Category Archives: activism

Bike Cycle: Doomed to Repeat History?

Is the current bicycle boom simply part of a never-ending bike cycle, wherein the press rattles on and Americans ride a little more, but real progress is never made?

I’m contemplating this question after reading an article from 1941 in Click Magazine that I found at a book fair, entitled: “Bike Cycle?  How to Go Places Without Gasoline.”  At first glance, the article seemed to be a bit of vintage fun, like the preceding article, “Your hat in 1941 will show how you feel about the war.”  Step-through frames with baskets!  Women on bikes in skirts!  Men in suits riding to the train station!

However, as I read the article, I realized it was eerily similar to the issues presented today.  Take out the retrograde parts about “men” going to the office and “housewives,” and the piece could have been in the latest issue of Time. The writer seemed very excited about the future of transportation cycling in America, yet 70 years later there’s been no progress.  To me this is horrific in a Twilight Zone kind of way.

Below I present the article in its entirety (apologies to the original copyright holders).  I bolded and italicized the parts that struck me the most and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Bike Cycle? how to go places without gasoline

BIKE CYCLE?  HOW TO GO PLACES WITHOUT GASOLINE

Town and country have both witnessed the return of the bicycle as a pleasure vehicle.  During the Gay Nineties, heyday of cycling, only 10% of the bicycles sold were made for women.  Today women buy over 30% of the bicycles made.  College girls like those on the right helped bring back the bicycle’s popularity. In cities, bicycles must obey all traffic laws.  Bicycle fans want state registration and license tags just like automobiles.

When the phrase “they never come back” was muttered about the American bicycle, the mutterers were muttering too soon. True enough, bicycle sales in America dropped from a high of 1,089,000 in 1899 to 180,000 in 1932. But then the great comeback started. Last year, bicycle sales reached an all time American high – more than 1,300,000 were sold. Cycle paths were built in city parks, and women took the wheel in amazing numbers. As a fun vehicle, the bicycle’s comeback was complete.

"Today, women buy over 30% of the bicycles made."

Now, with gasoline shortages looming importantly on our horizon, the bicycle is making a serious bid for at least some of the jobs being performed by automobiles. It is no longer necessary to release pictures like the one above to make people bicycle-concious. Bike lovers see their two-wheelers usurping most of the duties of the family car – and they might be right.

Men who now use automobiles to drive to the railroad station while they commute from suburb to city daily may follow the lead of commuters like Norman Hill, who pedals two miles from his home to the Maplewood, N.J. station in ten minutes every morning. He parks his bike there all day.

The huge quantities of gasoline now being burned by the cheap second-hand cars many families maintain for children who go to rural and suburban schools can well be saved by sending them to school on bicycles. Bikes are healthier, often less dangerous than cars.

"Suburbanites find they can make two wheels do the work of four."

Housewives who now drive a mile or less to do their shopping may soon find themselves faced with the alternative of cycling or walking to the store. But many American women, like this suburban Pennsylvania matron, find that cycle shopping can be completely practical.

The pleasures of parking and touring the countryside are enjoyed by any bicycle owner who desires them. A pair of shorts are all this girl needs in the way of special cycling clothes. The growth of roadside youth hostels has paved the way for bicycle tours covering hundreds of enjoyable miles.

"...and get an amusing exercise program out of legwork that replaces gasoline."

With the private family car completely eliminated by the fortunes of World War II all over Europe, most people are finding bicycles to be their only form of private transportation.  Gadgets like this side car for Parisian youngsters are becoming more and more common in European city streets.

American schools and factories may soon have to erect bicycle garages like this one in Paris if gasoline shortages on this side of the Atlantic become even remotely as acute as they are in contemporary Europe.  Cycling enthusiasts say this will make for healthier Americans.

"Bicycles have already replaced automobiles in Europe"

Prominent Americans love bikes.  Bicycle enthusiasts take great pride in the prominent Americans who ride bikes.  Civilian Defense Director La Guardia must have seen this picture of Grover Whalen before he appointed him director of the gas-saver drive.

L to R: Lana Turner, Wendell Willkie, Ann Rutherford, Grover Whalen

Click Magazine, 1941

What do you think – Fun piece of vintage bike history or terrible sign of the status quo?  I’m afraid that in another 70 years another article like this will be written and nothing will have changed.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Roll Models: Molly Kleinman, Ann Arbor Activist

Today’s “Roll Model” is Molly Kleinman, a standout Summer Games participant (she completed some of the events on her honeymoon!) and a dedicated bike activist. Since returning to transportation cycling earlier this year, she’s already become part of an active bicycle collective, Common Cycle. Read on to learn more about this inspiring project, Ann Arbor’s burgeoning cycling scene and Rocky the Raleigh.

Molly and her bike, Rocky—Photo by Pieter Kleymeer

Describe your bicycling style in 3 words.
Not very fast.

What kind of bike do you ride, and why?
Most of the time I ride Rocky, a 1970 Raleigh Sport ladies bike. I found Rocky at a used bike shop in South Philadelphia in April, and we’ve been very much in love ever since. Three speeds, 40 pounds, original Brooks saddle. Rocky is my commuter/farmers market/around town bike, and he’s perfect for those things because I can sit upright and look around easily and wear skirts and cute shoes if I feel like it. I can’t go very fast on Rocky, but that’s actually a good thing. He helps me to stay calm, wait at red lights, stop for pedestrians, and keep my patience with jerky drivers. I have a wicker basket on the front and a rack on the back, and one day soon I’m going to get some shopper panniers so that I can do a full-sized grocery shop in addition to my regular trips to the farmers market.  I also have a newish Trek 1000 men’s road bike, which is for longer rides.

How long have you been riding? What made you start riding a bike?
I have been riding on and off since I learned to ride a bike at the ripe old age of 8. Growing up, my family used to go for rides along the rail trails and canal paths around eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Riding bikes this way—on easy trails, past trees and rivers—was just a family activity that we always did, and I never thought much about it. I still bring my bike every time I go visit my parents and we usually manage to fit in a ride or two when we’re together.

I didn’t start biking for transportation until I came to Ann Arbor for grad school a few years ago. It just made sense. The town isn’t very big or hilly so I could usually get anywhere I wanted within 10 or 15 minutes by bike. I rode the old purple Giant hybrid that I’d had since I was 12, which means I never worried about it getting stolen. Since then, I’ve experimented with different bikes for getting around town. At one point I had a really cool 1980 Miyata road bike, but it was too small for me and I also hated the feeling of a road bike when I was constantly stopping and starting and trying to keep an eye on traffic, so for awhile I gave up riding altogether. Since finding Rocky in April I have become completely rededicated to biking for transportation, and I’m in the market for a bike that will help me ride at least partway through the winter.

Rocky carries the perfect picnic

Since taking up cycling again, you have become an advocate—you’ve even helped start a bicycle collective! Tell us about Common Cycle.
Common Cycle is a nonprofit organization dedicated to make it easier for people in Ann Arbor to ride their bikes by providing access to tools, education, and workspace. We want to help people learn how to work on their bikes, and to have tools and space available for people to do maintenance and repairs. So far, we don’t have a permanent space and we borrow all our tools, but we’ve already helped a lot of people through our Mobile Repair Stand. We set up shop at the local Artisan’s Market in Kerrytown every Sunday, and provide repairs, tools, and as-needed instruction to anyone who brings us a bike in need of fixing. We haul all our tools and stands and tables on homemade bicycle trailers, and all of the mechanics who help with repairs and instruction are volunteers.

Since we started in April we have fixed over 400 bikes, and a few weeks ago we also taught our first workshop, which went really well. I learned all about how derailleurs work (they seem like magic but they are not!). Eventually we hope to offer regular workshops, including women-only workshops and a build-a-bike program for kids, as well as open shop hours so members can come in and use our tools and work on their bikes and just hang out with other cyclists. We aim to be welcoming to all kinds of bikes and all kinds of riders, and especially to make sure we’re a friendly place for women and kids to come and learn. Right now we are running our first fundraising campaign on Kickstarter in order to buy tools and trailers so we can make the Mobile Repair Stand a permanent fixture in the community, and we would be incredibly grateful if any LGRAB readers offered their support. If you pledge as little as $1 you’ll get a sticker, and the rewards get better the more you give.

Molly repacks a hub as part of the LGRAB Summer Games

What’s the Ann Arbor cycling scene like? Has it changed since you started riding, and if so, how?
There isn’t really one Ann Arbor cycling scene, I don’t think. There are the many college kids riding beat up old Schwinns and rusty mountain bikes. There are the speed freaks with their fancy road bikes who ride fast through the farmland around town. There is a subset of people riding fixies, and a smaller subset of those who play bike polo. There are also a lot of people who ride their bikes for transportation and errands without really thinking about it. Their bikes and gear aren’t the prettiest, but they are functional. And then I think there is a growing group who are into what I think of as LGRAB biking—they bike for transportation, but they like to do it on pretty bikes, and possibly also in pretty outfits. The city itself is slowly improving its cycling infrastructure, but Michigan is still very much a car-centric state (hello, Detroit), so the attitudes of many drivers still have a long way to go.

As far as change, I know that every year it seems like there are more people on the road biking just to get around. Last winter especially I was really impressed with how many people I saw out on their bikes.

What inspires you to keep cycling?
It’s just so much better than not cycling. On days I don’t ride, I am cranky.

Molly rides the Mont Royal greenway during her honeymoon on Montreal – click the pic for the full story

What do you like most about riding your bike?
I love getting exercise just by getting around town, I love how easy it is to stop and chat when I come across a friend or neighbor, and I love the feeling of being on my bike. I can’t think of a not-cheesy way to say it—riding my bike just feels good.

What do you like least about riding your bike?
Jerky drivers, of course.

Do you have a dream bike? And if so, what is it?
I am obsessed with cargo bikes lately, especially cargo trikes. Not any one in particular, though the Bakfiets are beautiful.

What advice would you give to those new to cycling, especially women?
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. If anyone makes you feel dumb for trying to learn more about your bike, that person is a jerk. Also, ride whatever bike you feel best on. If anyone makes you feel bad about the kind of bike you ride, that person is also a jerk. You want a bike that you’re going to be excited to get onto every day, and it really doesn’t matter what kind of bike that is. It’s different for different people. For me, I thought it would be a badass road bike, but it’s actually an old steel behemoth with a ladies frame. If you have a bike that you really don’t feel comfortable on, don’t blame yourself, blame the bike. Try something else. When you love your bike and you feel comfortable on it, you’re going to want to ride.

{Great advice! Thanks, Molly, for taking the time to answer our questions. For more, check out  Common Cycle, the Kickstart fundraising campaign, or Molly’s collection of pictures and stories from the LGRAB Summer Games.}

Tagged , , , , ,

Simple Pleasures

Sustenance and transportation are two necessities of daily life. People need to eat and need to get from one place to another. How one chooses to fulfill these needs greatly affects one’s life. Our society in general is going about it all wrong. Pleasure, health and happiness can be derived from these tasks. I don’t mean by eating steak and driving a porsche; I’m not talking about anything money can buy, but about simple pleasures.

Just some thoughts after another beautiful Saturday at the farmer’s market, eating fresh food in the shade of old trees and then hopping on the bikes for a quiet ride home. The price for hours of entertainment, quality time, exercise, transportation, fresh air and happiness – nada. For local food (cherries, cheese, arugula, croissant, mushrooms) – ten dollars per person.

I’m no master of simple living, but I know what makes me happy. Bicycles and fresh food are so obviously good, their near-invisibility in society boggles the mind.

What is your take on simple pleasures and how they affect your life?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bikes Belong!

The Chicago Sun-Times published another super positive piece about biking today, an op-ed by the President of Bikes Belong. To my pleasant surprise, the paper used my picture to accompany the piece.

Photo by Keith Hale, Chicago Sun-Times

The entire op-ed, which also appeared in the Chicago Tribune, is below.

Why just ride to work when you can ride everywhere?

This week, commuters in Chicago are celebrating Bike-to-Work Week. An unprecedented number of commuters will savor the benefits of two wheels for health, fun, the environment and their bank accounts.

While Bike-to-Work Week is a great concept, I like to think of it as Bike-to-Anywhere Week — the store, a friend’s house, a trail, school. More than 70 percent of the trips that Americans take each day aren’t work-related. Nearly half of our trips are three miles or less.

For these short outings, riding a bike makes sense. Going six miles by bike instead of by car saves an average of $3, and three hours of riding a week can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by half.

But after 30 years as a cycling journalist, national bike advocacy leader and regular rider, I think I understand what will discourage most Bike-to-Anywhere neophytes from continuing to pedal next week.

If people are going to bike regularly, riding needs to be safe. It needs to be relaxing. Ideally, the route should be scenic. And when you arrive anywhere, a secure and convenient place to park your bike is essential.

Although cities like Chicago have made big steps toward becoming more bike-friendly, in too many cities and towns across Illinois and our whole country, these conditions don’t exist — at least not yet.

My organization, the Bikes Belong Foundation, is trying to change this. We’ve created a new national bike movement called peoplefor bikes.org. Our goal is to get 1 million Americans to sign a pledge of support for bicycling.

Close to 50 million Americans ride each year. A few cost-effective investments in facilities could help bicycling become even bigger, and more helpful in addressing key national challenges such as obesity, air pollution and dependence on expensive, nonrenewable sources of energy.

We like to say that when people ride bikes, great things happen — for the individual, the community, the nation and the planet.

You’ll see the appeal of two wheels on the faces of the people who ride this week. Look for smiles all around, just from the simple act of riding a bike to anywhere.

Tim Blumenthal,

president,

Bikes Belong Foundation

{Can I get a hell yeah? Sign People for Bikes Pledge here!}

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Back to Normal

My world is all better today. I have a renewed appreciation for my regular commute, despite the congestion and car door flinging. At least traffic is slower, there’s a marked bike lane and lots of other bike commuters along the way.

Chicago from a lobby window

This is Bike to Work Week in Chicago and there are definitely more cyclists out and about. I’m team leader at my workplace and five other people have biked so far this week!

My new camera remote and $4 thrifted dress

In random news, I bought a MacBook! Last month, my six-year-old IBM Thinkpad gave out. After all the problems and crashing I put up with on PCs through the years, I decided to join Trisha in the Mac love. I’m giddy over the vastly increased RAM.

My new MacBook (and free iPod Touch)!

More random news: I won a ticket to Cities, Bicycles & the Future of Getting Around, featuring David Byrne! Check back here after Friday for a full report.

Has anyone out there heard Byrne speak about bikes? Or love Macs? :)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Yesterday morning, I fell in with a group of cyclists commuting to work, about six in all. Half-way to work I lost them, as they ran all the red lights and I stopped for all the red lights. As I was waiting for one red light by myself, the group already far ahead, three guys on bikes zipped by me, barely pausing for the light. A woman in a small SUV waiting beside me (about my gram’s age) said, “It’s so nice to see one bicyclist follow the rules of the road – and look so cute doing it. I love your basket!”

My gut reaction was to protest and stick up for cyclists. I could have said, “And it’s so nice to have one driver be nice to me.” But I did not want to be snarky with the well-intentioned woman and, really, there was not much I could say in defense of bicyclists, given the display witnessed moments earlier.  Instead I answered, “Thanks!  I wish more cyclists would.”

We as cyclists need to shape up. There are too many of us in Chicago to continue ignoring traffic laws, especially red lights. I understand the argument that sometimes it’s safer to jump a light instead of idling among trucks, and I’m not going to pretend that I never treat a red light as a stop sign (and don’t even get me started on stop signs). However, there are too many safety, legal and PR reasons not to ignore red lights and general traffic regulations in the city.

On the bright side, lots of bicyclists ride safely and conscientiously. This morning’s commute was totally different from yesterday’s, as the mini-pack of female cyclists I fell in with stopped at all red lights and fostered a calm and happy atmosphere. However, the bad apples are the ones who stand out the most, be they bicyclists or motorists.

What do you think about your city – is it reaching a critical mass where lawless cyclists are embarrassing? Is it time to start putting more pressure on other bike riders to embrace both the rights and the responsibilities of the road? And if so, how do we avoid playing into the hands of the crazed, mouth-foaming masses who use cyclists’ red-light-running to excuse the most abhorrent driving behavior?

Will it ever stop? Yo, I don’t know.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jerk Season

I am tired. Of aggressive and ignorant jerks. Guys in Land Rovers who pass dangerously close. And then roll down the window to lecture me on how I’m not supposed to be riding in the middle of the (small one-way) road. Because they are faster. Therefore I should move over. Never mind that riding up against parked cars is the most dangerous way to ride in the city. They need to pass me and that’s all that matters. Because they are so fast, even though somehow I catch up with them at the red lights.

They tell me to “share the road.” Which means stay the fuck out of their way. Because they have “their side” and I have “my side.” Which apparently is the gutter.

I wish. I wish I wish I wish that these guys (always guys) would leave me alone to get home in peace. And that I could stop my blood from boiling every time they bother me. Stop myself from reacting. Why do I let them get to me?

I am a woman peacefully riding a happy bike. In a dress. In the dark. In the rain. In my neighborhood. What is their problem?

Five months of daily winter riding – not one problem with a driver. Now in the summer all the jerks come out. Maybe Chicago is too aggressive for me. This type of scenario should not be normal.

{I was planning to use these pictures to talk about my lovely ride to see the Evelyn Evelyn / Amanda Palmer show. Too bad all of that changed one block from home.}

Tagged , , , , , ,

Bike the Drive 2010: Chicago Closes Highway for Cyclists

Have you ever wondered what the world would look like if cities were built to support bicycles, rather than cars? For five hours every year, Chicagoans experience this utopia during Bike the Drive.

Bike the Drive is an annual event organized by the Active Transportation Alliance, during which the city closes the main scenic highway through the city, Lake Shore Drive, to motor traffic and opens it up for cyclists. Nearly 20,000 bicyclists participate!  The huge turn-out demonstrates how hungry people are for cycling, if only they could feel safe on the streets.

Lake Shore Drive via Bike

Lake Shore Drive via Bike

The massive number of participants is amazing, and also the diversity of participants. Sure, there are lots of roadies and daily bike commuters, but also thousands of families with children, middle-aged suburbanites and elderly couples. I imagine a lot of people dust off their old bikes specifically for this event. Hopefully, the ride will remind many of how much fun it is to ride a bike and inspire them to continue to ride.

I rode a total of 50 miles - this dress was airy and hid my padded bike shorts

Greg at the south end of the route, Museum of Science and Industry

Riding companions Dean and Elizabeth

After the ride participants enjoyed a festival in Grant Park, complete with a pancake breakfast and live music.

Grant Park Festival

Grant Park Festival

Again, I must emphasize that this event demonstrates how many people would love to ride bikes more often, if only they felt safe doing so in the road.  The following videos convey more than words can say.  The first video is from last year; the second is from this year. The endless flow of bicycles in both was consistent along the entire route.

For another video of biking the Drive, see here via Steve Vance.

Read Elizabeth’s (pictured above) report at Bike Commuters.

This is totally going down as my group ride for the Summer Games :)

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Ride of Silence

Today I participated in the annual Ride of Silence. The Chicago ride, organized beautifully by my friend Elizabeth, paid special tribute to cyclists killed on the city’s roadways. The ride visited several ghost bikes along the 10 mile route. Two of the ghost bikes are new in the past year – Jepson Livingston and Liza Whitacre. I know of two other fatalities in the last year, a 12-year-old boy and 13-year-old boy in separate incidents.

Clint Miceli';s Ghost Bike on LaSalle Street

A Mother's Message on Clint's Ghost Bike

In 2008, there were 1,043 traffic fatalities in the state of Illinois. 27 of the fatalities were bicyclists, 5 in the city of Chicago.

My Ride of Silence post from last year is here. As I discussed before, I participate in the ride to support the families of the victims – the bicycling community’s support means a lot to them.

Tagged , , , , ,

Bicycling and Self Esteem

As Trisha discussed on Sunday, last week the women of Academichic hosted Dress Your Best Week, an event that encouraged readers to dress to highlight their best features in lieu of the usual dressing to minimize real or perceived “figure flaws.”  The discussion in the comments section about whether biking has created any “best” body parts was both funny and inspiring.  Strong legs and backside, toned arms (for those climbers) and waist, healthy lungs with fewer asthma problems – all of these benefits were listed by more than one person.  The consensus is that bicycling makes one feel better physically – no surprise there! – but also feel better about themselves.

In our bipolar society, where the most obese population in the world is inundated with dangerous images of “beauty” by the media and where “fit” people drive to the gym to run on the treadmill, millions are locked in a struggle with their bodies.  Even healthy and otherwise happy young women waste immeasurable time fixated on perceived flaws and self-loathing.  For evidence of this, read Courtney Martin’s Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, on the frightening new normalcy of hating your body.

Dressing my best means fun and comfortable clothes that make me happy

The solution is a lifestyle change that favors simplicity over excess and regards the human body as a tool rather than merely a decoration. A big part of such a lifestyle is active transportation, especially cycling. Riding a bicycle as daily transportation can radically shift both how you feel and how you feel about yourself. The benefits are the same that make sports so good for adolescents, especially girls.  Transportation bicycling is even better than sports, as there is no competition or pressure to perform, and cycling fits seamlessly into every day life. Free of the need to carve out time in your day to work out, you are simultaneously free of the self-loathing that accompanies the failure to do so.

When your body carries you several miles to and from work every day, you appreciate your body as a tool and a workhorse. When your lungs fill with air and your heart pumps energetically, you know your body is good, without having to examine it in the mirror, searching for flaws. If society declares that your body is not ideal because you are not skinny enough or muscular enough, or your hips or thighs are too big, you know that society is wrong because your body works for you admirably every day.

Bicycling is not a wonder drug or a total solution to the deeply entrenched problem of body image and self-esteem, but it is a small change that individuals can make to live a healthier and happier life. Plus, riding a bike is fun!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Connecting with Fortworthology

The power of the online bicycling community strikes again.

Stephanie and Kevin with Greg in the Windy City

On Sunday, we met Stephanie and Kevin of Fortworthology for a delicious dinner in Greektown. They were in Chicago for a stop-over during a vacation trip from Fort Worth to Portland and back via Amtrak. What a cool way to travel! The train ride is four days each way, with the convenience of a sleeping car.

Fortworthology is a site dedicated to encouraging and chronicling smart urban growth in Fort Worth, Texas. Things are looking up for the city after a long history of suburban sprawl – in February the Fort Worth City Council unanimously approved a comprehensive bike plan.

In addition to writing the blog, Kevin also does awesome photography. We spent a while geeking over his iPhone and its polaroid and lomography photo apps (iPhoneography pics here). Also, their iPads, which I now want desperately.

Meeting like-minded people from another part of the country was wonderful. Their optimism and commitment to improving their hometown is inspiring. The whole country is really catching on to bicycling as a means of transportation. With the power of the internet, we can now connect with others for support and information-sharing, which adds incredible momentum to the movement.

{I also enjoyed meeting reader Jeffrey at Copenhagen Cyclery! Hi – you’re so sweet!}

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Announcing the LGRAB Summer Games

On May 17, the cycling event of the summer begins. It’s fun, friendly and features amazing prizes from some of the best cycling brands out there — including the grand prize of a Batavus BuB from 4th Floor Distribution. (See the full prize list here.)

How to play, you ask?

It’s easy. There are three main categories, and six events in each category. Complete events in each category over a three week period, and tell us about it via blog post link or email, plus photo addition to our Summer Games Flickr Pool. Entries must include a story and a photo of each event you complete.  If you enter via a post on your own blog, please link to this announcement in your entry, include one of our badges and let us know via email.

Anyone who completes at least two events in each of the three categories will be entered to win the Batavus BuB by random drawing. We’re also giving away prizes as readers complete each category.

May 17-June 6: Social Cycling

  • Go on a group ride
  • Leave a nice note on a bike, or say hi to a cyclist at a red light
  • Schedule a bike date with a friend or partner — dress up!
  • Recruit a non-biking friend for a ride
  • Ride with your family

June 7-June 27: Learning Experiences

  • Perform a maintenance task — big or small!
  • Decorate your bike
  • Read a book about cycling
  • Carry a load on your bike — groceries, etc.
  • Test ride a different type of bike than you normally ride

June 28-July 18: New Territory

  • Ride a greenway
  • Have a bicycle picnic
  • If you don’t normally ride to work, commute by bike, or by bike/train or bike/bus
  • If you do commute, take the long way home: add distance to your usual ride
  • Explore a new part of town by bike

We will be completing every event ourselves and sharing our adventures here, of course.

A huge thank you to all of the companies that donated prizes!  Click on the images below to visit their websites.  This is all for you, loyal readers and fellow bike lovers.

Most of the prizes are available internationally, so everyone is welcome to participate.

If you have a blog and would like to display a badge linking your readers to this announcement, we will include you in a list of all participating blogs on our sidebar.

Be sure to visit us on Monday for more prize details and the official start of the games!

Who’s in?  ;)

ETA: Badges, which should be linked to this post (we’ll update it with links to category posts as they occur) can be snagged below the fold.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , ,

After the Storm

Some of you probably know that Nashville just endured a record rainfall–a 500 year flood, by some accounts. In 48 hours, we got nearly 14 inches of rain–25% of our annual rainfall.

Poor Dottie & Greg were here to experience it all. A weekend with them with no bike rides just didn’t seem right, but we did get some Scrabble in at E & S’s house on Sunday, where we sought refuge from my power-less condo.

Dottie won.

Obviously, we were extremely lucky to have only a 12-hour power outage and rained out bike rides to complain about. Between games, we watched the rain and worried over news reports showing images like this one (from the Nashville Flood 2010 Flickr pool.)

I didn’t know what our airport run on Monday morning would be like, but it was eerily calm and clear. Only the hint of fog over the ground, and the wet streets, recalled what had happened over the weekend.

Though there were other signs, if you paid attention, like uprooted trees.

And the flood-damaged items your neighbors put on the curb for Metro to pick up.

I can’t decide if these three last, sunny days are Mother Nature’s apology or just further proof of her fickleness. The river crested on Monday; the waters are receding. But power is still out downtown, and many people lost their (non flood-insured) homes–from suburban Bellevue families to stars like Kenny Chesney (though he at least has more than one home). We are rationing water, since we only have one functioning water treatment plant (we would have had zero, if it weren’t for some heroic efforts by state prison inmates). We may soon be rationing beer since local distributors are underwater. Total damage to the city is estimated at $1.1 BILLION. Damage to the Opryland Hotel and the Grand Ole Opry, along with some of downtown’s most beloved landmarks is going to be devastating for the local economy. Tennessee has only a sales tax, no state income tax, so tourist dollars are especially important.

Left: our new symphony center. Right: the Country Music Hall of Fame, taken May 4.

Sorry for the long, non-bikey post, but with the Gulf spill and the NYC attempted bombing, the Weather Channel seems to have done most of the national coverage of this disaster. Local blogs, TV stations and Twitter feeds have been incredible, and I wanted to do my part. If you want to help, you can text ‘REDCROSS’ to 90999 to donate $10 to disaster relief in Nashville. If you live in town, consider signing up with Hands on Nashville and volunteering to help with cleanup efforts — there will be plenty to do all summer long. (And if you see me on one of the projects, say hi!)

Thanks to all of you who checked in on me in the comments or on Twitter; your concern is appreciated!

Tagged , , , ,

I Wish…

The bike lanes on my commute were buffered from motor vehicle traffic.
People would always check for bikes before opening car doors.
Drivers would take driving seriously.
I could feel comfortable riding in the streets without a helmet.
More bicyclists would stop for red lights.
The masses would realize how wonderful bicycling is.
America looked like this.
Or this.

What do you wish?

Tagged , , , , , ,

Getting Serious About Bicycling Safety

How much of the push for bicycling is about encouraging people to be braver, rather than actually fostering a safe and welcoming environment for cyclists?

An editorial in The Times (UK) by Janice Turner, which Copenhaganize brought to my attention, has me pondering this question. My observation is that there are more cyclists on the road now than before, but the cyclists are overwhelmingly of the type expected to engage in perceived risky behavior – young males.

An Example of Chicago's "Bicycle Infrastructure"

Chicago's Bicycle "Infrastructure"

This morning a pack of cyclists accompanied me on my commute. They resembled a rag-tag peloton, shuffling for position, weaving around traffic and speeding through intersections. Of the dozen or so cyclists in my proximity, not one was a woman and not one appeared to be wearing regular work clothes. The evening commute featured a few women. (You can read more about my regular commute here.)

Mind, I am not criticizing this group. I appreciate them and their presence on the road. My criticism is for a transportation system that fails to accommodate a more diverse – and risk averse – group of people on bikes.

As individuals, Trisha and I don’t have the power to build infrastructure or enforce traffic laws. Therefore, the best we can say is that, despite the awful state of cycling infrastructure in North America, the U.K., Australia, et al, you should ride your bike and enjoy yourself. While we show that cycling is not as difficult and dangerous as it seems, mixing it up with cars every day still takes courage. For every woman who tells us that our blog inspired her to bicycle regularly, there must be several others who were inspired to try, but gave up due to fear.

Even the most conscientious and experienced cyclist is not immune to danger. For example, last week my husband Greg was taking the lane to pass a stopped bus safely, when a car driver squeezed around him, hitting his arm with the car’s side mirror and causing his body to bang against the passenger door. The woman sped away. Thankfully, he was able to regain his balance and escape injury. The responding police officer was respectful, but said there was nothing they could do without a full license plate number and witnesses. That woman cared so little for the man I care for the most, apparently knowing she could behave this way without legal consequence. Even if the police could have tracked her down, we would be lucky if she received a warning ticket.

Of course, no one is immune to danger. Life can be risky, and certainly I would not put bicycling on a list of high-risk activities. If I thought otherwise, no way would I be out there on my bike every day. I am risk-averse. However, there is so much that could be done to make bicycling safer, both objectively and subjectively.

I love bicycling. I usually feel safe riding in Chicago. I hope this blog helps counter the negative and ugly rhetoric that so often accompanies bicycling discourse in media and society at large.  But every now and then, inevitably, I am frustrated and disappointed by the failure of governments to provide a safe place for all road users.

Many citizens have answered the call to be braver, and in the process have found themselves healthier and happier. There is a beautiful momentum of regular people on bicycles, and failing to acknowledge our growing numbers with a comprehensive plan to foster a safe and welcoming environment would be criminal.

I worry over Ms. Turner’s conclusion in the Times article that “a big fat flaw at the heart of democracy is that politicians will never invest in the long term if voters’ initial inconvenience and expense are not rewarded with results before an election.” If that is always the case, we will never move forward.

As of now, we are here. Whether in dresses or lycra, on Dutch bikes or fixies, we are all getting around in a way that benefits ourselves, society and the environment. Will the government embrace us or desert us?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The Beauty of Mid-Day Escapes

Did you know that sitting all day is as unhealthy as smoking or sun over-exposure? After reading about that study, I feel like even bicycling to and from work every day is not enough to make up for all my sitting. Bike commuting is an amazing activity for consistent exercise, but on average totals only one hour of my day. I have a desk job and many activities I enjoy after work – reading, blogging, watching movies – are sedentary.

In an effort to make my lifestyle more active (no gyms, please!) I often spend my lunch hour walking around downtown Chicago, even if the weather is rainy or freezing. An additional benefit is escaping the office and enjoying life. I take pictures, watch people, window shop or duck into a coffee shop to read. As temperatures rise, I find myself integrating the bicycle into my lunch breaks for a little extra work day escape.

On Friday, Betty and I sailed a couple of miles to enjoy fresh macaroons, but sometimes I venture farther afield. The pictures below are from a long escape earlier this month, which I wrote about here, but it took me a while to develop and scan the pictures from my Diana Mini camera.

The thought of missing out on such adventures in favor of watching TV in the break room or eating at my desk is unbearable. I think everyone would be a whole lot happier if we all enjoyed mid-day escapes in the fresh air more often – preferably with a bicycle :)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Chicago Loves Bikes!

Chicago loves bikes.  It’s official.

My morning commute yesterday felt like a group ride!  For more than half of the way, I was in a line of 9 cyclists going down the bike lane.  Our spontaneous conga line caused stares, double-takes and smiles.  How could people not consider cycling as a valid form of transportation after seeing so many bikes all around them?  Snowball effect – more riders beget more riders.

On the way home, I spotted my friend Elizabeth.  She had pulled over to chat with the owner of De Fietsfabriek, so I pulled over and joined them, and then we rode home together.  On the way, we saw three bike cops ticketing a van for being parked in the bike lane.  Overhead in a stern voice as we passed, “See, all these bicyclists have to go in the lane around you.”  Today on Streetsblog I saw this video to train Chicago bus drivers how to interact with bicyclists.

I feel that everything is coming together to create a real place for cyclists in Chicago.  The cyclists themselves: out in droves.  The drivers:  expecting cyclists and behaving respectfully.  The infrastructure: far from perfect but following the 2015 Bike Plan and better than almost all other North American cities.  Law enforcement, city government, and Da Mayor: working for us.  The sun: shining down approvingly on all of it.

My giddy optimism is so bright this week!

Do other Chicagoan have thoughts on this?  Bicyclists in other cities – how do you feel about your place on the road and in the community?  Any other optimists out there?

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Cycling: Simple Act or Sheer Will?

Reactions to our bike commuting can come in two extremes.  Some act like we are superwomen or daredevils for riding everywhere, even in winter.  Others act like we are frivolous and silly for riding in skirts with Dutch bikes.   Neither of these extremes are accurate.

My gut reactions to these two viewpoints vary just as wildly. I want to assure the “superwoman” group that riding a bike is a simple and fun act that requires little more than sitting and pedaling, while I want to curtly inform the “silly” group that we are out there riding every day in any weather, while they are curled up on the couch reading back issues of Bicycling Magazine.

So I must ask myself, which reaction is more accurate? Is cycling a simple act that anyone can perform or a determined act of sheer will?  Can we reconcile the two?  (I was looking to capture a little of both in the photos.)

Tagged , , , ,

The Waltz of the Bikes

The Waltz of the Bikes is already making the rounds in the bike blogosphere, but I feel compelled to post it here.  The video is mesmerizing and literally put a smile on my face. Although I have seen countless pictures on Amsterdamize, watching video of cyclists in Amsterdam is powerful.

The Waltz of the Bikes from mike rubbo on Vimeo.

This video also made me a bit sad. It drives home how far Chicago is from the ideal – and Chicago is one of the most evolved cycling cities in North America.  I so rarely see anyone in normal work clothes riding about casually.  While I get a kick out of people thinking I am a superwoman for riding my bike all the time, I wish doing so were not such an oddity.

For details and background on the video, visit the maker (along with Violeta Brana Lafourcade) Mike Rubbo’s blog, Situp Cycle. Mike writes from Australia, which also has a long way to go. While there, check out the excellent video interviews with Mikael of Copenhagen Cycle Chic.

Update: also check out Amsterdamize’s Sinfonia Cyclissimo and his Vimeo channel.

Tagged , , , , ,

You Can’t Go Home Again

You can’t go home to a trailer park and farm in North Carolina again, not after living the simple bicycling lifestyle in Chicago for three years. It’s not that folks from my hometown read my blog and hate me for portraying them as bumpkins, a modern and predictably crappy remake of Thomas Wolfe, simply that my way of seeing the world has changed dramatically in the past few years.

A Vanity Fair article I read years ago aptly described my military hometown as a mix of strip bars and Baptist churches. Growing up, I itched to get out of my city; it was an ill-fitting sweater that took 16 years to wrestle off, catching my limbs, pulling my nose, tangling my hair and finally releasing me as I gulped for fresh air. My yearnings were basically the cliche teenage feeling that there is a big world going on without me – not a world of parties and glamor, but a world of pedestrians and cafes. I had fantasies of sidewalks, which I knew existed from TV and rare visits to family in Massachusetts, and a hazy idea of “culture” that my city lacked.

Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 53 other followers