January 2012 archive

Secure Bike Parking

D’oh!  That’s what I said to myself as I went to lock my bike at work yesterday morning and realized that I forgot my u-lock at home in the garage.  I scratched my head for a moment and then rolled Betty through the back door, up the elevator, and into my office, where she kept me company for the day.

If I were not able to bring Betty into my office, I don’t know what I would have done.  It was too early to buy another lock from a bike shop, too risky to leave the bike unlocked outside, and too time-consuming to return home for the u-lock.

What would you do in this situation?  Has this happened to anyone else?  (I can’t be the only goof out there!)

Black Ice Weekend

After mentioning that I have not put my studded tires on Oma yet, I missed them this weekend.  Some mild precipitation on Friday night caused patches of black ice to form all around the city.

I had to walk Oma over black ice several times while getting around on Saturday – biking to Logan Square to try on vintage outfits from Holly’s Lucite Box for the upcoming Bike Winter Fashion Show (found a gorgeous blue velvet dress), back to Lakeview for Heritage Bicycles’ grand opening party (crowded!), and to Wicker Park with a bikey group to see circus-punk marching band Mucca Pazza (pure fun). On Sunday, I decided simply to take the L to the Loop to see Mamet’s Race at Goodman Theatre (excellent).

Not simply a wet road, but a sheet of thin black ice

Based on this experience, I decided to put the studded tires on Oma, but today’s forecasted high of 44 F has me delaying the studs again. But I’m extra cautious while biking, especially at night.

I’ll leave you with a Mucca Pazza song to brighten your Monday morning. :)

Winter Bicycling Midpoint

I consider winter to be more than half-way over around this time, late January/early February. February is usually brutal, but at least I know spring is around the corner. This year, November, December, and now January have passed with only a few super freezing days and two noteworthy snowfalls that melted quickly. I haven’t even put studded tires on Oma yet.

By enjoying this extremely mild winter, I feel like I’ve gotten away with something major, like a jewelry heist. I almost don’t want to write this down for fear of jinxing myself, but I do want to celebrate making it over the hump of winter, however small said hump was this year.

How’s everyone else doing with winter bicycling this year?

Favorite books of 2011

Continuing with our “Favorite of 2011″ series (read about our favorite albums here), I present our lists of favorite books of 2011.  We are both voracious readers and enjoyed our fair share of new books in 2011, especially Trisha, who is a book reviewer—as in reading and reviewing books is part of her full time job—so we put a lot of thought into our picks.  :)

Trisha’s Top 10

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie
This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Bossypants by Tina Fey
To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild
11/22/63 by Stephen King
Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Ghost Lights by Lydia Millet

Honorable mentions: Your Voice in My Head by Emma Forrest; Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry; The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht; Boomerang by Michael Lewis; The Adults by Alison Espach; Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson; Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones.

2011 books still on my TBR: Swamplandia!; Zone One; The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach; The Astral by Kate Christensen; The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt; Blue Nights by Joan Didion.

Most overrated book of 2011: I think Dottie and I concur on this one: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Dottie’s Top 10

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
Irma Voth by Miriam Toews
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson
A Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate
Gypies by Koudelka/Aperture (photo book)
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (audio book)

Honorable mentions: Most of the best books that I read in 2011 were actually written in 2010 or before and therefore were not eligible for this list.  Otherwise, they would have knocked off all but the top 3 (2010 was an amazing year for novels!).  They are: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, Room by Emma Donoghue, The Known World by Edward P. Jones, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Great House by Nicole Krauss, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, Jump at the Sun by Kim McLarin, So Much for That by Lionel Shriver, People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, and Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.

2011 books still on my TBR: Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, 11/22/63 by Stephen King, and Dreams of Joy by Lisa See.

We’d love to hear – what were your favorite books of 2011?

Breakfast at Heritage Bicycles

If someone asked me last year what kind of business I would most like to see open in my neighborhood, I might have said {deep breath} a combination bike shop and coffee shop that sells steel frame mixtes made in Chicago, cupcakes, and fancy coffee, with a friendly atmosphere and a communal table where I could gather my bicycling friends.

I mean, that’s awfully specific, but I could have said it.

Bicycles + Coffee = Love

Either someone read my mind or I am not the only lover of bikes, coffee, community, and local goods, because exactly this kind of business just opened a hop, skip, and pedal from my home. This magical place is Heritage Bicycles.

Excited by this development, my friend Elizabeth and I met there for breakfast this morning.  I learned that Heritage is a sort of sister store to the popular Bowery Lane Bikes in NYC.   The owner, Michael, was a founding partner of Bowery Lane.  He and his wife decided to bring the concept to his native Chicago.

"Coffee Guy" Cameron and owner Michael

Unlike Bowery Lane, Heritage is way more than simply a bike manufacturer and seller.  The place is also a full-fledged cafe, communal hang-out spot, and bike workshop.

Heritage perfectly executes the mixed-use concept.  Potential cafe customers should have no fear of being stuck in a crammed and greasy workshop while trying to enjoy their cappuccinos.  Everything about the space is beautiful, from the light-bathed reclaimed wood to the mirrored walls and sparkling chandeliers.  There is no reason to limit cafe visits to bike-related errands.  Anyone looking for a relaxing neighborhood spot would love Heritage, regardless of any interest in bicycles (although perhaps uninterested parties could be persuaded by the beautiful display bikes).

The coffee and food live up to the gorgeous space and inviting atmosphere.  With pastries from local favorite Southport Grocery and coffee beans from Portland’s Stumptown, the fare is as good as – if not better than – other independent coffee shops in Chicago.  Waaaaay better than Starbucks, it should go without saying.  While I’m partial to Chicago roasters Metropolis and Intelligentsia, the Stumptown brew was delicious.

On the other side of the business, potential bike shop customers should not write Heritage off as all style and no substance.

Separate from but open to the cafe is a bike workshop room.  There are two bike mechanics on staff and interns from non-profit West Town Bikes’ educational programs.  The crew will assemble Heritage bikes and perform maintenance work like a regular bike shop.   The place seems low key, the opposite of pretentious.

There is another small area that stocks accessories, including clothing, saddles, books, and Yakkay Helmets.  (You can also shop online.)

And the bikes?  Why, they’re the best part, of course!

In addition to carrying the Bowery Lane made-in-NY bikes, Heritage has its own Chicago model, the Daisy,  a mixte starting at $695 for a single speed, $795 for a 3-speed, and $850 for a 7-speed.  I haven’t had a chance to test ride her yet, but she is lovely.  Split top tube, Velo Orange Belleville bars, brass bell, sprung leather saddle, cork grips, chain guard, fender = love!  The best part?  She’s made of American steel and welded, painted, and assembled in Chicago.

After seeing the shop, chatting with Michael and Cameron, and enjoying breakfast, Elizabeth and I set off for work well-fueled.

I foresee that I will mention stopping by Heritage for coffee a lot in the future, especially since it’s along my commuting route. For sure I will stop by for their Grand Opening party this Saturday, 6 – 11. Heritage Bicycles is located at 2959 N. Lincoln.  Note: I think the shop will be closed the rest of the weekend and then open for normal business starting next week. See you there?  :)

For all of you who don’t live in Chicago, you might want to consider moving there, where all the cool kids are.  In the meantime, you can get your paws on these bikes through the power of the internets.

{Chicago’s bike geeks are all excited about Heritage.  Read Elizabeth’s take  on Bike Commuters and another write-up on Grid Chicago.}

Carpooling in a Snow Storm

Six inches of snow fell on Chicago yesterday afternoon and evening.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I had no intention of cycling in that mess.  My plan was to take the L train, but a co-worker mentioned that she and a friend carpool along a route that passes by my L stop.  She offered to pick me up anytime and I gladly accepted the offer.  The car is already on the road anyway.

In the morning, I walked a block to the L station and a couple of minutes later she pulled up.  I sank into the heated passenger seat – yup, heated - and enjoyed friendly conversation during a calm drive downtown.   (I wonder, is there a way to make my Brooks saddle heated?  ’Cause that would be amazing!)

The car ride was no faster than my bike ride along the same route, about 25 minutes.  (This is the busy route I recently recorded.)  There’s a lot of backed up traffic, so I’m able to keep up with cars most of the way.  Funny, they used to see me on my bike a lot in the mornings, when I took that route daily.

Snow started falling fast and furious around 1:30 pm and my office decided to close early at 3 pm.  I knew that taking the L home would be an easy 25 minutes, much faster than a car in a snow storm, but deserting my co-worker wouldn’t have been very nice.  :)   The car ride home in the snow took one hour, but I didn’t mind at all.  In fact, I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know her better.  In my heated seat.

There is no way I would have biked in the snow given the road conditions.  If I were in Copenhagen with protected bike lanes maintained by snow plows, sure, but that was obviously not the case.  (You wouldn’t know, but there’s a snow-covered bike lane in the photo above.)

I saw a couple of intrepid cyclists during the ride and I was stressed out just watching them.  I saw a couple others walking their bikes, like this mom and child below.  I assume they set out on the bakfiets hours earlier, before the snow got out of control.

Does anyone else carpool sometimes?  Seems it was all the rage in the ’90s, but I never hear anything about it now.  I enjoyed the experience and in the future when I need to take the L train, I may text my co-worker first to see if she’s carpooling that day.  I hate standing up on the L, plus it costs $2.25 each way.  And did I mention heated seats?  ;)

Did anyone bike home in the snow??  If so, my hat is off to you.

 

A F-ing Cold Bike Commute (brrrrrrrrrr)

Have I mentioned that winter’s finally come to Chicago?  And she is not messing around.

This morning I biked to work in 15 F temps.  My alley was an ice rink, but the streets and bike lanes were clear and dry.  That’s good, because I haven’t put studded tires on Oma yet.  I was totally comfortable throwing a puffy vest over a wool skirt suit and wool undershirt, plus cotton tights, snow boots, scarf, gloves, and earmuffs.  I stuck heating packs in my mittens and boots, otherwise I wouldn’t have made it.

By the time I arrived at work, I felt refreshed and happy.

Unfortunately, the day grew colder and this outfit proved to be lacking for the commute home.

The temperature on the way home was effing cold:

For the non-Americans out there, that’s:

Plus, it was windy!  As usual.  Windchill of -7 F, -22 C.  By the time I got home, my fingers and toes were in pain (despite the warmers) and my thighs were bright red.  Not gonna lie: my spirits were low.  But now that I’m warmed up, I feel good for the activity and fresh air.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Since I can bike in -4 F temps, today should not have been a problem.  Now that I’ve been harshly reminded of the reality of Chicago winters, I wont be caught unprepared again this year.

Tomorrow happens to be Chicago’s Winter Bike to Work Day, but up to 7 inches of fresh snow are supposed to fall, so forget that.  I won’t be on my bike, especially without studded tires.  Not my idea for fun, but I hope anyone who rides has a good and safe time.

Bike·a·Bee: urban beekeeping meets city cycling

I recently received an email from Jana Kinsman, a long-time reader and year-round Chicago cyclist, about a very cool project she is beginning with the help of Kickstarter called Bike·a·Bee.

With Bike·a·Bee, Jana aims to bring beehives to community gardens all around Chicago. She will be an urban beekeeper who visits every hive herself by bike. The entire operation will be car-free.

Jana Kinsman of Bike·a·Bee, photo by John Greenfield of Grid Chicago

She had me at bicycles and honeybees, but I especially enjoyed hearing that “honeybees are a female-run society. The queen bee is in charge, and all of the worker bees are female. Drones, the males, are essentially around for mating purposes :)”

Love it.

In order to make all this work, Jana needs to raise money to pay for the operation, including a bike trailer and beehives. Her goal is $7,000 and she must raise the entire amount by February 7th.

This is the kind of stuff I want to see in my community, so I decided to support the project personally as a bike trailer backer. When the project gets going, there will be an LGRAB logo on the trailer. Fun!

Anyone can become a backer by investing $1 or more to help get the project going. Other rewards for becoming a backer of the Bike·a·Bee Kickstarter project including bee postcards, bee stickers, bee posters, and bee honey! Plus, you’ll get the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with helping a project start and watching it grow.

By helping fund Bike·a·Bee, you are casting a vote for sustainability and urban agriculture as much as you are earning some sweet gifts! As Bike·a·Bee launches, we’ll begin creating webisodes to document our process and share the story. You’ll be there as we set up our first hives in the spring, check on the bees throughout the summer, harvest honey in the early fall, and tuck them in for the winter. You’ll be with us from the start because, without your support, a project of this scope wouldn’t be possible.

As of this posting, she has raised $6,236 of her $7,000 goal.

Let’s help push her to her goal and beyond!

{For more information about Jana and her project, read the excellent interview by John Greenfield on Grid Chicago.}

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