Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lonely Ride

Not too many people biking on the Lakefront Path this morning. I guess with yesterday's crummy weather, a lot of people decided to sleep in. I figured I'd have to wear a long sleeve shirt for this morning's ride but the TV time and temp said it was 68 degrees outside. My bike shoes were still wet from the day before so I put on another pair of my shopping bag booties. This time they were worth the minimal effort. Ever since my Marine days, I've always hated putting dry comfortable feet into clammy soggy shoes (Durr! Who does?!)

I also lubed up my chain pretty good since I didn't clean or dry my bike when I came home yesterday. One thing I really hate is a noisy bike. I just can't see how people can pedal with all that squeaking going on. I guess I'm a noise weenie as opposed to a weight weenie.

Distance Traveled: 24.2 miles
Distance to date: 297.6 miles
Price of gas: $3.19

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Soggy Ride

It was kind of overcast and misty when I started my bike ride from work this afternoon. My wife had just sent me a text message stating it was pouring back home. Pshaw! It'll probably clear up I thought. I hadn't been able to bike since last Wednesday so come Hell or high water, I was biking home.

Well I didn't get Hell but I got the high water. As soon as I got to the intersection of State and Roosevelt, the rain started in earnest. It seemed to be a lake effect type of rain, if there is such a thing. It was a bit chilly at the stops but once I got going the rain really wasn't a big deal. I had a steady 20 mph headwind to keep me warmed up. On the plus side, I had the Lakefront Trail pretty much to myself.

As a precaution, I trimmed some grocery bags and wore them over my socks in an effort to prevent soggy feet (I tucked the bags in so I didn't look like a complete doof; they made a funny crinkly sound as I walked though). After a while the rain soaked the top of my socks and seeped all the way through. I was worse off than if I had just shod myself like a normal person.

I took the Granville to Clark Street route for the first time northbound. Even with all the traffic on Clark Street, I still like this route better than taking Sheridan. Clark Street is nicely paved and because it only has two lanes of traffic, the cars travel slower. But there are more people going in and out of parked cars. A well timed friendly shout prevented my getting doored. A louder frantic shout prevented a collision with an oblivious pedestrian (scared the crap out of him too).

Distance Traveled: 24.2 miles
Distance to date: 273.4 miles
Price of gas: $3.19

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Route Change

I decided to mix it up on my morning bike commute today. Sheridan Road through Evanston and Chicago is not a very smooth ride. Add all the cars and it makes sense why I don't see many people biking that route. The City of Chicago Bike Map (available at City Hall, the Millenium Bike Station and here) suggests taking Clark Street south from east Evanston rather than Sheridan Road. I got an early start today, so I figured I had enough time to experiment. I took Hinman from downtown Evanston rather than the main thoroughfare of Chicago Avenue. Once I hit South Boulevard (which isn't a boulevard at all) I biked west to Chicago Avenue which turns into Clark once you cross the city line. Clark Street in Rogers Park during normal working hours is a congested mess. Cars are constantly double parked and turning in and out of strip malls. At 6:30 am, Clark Street is relatively quiet though. This stretch of Clark Street is pretty smooth for biking as well. On top of that there is no parking on the west side of the street on Monday and Wednesday mornings. Driving Clark Street has always been a pain, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found biking it was a breeze. The Chicago Bike Map's suggestion of taking Granville east from Clark to get the lake was a pleasant surprise as well. It has a smooth surface and no traffic lights until Broadway. This route change also seemed to be a half mile shorter and five minutes quicker.

At Sheridan Road and Ardmore, I met up with my drafting pal from the Monday morning ride and we exchanged pleasantries. He said he was having a slow morning. Too bad. I was hoping to glom off his wake again. Oh well. We hit the Lakefront Path and that was the last I saw of him.

Distance Traveled: 24.2 miles
Distance to date: 249.2 miles
Price of gas: $3.25

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Drafting Again

Got an early start today. Despite the terrific weather the Lakefront Path wasn't too crowded. At Oak Street Beach myself and another road biker crossed paths. He was rather beefy so I doubted he'd keep up. He struck me as a body builder looking to get a cardio workout. He was on my tail for a good while until I started to run out of gas between Diversey and Belmont. That area always seems to dog me. Another road biker passed me and The Incredible Hulk was right behind him. Their pace was still within my abilities so I caught up and their collective wakes pulled me along. Three guys screaming along can get pretty exciting. The lead man, a lanky guy with a US Postal Service jersey, wasn't riding crazy so we weren't a menace to our fellow path-mates (at least in my opinion anyway).

North of Irving Park, Hulk waved himself off so it was just a two man bike race with the mailman and I. We cruised along at nice clip and as we crossed the Wilson or Lawrence crossing, I came up beside him. Adhering to my sense of road etiquette, I asked if he minded my drafting. He had no problem but welcomed my taking the lead for a while. I took over the wind cutting duty and he complimented me on my abilities considering I was also carrying a bag. It was a small consolation since I now felt like I was going to spit out my lungs. I ran out of gas after a while and he took over the lead. With him in front I was able to keep up again. At the north end of the Lakefront Path he said he was turning around. I thanked him for the lift and I continued biking north and home.

Distance Traveled: 24.7 miles
Distance to date: 225.0 miles
Price of gas: $3.25

Monday, August 21, 2006

Wilmette Train Station

A chilly dewy morning. Bike is a little squeaky from the rain and mud of Friday’s ride. I gave everything except the chain and gears a good cleaning over the weekend (I couldn’t remember where I left my chain cleaning gizmo). My pedals had been squeaking for a few weeks. Chain lube hadn’t been working but a shot of WD-40 on each seems to do the trick.

I stopped at the Wilmette Metra Station and dropped off my gas payment in a mailbox. Through an open window I saw the coffee stand I remembered as a kid. All through junior high school I sold newspapers in the station’s waiting room. I had to be there at 6:30 am and was almost always a few minutes late. My workday ended after the 8:15 am train departed. I was initially paid $10 a week but by the time I left my wages increased to $12.50. Every Friday I kept $2.50 and deposited the remaining cash at at 1st Federal Savings located at Central Street and Green Bay. By the 7th or 8th grade I accumulated enough cash to get a 30-month certificate of deposit. I remember it earned and interest rate of 18%. Years later my father told me how impressed he was by my financial timing. That was my peak however.

As I turned on to Sherman Avenue in Evanston, I saw a figure biking toward the city in the distance. He was at least four to six blocks ahead of me. As I rode I could see I was gradually gaining on him. He was wearing a yellow top and drove a road bike. He turned toward the lake at Elgin but I chose to continue through downtown Evanston so I could see how the new construction was coming along. I worked my way south through residential areas and turned east on South Boulevard off Judson. Then there he was again but he had much more distance on me.

It wasn’t until Albion, just north of Loyola, that I saw he was crossing Sheridan while I was continuing on to Winthrop via a tricky left turn at Devon. He was a ghost until I was stopped at the red light at West Ardmore and Sheridan and he caught up to me. He stayed behind me at the intersection so I didn’t have a chance to say hello. I usually like to acknowledge other cyclists; it feels awkward otherwise. Once we got the green, we were off. He never passed me so I figured I just had a quicker pace.

The stretch between Belmont Harbor and Diversey always seems to wear me down. The path has some slight hills that after my 15 miles or so seem more dramatic than they actually are. Approaching Fullerton Avenue as I slowed and drank my fermenting Accelerade, mystery man called out, “On your left.” I practically sputtered in surprise since I figured he was a goner long ago. Fortunately his pace wasn’t too much faster than mine. I accelerated and was able to draft off him.

It was tough keeping up with him at first but my drafting was definitely helping me conserve energy. I don’t ride in groups and my only experience drafting has been with strangers on the Lakefront Path. There could be a whole protocol or etiquette for drafting that I don’t know about. Drafting can be quite dangerous since cyclists are going pretty fast with merely inches separating their tires. I’m not sure how far behind one can be before drafting looses its effect but from my limited experience the closer the better. It doesn’t allow for much sight seeing though. During the entire time I figure I was looking at the guy’s ass or tire about 85% of the time to avoid colliding with him. His butt actually looked kind of big; like a black Lycra goose perched on a leather egg (my middle age keister probably looks big too). As we slowed through the morning path traffic near the North Avenue crossing I said I hope he didn’t mind my drafting so close. He didn’t and said it probably provided motivation to keep up. Indeed it did. As we passed Oak Street Beach and continued south we were going 20 to 21 miles per hour and I was barely pedaling. He had to break away at Navy Pier and wished me well. I thanked him for the tow and continued on. The rest of the ride south seemed so much more laborious by comparison.

When I got to work the locker room was filled with colleagues finished with their morning workouts. They teased me about my tight shorts and funny tap shoes. When it became known that it was just one of my many 25 mile rides in to work, I earned a slight measure of respect. Still more jokes about tight shorts and funny shoes; but that’s the way it is in a locker room full of guys.

Distance Traveled: 24.7 miles
Distance to Date: 200.3 miles
Price of Gas: $3.29

Friday, August 18, 2006

Rainy Ride

It was cloudy and drizzling rain when I departed work at 5:00 pm. My bike handled well on the wet pavement but I was mindful of providing myself a longer stopping distance.

A leisure section of the previous day's Chicago Tribune featured a series of articles about congestion on the Lakefront Trail. It was the same old story about bikers bitching about walkers and runners and walkers and runners bitching about bikers. An opinion piece from a biking Tribune reporter was especially venomous about skaters. Despite the feature being kind of negative it did motivate me to go out and buy a bike bell. Shouting "On your left!" has always struck me as a bit forceful and arrogant (one of the opinion pieces mentioned this as well). When I try to tone it down a bit, I'm often not heard at all. So after researching online I decided to buy a Mirrycle Incredibell at Kozy's. I like the Incredibell because it is small and its black finish matches my bike. On drop down handlebars it is a challenge finding a good place to put it though. I mounted the bell near the stem since it wouldn't fit around any of the taped areas. Unlike a traditional lever activated bell, the Incredibell has a springed clapper that you flick for a single ding. For the most part it does the trick. Unfortunately I didn't get many opportunities to try it out today. The rain kept away the crowds and the Lakefront Trail was the emptiest I'd ever seen in summer time.

An encounter with a runner showed that sometimes even the best preparation doesn't help. What a coincidence after reading the articles about path conflict, immediately buying and mounting a bell and I get to put it to the test the very same day. It was along Belmont Harbor that a young lady was running right in the middle of the path on the yellow line as I approached from the rear. I rang my bell a ways back but no reaction. I couldn't decide whether to pass on the left or right as her stride sent me mixed signals as to where she was headed. I was going to pass on her right (contrary to all rules of the road) as she seemed to be headed left and at the last minute past her on the left as she seemed to be veering right. If my bell was better positioned and not a single ding deal I might have been able to warn her of my presence. I narrowly missed her as I passed and startled her with an aggressive "On your left!" into her iPoded ear. I was plenty loud enough as she shouted "Jesus Christ!" in response.

I continued on at my quick rate of speed but felt a bit sheepish. Even though I believe she was at fault for hogging the path, I know I could have handled the situation better. I could have slowed down and I could have dinged more. She probably thinks I acted like major jack ass and I'm sure I reinforced any negative impressions of cyclists she had. But I was also a little pissed and reacted in the heat of the moment. Hopefully we'll never meet again.

Distance Traveled: 24.7 miles
Distance to Date: 175.6 miles
Price of Gas: $3.31

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Kenilworth Train Station

My ride takes me past Kenilworth's Metra Station. It is an historic old station built sometime between the American Revolution and the Vietnam War. It is really convenient for travellers because it is merely steps from the train tracks.

The summer between junior high and high school, tragedy struck my classmate Jeff. While attending summer football at New Trier our bike route took us over the tracks at Kenilworth Avenue. I was just north of the station that was packed with morning commuters but still within earshot of the trains and bells. As I peddled I heard a slight roar as if from a crowd. I was momentarily perplexed but rode on.

About an hour later I was in the school's weight room when another classmate told me that Jeff had been killed by a train. Jeff was waiting at the crossing for a northbound train to pass and biked around the pedestrian gates into the path of a southbound express in full view of the crowded platform.

What strikes me as odd now is the lack of shock and sadness I felt upon hearing the news. Besides my mother, who had died violently five years earlier, Jeff was the only other person I personally knew that died unexpectedly. I guess if Jeff and I had been friends rather than just acquaintances, I might have been more affected. I knew his parents from grade school basketball games and I remember thinking how devastated his tough guy type dad must have been.

Overcast, muggy and a steady breeze from the southwest.

Distance Traveled: 24.7 miles
Distance to Date: 150.9 miles
Price of Gas: $3.31

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Millennium Park Bike Station

I got an early start leaving from work today. Since I had more time to bike home in time for dinner I decided to check out the rental bikes at Bike Chicago located at the Millennium Park Bike Station. Two friends from the Marines are visiting in September and we're planning to do some light touring to Wisconsin and Michigan. Rather than schlep their bikes in from the West Coast, I said I'd track down rides for them locally. We'd planned to do the trip last year and I'd arranged a pretty good deal from Bike Chicago for a five day rental. But this year they raised their prices and a four day rental of a road bike would have cost almost $250 each. I could probably buy a used bike and sell it at the end of the trip for less than that. So Bike Chicago is out. A funny thing is they are one of my usual Google advertisers.

The bike station is bike commuter heaven! Bike parking, showers, lockers, repairs. It is an absolutely terrific place if you bike to work. But because it is located in Millennium Park and on the east side of the Loop, it is only convenient for a small part of the working population of downtown Chicago. When I biked to work downtown I never seriously considered using it. It was just too far from my office. I would have had to walk another seven blocks to get to my destination (I guess I could have rented a bike for the trip or parked my car nearby).

The bike station is popular though. When I went inside, I saw that the members only parking area, located right inside the entrance, had bikes in nearly every rack. Non-member parking is downstairs (there are special bike ramps along the sides of the steps) and was pretty well filled up as well. It would be nice if the City of Chicago could nudge the builders of the next centrally located Loop parking garage to put in another bike station.

The rest of my ride was the usual. Sunny weather and lots of people enjoying the Lakefront Trail. I got on the trail at Monroe Street and intercepted a young guy wearing an old school helmet on a road bike; a bike messenger type. We were going about the same speed but I passed him on a downhill. I decided to slow down and let him take the lead shortly thereafter since I just started my ride in earnest and was getting warmed up. Plus I always promise myself to just pick a pace and stick with it. The ride is long enough without getting into a race.

Messenger guy and I negotiated the trail traffic along Monroe Street Harbor, the bridge over the Chicago River, and the pedestrians going to Navy Pier. Messenger guy was slowed at the light at Grand Avenue. Able to conserve my momentum, I shot in front and apparently it was on. Since I don't have a rear view mirror, I didn't know where he was until he passed me just north of Oak Street Beach. I was being overly cautious with all the runners and bikers and I guess MG had enough of my rear wheel. He shot ahead and I figured I would watch him gradually disappear in the crowds up ahead.

By the time we passed North Avenue and rode along the volleyball nets, I had caught up. I guess he was watching the jets practicing for the upcoming Chicago Air & Water Show more than I was. Near the Theater On The Lake at Fullerton, he seemed to finally notice me and he was off again. By now I knew his adrenaline wasn't going to sustain him at that rate. I kept an eye on him and slowly reeled him in. Or more like his energy flagged which allowed me to catch up. Eventually I was on his wheel again but he was done with sprints. At the Montrose or Wilson crossing he was slowed by another cyclist. I shot past and that was the last I saw of him. Boo Yah, I win! A triumph only a 41 year old adolescent can appreciate. That night my family had dinner at my mother-in-law, Jan's and I told her and my wife about my apparent inability to control myself. Jan shook her head laughing but also in disappointment. Her seemingly level headed son-in-law was just like all the other silly men out there.

Distance Traveled: 25.0 miles
Distance to Date: 126.2 miles
Price of Gas: $3.31

Monday, August 14, 2006


I got an early start today at about 5:45 am. My ability to leave a suit, tie, belt, towel, and toiletries in a locker at work pays off in prep time. Plus my learning the elementary lesson of packing shoes, socks, a folded shirt and all the other junk the night before makes for a quick get away.

The night before, I also prepared my usual 28 ounce bottle of Accelerade. Accelerade is like Gatorade mixed with dried milk. It provides protein in addition to the electrolytes sweaty people need to avoid dehydration and/or death. I read an article in a 2003 Outside magazine (that was probably pimped by the makers of protein sports drinks) citing studies that stated protein in addition to the usual gook in sports drinks provided better performance and recovery. Seems to make sense. The body burns up protein, why not provide a means to replace it while on the go?

I was heavily into adventure racing at the time and during training and races we downed a lot of sports drinks, powders, gels, and energy bars. So I figured I could also add Accelerade and Endurox (a recovery drink) to my repulsive training table. Fortunately both were on sale at Performance (probably their old stuff). Accelerade isn't bad tasting considering it is a mix of fruit drink and dried whey. But Endurox was gaggingly repulsive. I don't know what else is in it but it just didn't go down easy. I use to prepare a bottle of it before I went to the gym. I remember being very worn out and sweaty and trying to swallow this goby concoction. After a few minutes I did feel pretty good compared to when I just drank water.

I can't say whether or not Accelerade and Endurox significantly improves my performance. However after a long ride I'm not extremely thirsty and fatigued. When I raced, I wasn't exactly a well tuned specimen and able to judge whether the stuff was a factor in my successes and failures. But what I do know is I bought a couple big tubs of the stuff in 2004 and I still have a lot of it left. I don't know the shelf life of dried whey but I'm pretty sure it isn't two years. That hasn't stopped me from using my old supply though and I haven't vomited it up yet (not counting my last adventure race in 2005; but that was a heat issue). A later tub of Endurox tasted much better. And I still have it in case anyone wants it.

The ride was pleasant but winds from the southwest slowed my southerly pace to about 16.5 miles per hour. The Lakefront Trail was pretty empty. One guy on a mountain bike passed me near North Avenue Beach while I was just cruising. The nerve! I was on track to reel him in but got stopped at the North Avenue Beach parking lot traffic light. It wasn't until Ohio Street Beach that I was on his rear tire approaching Grand Avenue. Then he turned off toward Navy Pier while I continued south. Sissy.

Distance Traveled: 24.7 miles
Distance to Date: 101.2 miles
Price of Gas: $3.31

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Biking with the boys

Today I had company. I took my sons, ages 4½ and 3, on a bike ride. Joseph, #1 son, rode his really used training wheeled Huffy and Eric, #2 son, rode with me aboard a Co-Pilot Limo child seat I purchased years ago at Performance. We biked the Green Bay Trail from Tower Road to Harbor Street in Glencoe and back. We detoured to stop at Hubbard Woods Park to watch The Flying Gaonas operate a trapeze school. The school makes for good viewing if you like to watch people swing and fall into big nets.

Distance Traveled: 2.4 miles
Distance to Date: 76.5 miles
Price of Gas: $3.36

Friday, August 11, 2006


I left the office sometime after 4:00 pm on a Friday afternoon (I started at 7:00 am). My bike was parked at work since I rode in two days earlier. I was able to "dress down" today but I leave a suit at work for when I bike back. It was dark when I packed and I realized too late that I brought one black and one brown shoe. So I have to carry one back home and make sure I pack the remaining match Monday morning. About four years earlier I dressed for work on a dark winter morning and did the same thing but wore them this time. In horror I happened to notice my shoes as I walked from the parking garage to the office. I could not go back home just to change so decided to gut it out and hope for the best. I stayed at my desk a lot that day and nobody ever found out. Had I been discovered by any of my co-workers, I'm sure they would have made my day miserable. I probably would have resorted to padding around in my socks just to avoid the abuse.

The day was comfortable with temperatures in the low 70s. A stiff wind from the northeast blowing the flags outside my building predicted a difficult ride home. Nor'easters seem pretty common on the ride home and for some odd reason rare on my bikes in to work. I might write Tom Skilling and ask just why this is. My prognosticating was right on. The ride was a bitch. My pannier stuffed with the extra shoes and my clothes for the day made a nice parachute preventing me from going anywhere above 12 mph. Tree lines along the northerly route provided some relief but the mile or so from Ohio to Oak was a bear. Once I reached Ardmore and the shelter of buildings did the headwind lessen its impact on my progress. Got home at 6:02 pm, showered, and picnicked with my wife, sons, and mother-in-law at Gilson Park and enjoyed listening to Special Consensus, a Blue Grass band playing at Wallace Bowl.

Distance Traveled: 24.7 miles
Distance to Date: 74.1 miles
Price of Gas: $3.36

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Green Bay Trail

I hit the road this morning at about 6:05 am. I have an early meeting so I have to be showered and ready to go by 8:30 am.

The Green Bay Trail from Winnetka to Wilmette is a very pleasant way to start my ride. The roads are pretty empty but biking along the wooded path enables my body and brain to warm up slowly. Thanks to my tax dollars, the pavement is kept up quite nicely so I don't have to watch for potholes and my joints don't get jarred at this early hour. I usually pass a few early commuters waiting for the train at Winnetka and Indian Hill Metra stations. I also share the path with a few fellow bikers, runners and dog walkers.

You can tell you've passed into Kenilworth because the riding surface on the trail shows its age. It buckles about every ten feet and feels like a washboard. Once you approach Sears School (and ignore the no biking sign), the way is an easier travel. No kids since school is out for summer. But I figure they would still be in bed anyway.

Just north of Wilmette, Kenilworth's last short portion of the trail is chalky gravel. Fortunately once into Wilmette, the path is better paved. One side of the trail is fenced back yards that years ago were owned by the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad or some other large entity. My brother told me tall tales of teenagers using drugs and having wild sex in the woods that are now nicely cut lawns. As a kid I use to take this route in the opposite direction on my way to high school. It is odd to have travelled so much in life and be back almost where I started.

In eighth grade my friends and I were up to no good along the railroad tracks across Green Bay Road from Homers Ice Cream. One of them desperately shouts for us to run away. So off I go not knowing why. I run south along the rail side of the chain link fence separating me from the safety of the notorious woods. After about a hundred yards I figure I've run far enough and look behind me. I then see a person running in my direction silhouetted by the lights of an oncoming train. I assume it is one of my friends and ask him what was going on. Then I realize it is a mustachioed man who is very pissed off. He grabs me and knees me in the gut while screaming something. I can't really remember what he said but I do remember being scared. Lucky for me his kneeing missed its mark and merely put me off balance. He vents a bit more but I am still clueless as to what all the fuss is about. Finally he releases me and goes back to where he came from. I later learn one of my brain dead friends threw a bottle in the road and apparently mustache took it personally. Good times.

Distance Traveled: 24.7 miles
Distance to Date: 49.4 miles
Price of Gas: $3.39

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Roosevelt Road

Got on the road home at around 5:30 pm. My first leg of the commute is on Roosevelt from Damen east to Grant Park. Roosevelt Road isn't bad because there is a dedicated bike lane. The traffic gets a little hairy after Halsted but there are plenty of Traffic Control Aides along that stretch to keep motorists honest. Just west of the expressway an Aide is even nice enough to wave me through against the light after all the cross traffic has passed! After a gradual uphill to cross the Chicago River it is like a congested raceway until State Street. I stick to the bike lane and trust the motorists not to flatten me as they drive to the right turn lanes. After Michigan Avenue I have to merge left through heavy traffic to get to the left turn lane at Columbus Drive. The turn will lead me to the safety of the bike path through Grant Park (a Traffic Aide, ignorant of my intentions, dutifully advises me that I can't proceed east to Lakeshore Drive). Once on the Lakefront Trail, I've arrived at the bikers version of the expressway. Got home at about 7:20 pm.

Distance Traveled: 24.7 miles
Distance to Date: 24.7 miles
Price of Gas: $3.39

Monday, August 07, 2006

Mea Culpa

Biking is a frequent media topic in Chicago. Mayor Daley's efforts to promote biking recently came up in the news after the release of the Bike 2015 Plan, an ambitious proposal to expand Chicago's bike routes and other measures designed to encourage bikes over automobiles. The resulting news articles about the plan inevitably refer to the bike versus automobile conflict after the meat of the story has played out. Within days, letters to the editor show up regarding this non- topic. Normally this part of the paper just slows my progress to the comics but a well placed "bike" in the header manages to snag my attention.

The bike letters usually fall into one of two categories, bikers pissed at threatening drivers and drivers pissed at aggressive bikers. Letters from bikers usually rattle off anecdotes of SUVs running them off the road or nearly killing them while their drivers are yammering on cellphones. Letters from drivers complain of bikers ignoring the rules of the road and recklessly bounding through traffic and careening off pregnant mothers and old ladies. I find myself relating more to the drivers' complaints as I practice defensive biking and ride on busy streets as little as possible thereby avoiding dangerous drivers. But I also sympathize with the drivers not because I encounter rude and aggressive bikers at the wheel; but because I am a rude and aggressive biker.

"Hi, my name is Steve.." (Response from audience, "Hi Steve!")"...and (said sheepishly) I'm an obnoxious biker (followed by clapping and encouragement)." I don't see myself as the bike messenger slaloming through crowds and traffic variety of obnoxious biker. I'm more of the since I'm moving anyway I'll just blow through this stop sign variety of obnoxious biker.

On two occasions I can definitely say I really, really pissed off a motorist. It was spring and soon after taking the bike out of hibernation. I was riding down North Winthrop at a nice clip on my way to work. After escaping the hazards of North Sheridan Road, I was happy to be riding more or less stress free. I came upon West Granville, a four way stop that at that hour was usually car free. A guy, who in that instant I judged to be a tradesman of some type, was stopped in his compact car and about to continue on with his life. Then here I come screaming through the intersection nearly giving him a stroke as he slams the brakes and shouts that bikers have to stop too. It is amazing how much information can be absorbed and communicated in such a short time frame but I doubt he noticed my dilated pupils, panic, and simultaneous contrition as I swerved and sped on my way. I could have attempted some sign of remorse or apology but at the time I was too preoccupied with not dying.

One would think that an intelligent and conscientious person would have learned something from that experience. Apparently this was not the case since within a week (or maybe even that same day-it was a few years ago mind you) I was exploring a new route and zooming home on North Greenview near West Pratt (I'm not sure of the exact location as I have been hesitant to return to the scene of this more obnoxious sin). Again I was enjoying the momentum of cruising speed and smugly passing cars along my way on the narrow side street. I came upon a three way stop with cars all over patiently taking turns before proceeding. Then here I come and pull the same crap as I did at Winthrop and Granville.

Pissing someone off and getting yelled at is humiliating. Pissing someone off, getting yelled at and deserving it is more humiliating. Pissing someone off, getting yelled at and deserving same from the teenage driver of a beater is even worse. One of my victims of my latest fit of obnoxiousness seemed to be a neighborhood college kid. That instance was also the closest I've ever been to getting badly crunched. I had sped past an oncoming driver about to make a left turn and somehow angered the kid in my flow of traffic as well. As I said, it was a while ago and I'm foggy on the details. But what I really remember is immediately thinking to myself yet again, "Boy was that stupid."

With thirty minutes left in my ride I had plenty of time to ponder my second asinine act. I thought how a local TV news correspondent (with the neighborhood kids jumping and waving in the background) reported my death and the unsaid theme would be a foolish and arrogant cyclist getting what he deserved. Then the newscast would cut to a spokesman from the Chicago Bike Federation commenting that I was an anomaly and most bikers are safe and courteous. Then they'd have a comment from the kid driving the beater saying it happened so fast and that I should have known better than to ride so fast in traffic.

Once burned, twice shy apparently doesn't completely apply to me. I still run the occasional red light, don't obey every stop sign, and sometimes I even bike on sidewalks. But for the most part, I am much, much safer and courteous than I use to be. The thought of being considered yet another lawless biker with the too-cool bike gloves and too-tight shorts still sticks with me. I realize the minimal effort and time I'll save weaving through traffic is just as pointless on a bike as it is in a car. But it is pretty pathetic that it took forty years to finally figure that out.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

My Route

My commute begins with the Green Bay Trail, a 10 mile bike path from Highland Park south to Wilmette that was converted from the former North Shore Railroad right-of-way. It is a scenic and pleasant start to my 23 mile journey. Once I arrive in Wilmette, I bike on streets until I reach the Lakefront Trail in Chicago. Prior to the trail, the only part that is pretty hairy is Sheridan Road from Howard to a bike lane on southbound Winthrop. The Lakefront Trail provides an easy commute with plenty of other bikers to shame me into peddling faster. Upon reaching Roosevelt Road, I pass under Lake Shore Drive and it is back to the streets. The hairiness begins again from Michigan Avenue to just past the Dan Ryan Expressway. It gets pretty congested and my brother-in-law John has twice been nearly hit along this stretch. Roosevelt Road is very wide and not so crazy from then on. is an interesting website that has a chart of my commute.

My Gear

Nothing else fancy about my commuting kit. Cheap biking shirt, shorts, shoes, socks, gloves and helmet. If it wasn't on sale, I didn't buy it. As any cycler knows, bike clothing can get very expensive. Since I'm not a serious racer, any advantage from wearing the latest moisture wicking apparel would be lost on me. So I opt for the least expensive bike clothing I can find.

Sometimes I can get carried away with a bargain however. I found a no name blue mountain biking jersey on a sales rack at Kozy's for $20. I really liked how it looked and the three pockets in the back. So I checked out the other Kozy locations for a few more so I wouldn't have to wear the same shirt every ride. I found a red one and a gray one but was so obsessed that I wanted more since they were so cheap. I ended up hearing they were made by a specific manufacturer and searched for them online. I ended up buying three of what I thought were identical jerseys from some place in Colorado. Alas they were cheap but not what I wanted. Decent quality but a total waste considering I won't wear them. But what a bargain!

Another obsession I had was with the Primal Wear Marine Corps jersey. Once a Marine, always a Marine and I wanted a cool shirt to tell the world I am among the few and the proud! For weeks I trolled online and eBay trying to get a bargain (I told you I was cheap). I could never find a jersey my size at a price I was willing to spend (the shirt retails for $70!). Then I saw a doofy kind of guy on the Lakefront Trail proudly sporting his Marine Corps jersey and the spell was broken. I realized a long time ago that Marines (myself included) have a tendency to think everyone is quite impressed with us when a lot of the time we just come off as shaved weirdos. Or maybe its just me.

I carry all my stuff in a Bushwacker pannier garment bag. The other usual gear are the spare tube, tube repair kit, compact bike pump, Topeak Alien multi-tool, and front and back bike lights. I mount a Garmin GPSMap 60C on my handlebars. I primarily use the GPS for hiking and driving but it is a nice way to check my speed, ETA and other data along my route. A pricey piece of gear I really like is a Phantom Jet Lite that attaches to my helmet. It is leftover from my AR days that virtually blinds anyone looking my way. DORK ALERT! I've also worn it (along with the helmet) while doing yard work after dark.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

My Rides

My first commuter was the Bianchi. As a surprise early birthday present, my wife bought it for me when we lived in Milwaukee. Christine had heard me refer to my current bike, a Bianchi Advantage from the late eighties, as a piece of junk. The only reason I referred to it in such a way was because it had done hard service while I was a young Marine officer. I used it to pleasure bike in San Diego and rode it hard to work and on trails while stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Okinawa, Japan. It had been boxed and shipped many times and by 1998 was a shell of its former self.

After Christine described to a local bike salesman the type of rider I was and what I might like, he suggested the Bianchi. When I came home from work that day I saw a strange bike in the living room. I first thought her brother was visiting and for some odd reason brought a bike with him. On closer inspection I saw it was brand new bike and the exact model as my old one. I just figured Christine went down to our storage locker, checked out what I'd been riding all these years, and upgraded to a newer model. When I thanked her and told her how impressed I was that she found the same bike, she said she didn't know it was the same one after all. And if she had known, she would have looked for another model since I seemed to have such a low opinion of the old one.

I have been pretty happy with the Bianchi. It isn't the lightest bike and its components are pretty basic. But I upgraded to SRAM shifters, an XT rear derailleur, Veratomic Locking Quick Release Skewers and a Selle Italia Flite saddle harvested from a Cannondale Scalpel. But it really couldn't take the rigors of an urban commute and hauling a 20 plus pound pannier. I was frequently busting spokes and getting flat tires. So I needed a bike better suited to heavier loads and the punishment of city streets.

I decided to get a touring bike. At the time I owned a 2003 Cannondale Scalpel 3000 used for adventure racing. Work, finances and parenting responsibilities recently ended my racing "career" and any good reason for owning such a high end cross country bike. I'd bought it used on MTB Review classifieds and was able to unload it for almost as much as I paid for it after a year and a half of service. With my new found wealth I was able to justify buying a 2002 Cannondale T2000 touring bike on eBay for less than half the retail price. Touring bikes generally have frames and wheels designed to handle the added loads of panniers. I realize I could have retrofitted a road bike or a hybrid for heavier duty but I have a pipe dream that I might go on a bike tour some day. Plus I really liked the paint job on the Cannondale. One of my many less than completely rational purchases.


I've been an infrequent bike commuter for several years. I first started biking to work around 2003 from my home in Evanston to my office in the Loop; about a 13 mile one-way trip. I figured I could combine my meagre attempts at staying fit with my daily commute. I now live in Winnetka and my office moved to the Medical District/UIC area. So now I face a 23 mile one-way trip.

I was inspired to bike commute after seeing a Bushwacker pannier garment bag at Rapid Transit Cycles in the Wicker Park area of Chicago. It looked like a great way to transport my suit, shirt, shoes, tie and the other white collar accessories I'd need for the day at the office. Judging from the price, it wasn't a top of the line pannier. But it wasn't cheap either. My bike, a 1997 Bianchi Advantage hybrid, had served me well in the 2002 Wild Scallion adventure race (AR) but had been gathering dust due to the demands of parenthood. Being a bit tight with a buck and not usually around Wicker Park, it took me a few months to take the plunge both with the purchase and biking to work.

My wife Christine wasn't and remains less than enthusiastic about biking to work. Her worry has always been my being at the mercy of careless or reckless drivers; a valid concern. But my route choices minimize vehicle traffic as much as possible.

Biking to work and business attire are a difficult mix. The night before I have to set out EVERYTHING I need to wear at work so I can quickly pack them in the morning. A nightmare scenario is getting to work and not having socks or a shirt to go with my carefully packed suit. Packing the night before isn't workable because the clothes get all wrinkled whereas a morning pack only leaves everything bundled up for a few hours. I also have to transfer everything from my briefcase (Pocket PC, wallet, keys, lunch, and other work specific junk that I won't go into) to my pannier. Packing always seems to take longer than planned which always prevents me from leaving as early as I'd like.

Despite avoiding the heavy vehicle traffic, biking still takes longer than driving. Biking from Evanston to the Loop usually took about an hour. Winnetka to the Med District takes about an hour and forty minutes. Locking the bike, showering and getting dressed usually adds another half hour. My old office had a dingy locker-room in the basement with no place to store stuff. My new office is like a palace. It has a big locker-room where I can actually store my towel and toiletries rather than hauling them in my pannier. Plus there are closets nearby where I can leave a suit or two. Sure it is farther but I don't have to pack as much and the extra ten miles helps keep my expanding gut in check.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Bike Chase Video

It is fake in case you didn't already figure that out. I read that it was produced for Specialized. They took video of a police car chase and pasted in a fleeing bicyclist and popped lights on the original fleeing car. Clever.