Tag Archives: commute

Goodbye, Summer Crowds

Now that Labor Day is behind us, the crowds are starting to thin out on the Lakefront Trail. I’ve avoided the trail most of the summer because dodging hundreds (thousands?) of other trail users is not my idea of fun. I plan to take the trail much more often during the fall, when I can relax and enjoy the crowd-free and car-free goodness.

I have missed the beautiful view of Lake Michigan and the fresh air that comes off it. So far early fall has been perfect in Chicago – hopefully we’ll have at least two good months before winter begins.

In other news, a new bike joined my household today! The bike is Mr. Dottie’s, which is good because he loved to tease me about our 3-to-1 bike ownership ratio. I wonder if anyone can guess what kind of bike he bought. Hint: it’s not the same brand as any of mine.

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A Sorry Excuse for a Bike Route

One of the most popular and vital bike routes from downtown Chicago to neighborhoods on the north side is Lincoln Avenue. I’ve read that 25-40% of the rush hour traffic on Lincoln is people on bikes. I certainly see lots of bicyclists along the way.

One day last week I decided to take this route to work, since I was on a tight schedule and Lincoln Avenue is by far the most direct and quickest route. Perhaps I have been spoiled by my super long and winding but super calm route of side-streets, but I was appalled by the situation on Lincoln Avenue. The cars sped from red light to red light, the huge intersections were like gladiator trials for bicyclists and pedestrians, car doors flung open left and right, buses heaved, and large trucks blocked the bike lanes on every block.

At one point, I was going straight through an intersection with a green light and a driver turned left riiiight in front of me. I looked at him in horror and saw that he was holding a document up in front of his face, reading it. What the what?!? And last Friday, my husband was side-swiped by a driver who veered into the bike lane. His pannier bore the brunt of the impact (with a big mark to show for it) and he was able to keep his bike upright. The driver had the decency to stop, apologize, and ask if he was alright, but maybe drivers could LOOK FIRST?? Pretty simple.

I don't *think* I'm invisible

Greg is definitely visible

All this on a popular marked bike route, which is a joke (on us bicyclists). Despite the fact that people on bikes make up a substantial amount of the traffic, all we get is a strip of paint dangerously close to parked cars and some sharrows.

Door zone

Our beautiful bike lanes

If Chicago is going to be anything near a world-class bicycling city, this key route from the northside to downtown must be improved. While a buffered or protected bike lane would be the bees freakin’ knees, I know that will not happen. I would be content with colored bike lanes that extend through intersections, bike boxes at stop lights, fewer potholes, red light cameras, enforcement of cars parked in bike lanes, and attention-getting signage*. Such improvements should not be an afterthought. If a street is not safely servicing up to 40% of its daily users, the street is a failure.

Until then, I’ll be on the side streets, getting to work 15 minutes later but in a much better mood. And here, hoping that loud complaints will somehow beget real change.

*Something like, ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO FLING OPEN YOUR CAR DOOR WHEN YOU HAVE NOT LOOKED TO SEE IF THAT ACTION WILL KILL ANYONE??????? I’m just brainstorming here, but you get the idea.

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Lady Rivendells in the Wild

Although there are thousands of interesting bicycles in Chicago, I almost never see any bikes like mine – Rivendell, WorkCycles or Velorbis. In the past week, I had the good luck to spot two Rivendells and speak with their owners. As expected, women who ride Rivendells are super cool.

The first was Rachel. I locked my bike next to hers while stopping for an afternoon cupcake. I was admiring her Honjo fenders and Brooks saddle, but I did not realize it was a Rivendell until she came up and we started talking. Apparently, her frame was a prototype that combined two of their regular models…I think. Something like that. You can see that it says “Protovelo” on the front. Very interesting!

Rachel and her Rivendell

Two Rivendells

The second was Cara. As I biked down the Lakefront Trail on my Betty Foy in the morning, I spotted her and her Betty Foy. Of course, I had to come to a screeching halt to drool over the bike’s build. Check out the cream tires and leather wrapped bars. Mmmmm, lovely! Luckily, she knew of this blog, which helped me to not come off like a crazy stranger lady. Hopefully :)

Cara and her Rivendell Betty Foy

Beautiful Betty Foy

Spotting these lovely bikes (and bicyclists!) was a real treat. Fun to find some kindred spirits out there.

Betty Foy and Me

Does anyone else get excited when seeing a bike like their own in the wild?

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Fan-tastic

This is a post about a fan.  F-A-N.  Other corny title options: #1 Fan, Office Fan-tasy, Fan-cy Pants.  So feel lucky you got the title you got.

As I’ve mentioned before, Chicago summers can be brutally hot.  At least for a few weeks.  Long enough to make me miss winter a little bit.

During those hot weeks, I wear gym-type clothes during my commute (not that I ever step foot in a gym, but you know what I mean).  I sweat a lot, so wearing proper work clothes is a bad idea.

summer heat commuting outfit

When I get to the office, I change into my skirts and suits.  Until last month, I had to use an Action Wipe or something similar to cool down with before changing.

That’s before I got my fan.

A colleague, who happens to work for facilities, noticed me fanning myself with a sad piece of paper after arriving to work and later magically appeared with a sleek floor fan.

sorta like this one

Since then, the fan has been stationed next to my desk. I turn it on first thing in the morning. After 3 minutes in front of the fan, I am 95% better, no action wipe needed. It’s pretty amazing. And then 15 minutes later the fan is off and I’m wrapped in my pashmina because the air conditioning in the building is so cold.

How do you cool down in the summer? Anyone else discover the power of the fan?

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Summer Treats

As the heatwave continues, I find it’s a good idea to treat myself on the way home every now and then. Keeps morale up.

My usual indulgence is a stop at the grocery store for a cold six-pack or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s (Americone Dream!), but recently I kicked it up a notch. Mr. Dottie and I met at a French bistro for dinner on our way home from work in the middle of the week. Dripping with sweat and hauling our panniers and helmets, we were too excited about the delicious aromas to care whether we fit in with the other patrons.

Here was my reward for biking through a heat wave. Bread, butter and a lillet blonde – parfait! :)

Additional rewards: mussels in white wine, coq au vin, creme brulee. Hells yeah. That certainly gave me the motivation to make it through another sweaty bike commute.

I hope you’re treating yourself! And don’t forget to drink lots of beer water to stay hydrated! ;)

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This means I’m turning!

Before I get to the main point of this post, let me mention that I was thwarted from riding my bike today.  Last night a severe storm knocked out power for about 18 hours.  No electricity meant my garage door opener would not work and my bike was trapped inside (a detached garage).  That’s something I never considered before.  I guess there’s some sort of mechanical opener on the inside, but figuring all that out early in the morning was beyond me.  So I took the L train instead.  Boo.

And now for something completely different.

Bike Snob recently mentioned (which means made fun of)  a Kickstarter project for creating a turning signal bike glove.  While the idea of a bike turning signal is…interesting, I prefer to use old fashioned hand signals that no one understands.  When I feel like increasing visibility, lately I’ve been using this slap bracelet that came in my bike-to-work week goodie bag.

That’s right – slap bracelet.  Remember those?

Makes me think of Smurfs and Fruity Pebbles.

When I’m not wearing the slap bracelet, I keep it slapped on the handle of my pannier.  I’m not really big on neon, but this thing is so easy and increases my false sense of security, so I haven’t found a reason not to carry it.

Do you do anything to make your turning intentions more visible?

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In Search of the Most Peaceful Commute

While I wait for Chicago to be covered in gloriously safe bike infrastructure, I have to work with what I’ve got. As some mentioned in the comments to yesterday’s post, small side streets can provide a calm and safe way to travel through the city – no special bike infrastructure needed. Using such routes to get from one place to another may require practice, familiarity and extra time, but it can be well worth the trouble for those who value peacefulness above efficiency.

Over the past two years, when it no longer made sense to take the car-free Lakefront Trail on a regular basis due to the location of my new office, I have been adjusting my 5-mile commute route from the efficiency side of the scale to the peacefulness side of the scale.

Happy to be cycling on Chicago's peaceful side streets this week

I started with the most obvious and direct bikeable route: a left and a right and I was there (Lincoln to Wells). Most of the ride consisted of a diagonal street with either sharrows or bike lanes the whole way, popular with both bikes and cars. Unfortunately, vehicle traffic moved quickly and there were lots of trucks, buses and giant six-way intersections.  After a while I grew tired of the traffic and aggression, such as drivers shouting at me to get out of the way or just generically being awful. The stress was really getting to me.

Looking for an alternative, it occurred to me last summer to sacrifice some efficiency and try taking slightly calmer streets. The new route amounted to a right, left, right, left and right, instead of a straight diagonal (basically, Southport to Armitage to Wells). I still had to deal with congestion, often riding down the bike lane past grid-locked vehicle traffic, but the cars moved considerably slower, the intersections were smaller, and the bike lanes more consistent.

This route served me well for a year, but lately I have been craving a more peaceful commute. Participating in the super calm Critical Lass rides helped me realize that Chicago has lots of small, tree-lined, neighborhood streets to ride, as long as one is willing to meander: these magically quiet streets have a tendency to end or become one-way suddenly. For the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with different side streets, backtracking and exploring a lot.

As of today, I’ve finally discovered The Calmest Route from My Neighborhood to My Office (patent pending). My route is now: right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left. That is no exaggeration: I typed while visualizing my ride with my eyes closed.

The difference in my stress level from my first commute route to my current commute route is night and day, with my current route being virtually stress-free. Of course, this comes at a cost. First, it takes about 10 minutes longer than more obvious route. Second, the potholes are especially bad on side streets. Third, this route probably won’t be an option during the winter, when side streets are neglected by snow plows. Finally, I have to be extra cautious at each block’s four-way stop sign because drivers in neighborhoods love to roll through stops, unless there’s another ton vehicle staring them down. Despite these costs, the calmness of the route is worth it to me.

I wish I’d thought of adjusting my route like this a long time ago, but I guess such a paradigm shift is obvious only in hindsight.

I know this kind of meandering commuting is not for everyone, but I’m curious: does anyone else seek out the most peaceful routes possible?

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Fresh Bike Commute

Even though I bike to the same office at the same time day after day, my commute rarely feels stale.  Either the city throws something new my way or I take it upon myself to try something new.  Today my bike commute was a mix of both.  I enjoyed fresh air, fresh bike lanes, fresh cupcakes and a fresh route.

The cool breeze made it comfortable to bike in my work clothes for a change.  It was nice to go straight to my office without stopping by the bathroom to change.

Along the way, I noticed that the bike lanes along a large section of my route were freshened up with new paint and decals.  They are much more noticeable now.  Turns out, the Alderman re-striped all the bike lanes in his ward by making the project a budget priority.  Nice!

On my way home, the siren song of  Sweet Mandy B’s lured me.  I just had to stop to get a cupcake.  Or two.  They did not last long.

After my massive sugar consumption, I continued my ride on super quiet side streets.  I’ve been experimenting with a complicated route of small streets the entire way to and from work.  More on this new route soon.

See?  Never a dull moment.  My life is full of action and adventure.  :)

Anything new and fresh going on with your bike commute?

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A Chicago Welcome Home Storm

This morning I was excited to jump back on my bike after a week’s vacation in North Carolina.  I set out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with the sun shining down on me.

A couple of miles into my ride, the air began to look strangely green.  Suddenly, all at once, the wind picked up massively, rain poured, lightening struck and thunder pounded.  A small branch fell down behind me.  It was freaky!

I was on a quiet neighborhood road and I started riding toward a bigger street in hopes of finding shelter at a coffee shop.  I didn’t get far before I had to dismount and scurry to the sidewalk.  I stood next to a wind-blocking building for about five minutes, getting soaked.  (Later I read the wind was up to 75 MPH.)  When the wind and rain did not let up, I scurried down the sidewalk to the end of the block, where I found a bank lobby to duck into (the bank was closed but the lobby was open for the ATM).  There I watched the downpour and lightening for 30 loooong minutes.

When the rain let up slightly, I decided to bike the 2 miles back home, drop off my bike, change clothes and take the L train to work.  I did not want to ride all the way to work downtown in the lightening.  I finally arrived at the office at 10:00 – a not-so-great way to start back after vacation.  Luckily, I have understanding co-workers.

I’ll take this morning’s “adventure” as a harsh reminder to CHECK THE WEATHER FORECAST BEFORE LEAVING.  Also, as a WELCOME HOME, SUCKER, from Chicago.

At least I’m not the only one who got stuck in the storm.  Anyone else get caught by surprise lately?  Nah, I’m sure you’re all way too smart for that.  :)

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Quick-Drying Outfits

For summer rainstorms, a quick-drying outfit is more important than a good raincoat. Who wants to wear a coat when it’s so hot outside? The sweat and humidity is worse than the rain. Ick.

I was wearing this outfit below last week when unexpected rain hit just as I left work. Five minutes into my ride, the rain stopped and the sun came out. I was pretty wet, not quite soaked, but by the time I got home 20 minutes later, I was completely dry. Very impressive quick-drying performance from my Patagonia skirt and top. I looked at the tag and they’re made of polyester. Boy, that fabric has come a long way since the 70’s.

As I set out for work yesterday morning, a sprinkle turned into a downpour, soaking me. I had to wring out my shirt after I locked my bike. Unfortunately, I was wearing Lululemon yoga capri pants and top. Despite laying them out to dry all day, they were still damp (and mildewy) at the end of the day. Whatever fabric those are made of is good for yoga movement, terrible for bike commuting in the rain. I chose to wear my office skirt and blouse for the ride home.

My shoes and riding gloves are still drying, too. I should stick to my Keen commuter sandals instead of regular sneakers for wet summer weather.

Funny how I’ve been bike commuting for three years and I’m still learning this stuff. ‘Cause I keep forgetting. :)

Who else forgoes typical rain gear in the summer? What kinds of clothes and accessories have you found best for quick-drying?

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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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Chicago’s “Crackdown” on Bicyclists

Last week, I logged onto the Chicago Tribune website and the headline proclaimed: Police Crackdown on Bicyclists: 240 Warnings, 1 Ticket.

That got the public’s attention. Readers left 340 comments on the article and recommended it on Facebook 1,000 times. The majority of the comments were ridiculously anti-bicyclist and rejoiced at the comeuppance.

And all of that is good. I’m totally cool with it.

Because the crackdown took place at the very intersection where the city is quickly constructing its first protected bike lane and bike box. NYC is experiencing an absurd “backlash” for its installation of protected bike lanes. Chicago is smartly working from the get-go to prevent that.

By conducting this crackdown, the city effectively countered the #1 instantaneous complaint drivers have about providing a safe place for people to cycle: that people on bikes don’t deserve anything because they do not follow traffic laws.

So maybe 1,000 people are cackling about cyclists on Facebook (probably from their iPhones while driving, but I digress). Awesome. I hope they spread the word far and wide that the police are enforcing traffic laws for bicyclists.

And really the “crackdown” consisted of bike cops and CDOT bike ambassadors thanking cyclists who stopped at the red light and educating cyclists who ran the red light. Another difference between NYC and Chicago is that Chicago’s crackdown may actually succeed in improving bicyclist, pedestrian, and driver safety, a difference that Bike Snob NYC noted. Bicyclists should stop at red lights and I wish more of them would.

I highly recommend watching this 1 minute news clip about the enforcement. Then tell me: crackdown? Not really, but please continue using that word with the masses, news media. Your hyperbolic headlines could only help.

What are your thoughts about bicycle “crackdowns” – are they ever a good thing? Where would you draw the line between educating cyclists and unfairly singling them out? Do you think “crackdowns” help with public opinion in support of safe cycling infrastructure?

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Chicago’s First Protected Bike Lane + Bike Box

Yesterday, while waiting at a red light on my bike, a woman with a baby on the back of her bike rolled up and stopped next to me. I waved and cooed to the baby until he smiled. Then his mother said, “Say hi,” and he did, flapping his chubby little hand, eyes shining under his helmet. The light turned green, she told me to go ahead and I told her to have a good day.

My friend Ash's daughter, whom I photographed last week. Not the baby I saw yesterday, but equally adorable.

In an ideal world, sweet meetings like that would happen all the time. In reality, I very rarely see anyone bicycling on Chicago streets with a child. Even as more and more people, men and women, start bicycling for transportation, the venture still seems risky to most. The only way to get a substantial amount of people to bicycle in the city, especially parents with children, is to provide safe, separated infrastructure. Chicago needs protected bike lanes.

For 3 years I have been bicycling in Chicago on a daily basis. During this time, I have seen how easily and cheaply the city’s streets could be adjusted to accommodate protected bike lanes. (Easy and cheap relative to all the other construction projects going on. I know all of Portland’s bike infrastructure was created for the same cost as one highway interchange). This knowledge left me perpetually frustrated, because no one with power in Chicago seemed to care, despite the fact that bicyclists make up ~1/4 of the traffic along my commute route.

This week, Chicago’s disgraceful apathy has ended. All in the past 3 days, new Mayor Emanuel announced the first protected bike lane, CDOT started construction, and the scheduled complete date is next week. The city’s first protected bike lane will be on Kinzie Avenue where it crosses Milwaukee Avenue, leading into downtown. Currently, bicyclists make up 22% of the traffic along this stretch.

There are a few different ways bike lanes can be “protected.”  For this project, the street pattern will follow this order: sidewalk, curb, bike lane, painted buffer zone, parallel car parking, motor vehicle travel lane. While visiting the construction site, Steven Can Plan noticed that they are also building a bike box (where bicyclists can wait in front of motor vehicles at red lights) and a bike-only left turning lane at a big intersection.  Those are also firsts for Chicago.

You can watch the Mayor’s press conference below:

View more videos at: http://www.nbcchicago.com.

[You have to sit through a car commercial before watching the press conference.]

Some choice quotes from Mayor Emanuel:

I want Chicago to be the bike friendliest city in the nation.

Speaking of the role bicycling plays in the city, he pointed out three factors for the future:

1) another means of transportation
2) people can do it with safety
3) as we attract businesses to Chicago, an integrated biking system to and from work is essential to the type of workers I want to see in the city of Chicago.

He noted that bicycling is:

Both an economic development essential tool and it adds to a quality of life that is essential to the city.

This particular project is only 1/2 a mile. But the Mayor announced that Chicago will build 100 MILES OF PROTECTED BIKE LANES OVER THE NEXT 4 YEARS!

Yes, you read that right: 100 miles of protected bike lanes.

Obviously, I am excited about these developments. My approval is conditioned on the city following through with its promises here, but for the first time since I started bicycling in Chicago 3 years ago, I’m seeing real and positive change.

I encourage everyone in Chicago to write the Mayor and thank him for his trailblazing support of safe bicycling infrastructure. Also, even more importantly, reach out to your Alderman to state your strong support for protected bike lanes and bike boxes. On June 21, I will attend an Active Trans Social with my Alderman Waguespack to voice my support. You can attend or organize a social in your neighborhood with the help of Active Trans.

{For much more detailed information on the Kinzie Avenue project, check out Steven Can Plan. He’s been doing an excellent job of reporting on this project and others around the city.}

{For more information about cycling with children, check out Kidical Mass.}

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Summer Geek Gear

Summer heat has finally come to Chicago. Although fresh summer cycling is possible, especially if I ride super slowly, with temperatures in the 80’s F, riding in gym clothes is now easier than riding in work clothes. This week I traded my chic suits and tweed skirts for geeky bike commuter gear.

I described my full “LGRAB team kit” last year and this summer it’s pretty much the same, albeit with new sunglasses (am I the only one who always loses sunglasses?).

When I arrive at work, I pop into the ladies room and freshen up with an Action Wipe before putting on my work clothes.

But – oops! On Wednesday I totally forgot to carry a change of work clothes with me! I rifled through my office and unearthed a wrinkled blouse and skirt that had been waiting for a trip to the dry cleaners. Crisis averted, although I looked like a ragamuffin all day.

Getting into the routine of packing extra clothes will require an adjustment period. :)

Has anyone else changed their bike commuting routine for the summer (or winter, for Aussies out there)?

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A Lovely Bike Commute?

My bike commutes this week have been lovely, full of sunshine and flowers and blue skies.  That’s what I was thinking, anyway…

Then I read Sam’s “Bike to Work Week” post, which is hilarious (as always), but sadly too true.  You gotta read the post yourself, but basically it has me wondering how lovely my bike commutes really are – objectively.

I have so much experience riding in the city now, the stress mostly rolls off my back: speeding SUVs buzzing me, car doors flung open in my path, cabs idling in the bike lane.  All of that craziness is a dim hum in the background for me, but a new bike commuter would be totally freaked out – and with good reason.

But there’s a lot to be said for sticking with bicycling long enough to get over those initial freak-outs.  Because, as Sam discusses, once you move beyond all that, bicycling “will be the most blissful state of existence you will ever know.”  That’s where I’m coming from when I rhapsodize about my lovely bike commutes every day.  Totally subjective.  :)


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The Lakefront Trail in Spring

When I got on my bike Friday morning, I made a last-minute decision to take the Lakefront Trail instead of my usual street route, since I was not feeling up to car traffic and was not in a rush.

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The Lakefront Trail in spring is totally different from the Lakefront Trail I wrote about in winter.

First, getting on the trail was a challenge, as recent thunderstorms created a moat in the underpass access. The water was very deep, so I backtracked up the ramp and biked three blocks south to the next access point, among heavy car and truck traffic merging onto Lakeshore Drive. Not my ideal route, but I managed safely by acting like a car and taking the lane.

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I was annoyed by the difficulty, since the whole point of riding the trail was to take it easy due to my illness. When Coco and I made it to the lakefront, though, my annoyance dissolved. The cool air was refreshing off Lake Michigan, a huge improvement from the hot-sun-on-blacktop feeling of the streets. Lots of people were out enjoying the beautiful Chicago morning.

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A couple of miles along, I encountered heavy trucks working on the trail. This was a pleasant surprise because they had paved over all the chunks of missing concrete and horrible craters that formed during the winter. Smooth sailing!

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I enjoyed my easy ride so much, I totally forgot I was sick until I tried to sing along to my fav Kate Nash song and couldn’t make it through one line without losing my breath. So it’s official: riding Coco slowly is less taxing than singing along to my iPod.

After emerging from the trail for the final 1.5 miles on downtown streets, I popped my helmet back on, blew my nose and said “cheese!” with Coco.

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Looking back on naive, Friday morning Dottie, I almost feel bad for her. She had no idea that she’d end up working late and then biking home along congested streets in a harsh headwind and temperatures that fell 30 degrees from the 70’s to the 40’s, without the benefit of gloves or earmuffs and with a hacking cough. But at least she could go home and sleep 12 hours, dreaming of her ideal Chicago spring morning ride.

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Bicycle Favoritism

Like a parent, I really can’t choose a favorite among my three bikes Oma, Betty and Coco. But I do go through periods when I heavily favor one over the others. Right now, it’s Betty’s time in the spotlight.

For the past month and a half, I’ve been riding Betty Foy exclusively. (April 7 was our 2-year anniversary!) I missed her so much during winter, as soon as the ice cleared and I got her tuned up, she became my ride of choice day after day. She’s so fun and breezy. I haven’t ridden Oma since the weather cleared two months ago because she still has studded tires and I hadn’t ridden Coco since…let me check the archives…March 31.

That changed on Wednesday, when I pulled Coco out for the day.

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And boy, am I glad I did! She’s a lovely bike and those Fat Frank tires are so cushy. I feel different when I’m perched atop her riding straight up. Once I break in the Brooks saddle, the comfort level will be perfection.

As for Oma – getting her studded tires swapped out is on my to-do list for this weekend. So Betty may have to take a back seat again for a while.

On another note, after all my talk of allergies, I finally went to a doctor yesterday and learned that I don’t have allergies at all (good!), but a two week virus (basically a bad cold). I plan to bike today even though I feel like crap because I can’t stand a second day on the L. (There’s a double meaning with “stand” – get it?)

Happy Friday!

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Blooming Bicyclists

If anyone got tired of me talking about snow during winter, prepare to get tired of me talking about flowers now. :) Seriously, check out these magnolias! How can this not make you happy?




Other than the severe allergies I’m suffering from, my bike commutes have been lovely. Today was the first bona fide hot day of the year. Bare legs, short sleeves and I still sweated. How novel.

Another novelty was the large number of bicyclists accompanying me. Yesterday at a stop light (North & Wells) I counted 12 of us. We are taking over. Very cool.

Bicyclists are blooming like flowers in Chicago! How about where you live?

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Unexpected Thunderstorms

Last weekend a friend asked me and Trisha what we do about thunderstorms, and we both agreed that we simply do not bike in them. However, that is a simplified, partially true statement. The full explanation is that I choose not to bike in the morning if, at the time of leaving, hard rain is actively falling or the forecast all but guarantees thunderstorms. I tend to ignore vague forecasts for the possibility of thunderstorms in the evening, because so many times when I started bike commuting, I was tricked into not biking when the weather was fine.

Which is how I now end up biking home in thunderstorms more than I would like.

My commute is long enough to give the weather ample time to change (30 minutes) but short enough that I feel okay pushing through bad weather. I wait out storms with thunder and lightening, but the most common scenario has me leaving work just before the sky opens up, and once I’m already on my bike, only the worst conditions could stop me. Otherwise, I push on through cautiously but assertively.

Such was the case last night.

Photo from last year. Imagine this, but dark.

Leaving a fundraiser benefit for my employer, the weather seemed fine, although the night sky was too dark to see clouds. Only after I biked half a mile did the rain suddenly start pouring. Thunder and lightening soon followed.

I was wearing an elegant black ensemble: a silk dress, blazer, tights and dress shoes.  I had a raincoat tied around my waist because my new dress became way too short on the bike (more about that later) and for visibility, not because I anticipated rain.  After the storm started, I considered pulling over to put the raincoat on, but did not want to lose momentum, so I continued all the way home as I was.  Of course, by the end of my commute, the storm had calmed to a drizzle. Arriving home, drenched and drowned-rat-esque, I immediately hung my clothes to dry and took a hot shower.  This morning, both the clothes and I are fine. My Po Campo bag, which is advertised only as water resistant, amazingly kept all of my contents safe and dry.

There is a lot of talk on bike blogs and forums about gear like rain pants, ponchos, etc.  Those accessories are important in some situations (like if I were on my way to the event), but if you’re going straight home, there is nothing terrible about getting caught in the rain in your regular clothes. I do not want newer bike commuters to worry that they are not properly prepared for bicycling until they acquire all that stuff.

I am grateful that I had my Planet Bike Superflash.  Powerful lights are always important when riding in the rain, especially at night.

Somebody tell me that I’m not the only one with bad luck when it comes to getting stuck in the rain. What do you do when unexpected thunderstorms hit?

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Spring? Not here.

I am stubbornly dressing in happy spring clothes, but had to layer on a coat, earmuffs, winter boots and mittens for today’s 35 degree weather.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed my bicycle rides. My commute was low key and I was happy not to be stuck on the L train again.

My only complaint is that the trees don’t have green leaves yet, let alone cherry blossoms. Le sigh. When the flowers finally start blooming, my cameras and I will be ready!

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