Right now – late March through early April – is the most refreshing time to ride a bike in Chicago. The visible signs of fading winter and approaching spring make me so grateful, I could weep. The chill in the air is enough to make my cheeks rosy, not to cause frost bite. The sun is still up and slowly setting as I make my way home. And the Lakefront Trail is calm and peaceful, not yet overcrowded.
I hope you all are enjoying your bike rides just as much!
My wish for bright spring colors came true today, at least a little bit. The amazing 50 degree temperature combined with the bright, lingering sun made the city feel like a springtime paradise. The sidewalks and lakefront were filled with Chicagoans basking in the glory of the weather. The photos below look cold, but the mere fact that I was able to bike on the Lakefront Trail is a sign of the thaw. Most of the snow has melted, leaving behind mounds of dirt, salt and debris. I even warmed up enough to remove my scarf, which looked quite lovely on Oma.
Unbelievably, I heard on the evening news that Chicago may get over a foot of snow mid-week. All the more reason to appreciate days like today, I suppose.
How is one to survive this winter, one of the coldest, greyest and snowiest in history?
As you can see, I chose to lighten my hair, buy a new red overcoat and bicycle on – except honestly I have not been bicycling a lot, certainly not everyday, as with previous winters. All I ask for is a morning with temps at least 10 F and no falling snow, but such mornings are rare. (As I type this, it’s 9 F and snowing.) When I manage to ride my bike, I feel so much better, physically and mentally.
My plan for combatting winter also includes appreciating the (indoor) culture that Chicago offers: going to ballets, plays, symphonies and art exhibits. If it were not for the Joffrey Ballet, the Goodman and Steppenwolf and Shakespeare Theatres, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Art Institute (and, of course, my wonderful friends!), I would question daily why I choose to live in this crowded, frozen tundra.
My focus lately has not been on blogging, but I have some renewed energy now. In three weeks, I start a new job (an exciting step up in my career!) that will bring me a longer and more scenic bike commute. And to reward myself I bought a beautiful digital camera that has me eager to document my rides.
This morning I enjoyed my regular bike ride to work in the sunshine and crisp air.
Betty has been my constant companion for the last month, although I expect to swap her out for Oma as soon as the snow starts.
And here’s what I wore on my bike, although this was in the middle of the day and Betty, unfortunately, was not around to pose with me. A cashmere sweater and scarf with a leather jacket kept me plenty warm in the low-30 temps.
I have been cycling almost daily for so long – over five years now! – that I do not think much about the physical aspect. When I first started bike commuting, I could feel it in my legs for several months. By now the act is so routine, I sometimes forget that bicycling is exercise.
Oma and I setting off to work last week
I was reminded of this fact when I returned to bike commuting after almost a month’s break, due to my travels and other factors. After two days back in Chicago riding Oma in the wind, my legs muscles were sore. Really, riding a bike as heavy as Oma is more like weight training than cardio. :-)
Years ago, I read a Dutch woman comment that because she’s been cycling her whole life, her leg muscles are too used to the motions and she has to do separate exercises to keep her legs toned. I refuse to believe that – I hate squats!
I wonder how others experience the physical aspects of bicycling and how that has changed (or not) over time. Anyone care to share?
Time to break out the tweed and cashmere – fall is here!
I have a habit of writingeveryyear about how much I love fall, and this year will be more of the same. It’s such a perfect time for bike riding, especially for riding in full work clothes without arriving sweaty.
I enthusiastically pulled out from under my bed the two containers of cold-weather clothes and suddenly I have a whole new wardrobe. This week I will replenish my supply of black and brown tights, then I’ll be good to go through early spring. :-)
As I mentioned last month, I’m back to riding Oma almost daily. And I’m reminded that Oma is not just a bike style, but a lifestyle.
I slow way down with her and relax into the ride. I coast up to yellow lights instead of accelerating to beat the red. I enjoy the city sights from my high perch.
It’s all about opting out of the commute-as-race by sheer force of will. Even as SUVs speed past me too closely and I breath in truck exhaust, I think happy thoughts and continue slowly pedaling. Riding Oma helps me maintain a bit of serenity, as the city buzzes around.
My exercise goal for August is decidedly less intense than Trisha’s century ride training. I have to attend two Bikram yoga classes a week with my friend from work. The 90 minute classes heated to 105 degrees are not exactly fun. The best feeling comes when the class is over and I can sail away on my bicycle for the six mile ride home along the Lakefront Trail. The transition from the oppressive heat of the yoga room to the cool lake breeze of the trail is beautiful and makes me enjoy riding my bike even more than usual.
Plus, there’s always this view.
My bike set up on yoga class days is basic. Okay, a little bag lady-chic.
I strap my mat to the back rack (and then sometimes forget it there for a couple of days, creating deep indentions in the mat).
I stuff my work bag, change of clothes, towel, water bottle and lock in my front basket. My basket is low down and anchored to front stays, which helps this load feel light and not interfere with my steering.
My cockpit area is looking a bit too cluttered. Perhaps I should remove my scarf or flower or handlebar bag or camera mount…
Once the (heavily discounted) introductory month is over at the Bikram studio, I will probably go back to Vinyasa, as a more enjoyable yoga for me. But I expect to miss, at least a little bit, the relief of escape by bicycle that practicing Bikram provides me. :-)
Recently I have been testing a new bike bag, the Detours Ballard Market Pannier, a large shopper that easily transforms from a pannier to a tote to a backpack.
The website describes the bag as follows:
If you’re rolling up [to the market] on a bike, this is the perfect pannier to take with you. An easily hidden padded shoulder harness lets you wear the pannier as a backpack while browsing the stalls, and two simple yet sturdy pannier clips attach to your rack for the ride home. A lightweight waterproof base keeps your bag dry from street spray, and a removable rain cover protects your goods when the skies cloud over. Interior organization makes this a great option for casual office commuting as well!
The bag comes in red (shown), black and “dalia print,” which is my favorite – grey with a little flower painted on front.
The bag hangs from the rear rack by two clamps. The system was a bit tricky on my Pletscher rack because I had to raise the rack’s clamp while attaching the bag, but once in place, the bag fit well. The large rack on my Dutch bike works perfectly with the Detours’ attachment system.
The bag appears to droop a bit when loaded, but always feels securely attached.
There are adjustable straps on the front, which come in handy when the bag is used as a backpack.
The long handle straps are useful when carrying the bag, but they hang awkwardly when the bag is mounted and could be long enough to interfere with the wheel. I tied them together and tucked them into the bag as shown below. Another option is to tuck the straps in the front pouch, but neither solution is very elegant and I wish there were a better solution.
The bag, as you can judge by its size, holds a substantial amount of stuff. In addition to the cavernous interior, there is a small internal, zippered pocket, plus three external pockets (two small on the side, on large on the front).
The bag I’ve been using for years as a large shopper is my Basil Rosa-Mirte Shopper, but that bag must be hand-carried by a handle – super annoying when trying to shop and/or when carrying a heavy load. The Detours bag is not as cute, but wins over the Basil for ease of carrying with the shoulder strap and backpack option.
I’d say the Detours Ballard Market is most comparable to the Ortlieb Bike Shopper that I reviewed last year. In that showdown, the Detours bag wins hands down. Both bags hold a lot and have smart and easy attachment systems, but the Detours has useful outside pockets, holds more, is easier to close, turns into a backpack and costs $30 less. The Ortlieb wins only in waterproofness. The material on the Detours is water-resistent, but the drawstring top leaves it vulnerable. A full, neon yellow water cover is included, though, so as long as you keep it in the bag, you should be good to go in storms.
The Detours logo on the side of the bag is reflective, but I was disappointed not to see more. I wish companies would incorporate more reflective markings on bike bags.
The two clamps on the back are fronted by a fabric panel…
…which can be zipped up to hide the clamps and protect you from being poked.
When carried, the pannier functions as a long, substantial tote bag. As you can see, it has a sporty feel. Not something I would feel comfortable carrying to important meetings or court, but suitable for a regular day at the office.
For daily use, I prefer a more professional-looking bag like Po Campo. I’m not crazy about the sporty/bookbag-esque look of the Detours, which does not mesh well with my professional lifestyle. The black or “dalia print” colors are better professional options than the bright red. That said, the Ballard Market Pannier is marketed as a farmer’s market bag that could double for casual commuting, and the design is appropriate to that purpose.
Overall, I like the Detours Ballard Market Pannier a lot. The bag fits a huge amount, while also being easy to attach and detach and convenient to carry, either as a tote bag or a backpack. For a bike bag that are designed to carry substantial loads, the Detours is the best I’ve come across so far.
And a HUGE bonus of the bag is its nifty transformation to a backpack. I did not get a photo wearing the pannier as a backpack, so please watch my video to see how easily this works.
Yesterday evening I was at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago for an outdoor concert – an event that signals for me the beginning of summer. The park is near Lake Michigan and usually a quick ride through a garden brings me to the Lakefront Trail for my ride home. However, last night I was greeted by this construction site where the garden used to be.
Yikes – I hope they are constructing an even more beautiful garden!
Fortunately, the city set up bike detour signs to guide me along an alternate route. This turned out to be a fun mini-adventure because I never knew of this path.
The path followed the Chicago River…
…with a fancy tunnel to cross under Lakeshore Drive
…which brought me to a bridge over the river
…and led me to the Lakefront Trail.
As I biked up the trail, the sun finished setting.
I ended my journey home on neighborhood streets.
If I wanted to get all deep, I could take this as a reminder that what may at first seem like an imposition could turn out to be an opportunity to try something new.