers and did my full commute by bike on June 17, and it was great. But I am not going to be out bike commuting every single day now; some days I’m tired, or it’s raining (or snowing!), or I just feel like taking the train and reading a book on my way to work. And even when I do bike, the partway ride is often more manageable for me- it takes less preparation, and doesn’t involve riding in the loop. And that’s okay! I am having a lot of fun biking, I am getting another kind of physical movement into my day, which is great, and I accomplished something new. I hope that this little story helps someone else overcome their own barriers to trying biking or some other new activity!


Thanks, Stephanie!

I love the idea of learning how to bike commute in steps. This kind of thinking could help so many people start riding because it makes the whole idea less overwhelming. Even though I have been bike commuting for three years, I’m always trying to think of new ways to make it less stressful.

Is anyone else just starting out with bike commuting? Have you tried learning how to bike commute in steps? Does this remind anyone of how they felt in the olden days? :)

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Quick-Drying Outfits

For summer rainstorms, a quick-drying outfit is more important than a good raincoat. Who wants to wear a coat when it’s so hot outside? The sweat and humidity is worse than the rain. Ick.

I was wearing this outfit below last week when unexpected rain hit just as I left work. Five minutes into my ride, the rain stopped and the sun came out. I was pretty wet, not quite soaked, but by the time I got home 20 minutes later, I was completely dry. Very impressive quick-drying performance from my Patagonia skirt and top. I looked at the tag and they’re made of polyester. Boy, that fabric has come a long way since the 70′s.

As I set out for work yesterday morning, a sprinkle turned into a downpour, soaking me. I had to wring out my shirt after I locked my bike. Unfortunately, I was wearing Lululemon yoga capri pants and top. Despite laying them out to dry all day, they were still damp (and mildewy) at the end of the day. Whatever fabric those are made of is good for yoga movement, terrible for bike commuting in the rain. I chose to wear my office skirt and blouse for the ride home.

My shoes and riding gloves are still drying, too. I should stick to my Keen commuter sandals instead of regular sneakers for wet summer weather.

Funny how I’ve been bike commuting for three years and I’m still learning this stuff. ‘Cause I keep forgetting. :)

Who else forgoes typical rain gear in the summer? What kinds of clothes and accessories have you found best for quick-drying?

A Delicious Cupcake Ride!

Ride to eat cupcakes, eat cupcakes to ride.

On Saturday, that’s exactly what a celebratory group of 18 bicyclists did, navigating 8 miles to visit 3 bakeries and consume countless cupcakes.  All in the best summer finery, of course.

After setting off from Wicker Park, we stopped first at Alliance Bakery, my personal favorite of the day.  Such delicious and beautiful confections!

The group got a little sidetracked by a very pink sidewalk sale at a boutique next door…

But we soon got back to serious cupcake business.

Next we biked through Wicker Park and Bucktown and across the river to Roscoe Village for our second stop, Bleeding Heart.

There we visited with a bicyclist who would have joined us for the ride, if she had not had to work at the bakery that day.  Hi!  :)

We took a break at a park across the street, as we began to realize that eating more than one cupcake in a row can be quite a challenge.

Then after riding through Roscoe Village, Lakeview and Lincoln Park, we arrived at our final bakery, Sweet Mandy B’s.  A final round of cupcakes was ordered, because we’re hardcore like that.

Finally, we parked ourselves at the beautiful rose garden in nearby Oz Park for a picnic of … cupcakes!  And champagne!  A lovely combination.

Merci Beaucoup to my partner in crime, Sara.  I literally could not have done it on my own, without her enthusiasm and route-mapping skillz.  And mucho gracias to our adorable yet badass corker, Ash.

Thanks to everyone who came out!  You’re all awesome!

What kind of ride should we do next?  Perhaps some gelato and ice cream?  Perhaps!

Biking for a better world: Erica Charis

Earlier this month I received an email from Victoria, whom longtime readers of LGRAB probably remember from Victoria’s Ride and her stop in Nashville a couple of Octobers ago. Entitled “Why I Suck at Fundraising,” the email explained that Victoria usually does something big or not at all (not a real surprise coming from someone who biked alone cross-country). “In the face of huge social ills and incurable diseases, I feel pretty powerless,” she admitted. “Since I can’t solve it all on my own, or even have much influence at all in the grand scheme of things, I’ve always chosen to just not do anything.” But she’s decided to change this by participating in two bicycle fund-raising activities this summer, thanks to her friend Erica Charis. The first is Tread on Trafficking, which benefits Love146, an organization that aims to prevent child trafficking around the world.  Participants pledge to complete a certain amount of physical activity between May 1 and June 30—anything from pogo-sticking to running to biking. The second is The Seacoast Safari,  a more traditional 2-day 150-mile ride to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Erica Charis celebrates at the end of a long ride

The email struck a chord with me, and I wanted to know more about the friend who changed Victoria’s opinion on fundraising rides. Turns out Erica participated in Tread on Trafficking last year, pledging to ride 600 miles in a two-month period despite being a novice cyclist. It wasn’t long ago that she “would ride my Bianchi the 3.5 miles to Alewife Station and be so dead tired from my efforts that I would take the bus home, leaving my poor “Millie” locked at the train station until the next fair weather day.” This year, she is doubling her mileage to 1200—and has recruited 13 other riders to join her, including Victoria.

“What I’ve taken on is tough–and that’s on purpose,” Erica writes in a Facebook note. “Because what I’m asking others to do in return–part with some money is a risky financial climate and hope & trust that the good it will do in someone else’s life is greater than the good it could do it your own–is also tough.  So I guess that’s my wish for all of us this week and in those to come: may we all feel rich enough to give it all away and see great things happen because of it.”

If you, like me, are a small-stepper who hopes take a big step one day, donate to Victoria and Erica’s efforts today. The deadline to contribute is June 30. As a team, they are still $5000 away from their goal. Maybe LGRAB readers can help put them over the top?

Learn more about Tread on Trafficking
Support Victoria & Erica and the rest of the Boston Task Force team! Deadline to donate: Thursday, June 30

Learn more about the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
Support Erica’s Seacoast Safari Ride (before July 18)
Support Victoria’s Seacoast Safari Ride (before July 18)



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Stopping with coaster brakes

One of my favorite features on the Abici (commonly known as Kermit Allegra) is the coaster brake. It makes bike riding feel even more carefree and effortless. That said, they took a bit of getting used to. At first I would slow using the coaster brake, and then use the handbrake to make sure I could stop with the pedals in the correct position to start up again.

Now, I almost never use the handbrake unless I need additional stopping power. Instead, when coming to a stop I nearly always brake by shifting most of my weight to my left leg, with the left pedal at an approximately 45-degree angle from the chain stay.

Left foot is applying pressure to stop the bike. Remains on the pedal while bike is stopped.

That leaves my right foot free to float off the pedal and down to the ground as I come to a stop. The right pedal is up and ready for me to push off when it’s time to start up again.

My right foot touches the ground. The pedal is in the correct position for pushing off.

If I know I need to make a quick start when the light turns, I will go ahead and put my right foot on the pedal and move my left foot to the ground, applying the handbrake to keep them in the correct position.

How do you use your coaster brake?

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June Critical Lass – all lasses welcome!

Chicago’s second Critical Lass ride rolled out last Thursday, this time with a group of nearly 30. Like the inaugural ride in May, the ride was so much fun. I love it!

As you can see in my photos below, it’s a women’s ride, plain and simple. All lasses are welcome! I guarantee you will be greeted by the friendliest group of women in Chicago.

(Saying goodbye to mom)

Chatting with others and riding side-by-side was easy due to the super calm route.  After about an hour, we ended at a bar in Logan Square, where I stayed for a couple of hours, enjoying beer and buffalo wing specials.

The next Critical Lass ride is July 21 – always the third Thursday of the month, starting at the Polish Triangle. I hope to see even more lasses there next time! :)

I bow down, once again, to our amazing leader Ash.

p.s. You can read about Edmonton’s June Critical Lass ride via Loop Frame Love and Girls and Bicycles.

{Cupcake} Training Ride

Recently, I talked about my goal to take a few substantial joyrides this summer.  I got lots of great suggestions in the comments, but so far I have not mustered the energy to do anything about it.

My most ambitious ride last weekend involved ambling on Coco to the movie theater to see Midnight in Paris (love Woody Allen!) and stopping for a couple of cupcakes on the way home.

Hey, I know: this was a training ride!  I’m deep in preparation for this Saturday’s Cupcake Ride. I take this kind of stuff very seriously.  ;)

Bike to Work Week!

Last week was Bike to Work Week in Chicago. We celebrate it later than the rest of the country, waiting until June to make sure it does not snow. :)

I volunteered at an Active Transportation Alliance commuter pit stop one morning. The stop offered free coffee and Clif bars, various swag, tune-ups and general encouragement.  I mostly just stood around chatting with friends, though.

This particular pit stop was co-hosted by The Chainlink and REI.

Julie of The Chainlink worked the megaphone with great enthusiasm and cuteness.

People signed their names to a petition to support more protected bike lanes in Chicago, part of Active Trans’s new and exciting Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign.

My friend Sara happened to ride by on her way to work, looking naturally fabulous.  Hello!

And other office cycle chic peeps rolled by.

After a demanding morning of gabbing and drinking free Caribou coffee, I set off for the office myself.

I’m a fan of Bike to Work Week. Some people criticize the focus on commuting, while others proclaim it should be “bike to work week every week,” but the directed outreach seems to encourage new people to try transportation cycling. In fact, I first biked to work during the official Bike to Work Week three years ago.  It would be interesting to see statistics comparing the amount of bike commuters the week before, the week of, and the week after the event.

Was anyone else inspired by Bike to Work Week or a similar event as a newbie?  Do you have any co-workers who became interested in commuting after hearing about the event?

Join the Cupcake Ride!

Mark your calendar! Together with Sara of This Little Bike of Mine, I will be leading a cupcake ride this Saturday, June 25, at 1:00 p.m.

The ride will be a leisurely 6-7 miles, starting at the Polish Triangle and ending at Oz Park.

We plan on visiting 3 bakeries – Alliance, Bleeding Heart, and Sweet Mandy B’s. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to eat 3 cupcakes (although Sara and I are up for the challenge!). You can always share with a friend. We’ll be stopping in a couple of parks to enjoy our treats so feel free to bring a blanket if you prefer.

The dress code is “cupcakesque.” Ruffles and pastels encouraged. :) Per usual, any ladies-who-bike are welcome! We hope to see you Saturday!

*In the chance of rain we will announce an alternate date.

{p.s. Inspired by the lovelies at Bike Skirt.}

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