Tag Archives: car-free

Looking Back on Winter 2012-13

Five!  That’s how many Chicago winters I have biked through.  I counted over and over because five seems too high, but my math is correct.

Biking through my first winter, 2008-09, seemed so dramatic – I was amazed at my achievement. That was a particularly snowy winter, and I biked through all kinds of extreme weather to prove to myself that I could.

My second, third and fourth winters all seem like a blur now (except I distinctly remember bicycling the day after the great 2011 blizzard!), but it’s all documented in the LGRAB archives.

This winter started not so great, but I did not let that stop me.  And there was soon cheerful news, as Chicago celebrated the installation of its first downtown protected bike lane.

There were some seriously freezing days, when I was very thankful for my hand and toe warmers.  But many of the days were sunny and not too extremely cold.

wore skirts and dresses almost every day, along with tights, of course.

Most of all, I took time to appreciate the unique beauty of biking through winter.

 Now I am ready for spring!

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How about you – did you bike through winter?  Was it your first time?  What stands out to you the most, looking back?

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Indian Summer

I continue to enjoy fall the best way possible: by bicycle. These days, the lakefront trail is even more beautiful than usual.

To accompany the beauty of the season, I’ll share with you one of my favorite songs, Indian Summer, instead of a poem this time.

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Video: Cycling Chicago’s Lakefront Trail

I ended the year on Saturday with a ride downtown along the Lakefront Trail with my friend Elizabeth.  Here’s a little video of cycling the Lakefront Trail heading south. I’m riding my Betty Foy and Elizabeth occasionally pops up with a santa hat on her helmet. The video is sped up by 150% and the song is by The Moonlighters from Free Music Archive.

You can see that the car-free trail is a very nice route, especially when it’s not crowded. I would take this route to work every day if it were a little more conveniently located for me.

Happy New Year!

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A New Red Coat on the Bike Path

Bright red seems like the best color for city cycling, getting drivers’ attention while still looking stylish off the bike. Chic, classic, and bold.

For this reason, I’ve been searching for the perfect red coat for two years, especially since seeing this post on Copenhagen Cycle Chic. Yesterday, the miraculous happened: I finally found “my” red coat. I was walking through Anthropologie during my lunch break, which I often do to torture myself because I usually can’t afford their beautiful clothes, when I spotted this unique red trench for half off.

Everything about the coat is perfect for me. The bright red “hi-vis” color. The classic trench styling. The length. The cinched waist with a bow.

And the laced back! Just the kind of quirky, personal touch I love.

Best of all, the coat will get me through three Chicago seasons: fall and spring over whatever I happen to be wearing, winter with a cashmere or wool sweater and my lightweight windbreaker underneath. There’s a nice lining that makes it a bit more substantial than the usual trench.

Plus, the red matches my other Oma accessories.

I also purchased something else on sale that I’ve been searching for: a digital camera. I wanted an affordable compact camera with manual controls and sharp photos, which I found in the Panasonic Lumix LX-5. I love shooting film, but for blogging purposes digital is faster and cheaper.  I (and my huge gloved hands) will be able to post more daily photos of my commute, more quickly. Yay!

Moving beyond consumerism to talk about actual biking, I had a lovely commute this morning.  I took the Lakefront Trail for the first time in a while.  I’m going to make a video of this route (with HD video on my new camera!) because it’s so beautiful.

Pure bliss = rolling on Oma down the quiet trail, listening to Jill Scott, enjoying the sun in my face and the wind at my back. Makes me wonder why I ever bother riding to work among car traffic.

Now is the best time of year to bike the trail – the crowds have left, but ice is not yet encroaching from the lake.

The weather today is suddenly colder, in the low-20′s. Winter is pushing its way through, slowly but surely. At least I have my red coat. :)

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Appreciating Late Fall

The past two days have been rainy and super windy, so I’ve taken public transportation. The L train is no fun compared to my bikes, but I’m grateful for its convenience when needed. The combination of bicycling and access to great public transportation is what allows me to live without a car

Happily, today is sunny and dry, although 39 degrees – brrr.

I’ll not complain about fall weather too much, because I know what’s coming.

Gotta remember to appreciate the present.  Happy Friday!

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Temporarily car-free in Nashville, Tennessee

So for the past month, after the car accident I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been car-free here in Nashville.

Living in a city that makes only the barest of nods to public transportation, I’d always assumed that being without a car would be a terrible hardship, even though I already rely on my bicycle for most neighborhood trips. Some of my fears turned out to be true and others, not as much. Here’s how a few of my preconceptions ended up playing out in reality.

I’d be limited on what I could do and where I could go.
True, but not to the extent that I had feared. I was able to bum a ride to events that were really important, or take a bus. I also tried out the bike/bus combo for the first time—overcoming my fear that my bike would fall off the rack at the front—and was amazed at how easy it was. That said, with an increased awareness of the energy and time expenditures to get somewhere, I found myself choosing to spend time (and money) in my own neighborhood more often.

My social life would suffer.
The past month has been quieter for me—but having to get most everywhere by bike has made me respect my human limitations and not push myself to do things when I feel sick or tired like I usually do. Surprisingly, being forced to slow down has been more relaxing than frustrating.

I’d be unable to see out-of-town family and friends.
Sadly, true—I missed out on seeing some good friends of mine a couple of weekends ago. (The Greyhound to my hometown takes about 7 hours, vs. 4 hours in the car, which means that taking it for a weekend is impractical. Rental cars are pretty pricey for a weekend.) This continues to be one of the biggest reasons for me to keep a car.

I won’t be able to do everyday things—shop for groceries, etc.
Again, sort of true. My local grocery is close but has crap (aka zero) bike parking, so it’s kind of a pain. I have tagged along with friends to the store a couple of times, which was nice when it came to buying milk, etc. I also found myself buying things at odd places that were for whatever reason more convenient (I’ve never bought milk at Walgreens before! Or butter from the Dollar General.). Random shopping trips just didn’t happen. I would say that was a good thing since I saved some money, but I’m pretty sure I made up for it by buying stuff online. There were some errands I put off while I didn’t have a car, like going to the bank, but then again I do that anyway.

More to come on the response from others, and my own feelings about the experience, but this post is getting pretty long. I know there are others in mid-sized cities, and others here in Nashville, who don’t drive. What has your experience been like? What were your fears about being without a car and how did you deal with them?

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Why I Ride a Bike

The weather is warm and sunny, the flowers are blossoming, and the traffic is calm on my quiet side street route. Riding my bike is so much nicer than squeezing onto the L train or being trapped in a car.




Even if the rest of my day is not so great, at least I know that I will enjoy my commute to and from work. (Even if I cut my head off with my self-timed photos :)) That’s why I ride my bike. Most assume it’s an environmental or health statement, but those factors are secondary to having a happy commute. If it were not enjoyable, I would not do it.

Why do you ride a bike?

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The Art of Enjoying the Ride

The summer heat has (temporarily?) given way to cooler air – 61 degrees this morning! It’s the perfect time to enjoy a refreshing ride on Chicago’s Lakefront Trail.

The fresh air off Lake Michigan, scenic views of the skyline, and escape from city traffic combine to make the trail the most pleasant way to get downtown.

As summer winds down, don’t forget to stop to smell the roses and take the long way home.

If you are lucky enough to have such a beautiful route option, why would you not take it, at least every now and then? Although it’s slower, time enjoyed is never time wasted.

So in this last month of summer, remember that biking in the city is not only about efficiency, but also about feeling good and appreciating the little things in life.

{This post is dedicated to Mr. Dottie, who never takes the long sloooooow way home, unless I’m with him. ;)}

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Bike to Work Week!

Last week was Bike to Work Week in Chicago. We celebrate it later than the rest of the country, waiting until June to make sure it does not snow. :)

I volunteered at an Active Transportation Alliance commuter pit stop one morning. The stop offered free coffee and Clif bars, various swag, tune-ups and general encouragement.  I mostly just stood around chatting with friends, though.

This particular pit stop was co-hosted by The Chainlink and REI.

Julie of The Chainlink worked the megaphone with great enthusiasm and cuteness.

People signed their names to a petition to support more protected bike lanes in Chicago, part of Active Trans’s new and exciting Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign.

My friend Sara happened to ride by on her way to work, looking naturally fabulous.  Hello!

And other office cycle chic peeps rolled by.

After a demanding morning of gabbing and drinking free Caribou coffee, I set off for the office myself.

I’m a fan of Bike to Work Week. Some people criticize the focus on commuting, while others proclaim it should be “bike to work week every week,” but the directed outreach seems to encourage new people to try transportation cycling. In fact, I first biked to work during the official Bike to Work Week three years ago.  It would be interesting to see statistics comparing the amount of bike commuters the week before, the week of, and the week after the event.

Was anyone else inspired by Bike to Work Week or a similar event as a newbie?  Do you have any co-workers who became interested in commuting after hearing about the event?

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Wedding Anniversary Bike Date

Earlier this week, Greg and I celebrated our 7 year wedding anniversary in a typical way for us: eating, drinking and bicycling. I ended up working late and took the fastest and most direct route from downtown to Lincoln Square. By the time I got to the restaurant (Mrs. Murphy and Sons Irish Bistro) I was sweaty and amped from all the traffic, but after freshening up quickly in the ladies’ room, I felt great. Although for the life of me, I could not find my comb (don’t you hate it when that happens?). Having a date who also bikes everywhere and knows the deal is helpful. :)

The first dish pictured above is macaroni and cheese bites over goat cheese fondu. Yes, it was delicious and the start of a two hours of yumminess.

Okay, so this bike date was really just about the food and drinks. To see lots of bike dates that actually focus on bicycling, check out Simply Bike’s Bike Date Series. One of my goals this summer is to do a proper bike date for the series.

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Enjoying the Springtime Scenery

Now that flowers are finally blooming everywhere in Chicago, I’m totally enjoying the gorgeous springtime scenery during my bike commutes. Although winter scenery is beautiful in its own weird way and autumn leaves are striking, spring wins the scenery contest hands down. As long as its not raining.

Unfortunately, for the second year in a row, I have allergies in the form of a terribly scratchy throat and itchy sinuses. I never had allergies before last year. But I’m still happy to be surrounded by flowers.

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Cupcake Attack!

My bike commutes this week have been lovely, happy and above-freezing. Spring is around the corner! I can feel it in my bones, this morning’s flurries notwithstanding.

On the way home today, Betty Foy made me stop for cupcakes in celebration of the season. She is bossy. ;)

I then munched an entire fairy cake whilst standing outside.

Cupcake attack!

At $2.25 each, these sweet treats are a bargain compared to oil. What’s your fuel of choice?

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Is Bicycling Political?

Old photo chosen for the red, white and blue

WBEZ asks this question and Julie Hochstadter answers.  For those of you who are not from Chicago, brief introductions: WBEZ is my beloved Chicago Public Radio, Julie is co-owner of The Chainlink and all-around awesome woman.

Julie’s take on the question: basically, bicycling is a political statement even if you don’t intend it to be because you’re doing something out of the norm.  Also, you’re saving the world.  ;)  But bicycling is also fun, practical, safe and fast.

I cannot embed the story, so read and listen here. The audio is only 3 minutes long.

What do you think: is bicycling political?

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Precious Cargo Fail

What I learned today: 24 bottles of beer can fall from a bike rack in transit and not break.

Tis true.

The heavy cardboard box of Two Brothers brew I strapped to Oma’s rear rack crashed to the pavement as I peddled out of the Costco parking lot. I have successfully biked home with cases of beer in the past, but the problem here was that I could not center the box on the rack because my full pannier had to clip on the left side, so the box was flush on the left side but hanging over quite a bit on the right side. Bad idea. I know this now.

After I thanked the barley gods that the bottles did not break, I repositioned the box in the center of my rear rack, placed the pannier on top of my filled basket, hung a bag from my handlebars, and proceeded to walk my haphazardly loaded bike home, one mile in the misty sleet, mumbling cuss words under my breath.

I really needed a beer by the time I got home, which was convenient.

That was pretty much the perfect end to a difficult week.

A bright spot in the past seven days, though, was a happy hour with some of the women who bike and brunch – and drink! Good times. I did not have my camera, but Ash came through with her phone as she and I prepared to ride home in the wet snow.

Ash and her Batavus Old Dutch

Me and Oma

The happy hour and Darcy’s – I mean, Colin Firth’s – best actor win were the highlights of the week.

Here’s to hoping this coming week is better.

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Valentines Via Velo

Someone asked me last week if I had any bikey Valentine’s Day plans with Mr. Dottie. I answered, “No, we’re just going to dinner at our favorite French restaurant, Bistrot Margot.”

Then I thought for a second and amended that answer with, “Well, of course, we’ll be riding our bikes there.”

Bicycling is such an ingrained part of our lives – it’s always there somewhere. But unlike driving or taking public transit, biking is not simply another mundane transportation option. It’s fun and adds something special to every occasion!

For this reason, I would say that our little French dinner was a bikey Valentine’s Day, with bicycling being the perfect aperitif (to stimulate the appetite) and digestif (to aid in digestion).

Of course, fancy truffles and flowers are always welcome, too. :)

But above all – bike love!

P.S. February 14 is long gone and so are all those truffles!

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Bicycling on the Coldest Day

After whining about winter on Monday, I left my bike at home and took the L train to work two days in a row. That sounds ridiculous in hindsight – two days in a row – but I really needed a short break from winter biking. The trick to enjoying life on two wheels is not to make bicycling feel like an obligation. As such, on the rare occasions when I feel burned out, I back off. By this morning, I was champing at the bit to get back in the saddle (uh, too many mixed horse metaphors?).

Sure, the temperature was the lowest of the year at -6F with -25 wind chills, but after conquering arctic air three weeks ago, I’m no longer intimidated.

Seriously, I simply threw on an extra layer of wool, wrapped a scarf around my face, tucked warming packs in my boots and mittens, and the ride was perfectly fine.  Full outfit: tweed skirt, wool leggings, blouse, wool sweater, puffy down vest, wool socks, snow boots, hat, scarf, mittens, sunglasses. The biggest difference between today and any other Chicago winter day is that my sinuses got really dry.

The feeling of being back on my bike was exhilarating. I felt like myself again. You know how they say absence makes the heart grow fonder? That is certainly the case with me and my bikes, especially when the alternative is a slow and crowded L train (though that’s still way better than driving).

One weird thing about the ride was that my bike felt exaggeratedly slow and heavy, the pedaling like churning rich butter.  By the time I arrived at work, my body was more fatigued than usual.  Talking with Mr. Dottie later, I learned that he had the same experience this morning on his vintage Raleigh.

Does anyone know what would cause this?  I have a few different theories: the arctic wind (doubtful because I’ve experienced stronger – but not as cold – Chicago wind without the same affect); the extreme cold did something weird with our bodies; the extreme cold did something weird with our cranks/gear hubs.  Thoughts?

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Post-Blizzard Bike Ride Details

Yesterday I posted pictures I took while playing in the blizzard and I mentioned my bike ride the day after the storm. Here is a detailed account of that ride and a look at the blizzard’s not-so-pretty aftermath.

After pulling Oma out of the garage and into the alley, I began doubting my decision to ride my bike one day after 20 inches of snow poured down on Chicago.

The condition of the first street I came upon did not increase my self-confidence.

However, I had a plan to take arterial streets that I usually avoid due to scary car traffic. I knew they would be plowed and a bit calmer than usual, and I was right.

Once I reached my destination, I just had to find a parking spot…

This bike called dibs way earlier. I’d say he earned it.

Luckily I found a bike rack that was not totally consumed by snow.

Once on foot, I realized that bicycling in the road was much easier than walking down un-shoveled sidewalks.

Well, except for streets like this one. The side streets still had a ridiculous amount of snow.

Want some?

Overall, the ride was a pretty low-key adventure. My intimate familiarity with the area, bicycling confidence and studded tires helped the situation. For sure, I was happy to return home at sunset, safe and sound and feeling a little bad ass.

Today I biked 10 miles roundtrip to work, plus a couple of miles during lunch, plus a few more miles tonight to see the Decemberists play a live show (so good!). The rides were more stressful and obstacle-course-like than usual, especially when some [censored] honked at me, but enjoyable nevertheless.

Now what’s that news story about a groundhog seeing his shadow?

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After the Blizzard

Starting Tuesday evening, 20 inches of snow fell in 24 hours.  Here’s what it looked like yesterday:

My work closed yesterday and today – I didn’t know Chicago ever had snow days!  By this afternoon,  I was itching to get out of the house and do something.  This was my agenda:

  • Movie theater to watch Blue Valentine
  • Thrift store where I scored a beige jersey dress with two big horses printed on the skirt
  • Record store to look for the new Decembrists on vinyl (no luck)
  • Bookstore to buy my fave magazine, Lula
  • Drug store to drop of film for developing

Luckily, all of these businesses had re-opened already.  I opted to ride my bike, not from a sense of adventure, but because it made the most sense.

I wanted to get to a certain area and didn’t want to walk 3 miles roundtrip or deal with public transportation.  The ride was fine.  While the side streets are drowned in snow, the main routes have been plowed and cars were nice enough while going around me.

Pretty cool, right?  I enjoyed my first blizzard.  :)

How’s everyone else dealing with the weather?

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Winter Cycling to the Shakespeare Theater

My love for Chicago is largely based on bike-ability and access to culture.  I try to take advantage of these as much as possible and, as a result, my favorite activity is cycling to see a play at the Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier.  This always makes for a lovely Saturday: 12 miles of bicycling, a stop at the bar for a bourbon, and an imaginative and original Shakespeare production.

On this particular Saturday, going to see As You Like It, the Chicago weather was on my side: a temperature of 32 degrees felt nice in comparison to usual winter temps.  My outfit of jeggings (oh yes, I bought jeggings – and I love them!), long wool sweater, and tall boots kept me warm. I was able to ride along the Lakefront path most of the way, diverting to the inner Lakeshore Drive for the stretch that is not plowed.

It’s a good thing that we love to cycle to Navy Pier because getting there otherwise is a pain. Public transportation to the Pier is not direct, requiring two L trains and a trolley from my place, while parking is at least $25 for a couple of hours (not that I have a car to park).

Navy Pier during the winter has an isolated and slightly Kafkaesque mood that I love.

That’s why I love going to the Shakespeare Theater so much. Not only for the excellent productions, but for the time spent cycling there and back along the car-free Lakefront, as well as the time meandering down the Pier – a combination of my favorite parts of Chicago.

I have a long history of cycling to the Shakespeare Theater, which you can read about in the following posts:

With Jennifer from Scotland
Almost exactly one year ago
Through the rain
Shortly after acquiring Betty Foy
Almost exactly two years ago
One of my first LGRAB posts

Where is your favorite place to cycle?

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My Arctic Air Bike Commute

I did it!  I biked to work 10 miles roundtrip with temperatures as low as -4F and a windchill as low as -20F.  As far as I’m concerned, any of you could do the same – and I know some of you have already.  All it takes is a positive attitude, an adventurous spirit and a few extra accessories.  If you put the time into preparation and hype yourself up enough to pull your bike out, everything else should be a piece of cake.

My ride felt similar to any other cold winter ride I’ve experienced this winter.  The biggest difference was that the air was very cold on my face, which I usually leave uncovered.  I ended up pulling my scarf up to my nose and then pulling it down intermittently to breath comfortably.

Important extra accessories:

  • Warming packs in my mittens and boots.  I never would have made it without these because my fingers and toes get extremely cold.
  • Safety glasses, a cheap pair I swiped from my husband’s work pile.  I need these to cover my eyes, which are very sensitive and water easily.
  • A scarf wrapped around my face.

With those extra accessories in place, my usual winter wardrobe would have worked fine.  However, I got so paranoid by the local news, I ignored my own experience and common sense and layered like crazy.  I wore capeline leggings under flannel-lined khakis, a slim wool shirt under a wool sweater under a long down parka, earmuffs under a wool hat under a helmet.  Too much, Dottie!  No part of me was cold, which is good, but I was so hot and itchy.  When I arrived at the office, sweat was rolling down my back and my hair was damp.  The parka was way overkill.  Lesson learned.

Overall, I consider the experience a success.  I’ll never be afraid of Chicago arctic blasts again.

Thanks so much to everyone for your helpful and encouraging comments! I don’t think I would have done it without your support and priceless advice.

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