Praying for a red light

I’m not religious so the title of this post is a bit misleading. But last night, I rode home from work with a friend who also keeps his bike at the Millennium Park bike station, and who just happens to be an incredibly strong (read: fast) rider.

As I noted in a previous post, in the winter, I avoid the lakefront in favor of Clark Street. The city does a great job keeping Clark Street snow-and-ice-free all winter, so in spite of the bus and car traffic, the crazy cabbies, the texting-while-driving fools, the parked car doors which suddenly fling open in your path, and the hapless pedestrians who stop like deer in headlights when caught in the sharp beam of a powerful, helmet-mounted light (more about this phenomenon in a later post), Clark Street is a great winter alternative to the often unseen snow and ice along the lake.

My friend, Michael, and I set off from the bike station about 5:45, working our way to North Avenue where we jumped on Clark and headed north.

Astoundingly, we caught every green light from North Avenue (1600 north) to Chicago’s northern border at Howard Street (7600 north). That’s eight miles. We never stopped (not even at stop signs, where we did slow down and look both ways, as instructed by our mothers many years ago).

As I noted, above, Michael is an incredibly strong rider. We maintained a 19-20 m.p.h. pace against a 10 m.p.h. headwind from the northwest with me drafting off Mike for much of the ride. On the few occasions I took the lead (and I actually did take the lead for a couple of long stretches), I was absolutely praying for a red light. My quads were burning, my lungs were collecting insufficient oxygen to support my effort, and I was overdressed for the 18 degree (F) temperature, causing me to overheat to the point of steaming.

I looked like I was on fire. Literally.

When we reached Howard Street, we marveled at our good fortune. Neither of us had ever made the trek from downtown to the city’s northern border — on streets — without stopping. And all we could think was, “We must be living right.”

My legs told me to “shut the hell up.”

Author’s note: Interestingly, after I posted this, I looked at one of my favorite bike commuting blogs, streetfilms.org, and found this short video on commuter cycling in Copenhagen where the narrator notes that on one of Copenhagen’s busiest streets, the traffic lights are timed for cyclists, not cars!

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3 responses to this post.

  1. That’s pretty cool that Copenhagen has a major corridor with lights timed for bikes! At a recent Critical Mass ride, we helped an old lady with a flat tire ( in a car, mind you ) from Denmark, who told us that Danes do everything except breed on bikes. And sometimes even that…

    I’ve found that if I’m not cold when I set out on a bike ride, I’ll overheat after about ten minutes – like you did. Have you ever tried wearing wool against your skin? Everybody has had a pair of hiking socks, but you can get long sleeved tee shirts and long johns made from soft merino wool; if you wear these as your base layer, they’ll keep you warm, but also they’ll prevent you from overheating. I go out on 30+ mile rides in Seattle, climbing a hill in the winter and then speeding down the other side against a blistering wind. If I’m wearing wool next to my skin, I’ll feel sweat break out on my forehead, but none on my chest, arms, or legs.

    Now if I can figure out your get-every-green-light trick, I’ll be set. :D

    Reply

  2. I’ve had other commuters tell about the glories of wool. I am now keeping my eyes peeled for end-of-year deals on wool cycling/outdoor wear, especially base layers.

    These two women have a great blog on bike commuting and I particularly enjoyed this post where Dottie presents a video of how to dress for winter bike commuting in Chicago.

    Wool plays a key role in her description.

    Thanks for commenting!

    Reply

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