Ups and Downs of Bike Commuting

I’ve written before about the ups and downs of bike commuting. A year later, I’m revisiting the theme based on the ups and downs I experienced during the past two days.

Down: Last night, as I was riding up Lincoln Avenue, a major bike route, a woman in a van yelled, “Ride in the bike lane, retard!” Wow, really?? For the record, I was riding on the outside line of the bike lane because otherwise I would be in the door zone. Regardless, anyone who would yell such awful and ignorant words at anyone is a miserable person. Incidentally, wouldn’t Chicago be so much better if everyone felt safe to ride their bicycles, including the developmentally disabled? I think so!

Up: Tonight, a woman standing on the sidewalk whistled and called out, “Hey, I love your bike!” while the men with her nodded in appreciation. The fact that they were outside a cool live music venue and not a tool-central type of bar doubled the impact of the compliment. I smiled and called out, “Thank you!” :)

I’m pretty sensitive, so I can’t help but be affected by such incidents, but really, no matter what someone may or may not yell at me, I always prefer my bicycle over any other form of transportation. If someone offered me free daily door-to-door Towncar service with complimentary muffins and NPR, I would turn it down without hesitation.

If you doubt me, check out the scenery from my ride this morning.

The temperature was in the high ’30s, but with a dress, a wool sweater, tights, boots and gloves, I was set.

For some reason, a lot of the “citizen cyclists” seem to have packed it in for the winter already, leaving me and a bunch of guys on road bikes. Just as I was thinking, “Gosh, everyone out here is in spandex going really fast,” my friend Dan rode by on his WorkCycles Oma and stopped to chat. (You may recognize him as top hat guy from the cocktail ride.) I love that in a huge city like Chicago, I still run into people I know regularly via the Lakefront Path and bike lanes.

A little later, a guy on a WorkCycles Opa rode by and rang his bell. I don’t know if he’s a reader (hi!) or merely a fellow Dutch bike appreciator, but it was great to see!

Back to the “ups and downs” of bike commuting. This I know for sure: I’m totally enjoying the up of autumn before the down of a long winter. Oh, who am I kidding? I kinda love winter, too!

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55 thoughts on “Ups and Downs of Bike Commuting

  1. Steven Vance says:

    A plowed multi-use path (like the Lakefront Trail) becomes an even more important connector as our “door lanes” will soon transform into “snow pile” lanes, like in the linked photos:
    Snow in the bike lane forces bikers in the main lane
    Snow and ice in the bike lane

    But these snow lanes just make it easier for me to feel confident about “taking the lane.”

    “Don’t like me riding here, driver? Inform your alderman on how you feel about the way Chicago builds bicycling infrastructure. Until I give up my rights to this space, you will have to follow the rules of the road.”

  2. Miss Sarah says:

    Oh it looks so beautiful there! I just got back from dinner with a friend. It’s snowing. And I wore a parka:(

  3. Rob says:

    I actually don’t get that many verbal comments… mostly people are driving 35+ mph and don’t get the chance to share them out here.

    I’ve sort of started ramping down my bike commutes… Mondays and Wednesdays, I’m not yet comfortable roaming the west suburbs 4 hours after sunset (after work activities and waht not), even though the streets are less empty. The other 3 days are fair game. :-D

    Today I was the only bicyclist I saw for 10 miles, though. Still a few joggers out though. Especially in the dark. Not wearing reflective clothing. That’s when it gets particularly scary. :-)

    Also, I’m really pining for a white LED headlight that lasts more than 4 hours…

    • Steven Vance says:

      To get such a headlight, you’re going to have to either build a battery array yourself, or buy something like this NiteRider, which can last for over 1-9 hours (depending on intensity setting).

    • dukiebiddle says:

      I have no idea how many lumens/candelas you need in your environment, but my 2200 candela LED headlight lasts 90 hours.

      • Rob says:

        Right now, I have two… the one attached to my bike that exists largely to be seen (and starts to fade after about 2 hours… or 3 commuting legs) and a kludgy, but VERY BRIGHT, small LED flashlight that’s taped to my helmet with electrical tape. :-D

        The one attached to my bike does not help me see the path at all, beyond about 6 feet.

        For nights like yesterday, I navigate by moonlight through the forest preserve, which is the strongest source of light for 1/2 my commute. It helps that limestone screening is white, so I know where to go. (I’m not sure what I do during new moons and clear nights, where there is almost no ambient light out here. Probably rely on my backup…)

        The sidepaths I use are particularly vulnerable to glare from car headlights, so when I can’t see the path anymore (due to glare or darkness), I have to twist the flashlight on top of my head, and that allows me to see anywhere from 20-50 feet ahead of me.

        On the streets, the streetlamps generally provide enough light that I can go without using my flashlight.

        Neither of these options makes me feel too comfortable about seeing debris on the paths. :-p

        • dukiebiddle says:

          Your “to be seen” light definitely sounds insufficient. The Cateye HL-EL530 (which is what I have) is an excellent to-be-seen LED and lasts 90 hours on 4 AAs, but even that isn’t up to the task of illuminating areas without ambient lighting. It sounds like you need some serious lumen power; and like Steve Young was saying that’ll require something with an external power source.

    • Dottie says:

      It’s too bad that the suburbs get so much harder to ride in during the winter, with the dark and snow. My friend Melissa has to stop bike commuting totally during winter because the trail she takes from home to work is not plowed and has zero lights.

  4. Megan says:

    I’ve noticed a lot more space on bike racks this week in particular—the biggest plus to riding in the winter.

    Last week someone on Milwaukee yelled “that is the dumbest-looking helmet!” to me. There’s something about the stretch of Milwaukee north of Armitage and south of California that brings out the hate. That particular poorly-lit corridor is usually where I get most of my harassment late at night.

    • Dottie says:

      That is the dumbest-sounding insult! Goodness, I did not know the bike fashion police were out. In my experience, harassment is definitely more likely to happen when it’s dark out (even if it’s only 5 pm in the winter).

      • TS says:

        That’s been my experience also! I can only guess that it’s because people in cars feel that the darkness makes them even more anonymous and invisible and that someone on a bike couldn’t possibly be a threat to them. Even worse, the absolute rudest people I’ve encountered has been in the rain. You’d think they’d just be happy that they aren’t the ones getting wet on a bike and leave us alone!

  5. nicolas says:

    Up: I got my fronk fork tightened (I’m clueless with tools) and my ride is a lot more comfy now! And it’s a great time of the year to be riding around 10pm, the streets are so empty…
    Down: My rear light is down and I can’t fix it – it’s a fully enclosed LED thingy that goes with my dynohub – so I need to go back to the shop :[

  6. That first picture is so evocative, it’s like a still-shot from a film.

    • Dottie says:

      Thank you. I like that idea. I’m trying to think what would be going on in this film.

      • Dave says:

        My first thought is that the camera would pan up, to find the person (the owner of the bicycle) sitting in the tree with a basket balanced on the branch next to them, eating a baguette sandwich and holding a glass of red wine :)

  7. Steve A says:

    The retard comment lady is an argument in favor of wearing earphones.

  8. Janet says:

    That’s a bummer about the nasty lady comment, but I agree, biking is still better than the car. I was out on the lakefront path yesterday on my Oma as well and isn’t it wonderful to have the path to yourself?

    • Dottie says:

      The path is beautiful this time of year. Much better than summer, although during rush hour it’s still what most cities would considered crowded.

  9. Anna says:

    I’m starting to think that bike lanes are both an up and a down. I like riding on roads that have them but then I sometimes feel unwelcome on roads that don’t have them. Yesterday I was riding right where I should be and someone honked at me. It wasn’t a friendly hello and it just makes me so made. But as always, I got to enjoy the lovely day while they were trapped in their car. Maybe they just honked cause they were jealous?

  10. neighbourtease says:

    Wow, all I can think is that woman must be so unhappy in her life. I’m sorry she unleashed it on you. What a gross thing to say. I’m glad you had the balancing experience of deserved compliments.

    It seems like Chicago drivers are really vocal and aggressive. I have never had an experience like that. Sucks!

    • Dottie says:

      Yes, Chicago drivers are very aggressive and often act recklessly just to show their anger or settle a score with another driver (or pedestrian, or bicyclist). This is, if they’re even paying attention to the road, instead of tapping on their smart phones. They’re out of control, but there’s virtually no policing of that behavior until it (inevitably) results in a crash.

      • neighbourtease says:

        I was thinking they sounded much worse than New York drivers, at least worse in their willingness to yell things like “retard,” but then I go read something like this.

        There have been SO many stories like this one in the past month in New York. Has that been true for Chicago (and elsewhere?), too?

        I really hope we’re getting to a point of change because the lack of policing is unreal. UNREAL.

      • Nick says:

        I continue to be surprised at the hostility of car drivers…they seem angry and inpatient with cyclists. Why? I always try to be friendly, but no matter.

        By the way, thanks 1,000,000 for your blog, it really maakes my life better!

  11. Holly says:

    First: my sympathies on having to endure that sort of comment from a driver. I think we’ve all been there and know exactly how frustrating it can be, especially because there is no opportunity to stop and politely educate the driver when they just speed past you yelling.

    I ride in Manhattan, where they’ve started building bike lanes between the parking lane and the curb. It protects you from the speeding traffic, and even if you do get doored at least you’re knocked onto the sidewalk rather than into road. It does make you a little less visible at intersections, but there are clearly marked merge lanes at intersections that seem to work well in alerting motorists that cyclists about about to appear. It’s a solution to consider when you’re advocating for cycling infrastructure where you are.

    I do envy the scenery on you commute! It’s not nearly so pretty here — except for on the weekends when I head up to Central Park!

  12. Don’t let ’em get you down.
    Great pics!

  13. David says:

    I just got back from a long weekend in California, where I did a fair bit of riding in the east Bay Area and Napa. I was struck by how polite drivers seemed, and I never got honked at once, anywhere. Not to mention how solicitous drivers are of pedestrians!

    I do wonder sometimes about people who say things like what the woman said to you – why so angry? My girlfriend’s approach to people like that is to refer to them, if she must respond (or to just think it, if no response is possible or needed) as ‘honey bunny’ – not sure this would work too well coming from a man, but it seems to be disarming coming from a woman, and it makes the honey bunny-sayer feel better, too :)

  14. Cherilyn says:

    As you can tell by the number of comments you receive, it’s always a joy to be among your peeps. Enjoy the gorgeous weather!

  15. Emma says:

    I experienced my first bit of vebal abuse from a driver about two weks ago. It wasn’t actually the driver that shouted the abuse but his delightful lady passenger. As the car overtook she shouted “Get off the road you twat” avoiding eye contact with me. How very brave.

    I also had a transit van overtake me on a really busy road, wind down the window and blow a hand-held air horn at me and speed off. Although I was shaken up I was fine, but the actions of that knob-head could have resulted in a horrible accident with the traffic behind me.

    On a lighter note, when I lived in Wales I was out cycling with my mum when we were mooned by a coach full of school kids! Classy!

  16. Karen V says:

    I must admit that less NPR is one of the only down sides of commuting by bike instead of car.

    • Simply Bike says:

      Karen V – maybe you’re opposed to headphone (some cyclists are) but I listen to my NPR from downloaded podcasts on my ride to work still. I don’t have it on that loud, so I can still always hear traffic and the sounds around me, but I LOVE riding to work, taking in the fresh air and sun, and listening to Terry Gross. :)


  17. Dave says:

    I very rarely get any aggression from drivers here, but it does happen every now and then (

    For the most part, the only downer to autumn and winter here is the constant drizzle. My only complaint about the weather in Portland is that it doesn’t get cold enough in the winter. I would much rather have a little snow (and consequently, some city equipment to deal with snow), than just constant drizzle and light rain for 4 months :)

    Oh well, worse things have happened. All-in-all, I agree with you that I’d still rather be on my bike.

  18. i understand your pain dottie! i guess it’s just the thing about city riding, you have your ups and downs all the time. for myself, they are worth the trouble compared to the $60 monthly pass to riding dysfunctional public transit with weirdos. you are lucky to have seasonal changes right now. i miss that and sf is actually still going through her stages of indian summer. keep on pedaling girl!

  19. Treesounds says:

    I can’t understand the hostility either. I see a lot of it from motorists, and even cyclists at other cyclists! What’s up with that?

    I listen to my Ipod has a radio too, for NPR. So I can’t make out the shouts and gestures that people make at me. I like to take the lane too a lot, it’s safer. If it’s legal and safe, I will do it, and I don’t care about any shouts and gestures.

  20. Moopheus says:

    “For some reason, a lot of the “citizen cyclists” seem to have packed it in for the winter already, leaving me and a bunch of guys on road bikes.”

    That’s kind of funny–around here (Cambridge. MA) it seems to be the opposite–the roadies are disappearing, but the hardcore commuters keep riding.

  21. Trisha says:

    Wow, the colors are beautiful up there! Agree with Velouria that the first picture is something else.

  22. SM says:

    Dottie your bike commute is lovely. If I had that scenery to look at every morning, I definitely would commute more often. My commute consists of a 40mph dual sided shoulder road. Some sections of the shoulder are so narrow that I have to be on super alert, but the majority of the shoulder is wide and safe enough. I have yet to come across a verbal nasty driver, but I have been cut off, or almost right hooked. I always try to make eye contact and give a smile, nod and a thank you to a driver if they allow me to have the right of way. I do this, so that they
    will be courteous to the next biker they come across. I’m very sensitive as well, and if someone shouted at me like that I would be very hurt.. As a side note, we do have some nice bike rail trails (here in Nashua, NH) but unfortunately none near my work commute route. If you’re ever in the NH area send me an email.

  23. Missy says:

    I too had a someone yell at me yesterday. I heard a horn honking and just didn’t think it could be at me because I was stopped at a red light waiting on the green to turn left. When I turned to look I was shocked because it was directed at me. It was a cop and he told me I should have my hand out to signal that I wanted to turn. Is that right? Even when I am sitting at the red light? I do signal when the green comes so I let on coming traffic know I plan to turn.

    I ride to work in the winter in my work clothes and have realized that some of my co-workers are rolling their eyes at me because i wear high heel boot. I felt like what’s the problem people? Must be all that driving that has these people so pissy. They should get a bike and happier life! I’m gonna em that too. Well it felt good to put it here where people know the deal. Anyway, I think I wear red stripper shoes on Friday. Tee hee hee.

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