Posts Tagged ‘Chicago bike commuting’

Chicago Bike Commuting – Winter odds-and-ends

Some of the detritus of cycling that has piled up while I did other things besides keeping the blog up-to-date:

  • I walked into the Millennium Park Bike Station after commuting in one very, very cold morning a few weeks ago and I saw a visitor renting a bike. “What kind of crazy tourist would rent a bike and go for a ride on a 10 degree (F) morning in Chicago,” I wondered?

Troy Szczurkowski, hardy soul

Well, it was Troy Szczurkowski, an Australian who works as a mechanic at the Brisbane Cycle2City location, a bike-to-work facility that is modeled after our very own Millennium Park Bike Station.Troy was in town for the Park Tool Tech Summit for bike mechanics, and, being the hardy soul he is, wanted to go for a spin on the lakefront on an exceptionally cold morning. Troy made friends with Lou, the stellar bike mechanic at the Millennium Park station and they tweaked the rental bike to fit Troy. Troy had packed full winter gear, including headlights and tailights, and went out for the full day. I saw him return late in the evening as I was preparing to head home.A great guy who obviously has a passion for cycling. If you ever travel to Brisbane, look him up. He loved his visit to the Windy City!

  • It is now officially illegal to text-while driving in Illinois. I think the number of folks I have seen partaking in this dangerous practice has declined since the law went into effect. Thanks to the Active Transportation Alliance, various state legislators and many, many activist cyclists for helping to get this done. I’m glad to see the media (great series from The New York Times) and the federal government keeping up the pressure on this topic.
  • I have met many of the bike cops who have a station in Millennium Park. A really great group of people who are not only dedicated public servants, they’re also dedicated cyclists. They ride in all weather, year-round, even the coldest, windiest days. Getting to know so many cops has been a wonderful added benefit of using the bike station. They have great stories — funny, sad, interesting and sometimes shocking. So a shout out to Chris, Greg, John, Bob, Val, Gil, Pat and the rest of the crew. Thanks for helping make the streets safer for cyclists!
  • Trek Electric Bike

    Josh who runs the bike station and is the proprietor of Bike-and-Roll, the company that manages the bike station, has suggested that I test one of the new Trek electric bikes. I really have no interest in electric bikes, but my 81-year-old father may be interested in getting one so I am going to take Josh up on his offer and test one out the next few weeks with a round-trip from the bike station to my home and back again the next morning. I’ll write a full review here after I take one for a spin.

  • Off to Arizona for a little warm winter riding next week. Anyone have any recommended road routes in the Scottsdale area? Lots of good climbing out there and it will be nice to ride in a warm climate in February. I love winter riding, but a few days of sun and sweat in shorts and a short-sleeve jersey will be a nice break.

Be back soon. In the mean time, keep riding and wear a helmet!


“We come in peace…”

The aliens scoffed at the cold...

When the aliens landed with their bicycles outside a local Starbuck’s, startled onlookers began snapping pictures. I was fortunate enough to snap this one with my phone just minutes before they rode off toward Lake Michigan, claiming they  would ride across the lake to the Cook nuclear power facility in Bridgman, Michigan to “recharge our life forces.”

It was roughly 10° (F) Sunday morning, and these intrepid aliens seemed undaunted by the cold. They were also puzzled by questions from the assembled throng inquiring how they intended to ride across water on their bicycles.

The one on the left who asked to be called “Mike” said, “Surely, riding on water with a bike is not an issue on your planet, is it?”

When told that bikes on our planet would sink to the bottom of the lake, the three creatures guffawed. The alien on the right who went by the moniker, “Tom,” informed us that not only could their bikes ride on water, they could also fly when fully powered.

A few small children immediately began clamoring for the aliens to make their bikes fly, and the one in the middle who went by “Pat,” said, brusquely, “What the hell do you think this is? ‘Close Encounters?'”

With that, the three mounted their alien two-wheelers and pedaled off toward Lake Michigan. They were last seen off the coast of Evanston, Illinois, riding off to the horizon in a peloton of three.

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,, 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!

The Tibetan 500

Most weekdays in winter when the lakefront path is often dangerously iced over, I commute by bike from the North Shore down Clark Street to the Millennium Park bike station, otherwise known by its sponsor name, McDonald’s Cycle Center. (My film-making friend from New York, Clarence Eckerson, made a nice short video about the bike station for a great blog on urban commuting around the world called

As I pass the Chinese consulate at the northwest corner of Erie and Clark, an older man, probably in his mid-60s, waves me by with a big smile and his giant Tibetan flag, as if I’m finishing the Indy 500 in Tibet. He often shouts something as I ride past, like, “Good for you for wearing a helmet!” The man stands across the street from the consulate along Erie most days, protesting Chinese policy in Tibet.

A little Googling led me to this post by Tenzin Dasel about my flag-waving friend. His name is Phil Berkman. And I must say, he’s a dedicated protester. The past week or so, the temperature in the morning as I ride by Phil has been in the high single digits or the low double digits (Fahrenheit). In addition to Phil, there are often one or two other people seated in the Lotus position along the wall of the building facing the entrance of the consulate, meditating in silent protest.

Now, I don’t mind the cold. I have the right winter gear and by the time I reach Erie and Clark, I’m toasty warm, sweating, even. But Phil’s friends are meditating in frigid temperatures! Even Phil, with his occasional flag-waving, is standing in the cold.

I think tomorrow I will stop and say hello to Phil, now that I know his name. I will also take his picture and post it here.

In the meantime, I look forward to my continued success at wining the daily Tibetan 500.

Do you have a name for your bike?

I’ve been thinking lately about whether or not my bikes should have names. Most riders have very close relationships with their bikes. Often times, spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends will inquire, “Who do you love more… Me or your bike?”

That question is often met with stammering or silence by the committed rider.

So I’ve been mulling whether to name my two primary bikes: my trusty 2002 LeMond Wayzata that I use for commuting, and my 2000 LeMond custom titanium that I ride on weekends.

I didn’t go down to the office today, but took out my commuter on the salted roads for a 50 mile jaunt from home to Great Lakes Naval Training Center in North Chicago and back. I had plenty of time to think about a possible name for my bike. But along the way, I had a revelation…

I can’t name my bike because my bike is part of me when I’m on it. At least, that’s how I feel about it.

Today being the last day of the year, I added up the miles I put on the Wayzata this year: 4,820. That means I’ve ridden more than 25,000 miles on that bike since I bought it from Higher Gear in Highland Park back in 2002. And when I’m riding, it becomes simply an extension of my own body. I feel the same way about my weekend bike.

And I realized that’s why I have never named my bikes.

I know others have names for their bikes. So if you’re one of those folks:

  1. Why did you decide to give your bike a name?
  2. What did you name it?
  3. What is the significance of the chosen moniker?

Thanks for reading my first post to the new blog. I hope to be adding additional writers from my many commuting friends in the coming weeks and months.

See ya’ on the road, and if you’re driving, for god’s sake don’t text and drive.