Yearly Archives: 2010

Out with the old year

The last few weeks of the year have brought snow and ice to Tennessee, which meant little bike riding time for moi (it doesn’t snow enough here to make special tires worthwhile).

But like much of the country, Alabama got a White Christmas! The 2 inches that stuck for more than 48 hours was the first Christmas snowfall in 25 years. Me, my brother and my aunt took the opportunity to make a snow family, complete with pets.

The snow cat was my favorite!

Dottie and I will be ringing in 2011 together—and starting it off right by meeting up with two of our favorite bike bloggers in Southern California—so we’ll be back to our regular bike-scheduled programming soon after the holidays.

Happy New Year!


Winter Street Dynamics

The end of December has brought an interesting mix of personality dynamics among road users.  In my experience, Chicago drivers are much nicer in the winter and so far I’ve had no issues.  They’ve been giving me generous passing room and follow slowly when necessary.  I haven’t seen a lot of cyclists out there, usually sports types who ignore me.  Meanwhile, pedestrians and onlookers have been more outgoing than usual, with a road crew waving at me, a guy enthusing as he crossed the street, “You are brave!  Look at you!  Be safe!” and a Streetwise vendor telling how he loves to see me ride by on my bike every day.

As for travel conditions – although nothing like the northeast blizzards, several inches of snow fell in Chicago over Christmas, piling on top of the existing snow.  The plows cleared the streets decently, but bike lanes are full of snow and slush, while small neighborhood streets are still pretty snowy.  No problem – I stick to main routes, ride outside the bike lanes and feel extra security from my studded tires.

How is the end of the beginning of winter going for you?  Any interesting encounters while riding around?

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Christmas Bicycling

Hello!  I have returned from Christmas in North Carolina.  I miss my family already, but it’s nice to be back with my bikes and cats.  I’ll write more about my trip soon.  Spoiler alert: there was no bicycling involved.

In the absence of bicycling as part of my Christmas, I enjoyed reading about Velouria’s Christmas road cycling.  Did anyone else have a holiday bicycling adventure?  Please share in the comments and I will live vicariously.

Back to Bike

If anyone was wondering about the cliffhanger of Monday’s post, I did not ride my bike to work.  As many of you mentioned in the comments, it was not worth the risk of leaving my bike parked outside downtown overnight.  Of course, as life goes, the snow storm did not begin until later in the night, when I was safely home.

Riding the L train is a great back-up option, though.  As a bonus, at the L station I got to shake Rahm Emanuel’s hand, as he greeted the commoners and kissed babies and such.  I wanted to say, “More bike lanes!” but all that came out was, “Oh, hai!”

Today I was back on my bike.  Yay, bike!  Above is an unglamorous representation of my winter wear, hat, helmet, scarf and all.

Tomorrow I’m flying out to North Carolina to be with my wonderful family for Christmas.  I haven’t seen them since last year, so I’m very excited!  Too bad I don’t have a folding bike to take with me.

Happy Holidays!

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FAQ’s – Part II

Earlier this year, Trisha and I opened a Formspring account and welcomed you all to ask us questions.  We’ve been answering the questions on Formspring individually as they come in.  Now we’re putting the answers together as a cohesive FAQ section, although some of the questions are not so frequent.  :)  This is the second half.  Read the first half here.

Amsterdam is flat. Chicago is flat. Is Nashville flat? What effect does topology have on how bike-friendly a city is? I suppose Portland is not flat.

I don’t think Portland is flat, no. And Nashville definitely isn’t! IMO that is not the biggest consideration for bike-friendliness, although it may be an obstacle in developing a large bicycling culture since hills can be intimidating. You will develop the necessary muscles, and there’s always the downhill stretches! And hey, as Dottie pointed out in a recent post, there’s no shame in walking your bike up a hill if you need to.

Don’t your feet get sweaty when wearing heels? Even when I wear just flats its definitely not as comfortable as when I wear socks + some sort of sneaker

No, my feet are actually cooler when I’m not wearing socks and sneakers. Maybe you could throw a bit of talcum or baby powder into your heels before you set off and see if that makes a difference.

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Winter Weather Forecasts

Winter cycling is going smoothly now.  Temperatures have been in the teens (Fahrenheit) but I stay warm by wearing my wool coat, boots, mittens, scarf and hat over my work clothes.  I’ve been using chemical warming packs in my mittens and they are pure bliss.

I have Santa along for the ride. I can’t find my snowman from last year.

I have to keep a close eye on the weather forecast, since I do not feel safe riding in fresh falling snow, before plows can do their thing. Unfortunately, there is a winter weather advisory for this evening’s commute: up to 4 inches of snow and reduced visibility. If I ride my bike this morning, I may have to leave it outside at work overnight and take the L train home. In situations like this, I sometimes leave the bike at home and take the L the whole way so I don’t have to worry about it. What would you do?

FAQ’s – Part I

Earlier this year, Trisha and I opened a Formspring account and welcomed you all to ask us questions.  We’ve been answering the questions on Formspring individually as they come in.  Now we’re putting the answers together as a cohesive FAQ section, although some of the questions are not so frequent.  :)  This is the first half.  We’ll post the second half soon.

How and when did Dottie and Trisha meet?

Trisha and I met through our mutual friend, Erin, at a group happy hour. The first meeting I really remember was at a Russian dinner party I threw at my apartment. Trisha showed up with a shirt that said, in Russian, “I love Russian.” Awesomeness. Soon after, we went to a midnight showing of Gremlins and I drank too much beer and had to leave before the movie ended (beer buzz + crowded theater + gremlins driving Barbie cars = overwhelming). From then on, we were fast friends.  :)  That was, I think, about 4 years ago when I lived in Nashville for law school.

What saddles do you use on your bikes?

I (Dottie) have Brooks saddles, which I love. On Oma it’s the B67 with springs – the most comfortable saddle ever. On Betty it’s the B17S – no springs and took longer to break in, but still great. Trisha’s Batavus came with a Selle Royale and her Peug has a vintage saddle.

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Amazing Deal on a Real Dutch Bike

J.C. Lind Bike Co. is a sponsor of LGRAB, but I stumbled upon this deal myself on Groupon.  If you’ve been considering buying a Dutch bike, check it out:  you can buy a Gouden Leeuw Oma for only $499 from J.C. Lind!

Oma from J.C. Lind Bike Co.

The regular value is $900.  This is not some cheap look-alike, this is a high quality traditional Dutch bike, single speed with coaster brakes, LED lights, skirt guard, chain guard, kick stand, fenders, integrated Abus wheel lock, Schwalbe tires, rack and bell.  The bike will be ordered from Holland and delivered in 10-12 weeks.

Here is the link to the Groupon.  The offer lasts for 3 more days and at least 10 people have to buy.  If you have questions, I recommend contacting Jon – he is super friendly and really stands behind his products.

Update: Looks like 10 have already sold, so the deal is definitely on.  The deal could sell out before the 3 days is up – I don’t know what the max quantity is, but that’s something to keep in mind if you’re considering it.

Mia Birk on ‘Joyride’

Last month, Dottie and I were offered a chance to read Joyride, the new memoir from Mia Birk. Birk was the Bicycle Program Manager for Portland from 1993-99, and at the end of her tenure there, Portland had become the most bicycle-friendly city in America. Her fight for more bike lanes, sharrows and more is chronicled in Joyride—her first step as Bicycle Program Manager was to take her own bike on “dog and pony shows” to various civic groups, educating them on the “win-win” of cycling for transportation, whether they liked it or not. If you read Joyride (and if you can’t tell, we recommend it!) you’ll finish the book impressed by Birk’s accomplishments and inspired to take steps in your community. In addition, it’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at civic life: how and why bike lanes get made, for example, and the reason there aren’t more bike paths on bridges.

Birk is currently President and co-owner of Alta Planning + Design, an international firm dedicated to creating active communities where bicycling and walking are safe, healthy, fun, and normal daily activities. She took the time out to answer a few questions about Joyride for LGRAB readers.

Mia Birk: photo by Beth Nakamura

You faced a lot of obstacles as Portland’s bicycle coordinator. Just reading about them raised our blood pressure! What kept you motivated to press on?
Every challenging battle was mitigated by the awesome stories of people starting to bike, getting fit, changing their lives for the better. Plus, we (remember, it wasn’t just me alone – I was working with a team of terrific folks) were/are 100% solid in our commitment to bringing bicycle transportation — a simple, win-win solution to our many complex problems – to Portland. Anything worth doing is worth fighting for.

Giving up then was not an option, nor is it today. We are not just fighting for a bike lane here and there. In my mind, we are engaged in a larger struggle for a healthier planet for our children and generations to come. It’s an honor to have been able to build a career on this, to work side by side with a bunch of great people doing this great work.

The “dog and pony shows” you went on to explain cycling to the community made for some good stories. It must have been nerve-racking to face these audiences, some of which were quite hostile to the idea of bicycle transport. Why did you choose this approach?
The City of Portland has an extensive history of involving the public in decision-making. This can make for maddening slow processes, but on balance ends up creating better, longer lasting outcomes, as evidenced by the many good facets of our city. My bosses at the time had had positive experiences conducting outreach for concepts like traffic calming and light rail, so the bike-oriented outreach made sense.

These days you work as a consultant on cyclist/pedestrian issues in cities around the world. Is there a city you see as the next Portland?
A bunch of cities are full-steam ahead doing incredible things very quickly. These include New York, Long Beach, Minneapolis, Seattle, Washington D.C., Chicago, and Vancouver. There’s probably another 200 cities making great strides all across North America.

What was/is the most effective way to humanize cyclists for drivers?
The one-on-one approach – cajoling and charming colleagues and friends to give it a try. Bike commute challenges and celebrations. Big, game-changing, eye-opening events like Portland’s BridgePedal, Sunday Parkways, and other such Ciclovias. Connecting community to the many joys of bicycling through repurposing used bikes to needy families. Empowering women through bike maintenance classes and rides. Modeling that you can look fashionable while on a bike (like you women do!); it’s not all about lyrca and speed. And starting safe routes to school programs. Many aggressive drivers get awfully tame around kids. All in all, the more we get motorists to ride bikes at least part of the time, the better it will be.

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The Return of My Winter Wheels

Ladies and gentlemen, my winter wheels are back!  After choosing not to ride on Monday due to road conditions, I set out Tuesday morning enthusiastically, but my enthusiasm was short-lived.

The edges of the streets and the bike lanes were still full of slush, forcing me to take the lane.   The rising sun created massive glares on the wet roads and snow, making it hard for me to see and surely hard for drivers to see me.

I almost turned around to ride back home, but instead I turned on a shady side street with less sun but more slush.  Half-way to work, I decided to drop Oma off at Dutch Bike Chicago to have her studded tires put on.  The shop wasn’t open yet, so I locked her up, dropped the key through the mail slot and left them a message.  Today I dropped off the studded tires and then picked up modified-Oma after work (Thanks to the shop manager Vince!  You can read about his own studded tire transition here.)

Finally!  My cycling confidence is back and the ride home was wonderful!

I felt totally confident on my two wheels, even riding through the icy slush.  Although I likely would have been perfectly fine riding without studded tires, I am miserable the whole time if I’m stressing about slipping.

Drivers were especially careful around me, possibly afraid I would slip in front of them (they don’t know about my studs) but whatever keeps them cautious is fine with me.  I smiled and laughed the whole time, in response to my Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me podcast (yay, WBEZ Chicago!).  As a cherry on top, I went by a man riding something like a WorkCycles Fr8 with a kid on back and we dinged bells at each other.

This is going to be a good winter, now that I have my wheels back.  Who’s with me?  :)

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A Story of a Bike Light Giveaway

This is a guest post by Steve Vance of Steven Can Plan.

Last Monday someone on the sidewalk yelled “Happy birthday” to me while I was riding to Bridgeport through University Village (UIC’s south campus). It was my birthday. I turned around to identify the shouting person. Joe was a classmate and now I most often see him at a local bike shop or playing bike polo. We went inside the store and chatted for awhile.

The bicycle is an extremely social tool. While it helps me get to the places I need to go, it does so in such a way that fosters community and interaction. As I ride, I’m exposed to the whims of the street: the noises, the chatter, the honks, the people, and the people I know. But it also helps me get to know new people.

I participated in another bike light distribution with Active Transportation Alliance on November 17, 2010. I photographed a previous distribution in Wicker Park a week earlier. This time around, at the corner of Halsted and Roosevelt at the UIC campus, I took a more direct role by flagging people riding bikes without lights to pull over and stop. I would then attach a brand new headlight to their bicycle, courtesy of customers of Groupon and the law office of Jim Freeman. During the two minutes I had their undivided attention, I told them about the state law requiring a front light and the role of Active Transportation Alliance in the city and suburbs.

This time I wanted to record more information about all the people I helped and talked to. I kept a little note card in my pocket and recorded the revealed reasons why the person didn’t have a headlight, how many men and women I helped (I only recorded two categories), and some select quotes.

I think six people refused my offer for a free headlight – this is because they couldn’t hear me (several wore headphones), didn’t understand our intentions, or both. Also confused, a man driving a car said, “You little bastard with your bikes,” but I won’t let anyone distract me.

Genaro gives a free headlight to someone without it

Genaro installs a headlight to someone riding on Halsted Street in University Village.

Of all the people I stopped, I identified 21 men and 11 women (32 total). Four people said they lost their lights or had them stolen and hadn’t yet replaced the lights. One person forgot their lights. 27 of the 32 people riding bikes didn’t know it was state law to ride a bike with a headlight on at night. Here’s what some riders had to say:

“No one told me that!” I suspect this is an extremely common explanation. This is definitely an opportunity for local bike shops to educate their customers, but there are other places people can get this information, like resident advisers at dorms, churches, and workplaces. The Active Transportation Alliance fights tirelessly to instill basic information into the minds of people riding bikes around town.

One person I was talking to hadn’t heard of the Active Transportation Alliance and after I explained to him what the organization does, he said, “My friends and I want to start our own group.”

Someone on foot asked me, “How long are you going to be here? I want my friend to get one.” This guy came back with his friend and they both got free headlights.

Speaking of the bicycling leading me to meetings with people I know, three friends were walking by and said hello. I had met one of them, Andrew, at the same spot, in front of the UIC Skyspace as we both raced in an October 2006 scavenger hunt.

Blues unite!

Walk under the Skyspace to get a direct and undistracted view of the sky and space.

Great story!  Read more from Steve at his excellent blog about urban planning, cities and transportation, Steven Can Plan.

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My No-Bike Commute

When the side streets look like this:

My commute looks like this:

I pulled Oma out of the garage this morning, but then I put her back and walked to the L train.  I could have biked, as Mr. Dottie did, but I felt like taking the stress-free route.

Now that I’ve successfully biked through two winters, I don’t need to prove myself over and over again.  If I’m not feeling it, I don’t force it.  I think some people expect winter bicyclists to be extreme-sport masochist types, but that’s so not my motivation.

I’ll be more adventurous once I get my studded tires on for the season.  Without them, my nerves fray easily, but I’ve been too lazy to either switch them myself or bring them into the shop.  Soon, soon.

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Handmade gifts for your favorite cyclist

Aren’t winter weekends the best? I spent most of the weekend inside, watching the snow fall, admiring my Christmas tree and baking cookies, because my holiday shopping is all done. Most of that is thanks to Etsy, which lets me find awesome presents without having to brave the mall. Here are  a few things I came across that I wouldn’t mind finding in my stocking.

‘Bike Lover’s Gift Guide’

Set of 2 bicycle bo…


lake blue BIKE RIDE…


Bicycle Key Rack


No Parking Except f…


Hand Knit Hat – Chu…


Embroidered Tandem …


Feel the Love Bike …


The BEATRICE Holida…


Recycled Bicycle Ti…


Little Green Bird E…


Bicycle Can Cage




Old Town- Original …


Retro Bike Merry Ch…


HandleBar Bicycle B…


Bicycles Only – Rus…


Generated using Treasury HTML code generator by Whale Shark Websites.

*Full disclosure: Lofty Mornings, one of the featured sellers, is a sponsor of our site–I received one of her shirts as a gift from a friend long before that and love it. The upcycled handlebar bag is from the shop of fellow bike blogger RidingPretty.

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A Benefit of Winter Night Riding

One general downside to winter cycling is that it’s so often in the dark, with the sun rising late and setting early. However, in the weeks before Christmas, that darkness is a delight.

That’s another benefit of riding a bike – rolling by twinkling lights in the calm darkness and taking in the holiday spirit.

Just another work commute chez LGRAB. :)

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Sometimes drivers completely baffle me. Case in point from this morning’s commute…

Asshole? Really!?!

I stopped behind three cars waiting for a red light. When the light turned green, we each went through in turn, me last. Meanwhile, a driver from the other direction was waiting to turn left. After I passed and as he turned, he called out, “Asshole,” through an open window.

Really!?! Huh? I looked around either for commiseration or to see if there was someone else he could have been talking to. I was alone out there. So I continued to repeat in my head, “Really!?!” in a Seth & Amy SNL voice the rest of the way to work.

Baffling. Not only did I do absolutely nothing wrong, but I am obviously a woman, in a skirt with long hair and a pink helmet. Since when do men go around calling women assholes? Really!?!


*Photo from last year, but setting and outfit very similar to today’s.

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Freezing Cold?

This week has been pretty cold, around the teens during my commute times, but my bike riding continues unabated. In fact, this evening I sweated so much, in 17 degree weather, that I jumped in the shower as soon as I got home, as if it were summer time. I was wearing a thin wool shirt, wool winter overcoat, wool tights, tweed pants and all the scarf/hat/glove/boot accessories.

Meanwhile, co-workers express amazement and disbelief that I continue to ride in the freezing cold. My usual answer of, “It’s really not so bad,” does not seem to be convincing anyone.

How do you respond to that kind of attention?

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Some Quick Tips for Chilly Days

It’s finally getting cold here in Nashville, with temps running some 20 degrees below average, eek! We don’t get enough winter here for me to ever get completely accustomed to winter riding, and it seems like every year I relearn that

  • One should take care with the ears, toes and fingers
  • Never say no to extra lights
  • It’s really hard to take photos of yourself with gloves on, in the dark

Hard to tell in these photos, but I’m wearing my maxidress layered over a turtleneck covered with a cardigan and riding the Bat. It was nice to wear a long dress riding; felt kind of like having a cozy warm blanket draped over my knees.

This night was also a reminder that I probably should ride with mace/pepper spray, since I saw what was either an extremely mangy dog or an urban coyote darting into some bushes as I topped the hill behind The Melrose. Anyone have tips on handling animal encounters?

(For more comprehensive tips on winter cycling, and a compilation of all our past posts, check out the LGRAB Guide to Winter Cycling.)

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The LGRAB Guide to Winter Bicycling

Do you want to be as happy this winter as Mr. Snowman?  Ride your bike!  There’s nothing like spending time outside engaged in physical activity every day, enjoying the crisp air and scenery while everyone else hibernates.

We won’t claim that winter cycling is always a big party, but it’s certainly not the nightmare scenario that most seem to imagine.  As with any activity, knowledge is power: the more you understand about biking in the winter, the more comfortable you’ll be and the more you’ll enjoy yourself.

As we enter our third winter of biking and blogging, our archives offer a wealth of information for new and experienced winter cyclists alike.  Hence we bring you the LGRAB Guide to Winter Bicycling.



What should I wear?  A spacesuit or footie pajamas with ski goggles or what??

That’s the easiest question to answer: absolutely, but only if you can rock it.  Otherwise, you may want to stick with your normal winter clothes.  Once you see the basics of how to dress for winter cycling, you’ll say, “aha” and move on.  You may even find that dressing for winter cycling can be effortlessly chic.

Like all superheroes (be prepared: co-workers will call you that), you will have a weakness.  For example, freezing fingers, but it is possible to keep hands toasty warm.  Embrace your weakness and then overcome it.

What about the awful weather?  Rain, snow, wind, ice, freezing cold?

Take it one day at a time.  Some days fluffy snow creates a winter wonderland and bike paths are perfectly plowed.  Other days the snow is dirty and nasty and in the bike lane.  At the extremes, you may set out on your bike and then give up due to ice or extreme cold. No shame in trying!

Your winter may consist of a lot of cold rain, but luckily women don’t get Jane-Bennet-ill from cold rain anymore, especially if you know what to wear.  Just make sure that your brakes are in good shape.  Then on the rare days when it snows, riding could be a fun adventure.

If the weather on a particular day is really bad, simply choose not to ride that day.  The most important thing is that you honestly differentiate reasons from excuses.

Or maybe you live in Southern California.  If so, #@!% you.

I slip walking down the sidewalk.  What chance do I have on a bicycle?

A really good chance, actually.  The roads, maintained by the city, are in much better condition than sidewalks.  Once plows come by after a snow, main streets in the city are generally clear and dry.  Depending on your city’s climate and your preference for sidestreets and bike trails, you may benefit from studded tires.  Or if there’s just a bit of ice, you could simply walk your bike through the slick patch.

Doesn’t it get old, riding in the dark all the time?

Sometimes riding home from work in the dark everyday is a drag, but sometimes it makes everything seem quiet and calm.  Just make sure you are cognizant of safety and security concerns and have good lights.

I see you have fancy bikes.  I don’t.  So…?

While our Dutch bikes (WorkCycles and Batavus) are great for winter riding, due to enclosed brakes and chains, a fancy bike is not necessary for winter riding.  In fact, some people intentionally use old beaters for winter.

Most bikes in good condition would make decent winter bikes, although some may require more caution and more maintenance.  Be aware of what kind of brakes and tires you have and ride with caution in bad weather accordingly.  If you have old steel rims, seriously consider replacing them.  Decide whether you would benefit from studded tires.  Remember that fenders are your friend and install some.

If you plan to ride extensively in the winter, investing in a solid bike is worth it.

Will I be the only crazy person out there?

Maybe you’ll be the only bicyclist out there, maybe not.  You may find and appreciate a whole winter cycling community or just enjoy the alone time.  Even if there aren’t many other winter cyclists, you’re bound to meet colorful characters and bloodthirsty dogs simply by spending a lot of time outside.

But can I really do it?

If we did it, you can!  For inspiration, check out a retrospective of the first winter biking.  Is winter cycling a simple act or sheer will? Both!

Hey, it’s really cold.  Why am I doing this again?

Because winter bicycling will change your life.  You will better appreciate the differences between summer and winter cycling (for example, not smelling like B.O).  You will feel the yin, the yang, etc.  By season’s end, you will shed grateful tears over the first buds of spring, the first delicate bird’s nest.  Also, for hot legs.  Obviously.

How can I verify that you’re not lying to me for kicks?

You really can’t – welcome to the internet!  But other resources are out there pretty much verify our advice.  See, Bike Winter. Also, those other bike blogs listed to the right.

Anything else I should know?

The secret to bike commuting (hint: it’s not that bad).

If you have questions or would like to leave your own winter bicycling tips, please share in the comments!

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December’s women-who-bike brunch

Samantha, Kate, Megan, Martha, Lauren, Sara, Sarah

Eight women braved the streets after Saturday’s snow storm and rode to the second women-who-bike brunch at Handlebar in Wicker Park. After brunch we headed en masse to the Renegade Holiday Craft Fair, where we bumped into a couple of women separately who were familiar with the brunch event (Megan and Kristine, hope to see you next time).

How does one dress for winter cycling in Chicago? With style!


Sarah and Lauren


Kate and Sara


The group was a mix of experienced and new winter riders. While the temperature has not dropped to wintry depths yet, if anyone road a bike this weekend in Chicago, that person now knows what winter riding is like.

One of the attendees, Lauren, said, “I think I have officially convinced myself that winter biking isn’t all that bad — especially when a delightful brunch is the destination.” That’s what I like to hear!

Chicago snow

The next brunch will be Sunday, January 9, and thereafter on the first Sunday of the month. If you would like to be included, email LGRAB [at] letsgorideabike [dot] com. If you’re not in Chicago, considering organizing a get-together in your town.

p.s. Don’t forget to check out Bike Fancy, the new Chicago fashionable cycling blog. Martha, the photographer, is part of the brunch crew and some attendees may be showing up there in the future.

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Walking in a winter wonderland

Yesterday a few inches of snow fell in Chicago. My friend Elizabeth and I headed out to enjoy the winter wonderland and take some pictures (I used my new 50-year-old camera). Although we’re both year-round cyclists, we didn’t feel comfortable riding with the falling snow, so we hopped a bus to Lincoln Park and then walked around for an hour. A cozy underground pub and some Guinness warmed us up when we’d had enough.

Afterward, we went separate ways and I headed downtown to drop off my film for developing. I could have taken the bus, but the snowy night was so pretty, I chose to walk an hour to my destination. Then I took the L train home, but got off early to walk the final mile. Walking is such a great activity and I’m lucky to have so many transportation options in Chicago.

Now I gotta get those studded tires back on Oma!

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