Tag Archives: bikes

The macho discourse on city cycling

How much does the bike community’s own discourse on city cycling negatively affect the number and type of people who are willing to give life on two wheels a try?

This question has been swirling around my head since last week, when I read a guest post on Commute by Bike that offered 10 Rules for Urban Commuting. The rules are full of advice such as disobeying stop lights, being aggressive and never signaling. There is also solid advice about avoiding the door zone, not waiting to the right of stopped traffic and taking the lane. I disagree with a lot of the rules, but that’s fine: it’s not my list and I’m sure the style of riding works for the author and many others.

However, the macho tone of the article is endemic of a problem of the greater discourse on bicycling in the bike community. This wild west approach contributes to the fringe status of transportation cycling, both by repelling everyday people, especially women, and by reinforcing a culture that pits cyclists, drivers and pedestrians against each other.

When I first started bike commuting, I eagerly searched the web for tips and information, and this is the kind of advice I found everywhere – the kind that increased my apprehension about riding in the city and made me feel like I was not the type of person who should be attempting this. While I would have learned something from the “10 Rules,” the net effect may not have been helpful.

Me, a happy city cyclist {photo (c) Martha Williams}

I must not have been the only one who felt this way. The comments following the “10 Rules” post argued passionately both in favor of and against the rules. In response, the author followed up on his own blog by posting an 11th rule:

“I was struck by one curious and oft-repeated theme: the idea that those who ride bikes should assiduously avoid breaking traffic rules, because doing so makes motorists think badly of us.

For those afflicted with this way of thinking, I offer Rule 11:

If your priority is being seen as a “cycling role model” by drivers, you should not ride in the city.

Leaving aside the notion that riding safely and not making motorists think badly of us are mutually exclusive, I have a problem with this statement. I am not comfortable with advice aggressively telling people they should not ride in the city if X, Y or Z. I have enough experience with city cycling now to know what’s what, but this macho instruction would have been very off-putting to me when I was a beginner. What is a new bike commuter to take from such a statement: that to ride a bike in the city, one must abandon a lifetime of lawful behavior and reconcile oneself to pissing off drivers in a never-ending struggle to make it home alive? Sign me up!

Since new bike commuters are presumably the intended audience for these rules and other similar advice columns around the internet, I worry about how many potential cyclists are scared off by this kind of rhetoric. Someone kicking around the idea of bike commuting is already going out on a metaphorical limb and is likely hearing from family and co-workers that riding a bike is crazy and dangerous. It may not take much to push someone away from the notion completely. Certainly, safety is important and a new bicyclist must learn the rules of the road, but there is a way to broadcast that message without alienating most of the audience (I highly recommend the article, “How not to get hit by cars”).

Hopefully, some who are initially put off keep digging around the web and find advice that speaks to them and their situations. In the two and a half years since I first started my research as a new bike commuter, the number and quality of alternative resources has grown. Although the discourse is still largely controlled by the hardcore contingent, I am optimistic that as city cycling becomes more popular, the discussion will become more moderate.

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Final Outdoor Farmer’s Market Trip

October is drawing to a close far too quickly and today was the last outdoor farmer’s market of the season. Luckily, Chicago’s Green City Market continues year-round indoors. Still, I will miss spending time outside in the fresh air of Lincoln Park. This is my last hurrah post with pictures I took using my vintage film camera.

After the market, I met up with Melissa and Chanh for the somewhat lackluster Rally to Restore Sanity (the main event was in D.C.). Afterward, we went to lunch. They were dressed up for Halloween as a redneck and a hippie. The waitress, after remarking on their costumes, turned to me and said, “I know who you are. From the Wizard of Oz. You’re Dorothy.” Hmm, I thought, this is actually how I dress everyday (in my new thrifted outfit). Aloud I said, “Yes, I am Dorothy.” A true statement, but not in the way she understood it. :)

And now, In Memorium: Summer 2010 Farmer’s Market.

Bicycling to the Farmer’s Market
Simple Pleasures
Farmer’s Market by Bike
Farmer’s Market on Film

How are you spending the last weekend of October?

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Gale Force WIND-y City Commute

Since I took public transportation instead of riding my bike during the two-day windstorm, I bring this story from my intrepid reporter/friend E A.  If there’s ever a day when I don’t ride due to weather conditions, I can be 95% sure that E A rode anyway.


With the gusty weather predictions for the Midwest and Chicago on Tuesday, I debated the safety of venturing out on two wheels for my morning commute. A high wind advisory and tornado watches had been alerting me all Monday evening and Tuesday morning about the potential dangerous weather that is plaguing many areas of the U.S. as October nears its end.

At 7am Tuesday rain was pouring down and traffic reports showed the results of jack-knifed semis and cars in ditches. Luckily the worst of the storms moved over Chicago quickly and I found myself staring out into an eery calm after the storm by 8:30am. Shortly after 9am I was on the road with a light wind breaker for a dry commute into strong (but not gale force) southerly winds. Along my route, I bike down Wells Street – which to me is always ridden with cyclonic type winds – and my commute on Tuesday (or Wednesday) did not disappoint.

So… from my commute, I offer you some cautionary advice for dealing with such gusty wind storms:
* Keep both hands firmly gripped on your handlebars
* Tuck your upper body down more so less of you is exposed to the brunt of the wind
* Forge ahead
* Don’t be ashamed to bail out to use public transportation if the conditions are not safe – put your own safety first

Especially when the cross-winds come, I find it particularly challenging to keep my line and not be blown into parked cars or traffic speeding by. But I know my route well and that high level of familiarity helps me know just when and where I’m most exposed and where I can seek shelter or alternate transportation if need be.

I rode both ways Tuesday and Wednesday despite the high wind advisory. Going home both days the winds should have be at my back, but some of those gusts whipped at me from every direction…  The best part was when the wind literally did PUSH me home – “Look Ma – No pedaling!”

At least the these are the warm winds. It’s when these winds turn blustery that I start to shudder.

Stay upright out there! And please share your stormy/windy commuting adventures and tips.

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Bike Deprivation

I am in the middle of one of the longest stretches of bike deprivation I’ve suffered in my 2.5 years of cycling. On Saturday I did not ride my bike because I spent the entire day on the couch reading the fascinating book Joyride by former Portland Bicycle Program Manager Mia Birk (stay tuned for my write-up). On Sunday I did not ride my bike because I spent the entire day at a film bootcamp learning to develop and print my own photos.

Monday – I rode my bike! And Martha shot this portrait of me and Oma.

Me and Oma, shot by Martha Williams

Today I took the L train to work and I’ll be doing the same tomorrow. By force. Chicago is currently in the throes of the second-strongest storm in it recorded history, a cyclone over Lake Michigan that is bringing sustained winds of more than 30 mph with gusts up to 60 mph. As much as I love to ride, I know where to draw the line.

Things I miss about riding:

  • Eating donuts with a clear conscience;
  • Feeling the wind in my hair;
  • Not feeling like a giant ground sloth;
  • Free transportation – the L train ride today was $4.25 I’ll never get back;
  • No wait time;
  • Fresh air;
  • A cheerful start to the day;
  • A stress relief after a long day.

What good stuff did I leave out?  :)

Is anyone else feeling the affects of this massive storm?  I’m sure there are hardier souls than I who rode anyway.

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Your City: A Bicycling Survey

I love Chicago. I moved here 3 years ago for a job and because I wanted to live in a big city. I stay because there’s so much to do and I enjoy walking, biking and taking public transit everywhere.

Chicago’s bike infrastructure and sizable bike community are huge pluses. Compared to most North American cities, Chicago is advanced in this aspect, but the bar is not set very high. What I really want is serious European-style infrastructure with separated and protected bike lanes.

I’m optimistic about Chicago’s future as a bicycling city, but real progress lies in the far future. In the meantime, I wonder if a quiet town with light traffic would be better for bicycling, even if there is absolutely no infrastructure. And while I’m wondering, how about cities like Portland, Boulder, Minneapolis and Davis, those shining bike-cities?

Thinking about Chicago – what I like and don’t like and how bicycling plays a role – makes me interested in how others view their cities or towns. We’d love to hear about your experiences, if you feel like sharing.

1. What city do you live in?
2. What brought you to your city originally?
3. What is keeping you in your city?
4. Do you ever think about moving to a city that is more bike friendly?
5. Does the bike infrastructure (or lack thereof) play a major role in whether you will stay in your city?
6. Are you optimistic that your city’s bike infrastructure will improve?

Please leave your answers in the comments! We can all compare notes and learn more about each other’s experiences.

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A Bicycling Tour of Versailles

The scene: Versailles, a city outside of Paris renowned for the Palace of Versailles.

After taking the RER train from Paris to the suburbs and walking a short distance, you are greeted by the imposing statue of King Louis XIV on horseback. The surroundings are a bit ominous, but don’t be scared – continue on and you will be rewarded.

You encounter the palace first.

Then turn around and gawk at the decadent and expansive grounds.

Okay, this is still a little scary. Sorry about that. No, the palace looks more like this in real life.

Continue reading

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Blue Chicago

While bright oranges, reds and yellows get all the attention in the fall, smooth Chicago blues should not be overlooked.  Something about the crisp autumn air makes Lake Michigan seem very still and peaceful, while the early-setting sun casts my long shadow on the empty beaches.

Ah, can you almost feel the fresh air?  Riding my bike along the lakefront sure makes city living more enjoyable.

The picture below is the first I took today.  When I got home and reviewed all of my pictures together, I noticed a theme.  Not only the color blue, but look – the guitarist has a shadow.

Aside from admiring the water and chasing my shadow, I encountered a couple of people on my way home. A guy cycling by me said, “You win best-dressed.”  Not that I was trying or that being the best-dressed person on a bicycle is hard, but thanks.  :)  Skirt suit – purchased three years ago at Target on clearance for $20.

I also ran into John Greenfield, the guy we’ve organized our cocktails rides with in the past.  You should definitely check out John’s excellent writing at Vote with Your Feet and his book about drinking and biking from coast to coast, Bars Across America.

What colors, changes and people are you encountering on your rides?

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Seasons on Two Wheels

Our third autumn of life on two wheels is here in full force. From the suddenly deserted beaches of Lake Michigan to the leaves burning with color, everything around me during the bike commute signals the changing of seasons and the passage of time.

Other than during my girlhood, I never took so much notice of or pleasure in the weather as I have in these last two and a half years of riding my bike every day. It’s amazing how a simple change in transportation mode can lead to a powerful change in life.

How are you experiencing autumn on two wheels?

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A Perfect Weekend

The weather this weekend was perfect – nearly 80 degrees with blue skies – made extra special by the knowledge that another such weekend probably won’t come around again until May.  I’m proud to say that I enjoyed the weekend to the fullest, especially since it conveniently coincided with my birthday and Trisha’s visit.

The weekend in a nutshell.  Friday started with a drooling-just-thinking-about-it lunch at Rick Bayless’s XOCO, the best sandwich shop ever.  After eating, we moved on to the Chicago Country Musical Festival (Gretchen Wilson) and then the Siskel Film Center to see Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Marilyn Monroe).

On Saturday, we rode bikes along the Lakefront Trail to downtown, where we met up with Melissa.

All together we took an architectural boat tour of the Chicago river , enjoying the views and warm sun.

Melissa was attacked by a giant Lego lion on Michigan Avenue, but managed to escape in time for a bike photo op.

At night there was a small rooftop party with a lot of champagne, gin and chartreuse.  My friend’s awesome daughter decorated this pumpkin for me.

Eventually I woke up on Sunday for an autumn-colored ride to the Andersonville neighborhood and fortified myself with gelato from a gorgeous Italian bakery, while more motivated people like Melissa’s fiance Chanh ran the Chicago marathon.

A delicious and decadent French dinner, followed by a long bike ride home, wrapped everything up.  Sadly, Trisha has now returned to Nashville – Chicago misses her already.

I feel very lucky for the beautiful weather, bicycle rides and wonderful friends.  Here’s to all that!

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Bicycling in France

Remember when Trisha and I were gone to France for two weeks? You may be wondering if and when we’ll write about our adventures. Trust me, we will! I have not yet summoned the time and energy to tackle the task, but eventually we’ll highlight three bicycling adventures: biking the Wine Road in Alsace, renting bikes to tour Versailles, and riding Velib around Paris. Here’s another sneak preview: me and Trisha riding bikes on the grounds of Versailles.

Me and Trisha at the Grand Trianon in Versailles

Trisha will be visiting me in Chicago this weekend (yay!) and we’ll soon have even more bicycling adventures together. And I still need to write about my thoughts on bicycling in NYC. Thanks for standing by. :)

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Scottish Cycle Chic in Chicago

Jennifer is a bike commuter in Edinburgh, Scotland and an LGRAB reader. She owns both a WorkCycles Oma and a Pashley. When she mentioned that she was taking a vacation in Chicago, I was excited to suggest that we get together.

On Wednesday, we met up for a few beers with my friends Patty, Brian, Elizabeth and Dean (all bikey people, incidentally). Then yesterday Jennifer and I spent the day together with Oma and Betty. This turned out to be quite an adventure!

After a hearty Mexican lunch, we set out for the Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier via the Lakefront Trail. The wind was exceptionally fierce, crashing waves onto the path all around us, and the rain unexpectedly picked up during the ride, but it was still great fun.

I assume this mounted police officer was there to make sure no one tried anything stupid, like surfing.

Our raincoats mostly protected us. When we got to the theater my tights dried quickly and Jennifer cleverly let her long tunic top become a dress, while her jeans hung to dry in the coat check room. Then we warmed up in the pub over whiskey and Baileys before settling in for a great production of Romeo and Juliet.

After the play, we walked along Navy Pier a bit as the wind whipped around us, speculating as to how difficult our journey home would be, since the tail wind we enjoyed on the way there would be a head wind.

We walked over to the ferris wheel for a ride but it was closed, apparently due to the high winds.

As we figured, the head wind was killer and the 7-mile ride home was slow, cold and dark – but pretty funny! We could not help laughing at the absurdity of the situation: the trail was deserted and the two of us, in our dresses and on our upright bikes, were the only ones intrepid enough to brave the weather.  

Undeterred, we swung by my place to pick up Mr. Dottie and continued our ride to the Lincoln Square neighborhood, where we enjoyed dinner at a very lively German restaurant. Schnitzel, mashed potatoes and steins of beer work wonders to warm a body.

The rain picked up full force for our late ride home and poor Jennifer’s jeans got soaked all over again. Luckily, she was just an L train ride away from the warmth and comfort of her hotel room.

Many thanks to Jennifer for being great company and such a good sport! What could have been grounds for complaining instead became a fun, invigorating, laughter-filled adventure. ‘Cause cycling ladies are cool like that. :)

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First Suburban Critical Mass a Success!

The Critical Mass ride that Melissa organized was a huge success! Fifty people showed up for the first Critical Mass ride in Aurora, a town about an hour from Chicago. There was a mixed group, including families with children, city employees, young hip guys, lycra racers, older riders, chic cyclists and even a tall bike.

The ride was definitely a Critical Mass in all the best ways.  We had lots of cheery balloons, smiles, waves and “Thank You” signs. The reaction from drivers, pedestrians and other on-lookers was overwhelmingly positive.  Motor vehicle traffic was very minimally obstructed, as most of the route had two lanes going in each direction, making it easy for cars to go around the group.  (I did not witness any negativity at all, but if some drivers were upset by the ride, that is their problem. No progress is ever made without upsetting some people who prefer the status quo.)

Check out these pictures, which describe the ride much better than my words can.

…and there was the press.

Resulting in the third positive article about bicycling in one week in the local paper, “Fifty turn out for Sunday (Critical) Mass.” The next ride will be October 31.

Go Aurora!

Anyone out there living in other a smaller town or the suburbs should consider starting their own movement. All it takes is some people, bikes and passion.

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A Critical Mass: bicycling as a social movement and the importance of working together

If you ride your bike, you are part of an important social movement.  Regardless of your level of involvement in any organized effort, this movement would be impossible without your participation.  We, as people who ride bikes, are the only ones who will look out for the interests of bicycling as a viable form of transportation.  Most people who drive everywhere never give bicycling a second thought, and I’m not holding my breath for politicians lobbied by oil and car companies to take proactive steps.  Therefore, bicyclists working together and agreeing at least on the very basics (bikes = good) is essential.

Melissa rides her bike

The issue is on my mind this Friday morning because of great efforts that our friend Melissa has taken to create positive change in her suburban town of Auroral, Illinois – and the subsequent blowback she’s received from a sport cycling club and vehicular cyclists.  Melissa is not some political strategist, she’s a woman who rides her bike, feels that the roads should be much safer and is doing something about it.

There will be an organized ride in Aurora on Sunday afternoon that Melissa and others have publicized as a critical mass ride, Aurora’s first.  This ride has already garnered much attention, including an article in the town’s newspaper and a follow-up article today.  Both articles are pretty positive about the event and bicycles.  Unfortunately, the response from subsections of the bicycling community has not been as positive.

First, she received a message from a certain suburban cycling club, stating that they would never participate in or support an event that carried the Critical Mass name and did not follow all traffic laws.  They also suggested she get a permit from the city of Aurora – a permit to ride bikes in the street.  Then, in the follow-up article a vehicular cyclist is featured to give an argument against bike lanes.

“It’s not that Klenke doesn’t support better access for bikes, but he says, “Lanes don’t address education, training and attitude for cyclists and motorists to coexist. They’re a feel-good panacea that likely worsen the problems instead.” He referred me to the book “Effective Cycling” by John Forester, who, according to Klenke, “cites studies that suggest bike lanes lead to increased car-bike accidents and are inherently destructive to traffic management.”

On top of this, there are the typical mean-spirited comments at the end of the article from drivers about bicyclists.

I understand where anti-Critical Mass cyclists are coming from.  The event can create hostility in drivers and sometimes, with a big enough crowd, lead to unruly behavior.  However, the ride on Sunday will be a group of cyclists exercising their right to the road in a lawful manner – nothing more, nothing less.  If the ride were not called “Critical Mass,” would anyone have paid attention?  Would the newspaper have written two articles about the ride before it even took place?  A critical mass is an appropriate description for the purpose of the ride.

I understand where vehicular cyclists are coming from.  Bicyclists should be empowered to ride in the street with the rest of traffic.  But bicycling will never become a widespread mode of transportation in America without bicycling infrastructure.  Vehicular cycling may work for a very small minority, but telling a parent toting kids or an elderly woman to get out in the street and fend for herself will not work.  I feel even more strongly about this after visiting France and seeing the bicycling infrastructure – and people on bikes – in every city.

People who ride bikes – and people who want to ride bikes but do not feel that the roads are safe enough – have to work together for change.  Debates within the bicycling community are both important and inevitable, but there comes a point where rifts stall progress and play into the hands of those already-powerful groups working to maintain the status quo.

So I have a simple request.  Could we all in the “bicycling community” agree that people riding bikes lawfully down the street in the hopes that others will note their presence is a Good Thing?  Otherwise we are stalling our important social movement.

Sunday.  2 p.m.  West Aurora High School.  I’ll be there.

{If you would like to thank the writer of today’s column, Deena Sherman, for bringing attention to this issue, you can reach her at deenasherman@att.net.}

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Home

I’m back from France, feeling lousy from a cold, jet lag and the inevitable disappointment of real life.  Just as I was contemplating my escape to a life in Paris (step one: learn French), I rode my bike home along the Lakefront Trail in the crisp autumn air and remembered why I love Chicago.

It’s good to be home.  More coherent ramblings to follow.

P.S. For anyone interested, I’m posting a lot of France photos on my other blog, Dream Camera.

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Timeless Cycle Chic

Hi, Chelsea from Frolic! here! I am so glad to be guest blogging on Let’s Go Ride a Bike today! It’s one of my daily reads. I recently came across these old photos and I think the girls and their bicycles are super chic!

Photos from Flickr: 1, 2, + here.

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Brownie on a Bike in San Diego

Hi. I go by “beany” online as I’m a bean counter. I’m a brownie who is car-free in San Diego and blog at Brown Girl in the Lane . While Dottie and Trish are off galavanting in France, eating the most delectable of meals and drinking the finest of wines, they have asked me to write a post for you. So here it is :)

I had the incredible pleasure of meeting Dottie and Trish in person earlier this year. It is easily one of the most memorable blogger meetings I’ve had because meeting women who ride a bicycle is harder than finding a pair of shoes that I want. Meeting women who genuinely love riding and ride for the sheer pleasure of riding, like I do? Well, that’s much harder than…fixing a flat in the worst of all possible ghettos in sub zero temperatures, in a hail storm while trying not to dirty a nail. In other words, a very rare occurrence in my world.

This post is a brief-ish history of my love affair with riding a bicycle.

Me and my cousin at age 5

I first began riding when I was around five years old.  My father bought me a red colored bicycle that had a banana seat and came with training wheels. To say that that bicycle became an obsession would be an understatement. My bicycle was parked close to my bed and I rode it every day  and soon graduated to riding a two wheeler like a proper cyclist would.

My bicycle became a constant and steady companion. It was how I was able to explore the city of eight million that I grew up in. My bicycle was my ticket to freedom, exploration and with it an incredible feeling of utter exhilaration. Riding through the city began to define how I viewed the world. Everything seemed possible and doable when I was out riding. It was on a saddle (or banana seat) that I was able to sort out the jumble of thoughts and contemplate about things I thought were worth contemplating over.

In my late teens, I moved to the U.S. where I found myself living in a suburb of Philadelphia. It was there that I realized the futility of relying on others for rides or the shoddy public transit system. I also disliked living in a small town. I thrive on the energy that is found in cities. So I began to date a man in Philadelphia who would one day become my husband. My dates with him all revolved around a lengthy bike ride ending at a good bar and grill. Thankfully, he rode because he loved to ride and rode everywhere. But he was unhappy living on the East Coast and wanted to fulfill a lifelong dream of living by the Pacific Ocean. I agreed to move and convinced him to make the move to the West Coast…by bicycle.

And that was what we did. We got rid of everything we owned and got ourselves touring bikes and panniers and headed west.

I would state that teddy bears provide much more visibility that wearing neon would. Because, who would want to run over a teddy bear?

This was how, in late 2008, we found ourselves in San Diego. San Diego seemed like a nice enough city so we decided to make this city our home. I found that I had become a very different person than the one who had left Philadelphia. The weeks of repeated riding had made me fall deeper in love with riding. Whereas in Philadelphia I found myself only riding because I had, in San Diego I soon found myself extending my commute daily, going out for a ride for no real purpose besides for the sheer thrill of riding.

I moved further away from my job to extend my commute. I began frequenting a farmers market located further way to have a longer ride. This was craziness. Especially in a place where the love affair with the automobile is practically a law.

But here I am. Living in a automobile-saturated culture without ever having owned an automobile. Life here without an automobile is the furthest thing from a hardship, for me. With perfect weather to be experienced every single day, the last place I want to be is boxed up in an automobile. The only place I’d rather be is on my saddle: riding, exploring, discovering and falling in love with the world around me every single day.

Visit the awesome Beany and her wickedly funny musings at Brown Girl in the Lane.

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Emotional Bicycle

Today’s beautiful guest post is from Velouria of Lovely Bicycle, who really needs no introduction.

Earlier this month I tried to sell one of my bicycles – a vintage mixte that I no longer need because a new one has been custom built for me. I say “tried,” because in the end I could not go through with it and decided to keep it. There were just too many emotions tied to this bicycle, too many personal experiences associated with it.

If there is anything I have learned in my year and a half of cycling, it is that a bicycle is more than just a bicycle. When cycling is a part of everyday life, our bicycles become integrated into our memories of everything meaningful and exciting that happens to us. Over time, the bicycle attains the intimate, emotional features of the events and memories it represents.

When I look at my old aqua blue mixte, I see more than just a bike. I see winding paths with overarching trees, I see sunsets over the river, I see the endless sand dunes of Cape Cod, I see familiar Boston street scenes changing with the seasons, and I see events of the past unfolding around me. Those are all things this bicycle allowed me to experience in a new and unique way, and the experiences will always be associated with it.

Some will say that it is foolish to form attachments to objects. After all, it is experience that matters. But experience is fleeting, and since the dawn of time people have sought to keep mementos of meaningful events – something to look at or touch, that would evoke a welcome memory of a favourite moment. Whether we realise it or not, I think for many of us the bicycle plays this role.

Visit the enchanting and informative bicycle world of Velouria at Lovely Bicycle.

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Joy Ride

Mr. Dottie and I did not leave town for this American holiday weekend, but the city can be beautiful and relaxing if approached with a fresh eye.  When we woke up early Saturday to a bright, clear and crisp 51 degree morning, we headed straight for our bikes.  A leisurely ride along the lakefront and through a butterfly sanctuary was the perfect start to the weekend.

This was a true joy ride.  The weather was perfect and I was excited to don tights for the first time of the season. Goodbye, Summer! I’ll miss you in December, but for now I’m ready for autumn.

How are you spending the holiday?

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Accepting Fault

No one likes to be wrong. Some take this so far that they automatically refuse to accept fault, even if they make a mistake that endangers another. During my ride home on Tuesday, I experienced two opposite reactions from drivers in this situation.

1) As I took my turn riding through a four-way-stop intersection, a BMW perpendicular to me went through at the same time. The driver eventually saw me and slammed on his brakes. Immediately he threw up his hands, as if to say, “Not my fault! Not sorry! Screw you!” Then he drove off.

2) Fve minutes later, as I was riding in the bike lane, a sedan in front of me suddenly pulled to the right to nab a parking spot.  I had time to stop and yell, “Bike!” The driver slammed on the brakes, then completed the parking maneuver. As I passed, the driver opened the car door and called out, “I am SO sorry!” I gave her a wave and replied, “It’s okay,” even though it really wasn’t.  She sounded so distraught, I almost felt sorry for her.

This is my "give me a break" look (clean version)

Both situations were unsafe and whether a driver accepts fault does not change that fact.  But it sure does make me feel better about the world!  What has your experience been?

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Another side of biking safety

Chicago is a big city, which presents some unique challenges when bike commuting. Usually, heavy traffic is the biggest problem, but sometimes – rarely – the problem is dangerous people.

Greg (Mr. Dottie) is working in the far suburbs this week, so yesterday morning he rode his bike to Union Station, took the train and on the other end rode his bike to the worksite. While still in Chicago, almost to Union Station, he was stopped at a red light behind a cab when a goth-looking street guy with a big cart walked into the road to his left. The guy asked him if he was an undercover cop and then started ranting that no one was going to stop him from getting to Detroit.

Greg was boxed in on three sides by the guy, the cab and the curb. The light turned green, but the cab did not move, probably watching what was going on behind him. The guy was still more than an arm-length’s away and before he could get closer, Greg started backing up to turn his bike around. Just then the guy pulled out a knife, the cab finally moved forward and Greg rode off, informing the police of the guy when he got to Union Station.

Downtown Chicago is rarely dangerous, but there is crime. Although my initial reaction is “never ride in that area early in the morning again,” Greg’s reaction is, “never stop for a red light behind a car in that area again.” Also, be aware of your surroundings, don’t give anyone the benefit of the doubt, and don’t let anyone get near you. Although someone on a bike is less protected than someone in a car, at least it’s usually easier for a bicyclist to get away.

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