Monthly Archives: September 2011

Critical Mass in the News

Does Critical Mass help or hurt the cause of bicyclists?  This question is as rife with tension as the big helmet question.  Neither is a debate I’m interested in dredging up here.  Personally, I think Critical Mass in Chicago is great, but I can understand and respect arguments to the contrary, subject to the same caveat I have for any argument: that it be thoughtful and intelligent.

This week, some guy who wants to sell his book on “urban cycling” wrote a highly inflammatory post against Critical Mass, using the horrifying photo of a car driver crashing into (and killing members of) a group of cyclists in Mexico with the caption, “When is something like this going to happen in Chicago thanks to Critical Mass?”  The text of his post is as bad, with gems like this: “Critical Massholes are to fundamentalist terrorists what Islam is to cycling.”  That does not even make sense, but you get the idea.  His book cover is equally awful, a yellow and black graphic of a bicyclist plunging over a car.

I am very tuned in to Chicago’s bicycling scene, but I had never heard of this guy or his blog until today.  I’m not buying what he’s selling and I won’t link to his site from here, but apparently his distasteful publicity stunt is working, because he also got the attention of the press.

Earlier today, Chicago Tonight, a local PBS/WTTW news show that I watch nightly, had a discussion about Critical Mass, featuring this guy, along with Gin Kilgore, a Mass participant and creator of Bike Winter and all-around awesome woman, and Ethan Spotts of Active Trans.  Host Phil Ponce did a great job moderating.  Overall, I thought the segment was a positive piece for Critical Mass.  You can check it out for yourself below.  After the intro, jump ahead to 3:25 for the discussion.

I am not interested in starting a Critical Mass debate, but I do want to share this video and point out that there are ways to argue against the Mass with dignity and respect. It’s a shame for both sides when those who fail to do so get the attention.

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Protected Bike Lane Love!

I recently biked along the city’s first protected bike lane. It happened to be the most direct route to get from work to the bar where I was meeting Ash for drinks. And it was amazing – all I hoped for and more.


These pictures really don’t do the lane justice. Most of the lane is next to the curb and separated from moving car traffic by flexible bollards and parked cars. It is wide and comfortable and felt totally safe. Not having to worry about how close drivers were passing on my left or watch out for opening car doors on my right was… I’m at a loss for words, I don’t know, it was pretty much the best thing ever. I biked this street a couple of times before the lane and the experience was extremely stressful and unpleasant. The difference the protected lane made is like night and day.

Here are two ladies who want more protected bike lanes:

Ash and Me

This particular stretch is only .5 miles, but the city plans to install 25 miles of protected bike lanes by May 2012 and 100 miles by the end of the mayor’s first term.  Cheers to Chicago’s new and growing bike infrastructure!

I plan to record a video next time I ride the lane, if I can tape my little digicam to my basket. You all gotta see this awesomeness in action.

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Dressing for the Weather

The delightful, crisp fall weather has turned into lots of rain and somber grey skies. The past five days have been pretty crappy, weather-wise. I took the L because of the rain on Monday and that experience reminded me that riding a bike is always more enjoyable, even if in the rain.

An upside of fall, regardless of the exact weather conditions, continues to be seasonal clothing. I’ve been enjoying all my tweed and wool and – yes – velvet. Very librarian chic. LC of Naturally Cycling: Manchester recently talked about how she likes to dress to match the season. I find that I do the same, preferring pinks and yellows for spring, browns and oranges for fall.

When bike sites talk about dressing for the weather, they usually focus on technical aspects, such as specialty raincoats and balaclavas. (We have our fair share, of course.)  I prefer to think of dressing for the weather in this more fun way. The common sense stuff comes naturally – for example, I’m about to throw a rain trench over my burnt orange sweater and tweed skirt for my wet ride this morning.  That will do just fine.  :)

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The Loop’s First Bike Lane

The Loop is the very center of downtown Chicago, filled with courthouses, office buildings, theaters and shopping. Unfortunately, biking in the Loop anytime between 7:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. is very stressful. Bicyclists have to take the lane and haul ass. The wide, one-way streets are a free-for-all of buses, speeding cabs, personal vehicles of those with enough money to pay for parking, police SUVs, and pedestrians. I dislike biking in the Loop so much, When I have to go to court, I park my bike at my office and then walk the last mile into the Loop.

The complete lack of safe infrastructure is the reason biking in the Loop is so awful. No bike lanes at all, let alone protected bike lanes.

That is, until this month, when the city finally installed the first bike lane in the Loop on Madison.

I biked the lane on my way to an evening meeting and it’s a big improvement, in my opinion. Although cars passed closely, they did not drive in the bike lane, unless crossing over into the right turn lane, and they seemed more aware of the possible presence of bikes. The bike lane is to the left of the turning lane, which I liked, because the turning lane is usually jammed with waiting cabs and buses – I would not want to ride to the right of that mess.

Another improvement is that this lane extends into the intersection with dotted lines, which was never done in the past. Since the beginning of the summer, I have noticed several more areas where existing bike lanes have been extended into intersections like this whenever a street is repaved.

Overall, I am happy about this lane as a very small but hopeful start. But this really could have been a fully protected bike lane, if installed on the other side of the street. I want the city to install some of those protected lanes on at least four Loop streets: north, south, east, and west. I hope that this is part of their long-term plan.

Check out The Grid Chicago for a detailed analysis of the lane and a great conversation in the comments section.

Do any Chicago readers out there bike in the Loop? What do you think about this lane and what do you want to see next?

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Lazy Weekend

This is all that’s going on chez Dottie the last couple of weekends.


Plus books and old TV shows on Netflix.  At least I biked a little bit – to get the cupcakes.

And yes, I am a cat person, why do you ask?

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September’s women-who-bike brunch

Those of us who were not out of town for the Labor Day weekend met up for our monthly brunch on September 4. We enjoyed the back patio at bike-friendly Handlebar Bar & Grill, a group favorite. The weather was perfect and we savored what may have been our last outdoor brunch for 7 or 8 months.

Megan and her Bianci

Cute shoes and Road ID

Sara and her Jamis

Cute bike flower

Stefanie and her vintage roadbike

Jennifer and her vintage Raleigh

Me and Oma

I love hanging out with this cool group of women! We meet for brunch the first Sunday of the month and for happy hour whenever. If you’d like to join us, email me at LGRAB@letsgorideabike.com.

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The Start of Fall Bicycling!

Today is the first day of fall – my favorite season for bicycling.

Fall cycling is lovely and requires little-to-no preparation. Jumping on your bike in slacks or tights and a sweater will work most days. Nevertheless, I notice a steep decline in bicyclists once the dreadfully hot days of summer are over, so obviously some people need convincing to continue riding their bikes. In light of this, we put together a How To Dress for Fall Cycling guide a couple of years ago and a quick Refresher Course last year.

Incidentally, last night I attended the Bike Winter kick-off meeting. I really don’t want to start thinking about winter yet, but I enjoyed hearing tips and questions from the large group of attendees, both seasoned winter bicyclists and people who plan to try it for the first time. If you’re already thinking this far ahead, check out Bike Winter for lots of great info, as well as the LGRAB Guide to Winter Bicycling and my video on how I dress for winter biking.

Whether you plan to stick it out for the long haul or simply make the best of fall weather before storing your bike for the winter (both reasonable options), I wish you a happy and healthy fall bicycling season.

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Large Scale Bike-Sharing System Announced for Chicago!

Imagine my surprise when I visited the main page of the Chicago Tribune this evening and saw the big lead story: City to rent thousands of bicycles.  Apparently, city officials just announced plans for a large scale bike-sharing system.  Oh yes yes yes!!

Mr. Dottie uses Paris's Velib bike-sharing system

The system is still in the planning stages and a company has not yet been picked to implement it, but it’s expected to start in the summer of 2012, with 3,000 bikes at 300 stations around the city, most 1/4 of a mile apart in the most dense areas. By 2014, the city hopes to add 2,000 more bikes and 200 more stations.  The system will pay for itself with membership fees (only $75/year with the first 30 minutes free) and sponsorships, along with federal congestion-relief funding.

I love the messaging going out to explain the system.  The article starts thusly:

Transferring from a train to a bus stuck in traffic is often the most frustrating and slowest way to finish a commute, prompting Chicago officials on Wednesday to start the wheels rolling on a new “transit option.”

Discussing how the bike share system will be aimed at all citizens, even those who do not currently ride a bike, the new transportation director, Gabe Klien, says “We view it as a basic form of transportation, but also a fun way to get around.” The article also compares it to the beloved i-Go car-sharing system, which will help regular people understand how a bike-share could be useful to them.

The article’s description of the bikes made me chuckle, because it totally mirrors what’s so great about my Dutch bike.

‘The new bikes will have an upright seating position for riders, a step-through frame to make mounting and dismounting easy, wide tires and a built-in LED-lighting system,’ he said. Other features will include at least three gear speeds, cushioned seats, chain guards to keep lubricant off clothing and fenders above both wheels to prevent water on the pavement from splashing onto the riders.

I am so excited about this and what it means for the future of Chicago as a bike-friendly city. I used to be doubtful of the efficacy of bike-sharing systems, until I visited Paris last year. The Velib system is amazing and, of the huge number of bicyclists on the streets of Paris, at least half of them were riding Velib bicycles. I got the sense that the city was pushed to become more bike-friendly and install new infrastructure as a response to the huge amount of bicyclists resulting from Velib. Could that happen in Chicago? I’m going to say – YES!

Read Trisha’s account of our Velib adventures HERE.  Read the whole article at the Chicago Tribune HERE.  Highly recommended reading. A+ to the Chicago Tribune: the article relays the facts and avoids manufacturing any awful debates.

Do you think a bike-sharing system can change a city?  Would you like to see one where you live?

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A Little Courtesy and Sunshine

Picking up on Trisha’s post yesterday about craziness and courtesy on the road, I have a little courtesy to share from this evening’s commute.

On my way home, an SUV driver stopped for three older gentlemen at a crosswalk.  This is so rare in Chicago, that could be the whole story, but there’s more.  I was biking from the other direction and also stopped. Two of the gentlemen shuffled by and the third saw me waiting and gave a polite bow while motioning for me to go ahead of him. I thanked him with a smile and set off, as another in the group called out, “Hey, want to take me with you?” Ha, cute! (Note to men: do not attempt unless you are in a group of adorable elderly men, otherwise you’ll just be a creepy.)

A few miles later, I heard a little girl say to her mom, “I like that bicycle!” as I passed. Aw, double cute!  Ladies of all ages appreciate the Betty Foy.

Another plus from the day – the weather was glorious. I enjoyed basking in the morning sun as it rose over Lake Michigan.

The sweet little interactions and the beautiful weather made up for the traffic craziness of the day, like the four drivers who opened car doors in my path. Good thing I was not riding a little closer to the parked cars, sheesh.

Anyway, a little courtesy and sunshine go a long way to brighten my day.  :)

 

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Today in Traffic News

I see things on the road that strain my credulity pretty regularly, but today’s traffic rudeness took the cake.

There I was: riding Kermit Allegra at a moderate pace in the bike lane in front of Belmont University, just around 5:30 in a misty drizzle that has a Pacific Northwest feel. As I approach the corner by the Circle K, I notice a car stopping for a ped a few car lengths up. I slow, even though the ped has plenty of time to cross the bike lane before I reach him, and as I do I see the car that had passed me a few moments before veer to the right, into the bike lane ahead of me, to go around the car that is stopped for the pedestrian.

This particular crosswalk was marked with signs like the one pictured at right a couple of months ago. Belmont is one lane in both directions, no passing permitted.

Traffic being what it was, the eager beaver driver was held up about a block later. I passed her in the bike lane. She was talking on the phone.

I am far from a perfect driver, cyclist or pedestrian, but incidents like this infuriate me. They are the exception. But this month I have had a car accident and a close(r than I’d like) call while riding my bike, so the possible negative consequences of moving around in the world are on my mind. My commitment to minimizing the risks I take while doing so has been reinforced, but I’m also more conscious than ever that there’s not much that can be done about the other people on the road. So there’s a combination of hypervigilance and “que sera” fatalism going on here, at least for the time being.

What’s the craziest—or most courteous—thing you’ve ever seen someone do on the road?

Cool Weather, Weekend Plans, New Bike

Fall is here and she’s not playing around. Yesterday I wore a wool sweater, wool skirt, tights, gloves and earmuffs and never got overheated. The past couple of days have been chilly, with morning temps in the high-40’s, low 50’s. Seems a little early in the season for this kind of weather, but I’m enjoying the crisp air.

This weekend I plan to go on a long ride to the Chicago Botanic Gardens, so cooler weather is welcome, as long as it does not rain.

The long ride will give Mr. Dottie the opportunity to really try out his new bike. No one correctly guessed what kind of bike it is, although a couple got close. It’s a Civia Bryant with a belt drive.

Civia Bryant

He’s been obsessed with belt drive systems for a few months, as one would expect from an engineer, but currently there are not many options on the market for belt drive bikes. This week he found a greatly discounted and lightly used floor model Civia Bryant at a local shop and finally made his decision. He’ll be making some changes, including fenders, racks, mustache bars, Brooks saddle, and generator lights. I’m sure they’ll be very happy together and I look forward to seeing it all come together.

Happy weekend!

Sylvan Park strut

Last weekend’s Nashville bike brunch took us to Sylvan Park at the suggestion of Jessica and Sten. This was a new idea for me, but Google maps swore it was only about 4.5 miles from my house by bike. Once I learned that, it became an instance of, why haven’t I ridden there before?

We met at the corner of Belmont and Portland (otherwise known as where Belmont becomes Portland; Nashville streets are always changing names!) and consulted on a route. Sten had come up with one that was slightly longer but avoided one major intersection and another major hill.

photo (2)

Since I’m all about the easy way, I concurred.

And we rode.

bikegang

And we parked.

group

sten

whitneylauren

And we ate delicious bagels.

As we left the restaurant, someone noticed that Whitney’s tires looked low. Someone else noticed that there was a gas station with an air pump nearby. We looped around and took a break for bike maintenance.

photo

Le Peug got topped off too.

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If this all looks fun, laid-back and easy, it’s because it was. None of us are sports cyclists, just people who want to have a good time tooling around together by bike. And eating. OK, and maybe discussing our bikes. And books. And travel. And cats (although dog lovers are welcome!). If someone’s chain falls off, we’re happy to stop and fix it. If we see something interesting along the route, Le Peug (like all my bikes) stops for yard sales.

Our next meetup will be at next Thursday’s Live on the Green (I’m working bike valet for Walk/Bike Nashville). Our next brunch will be Sunday, October 2. We’re planning to take advantage of the fall weather and head over to East Nashville for brunch at Mad Donna’s and a short ride along the Shelby Bottoms Greenway.

If riding to East Nashville won’t work for you, take your bike on your car, or the bus! Multimodal transport is never a deal-breaker. Feel free to email me for route advice.

(Thanks to Sten and Kim for the photos used in this post!)

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Goodbye, Summer Crowds

Now that Labor Day is behind us, the crowds are starting to thin out on the Lakefront Trail. I’ve avoided the trail most of the summer because dodging hundreds (thousands?) of other trail users is not my idea of fun. I plan to take the trail much more often during the fall, when I can relax and enjoy the crowd-free and car-free goodness.

I have missed the beautiful view of Lake Michigan and the fresh air that comes off it. So far early fall has been perfect in Chicago – hopefully we’ll have at least two good months before winter begins.

In other news, a new bike joined my household today! The bike is Mr. Dottie’s, which is good because he loved to tease me about our 3-to-1 bike ownership ratio. I wonder if anyone can guess what kind of bike he bought. Hint: it’s not the same brand as any of mine.

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Cargo Bike Roll Call – Tonight

Tonight is the first Cargo Bike Roll Call in Chicago.

What is a cargo bike roll call? I like this description from Steve Vance: “Think of the Cargo Bike Roll Call as a lowrider or antique car show. Those with cargo bikes and cargo-carrying schemes will “pop the hood” and show it off. Everyone else can gawk and chat!”

All are welcome, with or without a cargo bike. Bring yourself, your bike, your friends and family, to West Town Bikes from 6-9 PM for cargo bike gawking, socializing, and drinks and snacks.

Read more about the event or cargo bikes in general here.

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Tights!

Yesterday I wore tights for the first time since May (according to the archives), as the temps dipped to the high 50’s and low 60’s. Trisha has mentioned the best thing about the summer/fall temperature change is the introduction of tights into the wardrobe and I totally agree.

I appreciate carefree summer dressing, but something about pulling on tights and a light jacket or sweater excites me. Fall has always been my favorite season, with its crisp air, blue skies and orange leaves. Definitely the best time for bicycling.

Who else is excited for fall?

P.S. Is this more relatable for the non-tight-wearing men out there? I love Yehuda Moon.

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My 10-minute commute, or, no excuses

A few weeks ago, Velouria posted about the way bicycles are generally viewed as leisure instruments, a way of getting around that is less efficient than driving. This is sometimes true, but sometimes not; in compact cities with traffic or parking problems, it is less likely to be the case. It’s no secret that I use my car sometimes. In Nashville there are plenty of places I can’t get to safely or quickly by bike, and since traffic here is generally minimal and parking nearly always free, there are few incentives to spend the extra time or take a ride that would be stressful, dangerous and/or end at a place with nowhere to safely park my bike (this is a shame, but that’s a digression for another post).

But it got me wondering whether it was true that my commute to work by bike takes longer than it does for me to drive, so I started paying more attention to the time it was taking me to get there.

The first time I rode my bike along my commute route was a Saturday in April; my friend P. was along on her Dahon. It felt like flying; the speed, the rush of air!

Then I realized maybe I was wrong about the “speed”: It took almost 20 minutes for me to ride the 2.5 miles to my office. Over the next three years, I seemed to get a bit faster, but my mental rule of thumb was that my commute by car took 10-12 minutes while commute by bike took 15-17 minutes. Not a big difference, but enough that on days I was running late I would often take the car to save that all-important 5 minutes. I take different routes by bike and car, and the driving route is shorter, so that played a part in my perception of driving as faster as well.

Terribly illustrative blurry iPhone photo of my watch and two of the reasons I am sometimes running behind in the mornings: a book and a coffee mug.

All this is a long-winded way of saying: My average bicycle commute is actually about 12 minutes, and I timed my first 10-minute ride to work a couple of weeks ago. Whereas my drive time has not gotten any faster over the past 3 years, my cycling times definitely have.

Although I know this won’t be true in all cases, it’s something to keep in mind for those who list time as a reason not to try riding to work. Now “humidity” and “heavy rain” are looking pretty lonely on my excuses for not riding list.

Riding Chicago’s Four Star Bike Tour

Last Sunday I rode the Four Star Bike Tour, a massive group ride organized by and benefitting the Active Transportation Alliance. I chose the 35-mile route through the west and south sides of Chicago and my total mileage for the day was a little over 50.

Betty Foy at Promontory Point

I enjoyed the ride a lot. The crowd was too packed together at the beginning and after rest stops, but most of the time I was alone or with a small group. Sunday morning traffic was light and we had the roads mostly to ourselves. The route was pretty easy to follow and I saw many parts of the city for the first time.

The view from Promontory Point

I wore my one sporty bicycling outfit – a wool jersey and padded shorts from Ibex. Although I hate the diaper feeling off the bike, the outfit was super comfortable for the ride and I was happy to have the padding.

A sporty thumbs up

My outfit

I enjoyed bicycling for the sake of bicycling, not as transportation, but I kept wanting to stop places, especially in Hyde Park, like my favorite bookstore or the place with the best croissants. I was determined to stick to the task at hand and ride a straight 35 miles, so I resisted temptation.

Except for a quick detour to Promontory Point for some photos.

Enjoying a quick break

Betty did a great job

I’ve never biked more than 60 miles at a time and rarely more than 10. I was happy to find that my regular daily riding was enough “training” for this longer ride. I even pushed myself to go quite fast, relative to my usual speed, the last several miles because I still felt so good. My legs were tired by the end, but in a healthy way, and my muscles were not sore the next day.

Participating in the Four Star has inspired me to spend some of my Sundays waking up early and going for long bike rides. I mean, not this Sunday, but maybe next? Definitely next year at the 2012 Four Star. :)

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Betty Foy in the Red Eye

“I love owning a semi custom bike because it suits me perfectly and, as a result, I enjoy riding my bike even more,” she said.



Read more about me and others who prefer their bikes custom or semi-custom in Pimp My Ride*, the cover story in this weekend’s print and online editions of the Red Eye.

*Betty Foy would like to point out that she is against sex trafficking.

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J.C. Lind Bike Co. and Pilen Preview

I know I’m spoiled by Chicago’s collection of bike shops and unique bicycles. The least I can do is take full advantage and share my experiences through this blog.

In that spirit, below is a photo of me saying goodbye to a Pilen this afternoon, after a three day test ride. I’ll provide a full review here soon, but spoiler alert: I loved it!

(As an aside, today was 90 degrees and a black t-shirt is great for disguising sweat spots. I’m going to regret saying this in a few months, but – damn, who else is ready for fall? I’m so tired of sweating.)

Anyway, back to the Pilen. It’s a Swedish bike, the newest addition to J.C. Lind Bike Co.

J.C. Lind is a sponsor of LGRAB, but I’m saying this as a friend and bike-lover: any bicyclist in Chicago who has not visited the shop and gotten to know Jon Lind is missing out.

If you’re in the city, you really should stop by and chat with Jon, test ride some bikes, and check out the cool accessories. People always ask where they can buy a Nutcase helmet or Basil pannier like mine – that’s where! The shop is in Old Town, on Wells Ave between North and Division. If you’re far from Chicago but looking for a cargo bike or unique city bike, you can visit his shop virtually. The impressive list of bikes includes Christiana, Batavus, Gazelle, Linus, Civia, Golden Lion, Kangaroo, Yuba and Pilen.

Jon is so friendly and he’s in this business for the love of bikes and bike culture. He really cares about bringing the best cargo and city bikes to Chicago – just what our city needs!

If you stop by, tell him Dottie says hi. :)

I’m glad this blog gives me an excuse to try out bikes. Someone tell me I’m not the only one who lusts after new bikes, knowing full well that I have neither the money nor the space for any more.

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